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Warp, commonly referred to as Warp Records, is a pioneering independent British record label, founded in Sheffield in 1989, notable for discovering some of the more enduring artists in electronic music.
Founded by Steve Beckett and the late Rob Mitchell from their experiences working at the FON record shop, alongside record producer Robert Gordon, the label (whose name was chosen because the original name, ‘Warped Records’ was difficult to distinguish over the telephone) soon became home to artists who would be influential in electronic music.
The first release (WAP1) was by Forgemasters (produced by Robert Gordon), whose limited 500 copy pressing of “Track With No Name” was financed by an Enterprise Allowance grant and distributed in a borrowed car. It set a trend for the early releases both in terms of sound, and the use of purple sleeves (designed by The Designers Republic). The follow-up was Nightmares on Wax’s “Dextrous”, which sold around 30,000 copies. This led to greater commercial success; by its fifth release the label had its first Top 20 chart entry with LFO and their eponymous single, “LFO”, which sold 130,000 copies and peaked at #12 in the UK Singles Chart in July 1990; by coincidence, that same month another Warp act, Tricky Disco, reached #14 in the UK chart with another eponymous single, “Tricky Disco”.
Warp’s third record, “Testone” (1990) by Sweet Exorcist (Richard H. Kirk and Richard Barratt), defined Sheffield’s bleep techno sound, by making playful use of sampled sounds from Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Computer Game” (1978) and the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The first album released was Sweet Exorcist’s C.C.E.P. in 1991. In the same year Robert Gordon left Warp acrimoniously.
Warp went on to release a series of singles and albums from 1992 under the Artificial Intelligence heading, a series of experimental electronic music releases by artists such as Aphex Twin (as Diceman and later Polygon Window), Autechre, B12, the Black Dog, Richie Hawtin and Alex Paterson (of The Orb). Initially all the album releases were gatefold sleeves and coloured vinyl, often with covers by The Designers Republic or Phil Wolstenholme. A VHS compilation of digitally animated music videos called Motion was released in conjunction with the second Artificial Intelligence compilation, and featured an early work by director David Slade.
Since then the label has evolved, and later artists were a similarly eclectic group, and included the DJ Andrew Weatherall (as Sabres of Paradise and later as Two Lone Swordsmen), Red Snapper and Antipop Consortium.
In 1999, the label released Warp 10: Influences, Classics, Remixes, a compilation spanning six discs, featuring early acid house and techno music that influenced the label and its artists, as well as tracks from Warp’s back catalog, and new remixes of Warp material. The collection celebrated the label’s tenth anniversary.
In 2000, the label moved its operation to London along with its physical music and merchandise store Warpmart.
Co-founder Rob Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer in early 2001. He died later that year.
In January 2004, Warp launched an online digital music store, Bleep, notable for being among the few stores to completely avoid all digital rights management features in the downloadable tracks, unlike other music stores such as iTunes and Rhapsody.
On 27 September 2004, Warp released its second music video compilation, named WarpVision, featuring most of the videos produced from 1989 to 2004.
2005 saw the release of Warp, the first book in the Labels Unlimited series. Written by Rob Young, the book gave an illustrated history of the label, as well as offering a complete discography. The Warp website said the book was “A very beautiful thing and like our very own This Is Your Life”.
The label more recently began to expand outside of electronica by signing indie rock bands such as !!!, Battles, Born Ruffians, Maxïmo Park, Gravenhurst and Grizzly Bear.
For the label’s 20th anniversary in 2009, several Warp20 concerts took place in Paris, New York City, Sheffield, Tokyo, Berlin and London.
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