|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
Warp Records (or simply Warp) is a British independent record label founded in Sheffield in 1989 by record store employees Steve Beckett, Rob Mitchell and record producer Robert Gordon. It is currently based in London.
In the early 1990s, the label initially became associated with the UK's northern techno scene, including "bleep techno" acts such as LFO, Sweet Exorcist, Forgemasters and Nightmares on Wax. The 1992 label compilation Artificial Intelligence helped establish the electronic subgenre known as intelligent dance music. Subsequently, the label became the home of influential electronic acts such as Aphex Twin, B12, Autechre, Squarepusher, and Boards of Canada.
In 2001, co-founder Rob Mitchell died of cancer. In 2004, the label opened the online store Bleep.com, which sells downloadable music free of digital rights management (DRM) features. Current artists on the label roster include Flying Lotus, Rustie, Oneohtrix Point Never, Danny Brown, Grizzly Bear, Brian Eno, TNGHT, Kelela and Yves Tumor.
Warp was founded by Steve Beckett and the late Rob Mitchell, who had both gained experience working at Sheffield's FON record shop, alongside record producer Robert Gordon. The name was chosen because the original name, 'Warped Records', was difficult to distinguish over the telephone.
The first release (WAP1) was by Forgemasters (produced by Robert Gordon), whose 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;:309 by coincidence, that same month another Warp act, Tricky Disco, reached #14 in the UK chart with another eponymous single, "Tricky Disco".:567
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 used gatefold sleeves and coloured vinyl, often designed 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.
In 1996 Warp started the Blech club night in Sheffield, also in London between 1997 and 1999, and released an accompanying compilation CD under the same name. The artwork, created by the Designers Republic, had a distinctive Japanese manga influence. Blech club nights include:
In 1998 Warp signed Boards Of Canada, a duo that would go on to release some of the most highly revered electronic music albums of their time:Music Has the Right to Children (1998), Geogaddi (2002), The Campfire Headphase (2005) and Tomorrow's Harvest (2013).
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 catalogue, and new remixes of Warp material. The collection celebrated the label's tenth anniversary.
In 2000, the label moved its operations 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, aged 38.
In January 2004, Warp launched an online digital music and entertainment store, Bleep.com, notable for being the first store in the world to completely avoid all digital rights management features in the downloadable tracks, unlike other music stores such as iTunes and Rhapsody. Warpmart has now been absorbed into Bleep.com. Today Bleep sells a carefully curated selection of music from a diverse range of labels. The site has also released its own limited edition LPs The Green Series, and an annual digital release comprising the Top 100 tracks of each year.
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", referring to the This Is Your Life UK TV series.
For the label's 20th anniversary in 2009, several Warp20 concerts took place in Paris, New York City, Sheffield, Tokyo, Berlin and London. Warp also celebrated by releasing the Warp20 box set, composed of six parts:
Warp continued to release albums, from artists such as Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus, Mark Pritchard, Bibio, Jamie Lidell, Lonelady, Leila, and Gonjasufi. Signings included Brian Eno, Oneohtrix Point Never, Mount Kimbie, Kwes., Darkstar, Kelela, patten and Jeremiah Jae.
2013 saw the release of Broadcast's album Berberian Sound Studio, the soundtrack to the film of the same name. Warp released a split remix 12" for Record Store Day, which was a collaboration between Brian Eno, Nicolas Jaar and Grizzly Bear. In March, Autechre broadcast two 10-hour radio shows to celebrate the release of their 11th album, Exai. Boards of Canada's fourth studio album Tomorrow's Harvest charted worldwide, reaching #7 in the UK Albums Chart, and #13 in the US Billboard 200 - vinyl reissues of their albums and EPs followed in October and November. Nightmares On Wax (George Evelyn) released his first album in five years, entitled Feelin' Good, and followed this with one of his biggest ever international tours, with a live band.
In 2013 Warp also won Independent Label Of The Year at the AIM Awards. In October of that year, to coincide with the Universal Everything & You - Drawing in Motion exhibition running at the National Media Museum's Media Space at Science Museum, London, a 20-minute piece created by Simon Pyke (Freeform), built upon the foundations of the exhibition soundtrack, was released. In December 2013 Warp collaborated with Tate Britain to present a free evening of performance and installations, Warp x Tate, alongside artist Jeremy Deller, inspired by Deller's work 'The History of the World', with contributions from Oneohtrix Point Never, Patten, Darkstar, Hudson Mohawke and Rustie.
In 2019 WARP celebrated their 30th anniversary (stylized as WXAXRXP, a combination of WARP and the roman numeral for 30 (XXX)) with 3 days straight of broadcasts on NTS Radio  featuring old radio performances by various artists (as well as a few new ones). In addition WARP released a 10 ep set (vinyl-only) of 20 minute radio sessions , featuring (among other things) Aphex Twin's 1995 peel session and a version Boards Of Canada's 2001 peel session that included the final track (XYZ, which was cut from almost all previous releases of the ep).
Warp has released a number of ground-breaking and original videos that have launched their directors' careers. Much of these videos were compiled for the 2004 WarpVision: The Videos 1989-2004 DVD.
Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker directed some of Warp's earliest videos while at London's Central Saint Martins art school, including LFO's eponymous "LFO" in 1990, Nightmares On Wax's "Aftermath" in 1991, and Aphex Twin's 1993 single "On".
Chris Cunningham is a frequent collaborator with Warp artists. He has directed videos for Aphex Twin's 1997 single "Come to Daddy" and 1999's "Windowlicker", as well as "Come On My Selector" by Squarepusher and "Second Bad Vilbel" by Autechre. "Come To Daddy" was chosen by Pitchfork as the best video of the 1990s, and "Windowlicker" was nominated for Best British Video at the 2000 Brit Awards. Cunningham's short film Rubber Johnny, soundtracked by Aphex Twin, was distributed by Warp Films in 2005.
In 2013, Kahlil Joseph's short film for Flying Lotus' "Until The Quiet Comes" won a Short Film Special Jury Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and Video of the Year at the 2013 UK Music Video Awards. On 12 April, Adam Buxton hosted BUG: Warp Records Special at the BFI Southbank, London, as part of Warp Films' 10th Anniversary.
Warp launched a film company, Warp Films (which also shares staff with Warp X) and digital download store Bleep in 2004. Bleep carries music from a number of smaller labels as well as Warp. In 2009, Warpmart was incorporated into Bleep, which now sells downloads, physical releases and merchandise from hundreds of record labels. Bleep also operates a record imprint of Warp.