Warp Records are 26 years old. However this year makes the 25 anniversary since the release of their first album. To mark this auspicious occasion here is a selection of 25 albums from Warp’s nigh on perfect back catalogue. The albums included are well known, but might not get the press they deserve due to others taking the limelight. Richard James we’re talking about you here.
1991 Sweet Exorcist-C.C.C.D.
The first album on Warp is more of a slice of what was going on at the time, rather than an indication of what was to come. Richard Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) and DJ Parrot, had gained some attention with the Northern Bleep techno scene thanks to the Testone EP, C.C.C.D. was one of their follow ups. While it’s not as ground breaking as Testone, it is just as playful and has a charming vibe to it.
1992 Various-Artificial Intelligence
Dance music was changing in 1992. Rave culture was deemed to be selling out the original ethos of techno, so to embrace a change towards “Intelligent Techno” Warp put out the First Artificial Intelligence compilation. Warp co-founder Steve Beckett said this about the time and AI1 “The dance scene was changing and we were hearing B-sides that weren’t dance but were interesting and fitted into experimental, progressive rock, so we decided to make the compilation Artificial Intelligence, which became a milestone. It felt like we were leading the market rather than it leading us, the music was aimed at home listening rather than clubs and dance floors. People coming home, off their nuts, and having the most interesting part of the night listening to totally tripped out music.”
1993 F.U.S.E.- Dimension Intrusion
Richie Hawtin created a masterpiece, under his F.U.S.E. guise, with this Detroit influenced album Dimension Intrusion. Warp licensed it in as it fitted in with the “electronic listening music” Artificial Intelligence series. Dimension Intrusion is made up of screaming acid, ambient flourishes, hard electro and classic Detroit techno, what’s more isn’t insanely melodic, catchy and instantly becomes a favourite.
1994 Kenny Larkin-Azimuth
Detroit native Kenny Larkin was a third generation techno artist, missing out on the early days of techno because he was in the military. When he came out he made up for lost time. 1994’s Azimuth showcases his ability to recreate the original sound, but add in contemporary styles to make it sound fresh and vibrant. Like Dimension Intrusion there are elements of ambient album with harder hitting moments.
In 1995 Warp was going through its first set of changes. The label, like the UK’s musical landscape was changing. Classic albums were released by Aphex Twin-I Care Because You Do and Sabres of Paradise released Sabersonic II. The Artificial Intelligence series was coming to an end, and Britpop was ruling the charts and getting kids into guitars for the first time since punk. Not to miss out on something ground breaking Warp signed shoegazing mavericks Seefeel. Instead of the classic shoegazing sound Seefeel mixed electronics in to their sets to create minimal soundscapes. Succour is the perfect mix of droney guitars and tonal synths. It showed that a band could exist and release “electronic listening music”. They were also an prelude of what Warp would come to be a few years later.
Back in the bleep days LFO played a vital role in not just breaking the sound, but the label too with their classic self-titled single LFO. In 1996 they released their second album Advance. The sound is slightly harder than on their debut, there are some exquisite moments, Loch Ness being one. In the five years since LFO, the advancement of composition, intensity of sound and tone showed that dance albums didn’t have to be full of Top 40 hits to be a success.
1997 Jimi Tenor-Intervision
Jimi Tenor had more in common with Ninja Tune than Warp in 1997. Intervision is a space jazz masterpiece. Tenor’s ability to mix retro sounding massive organs, brass sections and blaxploition funk and soul, with downbeat and chillout beats makes this a tour de force. Out of the other 1997 albums Warp released, Autechre-Chiastic Slide, Squarepusher-Hard Normal Daddy, Broadcast-Work and Non Work and Plaid-Not For Threes, Intervision has aged the best and still sounds fresh.
1998 Boards of Canada-Music Has the Right to Children
Music Has the Right to Children is one of the first “classic” albums that Warp put out. Boards of Canada weren’t doing anything that Aphex Twin or Autechre at al, hadn’t done before, but it was how they did it, that made Music Has the Right to Children stand out. Seamlessly mixing low tempo beats with synths, interspersed with sketches and ambient electro skits the album put BoC on the map as one of the most forward thinking groups, not just on Warp, but in the pantheon of dance music.
1999 Squarepusher-Budakhan Mindphone
If Boards of Canada were pushing already existing boundaries, Tom Jenkinson AKA Squarepusher was going off in his own direction with Budakhan Mindphone. After 1998’s polarizing Music is One Rotted Note, Jenkinson stuck with the acoustic atmospheric vibe, but instead of the free jazz workouts, he opted for a more melodic dub infused sound. Opening track Iambic 5 Poetry showcases this new mindset perfectly and is perhaps one of the most simplistic, and immediate pieces Jenkinson has ever written.
2000 Broadcast-The Noise Made By People
2000 was the year everything changed for Warp. After eleven years in Sheffield, they moved the entire company down to London. Some claimed that the reason why Warp had such a distinctive voice in the musical landscape was because they didn’t pander to trends that London based labels either created or fell into. As an answer to their detractors Warp released the debut album by Broadcast. It is a mixture of 1960’s pop vocals, retro synths, tight drumming while being smothered in a Dream Pop sheen.
2001 Vincent Gallo-When
Vincent Gallo’s debut album is a mixture of delicate minimalism with heart wrenching vocals, that comforts and surprises with each listen. Half the album is made up of standard balladeer material and the other half are instrumentals. Give his persona as fractious auteur and restive actor, the levels of calm and eloquence of vocals are surprising. The album has a retro feel, namely due to the vintage equipment Gallo used to record it.
Sadly in 2001 co-founder Rob Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer and died leaving Steve Beckett in charge.
2002 Antipop Consortium-Arrhythmia
Since their inception Antipop Consortium had always done things their way regardless of what the mainstream thought, but Arrhythmia saw them push the boundaries of not just what a Hip-Hop could be, but what it should be. The Ends Against the Middle EP was a prelude of what was to come, a merging of electronic sounds and Hip-Hop ethos, but the level of inventiveness and experimentation on Arrhythmia was really it’s what set it and them apart from the pack.
After four albums under the Plaid guise Andy Turner and Ed Handley had continually delivered minimal albums where organic melodies rubbed shoulders with stark electronic beats. Spokes was no different, but it felt tighter and more immediate. Tracks like Zeal offered a subtle nod to their Black Dog Productions origins, something that long-time fans had hoped for.
2004 Gravenhurst-Flashlight Seasons
In 2004 Warp started to move more away from the techno origins and started to embrace bands. While signing bands wasn’t anything that new, bands had signed since 1995, this new batch however had more in common with indie discos and folk nights than the electronic infusions of Seefeel.
Like the Artificial Intelligence releases, Nick Talbot’s Gravenhust project was more akin to relaxing after a night out, due to its comparisons to classic British folk musicians Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell and John Martyn, than playing while out at clubs.
2005 Jamie Lidell-Multiply
If Gravenhurst’s 2004 folk infused album was a departure in sound for Warp, then Jamie Lidell’s soul funk masterpiece was equally surprising. If you think of classic soul singers James Brown/Otis Redding/Sam Moore being produced by Prince and remixed by Arthur Baker you’re on the right track. Lidell’s vocals ooze sex and sensuality, but he never loses sight of the song and it never sounds like parody.
2006 London Sinfonietta-Warp Works & Twentieth Century Masters
This is one of the most overlooked releases in Warp’s mighty canon. Live orchestrated versions of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher song performed by the London Sinfonietta. The tracks are culled from live performances over a two year period. The remainder of the album is made up John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti and Steve Reich to name a few, but it is the Warp tracks that stand out, and sound the most engaging. Without the hard techno beats backing the tracks, they take on XXX.
Thanks to Seefeel, Gravenhurst and Maxïmo Park bands on Warp wasn’t an odd thing, but that didn’t mean that Battle debut album Mirrored wasn’t against the grain. Taking inspiration from, well, basically everywhere, their take on motorik prog indie pop was a breath of fresh air. The music was deceptively simple, but staggeringly complex. A few short sharp riffs and fills, some abstract vocals then manipulate and compress them until they sound like pop music, but on the other side of a Circus’ house of mirrors.
2008 Clark-Turning Dragon
In 2001 Warp released the debut album from Chris Clark. It signalled a slight return to Warp’s techno roots, but it wasn’t until Clark’s Turning Dragon album that his renaissance had begun. On previous albums he had mixed organic and electronic samples, but Turning Dragon sounded far more mechanised. However there is an element of warmth to the album, like the classic techno tracks that influenced Warp’s beginning.
2009 Prefuse73-Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian
Anyone who has been in a foreign country, late at night, slightly drunk, and slowly tuning through radio stations looking for something you’ll never find, will feel a similar sensation of “is this it” during Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian. As the majority of the twenty nine tracks are under four minutes, and a lot are under two and three minutes, you never get a chance to get bored as the next track is literally minutes away. What’s even more impressive is how, even with the fits and starts its flows incredibly well and is ridiculously listenable.
2010 Gonjasufi-A Sufi and a Killer
A Sufi and a Killer sounds like a mysterious demo tape was found at an archaeological dig in the Atlas Mountains. So encrusted with dirt and the passing of time, the tapes were painstakingly reassembled, then they were thought lost in a fire, until years later the Gaslamp Killer somehow got his hands on them and pieced it all together. While this is a slightly over exaggerated hubris, there is a timeless quality to A Sufi and a Killer. Gonjasufi’s vocals croon and groan, think Tom Waits and David Thomas and you’re close, over tripped out and blissed out psych Hip-Hop. It’s quite possibly on the most original and forward thinking albums Warp ever put out.
2011 Rustie-Glass Swords
Glass Swords is the sound of someone who grew up playing video games and listening to electronic/house music. There is a Day-Glo transparency that is only hinted at by the title and cover. Skewing conventional dance genres and throwing in elements of chillwave, with a psych production makes Liquid Swords one of the best albums never to win the Mercury Music Prize!
2012 Mount Kimbie-Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
Throughout forty two minutes this a low tempo post clubbing classic that has enough to ups to keep you entertained, but nothing too jarring either. The addition of vocals to Mount Kimbie’s sound works well, not just in adding another layer or texture, but showcasing their ability to write in a pop vein as well as their skittering and XXX debut.
2013 Oneothrix Point Never-R Plus Seven
The Artificial Intelligence motif is one that appears again and again throughout Warp’s history. Oneothrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven is another album that can be put under that banner. Dystopic beats and loops rub shoulders with intricate and rhythmic piano and synth patterns, making this a direct cousin of Philip Glass’ most poignant and moving works and Swiss electronic pop mavericks Yello at their most inventive.
2014 patten-ESTOILE NAIANT
Woozy synths and rhythmic loops, at times it sounding like tape getting chewed up, permeates ESTOILE NAIANT to create lurid dreamlike soundscapes that challenge the listener to find their own meaning, rather than being guided. The lack of drums is striking isn’t noticeable at first, but due to patten’s exquisite compositions. This is ambient music 3.0
On her 2010 debut Nerve Up, Julie Campbell, AKA LoneLady, channelled post-punk-funk to create a starkly listenable album. Her follow up takes this blueprint and delivers something that sounds like like ESG covering Joy Division. It’s more claustrophobic and desolate but makes it more catchy and, dare I say, danceable.
Of course this is a small selection of the 240+ albums Warp has released since its first album in 1991. While they have changed their sound and style, due to geographical and musical changes, they have never lost that initial spark of originality and individuality that has separated them from the majority of their peers. Here’s to another 25 years!