Chicago has significantly grown its business presence in the music industry and independent labels are at the forefront of that growth. While New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville are well-known as the music markets with a lot of cash investment, Chicago has continued to increase its presence through grassroots efforts – a quality that very much defines the city.
Bloodshot Records – Founded 1994
Bloodshot Records has mastered the art of blending genres. The combinations of punk, country, soul, blues, pop, and bluegrass that encompass their work proves that record labels still genuinely care about the sounds they put into this world. Their website includes a quote that is very representative of everything Bloodshot stands for: “As Joe Strummer taught us, search out the good stuff, go underground and don’t buy what’s shoved in front of you. Or the words of wisdom from those great unheralded punk rabble-rousers Crass ‘If you don’t like the rules they make, refuse to play their game.’ Amen.”
Thrill Jockey – Founded 1992
When it comes to fostering artistic diversity, community and ideals, few labels surpass Thrill Jockey. Founded by former Atlantic Records A&R rep Bettina Richards, the influential label moved to Chicago in 1994 and operates without an allegiance to any particular style. Zooming out, their specialities trend towards indie and post rock but jazz fusion and pop have become cornerstones of the label’s work.
Victory Records – Founded 1980
No Chicago label takes its name more seriously than Victory Records, which professes a strong dislike of the corporate record industry. What began as a leisurely pursuit, grew by 1993 into a full-time hard-core punk clearinghouse, along the way having helped develop the careers of Hatebreed, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, and Hawthorne Heights. Today, they are growing the careers of bands like Broadside, The Tossers, and Carousel Kings.
Drag City – Founded 1990
This label primarily focuses on indie rock with an emphasis on folk artists. While they house an impressive artist list that includes Pavement, Joanna Newsom, and Ty Segall, they have expanded their work outside of the music industry and signed comedy acts. Comedians like Fred Armisen have joined the Drag City family as independent labels identify new ways to monetize their resources and network.
Trax Records – Founded 1984, Revived 2006
This indie label played a pivotal role in the creation of house music in Chicago, bringing forth artists like Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle. Trax Records may be best known for inventing the squelchy acid-house sound on tracks like “Dream Girl” and “Acid Tracks.” Despite their industry significance, the label declined but in 2006, it was revived by local legend Rachel Cain was an associate of the original founder, Larry Sherman.
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