By Andrew Maley
Warp, also known as Warp Records, was co-founded by Steve Beckett and the late Rob Mitchell in Sheffield, UK in 1989, with some help from producer Robert Gordon. Since this time they have been a very successful independent label, signing many distinguished experimental and electronic acts such as Aphex Twins, Nightmares on Wax, LFO, Tricky Disco, Autechre, Flying Lotus, Squarepusher, Jamie Lidell, and Antipop Consortium.
Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell worked with Robert Gordon at the FON record store in Sheffield, UK. It is here that they learned about the music business and decided to start their own label. They were initially going to call the company “Warped Records” but because it was hard to distinguish that name over the phone, they shortened it to just Warp. They released WAP1 in 1989, only pressing 500 copies of Forgemasters’ “Track with No Name”. This initial release was funded by an Enterprise Allowance grant and distributed using a borrowed car. Although this first release is very limited, it influenced the sound of many of the labels early acid house releases as well as started the trend of using purple sleeves, designed by The Designers Republic, for many of the labels early records.
Warp’s next release “Dextrous” by Nightmares on Wax charted and sold 30,000 copies even though it was not heavily promoted. As Warp continued putting out more releases, interest in the label and its artists continued to grow. Their fifth release, “LFO” by LFO, charted at number twelve in the UK chart, in July 1990, selling an astounding 130,000 copies. Interestingly enough, in the same month, another Warp act also released a top twenty hit when Tricky Disco’s “Tricky Disco” hit number fourteen.
In 1991, Robert Gordon left Warp on bad terms, but Beckett and Mitchell continued to push as they released Warp’s first whole album C.C.E.P. by Sweet Exorcist. Starting in 1992, Warp began releasing a series of singles and albums under the heading Artificial Intelligence. These releases featured Aphex Twin, Autechre, and B12, some of the most enduring experimental electronic acts.
Most of the album covers were still designed by The Designers Republic or Phil Wolstenholme. Warp also released its first VHS in the 90s. Motion, was a compilation of digitally animated music videos featuring an early work by director David Slade, that was released with the second Artificial Intelligence compilation.
In 1999, the labels tenth anniversary, Warp released Warp 10: Influence, Classics, Remixes. This six disc compilation featured early acid house and techno that was influential to the label, rereleased classic Warp tracks, and new remixes of Warp tracks. The next year, Warp makes a move from Sheffield to London, moving both their operation headquarters, as well as their merchandise and music store Warpmart. In 2001, just twelve years after starting Warp, co-founder Rob Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer and died.
In 2004, Warp launched a digital online music store, Bleep.com. Unlike iTunes and Rhopsody, Bleep does not use digital rights management software for their downloadable tracks, enabling customers to freely copy the file to other mediums and in different formats. They also released Warp’s second music video compilation entitled WarpVision in 2004. This compilation featured most of the videos produced from 1989 to 2004.
More recently, Warp has begun signing a number of indie rock bands such as !!!, Battles, Gravenhurst, and Grizzly Bear, a band from Brooklyn who Steve Beckett describes as being, “the Beach Boys being eaten alive by an animal collective.”
In 2009 Warp threw several Warp20 concerts all over Europe as well as New York City, and Tokyo. Steve Beckett is still very involved with all of his artist with Warps employees only numbering twenty five. He has continued trying to push his artist to create new and innovating music as well as develop and nurture up and coming acts.