Warp Records and the Don't-Call-It-IDM Revolution

Celebrating 20 years of weird radicalism with a label that didn't quit

After he had passed, was there a distinct change in direction for the label?

We'd both been very much a part of the direction anyway, so it wasn't like, suddenly, everything altered, but it was definitely. . . . From my perspective, you've got the company on two shoulders, and then suddenly, one set of shoulders has just completely disappeared. I think, at the time, I didn't realize it was such an emotional strain, but looking back on it, I realize I was pretty lost for a year or two, I'd say.

How did you cope?

Oh, Aphex Twin.
Courtesy Warp Records
Oh, Aphex Twin.

[Pause.] I really went inside and questioned the meaning of what I was doing, and why I was here, and all those sorts of questions—you know, really started looking inside myself, seeing if I could find some answers in there.

There's this perception that Warp Records is all about IDM . . .

Oh, my God, I hate that term.


Oh, God, yeah! I can't stand it.

Where had you first heard it?

I think it followed us putting out Artificial Intelligence. There's a news group called Intelligent Dance Music, so it grew around that, so everybody who was interested in that genre was talking about it on that news group. It just got associated with the music that we were doing at the time. I just hate that title. It got completely bastardized, from something that's about almost taking the piss out of the fact that people thought that that music was being made by computers, into a different term, which is almost making out that you've got to be intelligent to listen to that music.

Were there record labels after which Warp was modeled?

We grew from a record shop in Sheffield. At that time, we were selling records by Factory; we were just totally intrigued by that sort of beauty and mystery that's on a sleeve, where you don't quite know what surprises are going to be inside the sleeve. They were definitely an influence. Mute, at the time, as well, and Rough Trade—all the big indies we looked up to, because they had a lot of the records we were selling in the shop and then also, at the same time, the whole "techno revolution," which, at the time, was just starting to take off, so we were getting all these amazing records from Chicago and Detroit. It was almost a melding of those influences, so obviously we were influenced by the whole dance thing because we were right at the start of that revolution in the late '80s.

Is there a point at which there's this enigma that goes beyond the packaging that doesn't say anything on the sleeve—is that something, that sense, that you can transmit through a Warp record?

Oh, completely. I've been talking about this recently—what's that quote? "Great design is a way of communicating human emotion through an inanimate object." People can just tell by the effort that you've put into the design that you give a shit about what you're trying to communicate, that there must be something worth listening to inside the packaging. So I totally believe that you can communicate that through your design. And it's something like an intuitive, felt sense between the observer or the experience of the art form, and I just know if it's just a couple of degrees off, it's not authentic. It's like the people who know they're going to be communicated to through that inanimate object, which I think is fascinating.

Are mystique and mystery the same thing, then?

Mystery, to me, is just everything. That's literally the creative energy that's just flowing through everything that creative people can never really put a handle on. Mystery is totally authentic, and you can never name it or control it or identify it—whereas mystique is more of a contrived, sort of ego relation to it, and it's more thought out, really.

So is one more tangible than the other?

Yeah, I think mystique's a lot more—well, that's the whole point. You can grasp mystique, to a certain extent, whereas the mystery, you can't grasp it. That's why it's called a mystery.

When a band is on Warp, is it a lifetime relationship?

I was just speaking to George Evelyn from Nightmares on Wax, and he literally signed in the first year, 20 years ago, and he's still working with us. The same with Mark Bell from LFO—even bands like Autechre and Aphex Twin have been with us for 12 or 15 years. Both those bands have finished their contracts and re-signed with us, so there's definitely something that keeps them coming back. I think that part of it is that there is quite a family atmosphere to it—we're one of the few indie labels that are doing 50-50 deals, and so I think that there's something about it that makes it more of a partnership than a "them-and-us," because you're both making joint decisions on what you're spending the money on and how you're sharing the profits.

What's the typical Warp consumer like?

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