Spring 2006

Behind the bleeps

Warp: Labels Unlimited

By Rob Young, with contributions by Adrian Shaughnessy
Black Dog Publishing, £19.95

The good thing about reading books such as Rip It Up and Start Again, Altered States and Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is discovering yet another facet in the unequalled jewel that is UK music culture. Warp: Labels Unlimited is such a book.

I was struck by the personalities behind the bleeps and breaks (the name does stand for ‘We Are Reasonable People’, after all). There is an expansive visual individuality among the roster of artists that mirrors the differences in their sound. The book flows through the history; the co-founders (Steve Beckett, the late Rob Mitchell and departed Robert Gordon) and the bands (Autechre, LFO, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin are a handful of the pioneers featured, nurtured and given the space by the label to create their uncompromising sounds). There is a fascinating chapter detailing how Warp is positioning itself for the twenty-first century by way of Warp Films (including the collaborations with Chris Cunningham), WarpMart and Bleep.com and the 2001 offshoot hip hop label Lex with their distinctive graphics from EH? design. Each chapter is punctuated by Adrian Shaughnessy’s lyrical appreciation of key sleeve designs from featured artists.

That said, I felt rather let down that the book wasn’t more lavishly designed and laid out in what I had perceived to be ‘The Warp Style’, so enduring is the image that The Designers Republic (TDR) has created for aspects of the label. (It’s like a Factory retrospective without Peter Saville.) Yet when you get over this deprivation and focus on the content, the Warp story unfolds.

Warp has achieved that ‘state of mind’ zenith shared by few labels, where the philosophy, aesthetic and quality of output are inextricably linked. If you are interested in the music scene from the birth of house through acid, rave, to the ‘armchair appreciation’ of ambient / chillout and its myriad offshoots, I would recommend this book. It is about the passion and drive of a group of (un)like individuals who loved what they did, and wanted to make something happen. Naturally, mistakes were made along the way. TDR’s Ian Anderson is quoted as saying: ‘Some of the results piss me off, and some of the decisions they make are wrong.’ Yet in these days of corporatisation, ‘blanding’ and perpetual focus groups to determine whether it should be pink or red, isn’t that a great thing?

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