Formed by two British record store clerks in 1980, 4AD has grown into one of the most influential record labels of our time, forming part of the Beggars Group with Matador Records, Rough Trade Records and XL Recordings. A taste-maker for the indie world, here are twelve of the most important records from the incredible 4AD catalogue.
1. Bauhaus – Dark Entries (1980)
4AD introduced themselves under the name Axis (before realising that another label had already been using this name), with the intention of being a “testing ground” for Beggars Banquet that successful acts would graduate to. The only group to achieve this qualification was Bauhaus, who became of the defining acts of the goth-rock era despite drawing influences from dub, reggae and funk. 4AD’s first single- Bauhaus’ Dark Entries- defined the uncompromising, murky aesthetic of the label’s early releases.
2. The Birthday Party – Nick the Stripper (1981)
While it wasn’t long before 4AD expanded on the dense, sonic vision created by cult acts like Bauhaus, The Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, 4AD made sure to introduce Australian icon Nick Cave to the world before moving on.
3. M|A|R|R|S – Pump Up The Volume (1987)
The watershed moment where 4AD emerged from the shadows of the goth culture it was built on, Pump Up The Volume was the first UK #1 for the label, an ahead-of-its-time sound collage for the dancefloor, a once of studio collaboration by five 4AD artists.
4. Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven (1989)
Marrying heavy guitars and powerful dynamics with a pop sensibility adored by Kurt Cobain, Pixies were a tenacious ensemble that remain one of the most influential bands in the world today; this single, released 2 years before Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, caused British magazine NME to comment: “All the smart bastards are mixing strings with grunge guitars nowadays, and the Pixies are no exception”. And with this, the most iconic genre of the 1990’s was born.
5. Lush – Single Girl (1995)
Moving away from the dream pop/ shoegaze sound that defined their original releases (and much of the early 4ad catalogue), Lush moved towards Britpop and Indie Rock, at a time when 4AD had expanded via a much-publicised distribution deal with Warner, allowing for the label to set up offices in the United States, where the label was run for the rest of the decade.
6. Thievery Corporation – Shadows Of Ourselves (2000)
With their 4AD debut The Mirror Conspiracy, Thievery Corporation created a languid, delicate world with grooves influenced from Italian library records, movie soundtracks, and reggae dubs from Jamaica. Thievery Corporation merged the smoky haze of early 4AD releases with the beats and breaks of the post-acid house sample culture it demonstrated with M|A|R|R|S.
7. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round (2010)
With all the charm of a deteriorated, mid-90s cassette dubbed a dozen too many times, Ariel Pink’s early experiments were reminiscent of the blurry sound of the 4AD’s earliest releases. But with 2010’s critically acclaimed Before Today, Pink’s wide-screen 4AD debut showed an unexpected side, revealing Ariel as a sonic visionary and gifted songwriter.
8. Bon Iver – Holocene (2011)
Far removed from the corrosive sound of 4AD’s beginnings, Julian Vernon as Bon Iver creates fragile, haunting and beautiful compositions that soar far above the American folk music traditions they’re steeped in, firmly establishing him as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed artists of 4AD’s current roster.
9. Deerhunter – Breaker (2015)
With a prolific and ever-evolving discography- taking in dissonant rock, plaintive ambient musings and (at times) bizarre sonic experimentation, Deerhunter’s albums act as a potent analogy of 4AD’s thrilling and eclectic roster.
10. U S Girls – Navy & Cream (2015)
U S Girls’ 4AD debut Half Free channels everything from 4AD stalwarts Cocteau Twins, dubbed out electronics and Wall of Sound dramatics, creating is a wildly diverse album that pushes 4AD into the world of challenging pop music.
11. Methyl Ethel – Idée Fixe (2016)
Having won plaudits for their debut Oh Human Spectacle all across their homeland, Methyl Ethel joined the 4AD roster in 2016, continuing the tradition of bringing antipodean artists to the rest of the world that started with the signing of the Birthday Party
12. Tim Hecker – Castrati Stack (2016)
Showing no signs of retiring softly into old age, 4AD continue to forge new territory, signing electronic , drone and dance music experimentalist Tim Hecker to sculpt a dense and chaotic sonic trip.