Seattle has one of the most iconic music scenes in the U.S. As any music fan knows well, the city was the epicenter of the ‘90s grunge movement. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains called the city home as the sound’s popularity skyrocketed.
But it’s important to look past the ‘90s. Yes, grunge is dead. Yet to this day, Seattle has a thriving indie music scene. Local artists are releasing some of the freshest, most innovative music you’ll hear anywhere. And we have the city’s indie record labels to thank.
For that reason, we’re going to highlight some of the best labels in the city. Here are six Seattle record labels worth knowing about.
Killroom Records was founded in 2016 by locals Ben Jenkins and Troy Nelson. Knowing financial success would be difficult, the pair simply wanted to give more exposure to the bands they cared about. So far, the label has three bands signed. My favorite, Acapulco Lips, plays a energizing blend of vintage surf rock and garage punk. Listen and you’ll want to dance, believe me. On top of that, there are groups Bread & Butter and CHARMS. Though you can stream the label’s releases online, Nelson and Jenkins are big believers in the vinyl format. “It just makes the album so much more real when you’re holding it in your hands,” Nelson told The Stranger in a 2016 interview.
Founded in 1998, Barsuk Records has distinguished itself as one of the most successful Seattle record labels. When members of the ’90s rock band The Busy Monster became frustrated that no one was signing them, they decided to start their own label – and Barsuk was born. Although the label’s portfolio includes plenty of big names (such as Ra Ra Riot and Nada Surf), it was Death Cab for Cutie that launched them into the stratosphere. Now, 20 years later, Barsuk has a global reputation for smart, quality releases. They’re also well-known for how nurturing they are toward their artists, which is awesome.
This one’s a good one. Alex Rudder, a local DJ for the nationally-renowned KEXP station, launched this label in 2012. Hush Hush Records’ sound transcends genre distinctions, but it still possesses a singular mood that’s tough to identify. Listen to Kid Smpl, Slowyear, or Fjord Morrison to get a good sense of it. The sound is ethereal, emotional, and atmospheric. Much of it is electronic, but not in a top 40, EDM festival sense. It’s music for late night drives, intimate conversations, or stargazing sessions. There’s downtempo, indie house, chill trap, and a whole lot more. With 89 official albums, EPs, and mixes so far, this label is killing it among Seattle record labels.
Debacle Records was founded in 2004 by local Sam Melancon. To be honest, there’s some weird stuff on this label. But as Melancon said in a 2013 interview, the only connective thread for the label is him liking it. That adds a nice authenticity that can be tough to find these days. If you had to summarize Debacle records with one word, it would be experimental. Its talented artists explore the limits of genres by exploring the capacities of the hardware they’re using. So props to Melancon for giving artists like Elkhorn, High Aura’d, and Aquarelle the creative freedom they’ve earned.
Further Records is an experimental-electronic label that has grown to international renown over the last few years. At its head are Chloe Harris, an underground house and techno DJ that has toured with the likes of John Digweed, and husband Mark Cullen. Further is lauded for, among other things, their deep attention to audio format.
Though they have now expanded to vinyl and CDs, they built their image by releasing on cassette only. Perhaps their most notable artist is Italian minimal techno producer Donato Dozzy, who has achieved legend status with his hypnotic tracks. Other notables include Decimus, Monadh, and Strategy.
No list of the top Seattle record labels would be complete without Sub Pop Records. Sub Pop is famous for signing many of the most influential artists of ‘90s Seattle grunge, such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. But the iconic label has evolved with the scene, and more recent years have seen releases from well-known indie acts such as Fleet Foxes, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Beach House.
Although Sub Pop affectionately refers to themselves as “the label that has been going out of business since 1988,” they’ve continued to drive the legacy forward with awesome new releases, an inclusive company culture, and even a record store in the Seattle airport.