4AD is a British independent record label that was started in 1980 by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, originally funded by Beggars Banquet.
The current roster includes Ariel Pink, Atlas Sound, Beirut, Bon Iver, Camera Obscura, D.D Dumbo, Daughter, Deerhunter, Efterklang, Future Islands, Gang Gang Dance, Grimes, Holly Herndon, Indians, Iron & Wine, Merchandise, The National, Pixx, Purity Ring, Scott Walker, SOHN, Tim Hecker, Tune-Yards and U.S. Girls.
4AD forms part of the Beggars Group, along with Matador Records, Rough Trade Records and XL Recordings. Its history has been detailed by Martin Aston in his biography of the label, Facing The Other Way, released 2013.
Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, employees of the Beggars Banquet record store and label, founded Axis Records in late 1979 as a property of Beggars Banquet that was run by the two. After the first four Axis singles in early 1980, the name was changed to 4AD when it became apparent that the name Axis was already being used by another music company. The solution to this problem came from a promotional flyer that they had printed up to call attention to the new releases. The flyer's designer had added some typography that played on both the new year and the idea of progress:
Quickly scrambling for a new name, Ivo glanced at the flyer and suggested "4AD." Peter Kent agreed, and, with that split-second decision, 4AD was born.
An initial idea for the label was that it would be a "testing ground" for Beggars Banquet; successful acts would graduate up to Beggars Banquet after a year at 4AD. The only band to follow this path would be Bauhaus, who were signed to Beggars Banquet in late 1980 right before Ivo and Peter purchased the label outright.
The two were the sole owners for about a year. Kent sold his share to Watts-Russell at the end of 1981, and started a new Beggars Banquet subsidiary, Situation Two Records. Watts-Russell would maintain ownership of the label, and act as its president, until the late 1990s.
Watts-Russell invited the graphic designer Vaughan Oliver to create sleeve art for the label, and as a result, 4AD quickly acquired a visually distinctive identity. Its artists, like Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, developed substantial cult followings in the mid-1980s, but 4AD continued to evolve, and, after signing Throwing Muses and Pixies, the label increasingly concentrated on underground American rock music. In 1983, 4AD had a minor hit in America with the Modern English single "I Melt With You". In 1987, 4AD had a UK number-one hit with the collaged "Pump up the Volume" by M|A|R|R|S (licensed to 4th & B'Way/Island Records in the US).
In the 1990s, 4AD established an office in Los Angeles and enjoyed success with bands such as The Breeders, Red House Painters, Unrest, and His Name Is Alive. In 1999, Watts-Russell sold his share in 4AD back to the Beggars Group (as it had by then become), but the label continued to release music and add new artists to its roster.
Although fans will greatly debate the exact year the "classic 4AD" period ends, a popular theory places the end with the release of the final Cocteau Twins 4AD album in 1990. Still, 1991 saw the final Throwing Muses album with Tanya Donelly (The Real Ramona, CAD 1002), the final This Mortal Coil album (Blood, DAD 1005), His Name Is Alive's Home Is in Your Head (CAD 1013), and the Pixies' Trompe le Monde (CAD 1014), all of which are generally considered to be "classic 4AD."
Even in 1992, new signings like Belly and Red House Painters produced records that are also considered among the classic era of 4AD. However, the label's deal with Warner Bros. Records in the United States in 1992 would start the beginning of a truly new phase in 4AD history. By 1995, whatever remnants of the classic era that were left were dying out, as evidenced by the final 4AD release for Red House Painters (Ocean Beach, CAD 5005), and the last albums and break-ups of Belly and The Wolfgang Press. New signings that year included American underground acts Kendra Smith, Tarnation, Air Miami and The Amps.
Simon Halliday took control of the label at the end of 2007, leading a new era for 4AD. Notable immediate successes were Bon Iver's critically lauded debut For Emma, Forever Ago (CAD 2809) and Dear Science by Brooklyn's TV On The Radio (CAD 2821). In 2008, the Beggars Group recognised that 4AD was its most prestigious and successful label, and re-aligned itself so that several labels (including Beggars Banquet itself) were folded up on to the 4AD label. Bands like The National were moved to 4AD as a part of this merger. 2009 saw the release, amongst others, of St. Vincent's second record Actor (CAD 2919) and Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career, with 2010 bringing The National's High Violet and acclaimed albums from Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Blonde Redhead and Deerhunter.
In the next three years, 4AD oversaw new releases from Scott Walker, Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, and Tune-Yards, whilst also expanded its roster with a number of beats and electronic acts in the shape of acts including Purity Ring and Grimes, with the latter releasing one of the best received albums of 2012. The latest signings to the label are bEEdEEgEE, of Gang Gang Dance, Lo-Fang, and British producer SOHN. At the start of 2014, the label also announced the additions of Future Islands and Merchandise, followed by D.D Dumbo.
While 4AD did not handle any distribution outside the United Kingdom for many years, it had many willing distributors in many countries: Virgin Records for France, Nippon Columbia distributed much of the label in Japan, while PolyGram subsidiary Vertigo Records released many of the label's records in Canada. The United States had always been a tough market for 4AD, even though its records sold well there as imports. Only a few of the label's acts had deals to license their recordings in the USA, among various labels.
In 1992, Ivo signed a five-year distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records so that nearly all 4AD releases would be released in the United States. While this seemed to be a simple licensing deal, in reality executives from Warner Bros. took a lot of control during this period, as 4AD shifted focus to the US market, signing more American bands. While still president, it is clear that Ivo ceded some control during this period, and when the deal ended, he offered to sell the label back to Beggars Banquet. Dead Can Dance’s oeuvre, however, stayed with Warner Bros. until the sale back to Beggars Group.
The deal with Beggars was completed by early 1999, and since then it has owned 4AD and its distribution worldwide. This led to many negotiations for the label's back catalogue, like getting back US distribution rights for the Pixies, Dead Can Dance, and Cocteau Twins.
For the most part, 4AD's official UK releases follow a standard scheme for designating catalog numbers. Although there have been some variations over the years, some general rules can be devised to easily determine the format (LP, CD, etc.) and year of release by looking at a 4AD catalog number.
The first part of a catalog number is a prefix that contains a variation of "AD," based on the 4AD name. Some standards are:
Special editions of releases had an extra "D" added to the prefix:
Some other "AD" variations have been used less frequently over the years, including (but not limited to):
4AD only released one LP on DAT format, Cocteau Twins' Blue Bell Knoll, which was designated CADT 807.
The second part of the catalog number is a number that represents the year of release (via the number of years since 1980, following the '1980 Forward' theme), and the order of release in the particular year. For example, This Mortal Coil's LP It'll End in Tears is CAD 411. The "CAD" represents that the release is an LP, the "4" in 411 represents 1984, and 11 marks the 11th release of that year. This is the vinyl LP release; cassette versions have "C" added to the prefix (CADC 411 in this example); CD versions have "CD" added at the end (CAD 411CD).
A side effect of this scheme is that it made it seem like 4AD had hundreds of releases early on. Again using CAD411 as an example, a causal observer might assume this was the 411th release in the label's catalog, when 4AD actually had less than 100 total releases in their catalog at the time. In the 1990s, 4AD changed the first part of the number from "100s" to "1000s," temporarily making the number not correspond with the number of years since 1980. Releases in 1990 used "00" directly after the prefix (e.g., the Pixies' Bossanova, CAD0010, released in the fall of 1990); 1991 used "10" directly after the prefix (e.g., This Mortal Coil's Blood, DAD 1005, released early in 1991), 1992 used "20," and so on for the rest of the 1990s.
Wanting to return to numbering with the years since 1980, 4AD had to provide a workaround for releases in the year 2000. Since the "20" numerical designation had been used in 1992, all releases in 2000 used "2K" (e.g., Mojave 3's Excuses for Travellers, CAD 2K05, released in early 2000). Since 2001, the catalog numbering scheme has finally been able to return to the original format with the first part of the number representing the years since 1980. Things have not been too consistent since, and there have been several gaps. 2010 releases start the numerical designation 3X, as "30" had already been used in 1993.
The 4AD Sessions are an ongoing series of video recordings with various acts from the label's roster. Following on from the Deerhunter session at the Studio Plateaux on Platts Eyott island in 2008, the recordings see 4AD artists performing back-catalogue covers and alternative versions of their own material. They are housed on the label's website.© Wikipedia
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