Twelve of the Best Colorado Underground Record Labels
Petite Garcon of Tender Moments performs at Absolute Vinyl for Local Label Day.
Since at least the early ’80s, Colorado has seen no shortage of indie labels, from Wax Trax to We Never Sleep, Doughnut Krew, Elephant 6, Suburban Home, Gestalt, Soda Jerk, W.A.R., Gift and many more. Typically, these imprints are started by someone with the initiative and the resources to put out music that had no chance for release on a more commercial record label.
On April 22, this year's Record Store Day, Doug Gaddy and Absolute Vinyl are putting a new twist on the vinyl collectors' holiday: Local Label Day, with a focus on homegrown releases. The day's events will include live performances from bands on the various labels at both Absolute Vinyl and Madelife in Boulder. A schedule of events can be found on the Local Label Day Facebook event page.
We've profiled a few of the recent indie labels in Westword, including Always Human Tapes, Greater Than Collective, Sailor Records and Chain Reaction Records, which is behind the Casket Collective imprint. In advance of Local Label Day and Record Store Day, we've compiled a list of twelve more independent labels that are helping to launch Colorado and non-Colorado music out into the world.
Cover of Sacred Spring by Animal / object.
1. Bangsnap Records
Run by Kurt Bauer of Animal / object, Bangsnap releases avant-garde, improvisational and spontaneous compositions, mostly by musicians from the Denver area. The output is prolific, and the label has both digital and physical releases from, among others, Animal / object, Dreaming Machines, Pin Rose and Mark McCoin.
2. Bleak Environment
Just as the name suggests, this imprint releases mostly experimental and what some might consider challenging music. Noisy post-punk band Tollund Men, death-grind outfit Stillborn Fawn and Kali Malone's dark ambient music have all found a home at Bleak Environment.
Coastal Bend Music
3. Coastal Bend Music
Based in both Denver and Corpus Christi, Texas, Coast Bend Music is owned and operated by John Macy, who runs Macy Sound Studios in Denver. The Grammy Award-winning engineer and accomplished pedal-steel player is currently releasing mostly country music on Coastal Bend.
4. Cloister Recordings
Marcus Labonte reopened Cloister Recordings in 2014 to continue the legacy of releasing experimental metal, drone and avant-garde music established by his friend Justin Rodriguez, who died in 2013. Labonte relocated to Colorado in 2015 and has kept the imprint active with a string of new releases and reissues of classic albums in genres within its bailiwick.
5. Differential Productions
Founded in Boulder by Michael Zucker, Differential Productions is home to several artists from Colorado and the East Coast, including singer-songwriters like Emily Shreve, math rock bands like Eat the Sun, psychedelic jazz band Dark Matter and weirdo hip-hop project Headfridge. Differential Productions also offers digital audio and video editing and mastering services as well as CD and vinyl duplication.
Graven Earth Recordings
6. Graven Earth
Focusing on underground heavy music, local and otherwise, Graven Earth releases albums and special editions from Khemmis, Palehorse/Palerider and Pyres.
7. GroupHug Records
GroupHug started like many small labels, with friends pooling resources to put out their own music and that of other bands they like. The imprint's current roster is Denver-centric, with Panther Martin, Jobless and Civil Engineer, but also includes the Violent Lashes, from Alaska, and Wazonek, from Vancouver.
Guilty Pleasure Records
8. Guilty Pleasure Records
Founded by members of Denver bands South of France and Inner Oceans, Guilty Pleasure Records brings together the know-how of both of those acts, which have established themselves in Denver and beyond. The imprint recently signed Modern Leisure, the new band fronted by Casey Banker, best known for his stints in the Don'ts and Be Carefuls, and Shady Elders.
Shadowtrash Tape Group
9. Shadowtrash Tape Group
As the name suggests, this Boulder-based label's focus is tapes. Almost all of the artists on the label play experimental music and have tape-collage projects, ambient outfits and noise bands. Mercury Severinsen, King Poppy and Perfume Trash are not likely names that even local aficionados of unusual music know. Shadowtrash offers a tape-of-the-month subscription, which is a good way to keep up with Colorado-based weird music.
10. Symbolic Insight
Wesley Davis may be best known for his ambient series Textures, which rolls out the final Sunday of each month. But before that, he founded Symbolic Insight, a label for his own projects and other ambient and experimental-music artists.
11. Tender Moments
David Castillo had already been making tapes, CD-Rs and other merch for his own bands, including Pizza Time, when he started Tender Moments. Under the the label's umbrella, Castillo has also programmed the online festival Bummeroo, for which participating bands and other creative people create music videos of live performances. Artists on the label include Panaderia, Nancy Strong and Ben E. Gringo & His Popkorn of Feer.
12. Vacant Decade
Together less than a month, Vacant Decade comprises Nick Salmon and Adam Rojo of the industrial band Voight. So far the label has issued Voight's small catalogue, as well as that of Denver-based synth band TetraKroma. It has also reissued a 2016 self-titled EP from Portland-based dark-post-punk band Sex Park. The label aims to not be a Denver-centric affair, and has releases from other out-of-state bands.