Just announced on Huw Stephen’s Radio 1 show, as part of a celebratory feature on Warp Records, Steve Beckett will receive the AIM 2017 Pioneer Award. For nearly three decades Warp Records has been a synonym for adventures in sound and vision, consistently furthering their position as one of the most creative independent record labels in the world. With a rich legacy and consistently groundbreaking vision of the future, Warp and its artists including Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus, Danny Brown and Brian Eno traverse mediums to explore new spaces.
Steve Beckett had this to say on winning the Pioneer Award: “I’m so honoured to be recognised as a ‘visionary’ by my peers in the independent music industry. I can still remember, almost 30 years ago, writing lists of possible names for the label in a crappy shared house in Sheffield with my co-founder Rob Mitchell, who sadly passed away in 2001. We’ve built that bedroom operation into a group of companies that includes Warp Records, Warp Music Publishing, Warp Films and Bleep.com, employing 60 people in six offices around the world. We have remained staunchly independent throughout – not to be ‘against’ anything, but to be ‘for’ creating our own destiny.
With the influence of Chicago house and Detroit techno, advances in affordable technology, and the illegal party scene, we found ourselves in the right place in the late-80s. We learned about running a record label through direct experience. From distributing records by hiring a car and driving them around the country to record shops, writing at artist accounting by hand (we didn’t have a computer!), to learning about international distribution and this thing we kept hearing about called the internet.
I’m proud of so many things we’ve achieved with Warp. Mainly the incredible artists and music we’ve supported, from Nightmares on Wax, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards Of Canada and Broadcast to Squarepusher, Brian Eno and Flying Lotus, as well as some of the newer artists we’re excited about, such as Kelela and GAIKA. I’m also proud of the visual aesthetic we’ve brought to our artwork, videos and associated visual work, especially our early association with the Designers Republic.”
Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell were running the FON record shop and playing in bands in late80s Sheffield, as the first wave of Chicago House and Detroit Techno exploded across the North of England. Along with producer Robert Gordon, the pair formed Warp Records in 1989 to release a handful of records that were coming to them across the shop counter, from local artists with their own take on this sound. Forgemasters ‘Track With No Name’ became an instant underground floor filler and Nightmares on Wax’s ‘Dextrous’ and LFO’s ‘LFO’ singles peaked in the Top 20 in 1990. This early success allowed Steve and Rob to quickly develop the label into the home for esoteric electronic music, becoming known for the boundary pushing sounds of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher and Boards of Canada through the 90s.
The label has continued to develop under Steve’s guidance after Rob Mitchell sadly passed away in 2001. Now nearly three decades on, it has grown into one of the most important and innovative creative companies in the world. Whilst Warp artists often push the boundaries, Steve has always looked to sign artists with unique talents and singular vision. Artists as diverse as Flying Lotus, Battles, Oneohtrix Point Never, Hudson Mohawke, Clark, Bibio, LoneLady and Brian Eno now call the label home.
Beckett has also steered Warp through the changing climate for music with innovation on the business side too. Bleep was a pioneering DRM free download store and continues to provide artists and labels with new tools for selling and distributing music. Warp Films has developed from an idea that a film company could be born from the same ethos that had birthed Warp Records. It is now regularly producing world renowned film and TV works such as Shane Meadow’s BAFTA winning ‘This is England’.
Paul Pacifico, AIM CEO said “Warp records were a seminal part of the soundtrack of my university years in the ‘90s and still sound just as great today. We discover new, exciting artists by trusting in the vision and curation of the teams at labels like Warp. Over the years Steve’s work has stood out as an exemplar of what it is to be a creative entrepreneur, at the forefront of artist discovery and development, digital evolution and subsequently film. We are very fortunate to have Steve as a key figure in the independent music community here at AIM and I am delighted that we are able to recognise his exceptional career with this year’s AIM Pioneer Award.”
Previous winners have included industry luminaries Richard Russell (XL), Digby Pearson (Earache Records), Martin Mills (The Beggars Group), Geoff Travis (Rough Trade), Daniel Miller (Mute) and Laurence Bell (Domino).