Dominik Bartmański and Ian Woodward – Labels, Making Independent Music


Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN: 978-1474280457, LINGUA, 310 pages, 2020, USA

In literature, small publishers embody freedom of expression and the possibility to explore forms and content free from commercial pressure. In music, this role has been taken over by independent labels that have embraced the philosophy that ‘you can’t put a price on freedom’. This book painstakingly reconstructs the ecology of key labels producing mainly electronic music from the last two decades through interviews with their owners (Room40, Ninja Tune, Sonar Kollectif, Gagarin, Ostgut Ton, and many others). The small or collective economy, the possibilities of the urban space of big cities and, above all, the junctions between a local community and an international network, are the essential molecules that make up the common DNA of these labels. Other essential elements are a surprisingly strong cultural agency, a curatorial role expressed in the releases, and a relational ‘affordance’, explored in different contexts and scenes. The combination of these elements enables the labels to eventually become a cultural lighthouse for their extended networks. Neural emerged from an independent electronic music label, so we do understand these concepts and the incredible potential of their coalescence. As a result, this academic book is extremely useful for understanding independent music, and equally important for those of us who are reflected in its theories.