Warp Records is a pioneering independent English record label, founded in Sheffield in 1989, notable for discovering some of the most enduring artists in electronic music.
Founded by Steve Beckett and the late Rob Mitchell from their experiences working at the FON record store, alongside producer Robert Gordon, the label (whose name was chosen because the original name, 'Warped Records' was difficult to distinguish over the telephone) soon became home to artists who would be highly influential in shaping the future of music.
The first release (WAP1) was by Forgemasters (produced by Robert Gordon), whose limited 500 copy pressing of "Track With No Name" was financed by an Enterprise Allowance grant and distributed in a borrowed car. It set a trend for the early releases both in terms of sound and the use of purple sleeves (designed by The Designers Republic). The follow up was Nightmares on Wax's "Dextrous", which charted, selling 30,000 copies despite a lack of promotion. This lead to greater commercial success; by its fifth release the label had its first top-twenty chart entry with LFO and their eponymous single, "LFO", which sold 130,000 copies.
The first album released was Sweet Exorcist's C.C.E.P. in 1991. In the same year Robert Gordon left Warp acrimoniously.
Warp went on to release a series of singles and albums from 1992 under the Artificial Intelligence heading, a series of experimental electronic music releases by artists such as Aphex Twin (as Diceman and later Polygon Window), Autechre, B12, the Black Dog, Richie Hawtin and Alex Paterson (of the Orb). Initially all the album releases were gatefold sleeves and coloured vinyl, often with striking covers by The Designers Republic or Phil Wolstenholme. A VHS compilation of digitally animated music videos called Motion was released in conjunction with the second Artificial Intelligence compilation, and featured an early work by director David Slade.
Since then the label has evolved, and later artists were a similarly eclectic group, and included the influential DJ Andrew Weatherall (as Sabres of Paradise and later as Two Lone Swordsmen), the live sensation Red Snapper and experimental hip-hop group Antipop Consortium.
In 1999 the label released Warp 10: Influences, Classics, Remixes, a compilation spanning six discs, featuring early acid house and techno music that influenced the label and its artists, as well as classic tracks from Warp's back catalog, and new remixes of Warp material. The collection celebrated the label's tenth anniversary.
In 2000 the label moved its operation to London along with its physical music and merchandise store Warpmart.
Co-founder Rob Mitchell passed away in 2001.
In January 2004 Warp Records launched an online digital music store, Bleep, notable for being among the few stores to completely avoid all digital rights management features in the downloadable tracks, unlike other music stores such as iTunes and Rhapsody.
On September 27, 2004 Warp Records released its second music video compilation, named WarpVision, featuring most of the videos produced from 1989 to 2004.
2005 saw the release of Warp, the first book in the Labels Unlimited series. Written by Rob Young, the book gives an illustrated history of the label, as well as offering a complete discography. The Warp Records website said the book was "A very beautiful thing and like our very own This Is Your Life".