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|Parent company||Beggars Group|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
4AD is a British independent record label that was started in 1979 by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, funded by Beggars Banquet Records, and is still active today. It now forms part of the Beggars Group, along with Matador Records, Rough Trade Records and XL Recordings.
4AD current recording artists include Ariel Pink, Bon Iver, Camera Obscura, Deerhunter, Gang Gang Dance, Grimes, Iron & Wine, The National, Purity Ring, Scott Walker, St. Vincent, Twin Shadow, and Tune-Yards.
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.
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 Stereolab and The National were signed to 4AD as a part of this merger.
While 4AD didn't handle any distribution outside the United Kingdom for many years, it had many willing distributors in many countries: Virgin Records for France, Columbia Music Entertainment 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 their 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 see release 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 once the deal ended, he offered to sell the label back to Beggars Banquet.
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 and Cocteau Twins.
4AD sessions 
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 - www.4ad.com/sessions.
- Session 000: Deerhunter
1. "Cum Horizon (Improvisation)", 2. "Springhall Convent", 3. "Microcastle", 4. "Saved By Old Times", 5. "Never Stops", 6. "Backspace Century (Version II)", 7. "Calvary Scars"
- Session 001: Tune-Yards
1. "Real Live Flesh", 2. "Little Tiger", 3. "Powa", 4. "Hatari", 5. "Jumping Jack"
- Session 002: Efterklang
1. "I Was Playing Drums", 2. "Alike", 3. "Me Me Me the Brick House", 4. "Modern Drift"
- Session 003: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
1. "Menopause Man", 2. "Spires In The Snow", 3. "Little Wig", 4. "Flashback", 5. "L'Estat (According to the Widow's Maid)"
- Session 004: Stornoway
1. "Fuel Up", 2. "On The Rocks", 3. "Here Comes The Blackout", 4. "Watching Birds"
- Session 005: Blonde Redhead
1. "Here Sometimes", 2. "Love Or Prison", 3. "Will There Be Stars", 4. "Oslo", 5. "Not Getting There"
- Session 006: Broken Records
1. "A Leaving Song", 2. "A Darkness Rises Up", 3. "You Know You’re Not Dead", 4. "The Motorcycle Boy Reigns", 5. "Home"
- Session 007: Twin Shadow
1. "Castles In The Snow", 2. "At My Heels", 3. "Forget", 4. "Slow"
- Session 008: Gang Gang Dance
1. "Chinese High", 2. "Mindkilla/KOU-DA-LEY", 3. "Adult Goth/Bond", 4. "Glass Jar"
- Session 009: Iron & Wine
1. "Tree By The River", 2. "Biting Your Tail", 3. "Big Burned Hand", 4. "Half Moon", 5. "Upwards Over The Mountain"
- Session 010: St. Vincent
1. "Chloe In The Afternoon", 2. "Surgeon", 3. "Strange Mercy", 4. "Year Of The Tiger"
- Session 011: The Big Pink
1. "Stay Gold", 2. "Hit The Ground (Superman)", 3. "Velvet", 4. "Rubbernecking", 5. "Give It Up"
- Session 012: Bon Iver
1. "Hinnom, TX", 2. "Wash.", 3. "I Can't Make You Love Me", 4. "Babys", 5. "Beth/Rest"
- Session 013: Mark Lanegan
1. "The Gravedigger's Song", 2. "St. Louis Elegy", 3. "Riot In My House", 4. "Harborview Hospital"
- Session 014: SpaceGhostPurrp
1. "Mystikal Maze" 2. "Get Yah Head Bust", 3. "Don't Give A Damn"
- Session 014: Indians
1. "I Am Haunted", 2. "Magic Kids", 3. "New"
Selected discography 
- Bauhaus, "Dark Entries" (AD 3); the only AXIS single to be re-issued under the 4AD name
- Modern English, Swans on Glass (AD 6);
- Rema-Rema, Wheel in the Roses (BAD 5); the first release bearing the 4AD logo
- Bauhaus, In the Flat Field (CAD 13); the first full-length LP on 4AD
- Modern English, Gathering Dust (AD 15); later the inspiration for This Mortal Coil's first record
- The Birthday Party, Prayers on Fire (CAD 105); first full-length from revered post-punk band
- Dif Juz, Huremics (BAD 109); debut EP from proto-"post rock" outfit
- Natures Mortes (Still Lives) (CAD 117); definitive summary of the label's post-punk years, originally only available in Japan
- Colin Newman, Not To (CAD 201); Third solo LP from Wire frontman, featuring several previously unreleased Wire tracks
- Modern English, After the Snow (CAD 206); LP contains 4AD's first mainstream hit, the New Wave classic "I Melt with You"
- Cocteau Twins, Garlands (CAD 211); debut LP from band who would come to define the label's aesthetic
- The Wolfgang Press, The Burden of Mules (CAD 308); debut LP from long-time 4AD mainstay, including former Rema-Rema members
- This Mortal Coil, Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust (BAD 310); debut EP from Ivo's house band, including popular cover of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren"
- Cocteau Twins, Head over Heels (CAD 313); the band's second LP begins to define the band and label's sound
- Dead Can Dance, Dead Can Dance (CAD 404); debut from the band who would become the label's biggest-selling act
- Cocteau Twins, The Spangle Maker (BAD 405); first release with new bassist Simon Raymonde crystallizes the band's sound
- This Mortal Coil, It'll End in Tears (CAD 411); debut LP was an international underground success
- Cocteau Twins, Treasure (CAD 412); a fan favourite, but one of the band's least favourite albums
- Clan of Xymox, Clan of Xymox (CAD 503); debut LP from classic goth band
- Dif Juz, Extractions (CAD 505); only full-length from the band, which is very much in-line with the classic 4AD sound
- Colourbox, Colourbox (CAD 508); debut LP from pop-collage artists, considered ahead of its time today
- Dead Can Dance, Spleen and Ideal (CAD 512); second LP that advanced the band's sound considerably
- Cocteau Twins, The Pink Opaque (CAD 513CD); compilation of 1982-1985 material intended for US release; released only on CD in the UK, the label's first release on the medium
- Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (CAD 603); reissue of songs by the internationally renowned Bulgarian folk ensemble
- Throwing Muses, Throwing Muses (CAD 607); debut LP from the first American band signed to 4AD
- This Mortal Coil, Filigree & Shadow (DAD 609); second album from Ivo's project is the label's first double album
- M|A|R|R|S, Pump up the Volume (AD 707); the label's only single to reach number one in the UK charts, generally regarded as a significant milestone in the development of British house music and music sampling
- Lonely Is an Eyesore (CAD 703); compilation album released in many formats, showcasing the label's diverse lineup
- Dead Can Dance, Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (CAD 705); another classic LP typical of the label's output of the era
- Pixies, Come on Pilgrim (MAD 709); debut mini-album culled from the band's demo tape
- Pieter Nooten/Michael Brook, Sleeps with the Fishes (CAD 710); atmospheric album from former Clan of Xymox member Nooten and noted guitarist/producer Brook
- Throwing Muses, House Tornado (CAD 802); the band's second LP is their first to be released in the USA
- Pixies, Surfer Rosa (CAD 803); Steve Albini-produced album that proved to be massively influential on nearly all alternative rock to follow
- Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll (CAD 807); the band's most successful LP to date received major-label distribution in the USA by Capitol Records
- Pixies, Doolittle (CAD 809); another extremely influential LP that now routinely ranks high in lists of all-time best albums
- Lush, Scar (JAD 911); debut EP by English quartet that straddled the line between airy, melodic pop and shoegaze
- The Breeders, Pod (CAD 0006); debut of Pixie Kim Deal's side project that eventually became her main band
- His Name Is Alive, Livonia (CAD 0008); American band begins a long run at 4AD with a debut that carries on in the tradition of the label's 1980s heyday
- Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas (CAD 0012); the band's final album on 4AD; was said by Ivo to be "the best record 4AD ever released."
- Belly, Star (CAD 3002); debut album of the side-project by Throwing Muses' Tanya Donelly
- Red House Painters, Red House Painters, a.k.a. Rollercoaster (DAD 3008); acclaimed, sprawling double album from the pioneering slowcore band
- Unrest, Perfect Teeth (CAD 3012); jointly-released with TeenBeat Records
- Lush, Split (CAD 4011); the band's critically acclaimed second album
- Mojave 3, Ask Me Tomorrow (CAD 5013); debut album from former members of shoegaze band Slowdive
- Thievery Corporation, Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi (CAD 8006); an unlikely and short-lived foray into the electronic, downtempo world for 4AD
- The Breeders, Title TK (CAD 2205); strangely intimate, feminine garage rock and an admirably honest portrait of the band
- Blonde Redhead, Misery Is a Butterfly (CAD 2409); a creative leap forward for the band
- TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes (CAD 2420); otherworldly debut album from feted Brooklyn band
- Cocteau Twins, Lullabies to Violaine (CTBOX 2); compilation of all Cocteau Twins' EPs, singles, and B-sides spread over four compact discs; remastered by Robin Guthrie and released to coincide with the label's 25th anniversary
- TV on the Radio, Dry Drunk Emperor (n/a); a free download track, never formally released, gifted to fans and to remember those affected by Hurricane Katrina
- TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (CAD 2607); "the best album of 2006" according to many critics' end-of-year lists
- Scott Walker, The Drift (CAD 2603); the first album from the reclusive Scott Walker in over a decade
- Beirut Gulag Orkestar (CAD 2619); accomplished debut album from the then 19-year old Zach Condon
- Plague Songs (CAD 2616); an album of songs by various artists (including Rufus Wainwright, Brian Eno & Robert Wyatt, and Scott Walker) about the ten Plagues of Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus
- Blonde Redhead, 23 (CAD 2717); second album for 4AD from the New York trio
- Scott Walker, And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? (CAD 2731); original score for a modern dance performance by CandoCo; limited to just 2,500 copies
- Beirut, The Flying Club Cup (CAD 2732)
- The Breeders, Mountain Battles (CAD 2803); the band's first new material for nearly six years
- Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (CAD 2811 CD); expanded version of the debut album by Bradford Cox
- Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (CAD 2809)
- Stereolab, Chemical Chords (CAD 2815); first 4AD release from the band; released almost a year before announcing their hiatus
- TV on the Radio, Dear Science (CAD 2821)
- Dark Was the Night (DAD 2835); a compilation album with proceeds going to the Red Hot Organization
- Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career (CAD 2907); fourth studio record from Glasgow-based indie pop act
- St. Vincent, Actor (CAD 2919)
- The Big Pink, A Brief History of Love (CAD 2916)
- Atlas Sound, Logos (CAD 2930); second album from Bradford Cox; features collaborations with Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) of Animal Collective and Lætitia Sadier of Stereolab
- Tindersticks, Falling Down a Mountain (CAD 3X02); first release of 2010 for 4AD using the new catalog numbering scheme 3X--
- The National, High Violet (CAD 3X03)
- Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Before Today (CAD 3X15)
- Fragments from Work in Progress (BAD 3X17); a Record Store Day exclusive 12" vinyl EP featuring unreleased tracks from Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Tune-Yards, Blonde Redhead, Gang Gang Dance, and The Big Pink
- Stornoway, Beachcomber's Windowsill (CAD 3X20); debut long-player from Oxford based indie folk four piece
- Blonde Redhead, Penny Sparkle (CAD 3X27)
- Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (CAD 3X38)
- Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean (CAD 3103)
- Tune-Yards, Whokill (CAD 3106)
- Bon Iver, Bon Iver (CAD 3117)
- St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (CAD 3123)
- Atlas Sound, Parallax (CAD 3130)
- Mark Lanegan Band, Blues Funeral (CAD 3202)
- Grimes, Visions (CAD 3208)
- Purity Ring, Shrines (CAD 3218)
- David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant (CAD 3231)
- Scott Walker, Bish Bosch (CAD 3220)
- Daughter, If You Leave (CAD 3301)
- Deerhunter, Monomania (CAD 3307)
- The National, Trouble Will Find Me (CAD 3315)
Catalog numbering scheme 
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:
- AD = single
- BAD = EP
- CAD = full-length LP
- DAD = double LP
- MAD = mini-LP
Special editions of releases had an extra "D" added to the prefix:
- CAD D = special edition of a full-length LP
- DAD D = special edition of a double LP
Some other "AD" variations have been used less frequently over the years, including (but not limited to):
- EAD = electronic download
- GAD = reissue (usually mid-priced)
- HAD = remastered or significantly altered reissue (usually with some combination of bonus tracks, re-mastering, or new artwork)
- JAD and MAD = "mini album" that is longer than an EP but shorter than an LP
- SAD = Super Audio CD release (as in the Dead Can Dance 2008 remastered reissues)
- TAD = temporary/limited release
Numerical designation 
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. Once 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.
- 4AD: 1980
- BBC - 6 Music - 1980 Forward - 25 Years of 4AD
- Label Shuffle: 4AD Absorbs Too Pure, Beggars Banquet | Pitchfork
- Thorpe, Vanessa (2010) "4AD, the record label that gave birth to indie cool, celebrates 30th anniversary", The Observer, 29 August 2010, retrieved 2011-01-16
- Official site
- Eyesore Database: Complete 4AD Discography through ca. 1998, sporadic updates for releases since then
- 4AD: The Perfect Antidote: Complete 4AD Discography and Miscellany from 1980–2007
- Ingebrigtsen, Lars Magne (2000). Eyesore list of 4ad groups Retrieved 22 February 2005.
- Keibel, Jeff (2004). 4AD: Facing The Wrong Way fan site. Retrieved 17 February 2005.