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|Parent company||Beggars Group|
|Genre||Alternative rock, post-punk, dream pop, electronic, experimental|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
The label gained prominence in the 1980s for releasing albums from alternative rock, post-punk, gothic rock and dream pop artists, such as Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Modern English, Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Throwing Muses and Watts-Russell's own musical project This Mortal Coil. In 1987, the label scored an international hit with the dance music single "Pump Up the Volume" by the one-off project M/A/R/R/S. 4AD continued to have success in the 1990s and 2000s with releases from The Breeders, Lush, Red House Painters, TV on the Radio, St. Vincent and Bon Iver. The label's current roster includes acts such as The National, Camera Obscura, Daughter, Deerhunter, Grimes, Purity Ring and Future Islands.
4AD now forms part of the Beggars Group, along with fellow independent labels Matador, Rough Trade, XL and XL imprint Young Turks. The label's history has been detailed by Martin Aston in the biography Facing The Other Way, released in 2013.
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 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:
Scrambling for a new name, Ivo glanced at the flyer and suggested "4AD." Peter Kent agreed, and, with that split-second decision, 4AD was named.
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 acquired a visually distinctive identity. Its artists, like Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, developed 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.
The label's deal with Warner Bros. Records in the United States in 1992 would start the beginning of a new phase in 4AD history. New signings that year included American underground acts Kendra Smith, Tarnation, Air Miami and The Amps.
Simon Halliday took control of the label at the end of 2007. Immediate successes were Bon Iver's critically lauded debut For Emma, Forever Ago (CAD 2809) and Dear Science by Brooklyn's TV On The Radio (CAD 2821). In 2008, the Beggars Group re-aligned itself so that several labels (including Beggars Banquet itself) were folded up on to the 4AD label. Bands like The National were moved to 4AD as a part of this merger. 2009 saw the release, amongst others, of St. Vincent's second record Actor (CAD 2919) and Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career, with 2010 bringing The National's High Violet and acclaimed albums from Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Blonde Redhead and Deerhunter.
In the next three years, 4AD oversaw new releases from Scott Walker, Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, and Tune-Yards, whilst also expanded its roster with a number of beats and electronic acts in the shape of acts including Purity Ring and Grimes, with the latter releasing one of the best received albums of 2012. The latest signings to the label are bEEdEEgEE, of Gang Gang Dance, Lo-Fang, and British producer SOHN. At the start of 2014, the label also announced the additions of Future Islands and Merchandise, followed by D.D Dumbo.
2015 saw critically lauded releases by Deerhunter and Grimes, amongst others, with the following years seeing the label, and The National, land their first ever UK #1 record with Sleep Well Beast. Latest signings to the roster include Aldous Harding and British artist Pixx.
While 4AD did not handle any distribution outside the United Kingdom for many years, it had many willing distributors in many countries: Virgin Records for France, Nippon Columbia 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 its 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 be released 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 when the deal ended, he offered to sell the label back to Beggars Banquet. Dead Can Dance’s oeuvre, however, stayed with Warner Bros. until the sale back to Beggars Group.
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, Dead Can Dance, and Cocteau Twins.
- The National, Sleep Well Beast (4AD0020)
- Future Islands, The Far Field (4AD0001)
- Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister, Planetarium (4AD0009)
- Aldous Harding, Party (4AD0008)
- Methyl Ethel, Everything Is Forgotten (CAD 3701)
- SOHN, Rennen (CAD3708)
- Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (CAD 3605)
- Daughter, Not to Disappear (CAD 3604)
- The Lemon Twigs, Do Hollywood (CAD 3650)
- D.D Dumbo, Utopia Defeated (CAD3616)
- Tim Hecker, Love Streams (CAD3616)
- Scott Walker, The Childhood of a Leader OST (CAD3620)
- Purity Ring, Another Eternity (CAD 3501)
- Grimes, Art Angels (CAD 3535)
- Holly Herndon, Platform (CAD 3503)
- Deerhunter, Fading Frontier (CAD 3521)
- U.S. Girls, Half Free (CAD 3520)
- Beirut, No No No (CAD 3525)
- EL VY, Return To The Moon (CAD 3530)
- Future Islands, Singles (CAD 3402)
- SOHN, Tremors (CAD 3403)
- Tune-Yards, Nikki Nack (CAD 3414)
- Merchandise, After the End (CAD 3430)
- Ariel Pink, Pom Pom (CAD 3440)
- Daughter, If You Leave (CAD 3301)
- Iron & Wine, Ghost on Ghost (CAD 3306)
- Deerhunter, Monomania (CAD 3307)
- The National, Trouble Will Find Me (CAD 3315)
- Camera Obscura, Desire Lines (CAD 3314)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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
- 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)
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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
- The Breeders, Title TK (CAD 2205); strangely intimate, feminine garage rock and an admirably honest portrait of the band
- 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 last album on the label; 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 and Michael Brook, Sleeps with the Fishes (CAD 710); atmospheric album from former Clan of Xymox member Nooten and noted guitarist/producer Brook
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 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
- The The, Burning Blue Soul (CAD 113); debut album from Matt Johnson, originally released under his own name.
- Natures Mortes (Still Lives) (CAD 117); definitive summary of the label's post-punk years, originally only available in Japan
- 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
- The The, Controversial Subject (AD 10); debut single.
- 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
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
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. 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). Between 2001 and 2009, the catalog numbering scheme returned to the original format, with the first two digits of the number representing the years since 1980 (e.g., Blonde Redhead's 23, CAD 2717, released in 2007 - the 27th year since 1980). Things have not been too consistent since, and there have been several gaps. 2010 releases feature the numerical designation 3X, as "30" had already been used in 1993. This process appears to have come to an end with the xAD36nn releases of 2016. The catalogue numbers of all 2017 and 2018 releases (beginning with The Far Field by Future Islands, 4AD0001CD/4AD0001LP) have begun with 4AD00nn and ended with letters indicating the release format. No indication of release year is given.
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.
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