Drag City is one of the most influential independent record labels that still remains untainted by the major labels today. It was formed in Chicago in 1990, a poignant time for such music. As it was after the great American DIY movement of the 80’s, and just before the breakthrough of indie rock with Nirvana’s bestselling Nevermind. The label is rooted in experimentalism, especially the lo-fi genre, and yet has enjoyed significant success with its idiosyncratic musicians who have made an indelible impact on the music scene. Here are an examples of a few of them:
Royal Trux- Stevie (for Steven S)
Royal Trux were Drag City’s first release with the highly experimental and heavily abrasive Twin Infinitives, which would become the benchmark for the label’s pioneering philosophy. This song however, comes from the band’s final album, which is a more comfortable introduction to their sound.
Pavement- Box Elder
Although only releasing their first few EP’s on Drag City, Pavement became the label’s golden boys, which would give the label an early boost as a go-to for new indie musicians.
Joanna Newsom- Sprout and the Bean
Perhaps the most well-known of the label’s musicians, this unique harpist-singer has become a buzzword with anything indie. This song comes from her breakthrough masterpiece The Milk Eyed Mender
Smog- I Could Drive Forever
One of the label’s loyalest musicians, this indie survivor has been releasing music on their label since the early 90’s. This song is taken from what many consider to be his finest album Knock Knock
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy- New Partner
Like Smog, Will Oldham, AKA Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is a still very much active old-timer, who has manage to create a legend for himself, as well as being a great collaborator. Indeed he helped put Joanna Newsom on the label. This is one of his early songs, when he went under the pseudonym Palace Music.
Silver Jews- Random Rules
Easily the greatest lyricist of the past 20 years, here is David Berman with the best opening to song you will ever hear.
Jim O’Rourke- All Downhill From Here
Though now more known for being a producer, Jim O’Rourke released a string of brilliant albums in the early 2000’s that inspired a new way to play guitar.
Scott Walker- Farmer in the City
When this 60’s icon wanted to release strange music after he was more or less forgotten, Drag City were eager to give him the opportunity, and this song encapsulates the claustrophobia and eeriness to his sound.
Plush- (I Didn’t Know) I Was Asleep
This band represents the type that never gained a significant following but were able to create such unique music that Drag City couldn’t refuse them