Austin has a dizzying number of local artists vying for attention, but you don’t hear as much about the local labels that are frequently supporting these artists. We decided to rectify that by highlighting ten of the Austin-based labels that we think are doing some of the best curation. We specifically chose not to call these local labels, because nearly all of their rosters feature national and international artists alongside the local acts they represent. But the Austin zip codes in their mailing addresses means they deserve to be supported along with all the other trendy local businesses we pledge allegiance to, week in, week out.
Notable acts: Hundred Visions, The Ghost Wolves, American Sharks, Roger Sellers
Why they’re the best: A hip vinyl label that has been home some of Austin’s most successful new indie acts over the past three years, Pau Wau has mostly stuck to the melodic end of Austin’s garage scene, with their release of Hundred Visions’ Spite last year serving as a near flawless culmination of the sounds they’ve supported on their roster, far more epic in scope than the batch of 7″ releases that made up the label’s debut. Eclectic auteurs like Roger Sellers have also popped up on the label to mix it up, and releases like Chris Catalena and the Native Americans’ shambling weird west opus Here Comes the Time prove the label is committed to stretching out and experimenting. But the overall sense you get from Pau Wau’s offerings is that they release what they love, no matter the form. Plus, they’ve got some of the best album covers in the city.
Notable acts: Feral Future, Crooked Bangs
Why they’re the best: At the moment, Western Medical is an admittedly unproven commodity, with their roster limited to just two acts. But those two acts are Feral Future and Crooked Bangs, two of the most notable punk bands in Austin, each crafting unique music that has likely already inspired a new generation of badass women musicians. Feral Future’s incendiary debut Haematic rightfully landed on our top albums list last year for its unflinching sonic and lyrical bravery while Crooked Bangs’ French post punk remains worth keeping an eye on. We’re confident that Western Medical is only going to continue to impress with its roster and we’re eager to see who joins their ranks next.
Notable Acts: Chipper Jones, BLSHS, Hikes, taz
Why they’re the best: The past couple years have seen Austin’s electronic and instrumental micro-scenes blossoming into fruitful communities and the relatively new tape label Graveyard Orbit has been at the center of the spacier end of that sound. In particular, Graveyard Orbit has bridged the ambient world of bedroom geniuses like taz with the more grandiose post-rock styles of Chipper Jones and Hikes. They’ve even worked in fun electro-pop like Houston’s BLSHS. But Graveyard Orbit goes beyond a label, it has also morphed into a collective aesthetic all its own, thanks to projects like last year’s Austin Cassette Fest, which paid tribute to the humble cassette while also bringing together some of Graveyard Orbit’s best acts. Given their stellar first year, it’s only a matter of time before Graveyard Orbit launches into the stratosphere.
Notable acts: Knifight, Other Lovers, Moving Castles
Why they’re the best: Another relatively new label, Oscillations was founded in 2013 by members of Knifight, Moving Castles and Wasted Fangs in order to “engage and collaborate” with artists they felt strongly about while also providing a home for their own bands’ output. Outside of the original trio’s music, Oscillations has gained notice with the addition of twangy indie folksters Other Lovers, whose “New” made it onto our Top Songs of 2013 list, and for the exceedingly ambitious Versus Project, a six disc box set curated by Borrisokane that had the band selecting their favorite local groups to cover and be covered by. Featuring an eclectic array of top tier Austin talent ranging from bedroom popsters Yum to the newly rechristened Baker Family project Young Tongue, the Versus Project went from a successful Kickstarter campaign to a heralded release and mini-festival release party last year. That kind of ambition and stubborn perseverance alone puts Oscillations ahead of most indie labels.
Notable acts: Quiet Company, Ume, Soft Swells, Black Pistol Fire
Why they’re the best: As a combo label and management firm, Modern Outsider is one of the most nationally oriented labels based out of Austin, and their line-up reflects that. Ranging from the somber Quiet Company to the raucous Ume, Modern Outsider has an impressive track record when it comes to getting Austin bands in the national spotlight. Though their style is more mainstream oriented, some of their newer groups, like Soft Swells and Mirror Travel, have intimate sounds that suggest the label may be expanding beyond its arena rock roots, but the label seems just as capable of helping these smaller bands blow up as their more commercial brethren.
Notable acts: Basketball Shorts, LA Font, Big Bill
Why they’re the best: Fleeting Youth would be on this list even if the only thing they ever did was put out the split EP that introduced Big Bill to the universe, but since appearing in 2013 the tape and vinyl label has been obscenely prolific and diverse. They’re also the label that might have the least amount of actual Austin acts on their roster, since Big Bill appears to no longer be connected to the label and Basketball Shorts remain the lone Austin holdout, as the rest of the label’s roster is mostly divided between the northeast and California. Still, Fleeting Youth is cranking out some of the best gutter punk you’re likely to hear.
Notable acts: The Zoltars, Bad Indians, Broncho, French Inhales
Why they’re the best: Like a more Austin-focused version of Fleeting Youth, CQ specializes in noisy yet melodic punk and they’re damn good at it. The Zoltars are the most prolific act on the label, but CQ has also doled out excellent singles and EPs by the likes of the French Inhales, and Broncho, and these quick bursts of hormonal rage are perhaps the best examples of the label’s aesthetic. The Pitchfork-approved Bad Indians are the label’s rising stars, though, with their heady mixture of psych, surf and punk; the band’s stellar 2014 effort Keep Losin’ in particular offers a glimpse at the ambitious weirdness that might be on the horizon for the label.
Notable acts: Marie Davidson, SYMBOL, S U R V I V E
Why they’re the best: Holodeck might have the most unique sound out of all of Austin’s labels. The synth heavy vinyl and tape label specializes in artists pushing the boundaries of electronic music, from chic French-Canadian Marie Davidson to ambient maestro SYMBOL to the John Carpenter influenced dark wave of Troller and ssleeperhold, the only real unifying element of Holodeck is ample electronics and dark textures. While Marie Davidson has been perhaps the label’s clearest breakout act, crossing over to audiences who can’t tell square and sine waves apart, I suspect whatever ssleeperhold has in store to follow up Ruleth will really command attention for the label. But regardless, you can’t go wrong with any of the label’s releases.
Notable acts: Sweet Talk, Flesh Lights, OBN III’s, XETAS
Why they’re the best: Given that 12XU is the passion project of Matador Records’ co-founder (and #1 ovrld fan) Gerard Cosloy, it should be no surprise that the label would be an obvious addition to any round up of notable Austin labels. But the 12XU roster is quite a bit different from what you may be used to over at Matador. Somewhat grown out of the Casual Victim Pile compilation of Austin acts that Matador put out several years back, 12XU is home to some of Austin’s best and bleakest punk, even though Cosloy is adamant that you not call it a local label. The Flesh Lights in particular have developed through the label, turning into one of Austin’s most consistent punk bands in the process, but relative newcomers like XETAS prove the label has its finger on the pulse of Austin punk. 12XU also has a knack for showcasing impeccable power pop like Sweet Talk, so don’t assume punk is the only flavor it provides.
Notable acts: Spray Paint, Daniel Francis Doyle, Dikes of Holland, Thor Harris
Why they’re the best: To be totally accurate, Monofonus is an all purpose media collective that just happens to have an incredible label attached. One of the longer running active labels, Monofonus is also the label that perhaps comes the closest to showcasing the full diversity of the Austin scene, with buzzy punk acts like Spray Paint cozying up alongside the cerebral indie of Daniel Francis Doyle and the impossible to peg down sonic adventuring of local legend Thor Harris. The sheer number of acts that call Monofonus home is impressive as is, but the label’s consistent quality has turned them into the label everyone else in town aspires to be.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover