Founded in 1997 by Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, Bella Union is now firmly established as one the UK’s most respected indie imprints. They believe passionately in affording their artists total creative freedom, and that trusting environment has resulted in some of the finest albums of the past 15 years, and a catalogue that encompasses an array of musical genres.
Celebrated luminaries? How long have you got? Well, they’re the musical home to acclaimed US artists Fleet Foxes, The Walkmen and Beach House, they’ve discovered superb Australasian and Scandinavian outfits like Dirty Three and I Break Horses, and they have a long-standing tradition of nurturing up-and-coming, home-grown talent, including Veronica Falls and Lanterns on the Lake. Lots to be proud of in their anniversary year, then!
We’ve highlighted our pick of the roster and delved deeper into their impressive back catalogue below.
15 Years of Bella Union
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- Rough Trade Shops: 15 Years Of Bella Union Records
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- by Various Artists
To celebrate Bella Union’s 15th anniversary, label founder Simon Raymonde teamed up with Rough Trade to put together this retrospective. As Raymonde himself concedes, selecting songs from their illustrious catalogue was no easy task: “For every artist and track I pick, there will be several more I cannot, and that is an uncomfortable feeling…” Nevertheless, we reckon this comp’s a great entry point for Bella Union virgins, bringing together big names like Fleet Foxes and Beach House with underrated outfits such as Lift To Experience and Treefight for Sunlight, and showcasing the stars of tomorrow, including Marques Toliver and Hannah Cohen.
Our favourite artists
Fleet Foxes might be platinum-selling, festival headliners nowadays, but it was Bella Union who first spotted their potential, releasing their eponymous debut in 2008. Three years on, the Seattle-formed five-piece released Helplessness Blues to unanimous acclaim and bagged themselves a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Folk Album’. Deservedly so: few bands pair heart-melting vocal harmonies with unusual song-structures so expertly.
Implausible as it seems, former Czars front man John Grant had traded making music for a career in Russian interpreting before Midlake coaxed him out of retirement in 2008. Two years on, Grant emerged with a beautifully-judged solo debut that had reviewers in bits. Sonically, Queen of Denmark explored radio-friendly 70s FM rock but beneath the hood lurked brutally candid lyrics detailing a life-time of depression, addiction and heartbreak. Moving, blackly-humorous but ultimately uplifting, we think it’s one of the finest albums of the past decade and can’t wait to hear where he goes next.
If the phrase “model-turned-musician” strikes fear into your very soul, this New Yorker should challenge your preconceptions nicely. As a former clothes horse, Hannah Cohen’s undoubtedly easy on the eye, but as a singer-songwriter she’s even easier on the ear. Her debut album was produced by Thomas Bartlett of The National and delivers a mix of lush, sun-dappled pop and heartbreakingly intimate folk, both of which showcase Cohen’s gorgeous, Sharon Van Etten-esque tones perfectly.
Back catalogue gems