Chicago Record Labels (Part Two)

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As Part One implied, there are more than just nine record labels that made this city a relevant recording center. In fact, the amount of time it would take to invest in all of the DIY labels is nearly inexistent. For all you hardcore kids out there, I suggest heading to the punk database to learn more about all of the super obscure stuff. But for my Part Two, I look to span the gamut between independent success stories, the unfortunately-short-lived-but-loved, and totally-unheard-of-but-making-waves-in-certain-crowds. The best stuff out there usually requires some digging on the listener’s part. So grab your shovel and let’s go:


Ok, this one’s sort of cheating. Polyvinyl calls Champaign their home, and is really the only reason I have to be jealous of my fighting Illini friends that attended school there. The label evolved from a ‘zine started by two friends, Matt Lunsford and Darcie Knight. Not content to just write about the bands in the local scene, they decided to step up the game by putting some music out into the world. The label picked up some of the local post-emo groups such as Braid, Rainer Maria and American Football, and would continue to expand musically, signing national indie acts. Soon, Mates of State, of Montreal, and Ida amongst others joined the roster, and the label even boasts international acts now such as Architecture in Helsinki and Love is All. Not bad for a couple kids that started a ‘zine fifteen years ago.


If you’re looking for something loud and abrasive that will piss off people around you, this is the label for you. HoZac is another label that evolved from a ‘zine (Horizontal Action, 1997-2005) which upon its demise, a label was formed from the rubble. Mostly featuring garage and glam rock with an adolescent charm, the label is responsible for the Smith Westerns debut LP, as well as releases from the Dum Dum Girls, Nobunny, Mickey and pretty much anyone else out there being offensive. The label is essentially run by two guys, Todd Novak and Brett Cross, who pretty much do this “just to make it through to the annual HoZac corporate Christmas party so they can get wasted and xerox each other’s nuts.”

Flameshovel Records

I can’t claim to understand why Flameshovel went under. With a roster featuring the Smoking Popes, Maritime, Chin Up Chin Up and a couple Tim Kinsella projects, it may have just been poor timing for these guys given the national economic and music industry climates of the late 2000s. Nothing’s been released for over two years at this point, the last being Mannequin Men’s Lose Your Illusion, Too, and their website is frozen in time. It was fun while it lasted and the fact that many of the bands on the label are still alive and kicking show they knew what they were doing.

Chocolate Industries

Founded in 1998 under the name Seven, Chocolate Industries is a bit of a mystery. Notorious for not updating their site, they do seem to put out some music here and there. A lot of the bands fall into the electronic and indie/hiphop genres. More recent releases include artists like Lady Sovereign, Hollywood Holt and Via Tania. However, the most recent news update is from almost a year ago, despite that news being about releasing the soundtrack for a Spike Jonze short. With a broken Twitter feed and a bit of legal trouble with the Cool Kids, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is another label on hiatus.

Hefty Records

Another label that’s difficult to get info on and I’m unsure whether they still exist. The latest release from Hefty dates back to May of 2010, but they’ve been kicking under the radar for 15 years before that, releasing a wide range of experimental music, down-tempo, trip-hop, and IDM. It was founded by John Hughes (no, not that John Hughes) in 1995 as a way to release his own music. Since then, he’s been able to spread the word on Ghosts & Vodka, Savath and Savalas, and Teflon Tel Aviv. The music is as far out there as the band names and worth the extra effort to track down.

Trouble in Mind

Here is where we start to get into the real babies of the scene. Started by two of the members of CoCoComa in 2009, Trouble In Mind has put out 25 releases, most of which are singles and EPs. But hey, gotta start somewhere, right? Aside from spreading the word on locals such as the founders of the label, Tyler Jon Tyler and Hollows, they’ve put out tunes from San Fran’s Ty Seagull and the Fresh & Onlys, as well as releases by Canadian and French artists. Definitely a label to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Whistler Records

That’s right, that Whistler Records. The cocktail extraordinaires / live music venue / art space also puts out tunes on wax. Sporadically releasing music over the past three years, the label got its start with a full-length by the leader of the avant-garde Microphones, Karl Blau. Mostly keeping their releases to 7 inches from local acts, the label proves its cutting edge by featuring artists like Shapers, This is Cinema and White Mystery.

Commune Records

Calling Commune Records a label seems a bit like a misnomer. With more of a focus on the Commune than the Records part of the name, this is music for people truly dedicated to supporting the local scene, or at least the abrasive psychedelic scene that’s prominent in Chicago’s underground. Must known names: Rabble Rabble, The Great Society Mind Destroyers, Rodeo.

Andrew Hertzberg

About Andrew Hertzberg

If identity is an illusion, I’m a magician in training. And although Emerson was right in pointing out that “with consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do” the one constant I don’t mind in my life is Chicago. Yes, even the boredom of her suburbs couldn’t suppress the glow of the city, my attraction as a moth to flame. The future is unwritten, the characters are ever-expanding, and the plot is a perpetual foray through rising actions, conflicts and falling actions; the setting, however, remains the same.

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