The Domino Recording Company was founded in Putney, South West London by Laurence Bell in 1993. The label's start-up capital consisted of a weekly £40 Enterprise Allowance Grant, some demos from friends in the American underground, the idea that self-expression was still possible in the corporate nineteen nineties and a phone and fax machine on the bedroom floor. Twenty years later the Domino headquarters are a short walk away from Bell's first 'office' and the company's ambitions, operating procedures and ethos remain the same – to represent and release music by artists who have no choice but to make music and to draw them to the attention of the outside world.
The label's first release was Sebadoh's "Soul And Fire" a song of lovelorn honesty that cut through the prevailing bluster of grunge and introduced a new style of singer-songwriter recording that became known as Lo-Fi. Although always keen to avoid genres and nametags, the first generation of Domino artists became synonymous with the hallmarks of Lo-Fi: home recording, a free hand and an outsider mentality, one that was unconvinced by the music business's wider ideas about commerce. Among the label's earliest successes was Will Oldham under his working name of Palace and its variant modifiers (Palace Songs, Palace Music and Palace Brothers), Smog and Royal Trux, artists who all released epochal, highly praised, albums that earned the label a unique position and reputation in a UK that was musically fixated on the monolithic good times of Britpop. In a move that typified the label's unique sense of resilience, Domino also released titles by wayward and experimental domestic acts such as Hood, Flying Saucer Attack and The Third Eye Foundation that, together with the label signing The Pastels, ensured Domino celebrated a very British sense of regionalism and at times, eccentricity.
In 1997 Domino released Pavement's landmark commercial breakthrough Brighten The Corners which was followed a year later by Elliott Smith's Either/Or and in 1999 the debut album by Will Oldham as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, I See A Darkness - a series of albums that confirmed the label's reputation as the preeminent European home of American music. Bell's desire to work with British bands as innovative and singular as his American artists reached fruition in the late nineties with the signings of Four Tet, Clinic, James Yorkston and The Kills.
All were acts with a distinct identity that established Domino as a label interested in creativity rather than in any particular sound or style. Towards the end of its first decade the label became synonymous with this new set of artists who provided a catalogue for Domino's newly opened New York office to release into the American market.
It was a Glaswegian act that Bell signed just as Domino celebrated it tenth anniversary that would see the label enter the international mainstream. Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut was released at the beginning of 2004 and went on to sell several million albums worldwide. While the rest of the industry was trying to catch its breath over the fact a small independent company was able to compete so forcefully by engaging in 'pop terrorism' (to use one of Bell's favourite phrases) Domino quickly repeated Franz Ferdinand's multiplatinum success on an even bigger scale. Through a series of down-to the-wire negotiations Bell signed Sheffield's Arctic Monkeys and the label quickly released the band's debut Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not to an expectant audience. It was a high water mark and unplanned-for moment in the label's history that saw the band break the record for the fastest selling debut album of all time.
Domino has used its newly acquired commercial expertise to sign a generation of American bands that includes Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Real Estate and Julia Holter and offer a home to such revered artists as Robert Wyatt, King Creosote and Hot Chip, a testament to both its worldwide reach and the renaissance of the independent sector. The label is now a fully international company with offices in Wandsworth, Brooklyn, Berlin and Paris. Domino has also grown in other areas of the music business, establishing a publishing company and a series of labels including Double Six, Ribbon Music and Weird World, as well as an on-going reissue catalogue that highlights classic recordings and bands from the post-punk era such as Orange Juice, Young Marble Giants and Liquid Liquid.
The past few years have also seen Domino enter into a series of lively collaborations with companies outside the music industry. These include Loops, a music journal which was produced in partnership with Faber & Faber and a limited edition clothing line with Uniqlo. The label also contributed to the wider cultural landscape by establishing both the Domino Press, a books imprint whose first publication was James Yorkston's picaresque It's Lovely To Be Here and a pop-up weeklong radio station: Domino Radio, in 2011.
On the eve of its twentieth anniversary, Domino Recording Co. remains a wholly independent record company whose characteristics are best represented by its artists: individuality, originality and a total immersion in music's worlds of possibility.