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 1990s and a phone and fax machine on the bedroom floor. Twenty-five plus 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 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. Though 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 wider ideas about commerce within the music business. Among the label's earliest successes were 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 their signing of 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 90s 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 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 its 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 could compete so forcefully by engaging in 'pop terrorism' (to use one of Bell's favourite phrases), Domino quickly repeated Franz Ferdinand's multi-platinum 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 an unplanned-for moment in the label's history which saw the band break the record for the fastest selling debut album of all time.
Domino used its newly acquired commercial expertise to sign a generation of American bands including Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Real Estate and Julia Holter, as well as offering a home to such revered artists as King Creosote, Steve Mason and Hot Chip, a testament both to Domino’s worldwide reach and the renaissance of the independent sector.
The label's now finely-honed instinct for discovering new acts with an ability to achieve both critical and commercial success was demonstrated by the signing of Wild Beasts, Villagers, Anna Calvi and Jon Hopkins, all of whom have released albums shortlisted for the Mercury Prize and gained a significant audience. By the 2010s the label was a fully international company with offices in Wandsworth, Brooklyn, Berlin and Paris; an organisation which could release artists of a global commercial pedigree such as Arctic Monkeys, The Kills and Blood Orange and simultaneously provide a home to iconoclastic artists such as Robert Wyatt, John Cale and Peter Perrett.
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. The Geographic label is an imprint with an international roster run in Glasgow by The Pastels that continues the band's commitment to outsider music. Domino has gradually acquired a substantial reissue catalogue of landmark recordings by bands from the punk and post-punk canon including Orange Juice, Young Marble Giants, The Go-Betweens, Liquid Liquid, Aztec Camera and Buzzcocks. Taken as a whole, these touchstone releases can be viewed as part of the inspiration for much of the music Domino has released and the manner in which the label operates.
A new generation of distinct and distinctive artists including Fat White Family, Bill Ryder-Jones, Georgia and Richard Dawson renewed the label’s sense of purpose as it approached its twenty five year anniversary in 2018. Rather than demonstrative festivities, the occasion was marked with a renewed commitment to a modus operandi of discovering new music, risk-taking and remaining entirely independent in mind and body. Above all, Domino remains a record label whose characteristics are best represented by its artists: individuality, originality, and a total immersion in music's worlds of possibility.