Last updated

4AD record label logo.svg
Parent company Beggars Group
Founder Ivo Watts-Russell
Peter Kent
Distributor(s) Beggars Group
Genre Alternative rock, post-punk, dream pop, electronic, experimental
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Location London
Official website www.4ad.com

4AD is a British independent record label, founded by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent in 1980. [1] It was originally funded by, and an imprint of, Beggars Banquet. [2]


The label gained prominence in the 1980s for releasing albums from alternative rock, post-punk, gothic rock and dream pop artists, such as Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Modern English, Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Throwing Muses and Watts-Russell's own musical project This Mortal Coil. In 1987, the label scored an international hit with the dance music single "Pump Up the Volume" by the one-off project M/A/R/R/S. 4AD continued to have success in the 1990s and 2000s with releases from The Breeders, Lush, Red House Painters, Camera Obscura, TV on the Radio, St. Vincent and Bon Iver. The label's current roster includes acts such as The National, Grimes, Beirut, Daughter, Deerhunter, Big Thief, Purity Ring and Future Islands. [3]

4AD now forms part of the Beggars Group, along with fellow independent labels Matador, Rough Trade, XL and XL imprint Young Turks. The label's history has been detailed by Martin Aston in the biography Facing The Other Way, released in 2013. [4]


Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, employees of the Beggars Banquet record store and label, founded Axis Records in late 1979 as a property of Beggars Banquet that was run by the two. After the first four Axis singles in early 1980, the name was changed when it became apparent that the name Axis was already being used by another music company. The solution to this problem came from a promotional flyer that they had printed to call attention to the new releases. The flyer's designer had added some typography that played on both the new year and the idea of progress:

1980 FWD
1984 AD

Scrambling for a new name, Ivo glanced at the flyer and suggested "4AD." Peter Kent agreed, and, with that split-second decision, 4AD was named.[ citation needed ]

An initial idea for the label was that it would be a "testing ground" for Beggars Banquet; successful acts would graduate up to Beggars Banquet after a year at 4AD. The only band to follow this path would be Bauhaus, who were signed to Beggars Banquet in late 1980 before Ivo and Peter purchased the label outright.

The two were the sole owners for about a year. Kent sold his share to Watts-Russell at the end of 1981, and started a new Beggars Banquet subsidiary, Situation Two Records. Watts-Russell would maintain ownership of the label, and act as its president, until the late 1990s.

Watts-Russell invited the graphic designer Vaughan Oliver and the photographer Nigel Grierson to create sleeve art for the label, and as a result, 4AD acquired a visually distinctive identity. Its artists, such as Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, developed cult followings in the mid-1980s, but 4AD continued to evolve, and, after signing Throwing Muses and Pixies, the label increasingly concentrated on underground American rock music. In 1983, 4AD had a minor hit in America with the Modern English single "I Melt With You". In 1987, 4AD had a UK number-one hit with the collaged "Pump up the Volume" by M|A|R|R|S (licensed to 4th & B'Way/Island Records in the US).

In the 1990s, 4AD established an office in Los Angeles and had success with bands such as The Breeders, Red House Painters, Unrest and His Name Is Alive.

The label's deal with Warner Bros. Records in the United States in 1992 would start the beginning of a new phase in 4AD history. New signings that year included American underground acts Kendra Smith, Tarnation, Air Miami and The Amps. The following year Watts-Russell started a sub-label, Guernica, who would release records by Unrest, That Dog, and Bettie Serveert. [5]

In 1999, Watts-Russell sold his share in 4AD back to the Beggars Group (as it had by then become), but the label continued to release music and add new artists to its roster. [6] Simon Halliday took control of the label at the end of 2007. Immediate successes were Bon Iver's critically lauded debut For Emma, Forever Ago (CAD 2809) and Dear Science by Brooklyn's TV on the Radio (CAD 2821). In 2008, the Beggars Group re-aligned itself so that several labels, including Beggars Banquet itself, were folded up on to the 4AD label. [7] [8] Bands including The National were moved to 4AD as a part of this merger. 2009 saw the release, amongst others, of St. Vincent's second record Actor (CAD 2919) and Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career, with 2010 bringing The National's High Violet and acclaimed albums from Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Blonde Redhead and Deerhunter.

In the next three years, 4AD oversaw new releases from Scott Walker, Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, and Tune-Yards, whilst also expanded its roster with a number of beats and electronic acts [9] in the shape of acts including Purity Ring and Grimes, with the latter releasing one of the best received albums of 2012. The latest signings to the label are bEEdEEgEE, of Gang Gang Dance, Lo-Fang, and British producer SOHN. At the start of 2014, the label also announced the additions of Future Islands and Merchandise, followed by D.D Dumbo.

2015 saw critically lauded releases by Deerhunter and Grimes, amongst others, with the following years seeing the label, and The National, land their first ever UK #1 record with Sleep Well Beast. Latest signings to the roster include Aldous Harding and British artist Pixx.


While 4AD did not handle any distribution outside the United Kingdom for many years, it had many willing distributors in many countries: Virgin Records for France, Nippon Columbia distributed much of the label in Japan, while PolyGram subsidiary Vertigo Records released many of the label's records in Canada. The United States had always been a tough market for 4AD, even though its records sold well there as imports. Only a few of the label's acts had deals to license their recordings in the US, among various labels.

In 1992, Ivo signed a five-year distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records so that nearly all 4AD releases would be released in the United States. While this seemed to be a simple licensing deal, in reality executives from Warner Bros. took a lot of control during this period, as 4AD shifted focus to the US market, signing more American bands. While still president, it is clear that Ivo ceded some control during this period, and when the deal ended, he offered to sell the label back to Beggars Banquet. Dead Can Dance's oeuvre, however, stayed with Warner Bros. until the sale back to Beggars Group.

The deal with Beggars was completed by early 1999, and since then it has owned 4AD and its distribution worldwide. This led to many negotiations for the label's back catalogue, like getting back US distribution rights for the Pixies, Dead Can Dance, and Cocteau Twins.





For all 4AD releases with a Wikipedia article see Category:4AD albums.

Catalog numbering scheme

For the most part, 4AD's official UK releases follow a standard scheme for designating catalog numbers. Although there have been some variations over the years, some general rules can be devised to easily determine the format (LP, CD, etc.) and year of release by looking at a 4AD catalog number.


The first part of a catalog number is a prefix that contains a variation of "AD," based on the 4AD name. Some standards are:

Special editions of releases had an extra "D" added to the prefix:

Some other "AD" variations have been used less frequently over the years, including (but not limited to):

4AD only released one LP on DAT format, Cocteau Twins' Blue Bell Knoll , which was designated CADT 807.

Numerical designation

The second part of the catalog number is a number that represents the year of release (via the number of years since 1980, following the '1980 Forward' theme), and the order of release in the particular year. For example, This Mortal Coil's LP It'll End in Tears is CAD 411. The "CAD" represents that the release is an LP, the "4" in 411 represents 1984, and 11 marks the 11th release of that year. This is the vinyl LP release; cassette versions have "C" added to the prefix (CADC 411 in this example); CD versions have "CD" added at the end (CAD 411CD).

A side effect of this scheme is that it made it seem like 4AD had hundreds of releases early on. Again using CAD411 as an example, a causal observer might assume this was the 411th release in the label's catalog, when 4AD actually had less than 100 total releases in their catalog at the time. In the 1990s, 4AD changed the first part of the number from "100s" to "1000s," temporarily making the number not correspond with the number of years since 1980. Releases in 1990 used "00" directly after the prefix (e.g., the Pixies' Bossanova , CAD0010, released in the fall of 1990); 1991 used "10" directly after the prefix (e.g., This Mortal Coil's Blood , DAD 1005, released early in 1991), 1992 used "20," and so on for the rest of the 1990s.

Wanting to return to numbering with the years since 1980, 4AD had to provide a workaround for releases in the year 2000. Since the "20" numerical designation had been used in 1992, all releases in 2000 used "2K" (e.g., Mojave 3's Excuses for Travellers , CAD 2K05, released in early 2000). Between 2001 and 2009, the catalog numbering scheme returned to the original format, with the first two digits of the number representing the years since 1980 (e.g., Blonde Redhead's 23 , CAD 2717, released in 2007 – the 27th year since 1980). Things have not been too consistent since, and there have been several gaps. 2010 releases feature the numerical designation 3X, as "30" had already been used in 1993. [10] This process appears to have come to an end with the few xAD37nn releases of the early months of 2017. The catalogue numbers of all releases since April 2017 (beginning with The Far Field by Future Islands, 4AD0001CD/4AD0001LP) have begun with 4AD00nn and ended with letters indicating the release format. No indication of release year is given.

4AD Sessions

The 4AD Sessions are an ongoing series of video recordings with various acts from the label's roster. Following on from the Deerhunter session at the Studio Plateaux on Platts Eyott island in 2008, the recordings see 4AD artists performing back-catalogue covers and alternative versions of their own material. They are housed on the label's website. [11]

Related Research Articles

Cocteau Twins Scottish rock band

Cocteau Twins were a Scottish rock band active from 1979 to 1997. They were formed in Grangemouth by Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie (bass), adding Elizabeth Fraser (vocals) in 1981 and replacing Heggie with multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde in 1983. The group has earned critical praise for their distinctive ethereal sound and the soprano vocals of Fraser, whose lyrics often abandon recognisable language. They pioneered the 1980s alternative rock subgenre of dream pop.

<i>Surfer Rosa</i> 1988 studio album by Pixies

Surfer Rosa is the debut studio album by the American alternative rock band Pixies, released in March 1988 on the British label 4AD. It was produced by Steve Albini. Surfer Rosa contains many of the elements of Pixies' earlier output, including Spanish lyrics and references to Puerto Rico. It includes references to mutilation and voyeurism alongside experimental recording techniques and a distinctive drum sound.

<i>Bossanova</i> (Pixies album) 1990 studio album by Pixies

Bossanova is the third studio album by American rock band Pixies. It was released in August 13, 1990 on the English independent record label 4AD in the United Kingdom and by Elektra Records in the United States. The album's sound, inspired by surf rock and space rock, complements its lyrical focus on outer space, which references subjects such as aliens and unidentified flying objects.

<i>Come On Pilgrim</i> 1987 EP by Pixies

Come On Pilgrim is the debut mini-LP release by the American alternative rock band Pixies. Produced by Gary Smith, the album was released in September 1987 by 4AD.

This Mortal Coil were a British music collective led by Ivo Watts-Russell, founder of the British record label 4AD. Although Watts-Russell and John Fryer were the only two official members, the band's recorded output featured a large rotating cast of supporting artists, many of whom were otherwise associated with 4AD, including members of Cocteau Twins, Pixies, and Dead Can Dance. The project became known for its gothic, dream pop sound, and released three full albums beginning in 1984 with It'll End in Tears.

<i>Itll End in Tears</i> 1984 studio album by This Mortal Coil

It'll End in Tears is the first album released by 4AD collective This Mortal Coil, an umbrella title for a loose grouping of guest musicians and vocalists brought together by label boss Ivo Watts-Russell. The album was released on 1 October 1984, and reached #38 on the UK Albums Chart. It features many of the artists on the 4AD roster at the time, including Cocteau Twins, Colourbox, and Dead Can Dance; as well as key post-punk figure Howard Devoto, who sang "Holocaust", one of two covers of songs from the Third/Sister Lovers album by Big Star. The other Alex Chilton-penned track, album opener "Kangaroo", was released as a single to promote the album. Two key songs were performed by Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins, including Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren", which reached #66 on the UK Charts when released as This Mortal Coil's debut single a year before the album. The song remained on the UK Indie Chart for almost two years. Fraser also performed on "Another Day" by Roy Harper. 4AD would go on to release two further albums under the name of This Mortal Coil: Filigree & Shadow (1986) and Blood (1991).

Ivo Watts-Russell is a British music producer and record label executive. He was joint-founder with Peter Kent of the indie record label 4AD. He has produced several records, although he prefers to use the term "musical director".

<i>The Mirror Pool</i> 1995 studio album by Lisa Gerrard

The Mirror Pool is Lisa Gerrard's first solo album, released by 4AD in 1995.

Vaughan Oliver was a British graphic designer based in Epsom, Surrey. Oliver was best known for his work with graphic design studios 23 Envelope and v23. Both studios maintained a close relationship with record label 4AD between 1982 and 1998 and gave distinct visual identities for the 4AD releases by many bands, including Mojave 3, Lush, Cocteau Twins, The Breeders, This Mortal Coil, Pale Saints, Pixies, and Throwing Muses. Oliver also designed record sleeves for such artists as David Sylvian, The Golden Palominos, and Bush.

Colin Newman English musician and record producer

Colin Newman is an English musician, record producer and record label owner. He is best known as the primary vocalist and songwriter for the post-punk band Wire.

<i>Filigree & Shadow</i> 1986 studio album by This Mortal Coil

Filigree & Shadow is the second album released by 4AD collective This Mortal Coil, an umbrella title for a loose grouping of guest musicians and vocalists brought together by label boss Ivo Watts-Russell. The supergroup consists primarily of artists attached to the 4AD label, of which Watts-Russell was the co-founder and the owner and director. The album was released in September 1986, and entered the UK Independent Music chart on 11 October 1986 and peaked at #2, spending 16 weeks on the chart in total.

<i>Blood</i> (This Mortal Coil album) 1991 studio album by This Mortal Coil

Blood is the third and final album released by 4AD collective This Mortal Coil, an umbrella title for a loose grouping of guest musicians and vocalists brought together by label co-founder Ivo Watts-Russell. The supergroup consists primarily of artists attached to the 4AD label, of which Watts-Russell was boss and president at the time. The double album was released in April 1991, and was the second release on 4AD to utilize the double album-identifier "DAD" prefix in its catalog number.

Dark Entries

"Dark Entries" is a song by the English gothic rock band Bauhaus, released as a stand-alone single in January 1980 by Axis and later issued on 4AD and Beggars Banquet. It featured the 1944 painting "Venus Asleep" by Paul Delvaux as cover art.

<i>Clan of Xymox</i> (album) 1985 studio album by Clan of Xymox

Clan of Xymox is the debut studio album by Dutch dark wave band Clan of Xymox, released 1 July 1985 by 4AD.

<i>Throwing Muses</i> (1986 album) 1986 studio album by Throwing Muses

Throwing Muses is the 1986 debut album of the band Throwing Muses, released on British independent label 4AD. This was the first album by an American band to be released on 4AD, which had concentrated primarily on British-based acts up to this point. The release marked a shift in the label's direction; a year later 4AD would sign Pixies based in part on the band's connection to Throwing Muses, and by the mid-1990s much of the label's roster was made up of American bands.

<i>Ft. Lake</i> album by His Name Is Alive

Ft. Lake is an album by His Name Is Alive, released by 4AD in 1998.

<i>Sixteen Days / Gathering Dust</i> 1983 EP by This Mortal Coil

Sixteen Days / Gathering Dust is an EP released in 1983 by This Mortal Coil, a supergroup assembled by Ivo Watts-Russell for his record label, 4AD.

<i>Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares</i> 1975 studio album by Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir

Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares is a compilation album of modern arrangements of Bulgarian folk songs featuring, among others, the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir, with soloists Yanka Rupkina, Kalinka Valcheva and Stefka Sabotinova; and the Filip Kutev Ensemble.

<i>Scar</i> (Lush album) 1989 studio album by Lush

Scar is the debut mini album by the English alternative rock band Lush. It was released on 9 October 1989 on 4AD. Originally intended to be a three-track single release, Scar was produced by John Fryer and the band themselves and recorded at London's Blackwing Studios in 1989.

<i>Sleeps with the Fishes</i> 1987 studio album by Pieter Nooten and Michael Brook

Sleeps with the Fishes is the lone collaborative album from Clan of Xymox founding member Pieter Nooten and Canadian guitarist/producer Michael Brook, released by 4AD on 12 October 1987. Intended as Nooten's debut solo album after a brief split from Clan of Xymox, the record turned into a collaboration with Brook after a suggestion from 4AD label founder and boss Ivo Watts-Russell. Though not a huge commercial success, Sleeps with the Fishes was described by AllMusic as "essential listening for fans of 4AD, ambient music, minimalism, experimental electronic music, and morose themes alike... an overlooked masterpiece."


  1. "4AD – About". Facebook . Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  2. Aston, Martin (10 October 2013). "4AD: the 'pure' label behind Pixies and Cocteau Twins". The Guardian . Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  3. Jeffries, David (6 November 2013). "AllMusic Loves 4AD Records". AllMusic . Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  4. Dorian Lynskey (12 September 2013). "Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD by Martin Aston – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  5. King, Richard (2012). How Soon is Now?: The Madmen and Mavericks who made Independent Music 1975-2005. Faber & Faber.
  6. "6 Music – 1980 Forward – 25 Years of 4AD". BBC. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  7. Swash, Rosie (30 April 2008). "A farewell to Beggars Banquet's indie charm". Music Blog. The Guardian . Guardian News & Media. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  8. Solarski, Matthew (29 April 2008). "Label Shuffle: 4AD Absorbs Too Pure, Beggars Banquet". Pitchfork . Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on 19 December 2008. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  9. Joe Muggs (7 August 2012). "4AD boss Simon Halliday on living with the label's past, and his vision for its future". FACT . Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  10. Thorpe, Vanessa (28 August 2010). "4AD, the record label that gave birth to indie cool, celebrates 30th anniversary". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  11. "4AD Sessions". 4AD. Retrieved 14 January 2017.