One of America's most successful indie labels doesn't run out of Brooklyn or Portland or L.A., but rather the modest metropolis of Durham, N.C., home of the Blue Devils of Duke University, the storied Durham Bulls baseball team, and the former manufacturing facility of the American Tobacco Company. It may not be the likeliest of habitats for a record label to blossom, but Merge Records has slowly risen to indie-powerhouse status, and this year they celebrate 25 years of excellence.
Founded in 1989 by Superchunk's Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan, Merge released a handful of indie classics by the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields and Superchunk themselves during the 1990s. But it wasn't until a little collective called Arcade Fire found themselves on the Billboard 200 for 2004's Funeral that the label started getting its due. Other bands, such as Spoon and She & Him, have also had chart success, but perhaps the label's biggest feat to date was Arcade Fire's unprecedented Album of the Year Grammy win for 2010's The Suburbs. Since then, albums by Wye Oak, Destroyer, Wild Flag, Telekinesis and Mikal Cronin have helped earn the label further indie cred. In celebration of Merge's 25th anniversary, here's a sampling of some of the label's finest acts.