Enigma Records launched as a division of Greenworld Distribution, an independent music importer/distributor, in 1981. Four years later, in 1985, Enigma severed ties with Greenworld and became its own company. Enigma was initially located in Torrance, California, then El Segundo, California and finally Culver City, California. Enigma was founded and run by brothers William and Wesley Hein. Jim Martone joined the company in 1984. Enigma focused on punk rock, alternative, and heavy metal music though it also released techno (Synthicide Records), jazz (Intima Records) and classical music (Enigma Classics) through subsidiary labels.
The label’s first release was Mötley Crüe‘s Too Fast for Love. The album was initially released under the band’s own Leathür Records imprint but manufactured, marketed and distributed by what would become the Enigma Records team. After the band moved on to Elektra Records, the Enigma Records name was adopted and all subsequent artists were released under this new name. Enigma’s next major success was with the pop band Berlin.
Enigma Records was initially distributed through independent record importers/distributors such as Jem Records and Important Records. In 1984, Enigma entered into a joint venture with EMI America to sign and develop new artists. Among the artists signed under the venture were the Red Hot Chili Peppers and SSQ (later renamed Stacey Q and signed to Atlantic Records). In 1986, Enigma moved its distribution to Capitol/Universal Music Group, a major record label, while leaving its Restless Records division with the independent distributors that had previously distributed Enigma. Poison, a glam rock band, and The Smithereens were two of the first artists released under the joint Enigma / Capitol relationship, both of which had significant success. That same year it launched a music video line, which was also distributed by Capitol.
One of Enigma’s biggest commercial successes was with the Christian rock band Stryper, which had several gold and platinum records on the label as well as significant international success.
In addition to the primary Enigma Records label, the company had two smaller subsidiary labels as well as a music publishing company (La Rana / El Porto Music administered by Bug Music). Enigma Retro focused on re-issues of material licensed from other labels such as Straight Records, Bizarre Records, and DiscReet Records. The Restless Records division focused on alternative artists not intended for major label distribution. Enigma also released film soundtracks including The Terminator and River’s Edge. Enigma released a compilation album, Enigma Variations, with various artists. Enigma had a joint venture with Mute Records and released certain Mute titles in the United States. Sonic Youth‘s landmark 1988 album Daydream Nation was originally released on Enigma Records, in association with Blast First Records.
Enigma was formally acquired by Capitol/UMG in 1989. Some of its catalog and operations were merged into the still independent Restless Records in 1991.
The Enigma catalog is controlled by Capitol Music Group, owned by Universal Music Group which acquired Capitol’s former parent EMI and the majority of its recorded music operations in 2012. Disney Music Group‘s Hollywood Records, distributed by UMG, handles the reissues of Stryper’s Enigma albums. The catalog of Devo’s albums and Enigma titles that were merged into Restless is owned by Warner Music Group, which acquired Restless’s previous parent Rykodisc in 2006, and distributed by the Alternative Distribution Alliance.