Early ZTT releases, distributed via Island Records between 1983-1988, gained cult, commercial and critical acclaim alike. ZTT's early iconic status derived from Horn's big productions and Morley's mad / maddening marketing of the label. Horn and his in-house studio team (including Art Of Noise members Gary Langan, J.J. Jeczalik, Anne Dudley as well as Stephen Lipson and Bob Kraushaar) created endless 'diversions' (aka remixes) of every track produced, a pioneering concept back then.
"ZTT's business is the puzzle, not the explanation", said Morley in '84. To this end he wrote oblique wordy sleevenotes, referencing the likes of JG Ballard and Goethe. Sometimes remixes were issued in the same sleeve as the original mix, with identical catalogue numbers or identical mix names. To further the confusion, catalogue numbers were divided into four groups - the Action Series, Incidental Series, Perfect series and Certain Series. However some releases such as cassette singles (known as "Singlettes") and each different album format, would also be given unique Incidental series numbers. 'Zang Tumb Tuum' itself would be spelt differently on each release. Insanity reigned. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones, The Art Of Noise and Propaganda were all chart successes.
By the late 80s both Propaganda and Frankie Goes To Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson were taking the label to the courts, and winning. Morley moved on, and in 1988 ZTT entered a new phase. It signed a distribution deal with WEA and started reinventing itself as a more conventional electronic/dance label. Between 1989 and 1997 it had chart hits with 808 State and Seal as well as underground success with Shades Of Rhythm. It released a string of dance records by the likes of Adamski (recording both as L.a.z.y. and Adamski's Thing), General Max, Hoodlum Priest and an early incarnation of All Saints named All Saints 188.8.131.52.. ZTT squandered chances too, such as Sun Electric only making it to promo. The first of its short-lived dance-only offshoots, Seven Records (UK), appeared in 1994.
ZTT split from WEA in 1997 and went independent. Morley returned to ZTT for a year or two to oversee marketing again, and with Horn and Dudley reformed The Art Of Noise. As an independent ZTT tried to recapture their edgier past, but bad / rockist A&R choices and lower budgets meant that many projects passed unnoticed. Two more dance sub-labels, Paral.lel Records ("an experimental echo of ZTT") and Vision, came and went.
ZTT entered the new millennium primarily focussed on exploiting its extensive catalogue of landmark 80s and 90s releases.
ZTT is owned by Horn and Sinclair's SPZ Group, which also owns Sarm Studios and Perfect Songs (the S and P in SPZ).
ZTT bought Stiff Records in 1987, and SPZ sold it to Universal Music in Dec. 2017. The deal also transferred the entire ZTT recording catalog, Perfect Songs publishing, and portions of the Stiff recording catalog.
Common cat# prefixes, Island era (1983-1988):
ZTAS - singles, Action series
ZTIS - singles, Incidental series
ZTPS - singles, Perfect series
CERT - singles, Certain series
CTIS - cassette singles
ZTTIQ - albums
ZCIQ - cassettes
CID/ZCID/ZCIDQ - CDs / CD singles
Common cat# prefixes, WEA era (1988 - 1997):
ZANG - singles
ZTT - albums (ZTT1 to ZTT12, thereafter albums use generic WEA codes)
SAM - promos (part of WEA's generic promo catalogue)
Common cat# prefixes, indie era (1998 - present):
ZTT - used for both singles and albums, from ZTT98 upwards
Common cat# prefixes, indie era (2010 - present):
Element - used for reissues in the “Element Series”, released in partnership with Salvo.