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The 10 Best Record Labels of 2011

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  • Make no mistake: the record label is more important than ever before. This is our pick of 2011's finest.
  • published
    22 Nov 2011
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    Best of 2011
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Bruce Gilbert – ‘Eline Cout II’

Editions Mego continued its prolific, maybe profligate, release schedule throughout 2011. Much good came from its three recently minted sub-labels – Spectrum Spools (curated by Emeralds’ John Elliott) Ideologic Organ (curated by Stephen O’Malley) and Old News (dedicated to electronic works by Jim O’Rourke), and there were plenty of curveballs on the main imprint too – not least the acoustic avant-blues of Bill Orcutt. Nonetheless, what most impressed about Mego this year was its renewed commitment to the kind of hardcore computer music which made its name: Russell Haswell, Florian Hecker, Mark Fell and Yasunao Tone all weighed in with heavy-going but edifying digital experiments. Most important of all, though, were the lavish reissues of post-Wire work by Bruce Gilbert: 1986′s solo set The Shivering Man and a mammoth vinyl box set collecting the albums of Dome, the duo of Gilbert and Graham Lewis.

Essential releases:
Bruce Gilbert – The Shivering Man
Mark McGuire – A Young Person’s Guide To Mark McGuire
Russell Haswell – IN IT: Immersive Live Salvage


LV & Joshua Idehen – ‘Northern Line’

Dusk and Blackdown’s Keysound label has always had its moments of greatness – it’s easy to forget that even before this year, they’d released music from Skream, Starkey, Durrty Goodz, Zomby and Burial – but has also never seemed 100% consistent, lacking a core unit of artists; without a family. 2011 was the year where they finally fulfilled their potential, releasing excellent artist albums by Sully, Damu and most notably, LV and Joshua Idehen, continuing the saga of dubstep’s most intriguing crew in LHF and snapping up one of the UK’s most promising new artists in Logos.

Essential releases:
LV & Joshua Idehen – Routes
LHF – EP2: The Line Path
Dusk – ‘Fraction’

03: 100% SILK

Maria Minerva – ‘Little Lonely’

Though hard to defend from that pejorative tag “hipster house”, the impact and influence of 100% Silk, the no-fi dance label curated by Amanda ‘LA Vampires’ Brown, was huge this year. It launched the careers of some seriously exciting talents – namely Maria Minerva and Ital – and intrigued with a range of oneaway killers, from the psychotropic dub-disco of The Deeep to the low-slung acid of Cuticle and the bloodthirsty EBM of Xander Harris. Most importantly, 100% Silk harked back to a time in club music when energy and attitude were more important than polished production.

Essential releases:
Ital – ‘Ital’s Theme’
Maria Minerva – ‘Noble Savage’
Octo Octa – ‘Let Me See You’


Vatican Shadow – ‘Washington Buries Al-Qaeda Leader At Sea’

These are harsh, unforgiving times, and there’s no label better equipped to soundtrack them than New York’s Hospital Productions. Hospital’s preferred outlet is still the short-run cassette edition and occasional vinyl salvo, but most of its key works have been made available digitally, meaning there’s no excuse not to get your hands dirty. Label head Dominick Fernow led the charge this year – as ever – with his minimal synth and Muslimgauze-inspired recordings as Vatican Shadow, some of the most vital and far-reaching work of his career; Alberich’s Psychology Of Love and NATO-Uniformen were similarly rhythm-conscious, while more traditionally abrasive Hospital sounds could be found on Force Publique Congo’s various offerings and the label’s 300th release, the epic 3xCS White Eye Of Winter Watching compilation. The lavish triple-vinyl reissue of Kevin Drumm’s dark ambient masterpiece Imperial Distortion was a sizable bonus.

Essential releases:
Vatican Shadow – Pakistan Military Academy
Alberich – Psychology of Love
VA – White Eye Of Winter Watching


Laurel Halo – ‘Aquifer’

It’s simple, really: Hippos in Tanks simply put out more good records than anyone else in 2011. Hype Williams and Autre Ne Veut cemented their status as two of the underground’s most exciting acts with One Nation and Body, while Laurel Halo’s Hour Logic took any remaining boundaries between alternative pop music, IDM, house and techno and completely dissolved them. d’Eon and Grimes’ Darkbloom and Sleep Over’s Forever were the weakest releases to emerge from the Hippos camp this year, which speaks volumes – both are intriguing records that promise much for the future. To cap off the year, they signed madcap hero James Ferraro, and coaxed out perhaps his most brilliant, demented yet immediate album to date in Far Side Virtual. Salute.

Essential releases:
Laurel Halo – Hour Logic
James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual
Autre Ne Veut – Body


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