Illustration by: Dan Evans
Despite the odds being stacked against them, labels continue to be an important part of the music industry.
Whether these are mostly Bandcamp-based imprints like Awful Records or 1080p, private-press labels like DDS or large independent empires like Warp or XL, they still have a place in curating music and nurturing artists.
The following list is a handful of labels we’re excited about at the moment – labels we think will have a really good year, whether they’re still learning to walk (Swing Ting, Halcyon Veil) or hitting their stride (Dream Catalogue, Brave Wave).
There’s a certain appeal in launching your own label to maintain creative control over your own output, but the reality is that most of these one-person operations are a little one-dimensional. Tadd Mullinix’s Bopside is different: the Ann Arbor veteran has so many distinct aliases and collaborations that in just four releases (including one from fellow Michigan producer Brandon Mitchell), the imprint has covered stargazing techno, frazzled industrial beats, old school house and more. The momentum should continue this year, with a rare LP from Mullinix under his given name arriving soon, followed by several other releases throughout the year that will expand his musical universe.
There aren’t many labels like Brave Wave, who’s dedication to videogame music is refreshingly zealous whether they’re dealing with reissues or new work. Last year, they got a veteran NES composer to create his first original album then delivered a vinyl remastering of the Street Fighter II soundtrack made with the kind of work and focus you’d expect at one of the game’s top tier tournaments. With more of both on the way we’re excited for round two.
The people who still call bullshit on vaporwave seem to forget where magic mushrooms come from. By 2016, the scene has grown more fertile than ever, producing some of the most significant psychedelic music of this generation. For the last couple years, Dream Catalogue persistently pumped out releases and encouraged new artists — now their enthusiasm is paying off. They entered last year with a string of great albums and left it with a newfound sense of authority (and a new fan). With four releases already out this month, this trip is still going strong.
We don’t know much about Gyrocyre yet, but as big fans of Xosar and her blistering analog-squelch-techno we have high hopes for the Berlin-based producer’s own label, which launches soon with her own (slightly delayed) Show Yourself EP.
Rabit’s Halcyon Veil imprint had a strong first year, in many ways perfectly representing the hybrid nature of today’s labels with releases given the same care and attention whether they’re on vinyl (Myth’s Evaporate and Why Be’s Snipestreet or digital-only (Angel-Ho’s Ascension and Rabit and Chino Amobi’s epic The Great Game: Freedom From Mental Poisoning (The Purification Of The Furies). This year there’s already a release promised from FACT fave Imaginary Forces, and we’re certain Rabit has plenty more in the works.
It’s not always the new labels you need to keep your eye on. Ital’s Lovers Rock has technically been around since 2008, but since relaunching in late 2013 has become a low-key outpost for deep, psychedelia-tinged techno. The label’s discography to date has primarily come from a small cast of characters and collaborators including Ital, his former Mi Ami bandmate Joseph Long and Aurora Halal, giving the label an intimate feel that peaked last year with Earthen Sea’s sublime dub techno LP Ink. With the recent debut from DJ Wey expanding the label into considerably more jacking territory, we’re hoping Lovers Rock will continue to surprise us in 2016.
Olde English Spelling Bee
No, you’re right, it’s 2016, not 2010. One of the most miraculous returns last year wasn’t from a band, it was from Olde English Spelling Bee, who generated a flurry of brilliant releases in the beginning of the decade (including our favorite album of 2010) and had all but disappeared a few years after. The label sprang back on Bandcamp last year with several releases, including Ash Koosha’s lightning bolt debut GUUD, and reminded us much we’d missed them. To many, OESB was the label that gave them Forest Swords, James Ferraro, Autre Ne Veut. Imagine what they’ll bring us this go around.
Styles Upon Styles
After corraling the likes of Hieroglyphic Being, Best Available Technology and Space People onto its books in its first couple of years (not to mention two submerged techno gems from Kloke), Styles Upon Styles is cementing itself as one of the most interesting young labels on our radar, and certainly one of the most eclectic. This year the New York imprint promises everything from “classic hip-hop to Zorn’s neo-classical excursions through busker beat tapes and Electric Lady loose funk”, with music and debuts from Gut Nose, Quincy Vidal, Zach Cooper, Ohal, Kroba, Vic DiMotsis, Vorhees and King Garbage.
Manchester party Swing Ting’s profile has skyrocketed in the last 18 months (it’s become one of those nights, like Janus or Boxed, that people now reference without having been there), and we expect the residents’ label to follow suit. Their last two releases, Florentino’s Tu Y Yo and Madd Again’s Vol. 1, are their two best yet, and we can’t see them slowing down.
OK, so 2014 was a bit of a false start for the Teklife label – we’re still waiting on the various artists compilation that they’re intending to launch it with – but if they can follow said comp with EPs from the various talents at their disposal, then 2016 could be a banner year for footwork’s premier crew.