Well, we got there. It’s nearly the end of 2014 and it is time for my contractually obliged round ups.
I hate lists. Actually, that’s wrong: I hate lists by other people. I spend most of my leisurely days jotting down lists. I list this, I list that. Sometimes I’ll list my favourite lists, just for the sake of completeness. But the problem I have with the lists other people make is that they are always wrong. Always. Well, usually.
When it comes to a subject as dense as the best record labels the wrongness can go exponential. How do you define how successful a record label has been? Amount of records released? quality of output? Does a label who puts out one totally banging record and nothing else deserve the same praise as one who puts half a dozen quite good ones? Already I am confused. House and techno, though, have a long history of labels that thrive away from the majors, and it is still those labels operating in the underground that forge the paths everyone else eventually follows. That attitude, that determination to bring a musical vision to the rest of us, is really the only thing that matters. Well, that and good tunes.
Just outside the top three are The Bunker NY with a slew of fine techno pitched at the more intelligent end of the scene and covering that ground where house, techno, trance and raw electronics come together into a strange blend. I can’t claim that every record they released got me good, but the hit rate wasn’t far off. The second record by Clay Wilson was a great example of the burnt alien landscapes so much of their material traverses. My favourite record from them, ‘Impressions’ by Zemi 17, has repeatedly made itself into my own mixes on the back of the heavy, dubby emptiness of the title track.
Dixon Avenue Basement Jams also had another good year, although a quieter one than 2013. They also left their best to last, with the dirty, sultry raw house funk of Denis Sulta and the ice-cold acid of TX Connect keeping the Glasgow label up there as one of the great current underground house labels.
Both of these labels, and a select few others, were at the top of their game. Numbers also had a pretty good year, with great releases from Unspecified Enemies, DJ Deer, and all the techno-grog baiting fun of ‘Lemonade’ by Sophie. Dog In The Night should also be commended. Very few labels managed such a sustained output of screamingly mad, warehousey, grimy techno at such a high quality. Their Christmassy seasonal record, Michael Ferrogosto’s ‘Pissing on Your Head’ ends the year with the label in rude health.
But my three favourite labels were easy enough to choose.
Russian Torrent Versions
The label that is but isn’t an offshoot of Long Island Electrical Systems did the unexpected and actually eclipsed its non-parent parent label in quality. Maybe there is something in the labels generally gnarly, nasty sound and punk rock feel that appeals to the adolescent in me, but so many of their releases were Must-Buys it stopped being fun around May and simply became an obsession. Certainly they hit a point mid year with a trinity of records by Karlist, NGLY and Person Of Interest that just blew everything else out of the water. That just about the only artists on LIES proper who bettered these records were NGLY and Person Of Interest themselves has not gone unnoticed…. Their last record of 2014 by Steve Summers was a blinder of jacking house and a damn good way to sign off for the year.
The Trilogy Tapes
Will Bankhead’s Trilogy Tapes has become one of the most important British labels of the last few years and one of the few that seems to properly understand that the seductive power of a 12″ isn’t just limited to what lies hidden in its grooves, but also in the way the whole thing is made memorable by artwork and design. But even if he was just packing these records in a plain white sleeve (something of an overdone gimmick this year), the music itself would still have us sitting up and taking notice. They started this year with one of the finest Theo Parrish records in a long time, and brought us gems from Anthony Naples (Zipacon), Dario Zenker (Mörsin) and Willie Burns (A Tab Of Acid) but it was ‘Never In Doubt’ by Andy Mac and Peverelist’s Zennor Project that sealed it for them. Such a massive set of tunes. An even better year for TTT than 2013.
But my favourite label of the year was one I barely had any real concept of at the start. Lobster Theremin have blasted out of the gate with an output rivalling LIES at their most industrious. Now branching into sub labels and ending the year with their first album (By Chicago Jim) they’ve become synonymous with the noisy, groovy and experimental house and techno that came to define the year. Stand out releases? Snow Bone’s dystopian ‘Mystic Vision’, Daze’s freaky future ballroom ‘Lips’ and Rawaat’s majestic ‘Day Laborer’ were all records I found myself reaching for again and again. Look for a Chicago Jim review in the new year (as long as I remember to actually buy it.) There was something in the way typical forms were gleefully discared that made so much of the output so good to listen to. Detroit, Chicago, Rave, IDM and god knows what else were melted down to provide the raw materials for a gang of new beasts. The constant subversion and reinvention of what we expected kept us – and them – on their toes.
It has been a great year for Jimmy Asquith’s label, and given his talent for unearthing some real hidden gems, I’m looking forward to seeing what next year brings.