I wonder how many labels there are? Has anyone ever tried to count them? I’m just asking because it feels like every second record I bought this year was by some tiny mob I’d never heard of before, and don’t seemed to have heard of again. While its good that so many people are willing to put their money where their mouth is, you wonder how sustainable it all is. Are we going to see a great cull in 2016, a mass extinction event brought on by population growth? Probably not. As long as there is music demanding to be released, there will be some nutter willing to do just that, although you sense that a thinning of the herd might be a good deal when you remember how bad a lot of that music is. It has never been easier for a label to get itself off the ground and into the fight, but it has probably also never been harder for a label to make a mark.
The bigger labels had slightly mixed fates this year. L.I.E.S seemed to have a quieter one by their standards. Although the sheer speed of their release schedule seemed undiminished, there doesn’t seem to have been as much noise about many of their records, Randomer’s Kid’s Play and DJ Overdose perhaps making the biggest splashes. The Trilogy Tapes also seemed to take a bit of shelter from publicity overload this year, but nevertheless maintained a storming and acclaimed slew of releases from the likes of Ekman, DJ Spider, Coni and Omar Souleyman. The other big hitter round here, Lobster Theremin, went from strength to strength with an ever-expanding roster of artists and sub labels as they rolled their own out of every genre they came up against.
Unknown To The Unknown also ended the year in rude health with class bombs by POL Style, Brassfoot, Bleaker and that man again DJ Overdose wringing every last drop of inspiration from the label’s ethos of underground acid, rave and hardcore. Likewise, Atlanta label CGI really began to push their vision of darkened dance floor grooves with a handful of killers by Black Suede, Golden Donna and Twins. There are so many others, Numbers, Northern Electronics and the brilliant, acid fuelled Super Rhythm Trax amongst them. Too many! So here’s a few who stood out for me.
Given that my much desired electro renaissance never really came to fruition in 2015 I’ll have to content myself with having a couple of electro labels amongst my favourite. Shipwrec had a good year, a very good year, and their releases stood as an ongoing testimony to how exciting contemporary electro could be. Not that electro was all that they were interested in. Whether it was Chris Moss’s acid blinding Phantasy EP, Ekman’s mutant terror-funk or returning techno heroes Random XS, the label never missed a beat, and tied everything together with an obvious love of the more shadowy corners of the scene. Stand out was Dez William’s Sleight Of Hand EP, an outstanding burst of sinewy rhythms, winding grooves and deep, acid soaked electro madness.
Central Processing Unit
The second electro label on the list is perhaps even more pure in its manifesto than Shipwrec is. Even though there are techno tunes dotted here and there in the releases, CPU is almost entirely about the electro. As one commentator has pointed out recently, there is something determinedly old-school about their ethos, but that works entirely to their advantage because there are few other labels quite so fiercely loyal to the music they love. Ranging from defiantly classic electro, to the breaks and intelligent jungle of Missqulater (whose They Rave Us is a pretty special record) and Cygnus’s sunny wistfulness, CPU turned out number of records that deserved far more coverage than they got (and that includes this blog I’m embarrassed to admit). My favourite was Mikron’s Sleep Paralysis where whiplash techno and the ghosts of Aux 88’s glory years partied on a beach in a Drexciyan colony. Such a great record and another high point for a label that has so many it looks like a mountain range.
Well, it wasn’t only the music that made the headlines with Berceuse Heroique this year. The controversy over that tweet and the attendant discussion about imagery just about overshadowed the labels genuine achievements, and only time will tell whether there are lasting repercussions. In terms of the music, though, not much went wrong, and almost everything went right. Their reissue of Smackos’ Age Of Candy probably garnered them interest from new quarters just as the Loefah repress had last year, and they continued to challenge expectations with tunes that ranged from the traditionally harsh and dirty, like Mark Forshaw’s two-fingered requiem, The Fuck, to Hodge’s expansive and beautiful Forms Of Life. Work from EMG, Japan Blues and Beneath also helped push the label forward. The fluid, glimmering, high-tech symphony of Marco Bernardi’s The Dancing Clowns was also a top moment, not just for BH, but for Bernardi himself; a man in the midst of a proper purple patch.
The more challenging forms of electronica tends to have an analogue with certain breeds of modern art when it comes to image, and it can probably stand to be said that some of Opal Tapes releases over the last couple of years would have your average punter shrugging with confusion as they tried to work out what was going on. yet for all the releases that corresponded to those stereotypes, there were others that offered something special, added grooves and colour to formula. And now they seem to have found a home here on the offshoot. Black Opal is the only sub label on this list, I think, and even though it has only a small number of releases each of them has been a cracker. Disassembling rigid electronica and rebuilding it with a flair for movement and an eye on the dance floor, this little volley of records brought Xosar, Nathan Melja and J Albert out of the shadows with mean, broken down techno. Life’S Track’s Smell Of Sanctity stole the show though, with four tracks of filthy gutter techno that laid both the funk and the corruption on thick.
Don’t Be Afraid
Whilst Berceuse Heroique or Opal Tapes have always gone straight for the jugular, Don’t Be Afraid has always taken a more subtly subversive path towards their goals, and given more classic house and techno forms a wee kick up the arse, resulting in a fresher, more off-kilter take on the familiar. It’s an interesting and successful approach, particularly when it’s coupled to the work of producers like Mgun and Neville Watson, or DJ Bone, who released some of his best work in years for the label under his Differ-Ent project. If only more labels were willing to blend the functional, the classic and the experimental together into such a potent whole. Further gems were to be found in The Room Below’s Homemade Waves and Herva’s Dreams Of Unknown Tales. But my favourite was the V/A four track sampler that came out in the summer and tied electro, techno and sleek house together with a rare deftness, and epitomised so well everything DBA is trying to do. A label that is definitely going to get bigger.