One of the real joys of being into something like electronica and its various composite parts is that even though it has been more than 30 years since the sounds coming out of Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere began to have an impact beyond their immediate environs, it can still feel like we’re playing on the edge of the frontier. This isn’t only true of electronic music, but Our Thing retains a pioneer spirit regardless of what is thrown at it. Yep, there are some truly huge electronic labels, labels such as Warp whose reach now extends far beyond their relatively humble beginnings in Sheffield, but the big boys influence remains weighted, balanced, by the mass of small, bedroom, or backroom based outfits who continue to put out music because they love it. Some of them will go on to something bigger. Most won’t. It doesn’t really matter because they all have a role in shaping the music we care about.
There were many of these smaller labels who provided much joy round my way. Some only produced a couple of records, many not even that, but every one was a treasured blast of sonic goodness. Young Berlin based electro label Vortex Traks may not be the most prolific label in the cosmos, but when you’re putting out records as good as their samplers, or the quite frankly brilliant Frozen States by Morphology you don’t really care. Northern Irish stars Computer Controlled also provided quality over quantity with a career best (so far) release from TX Connect and an absolutely stonking DJ Overdose record. Timedance, an outfit out of Bristol (and how many times this year has that town cropped up, more than rivalling the output of the big names?) may have only released a sliver more, but each one was an encapsulation of a special blend of dancefloor electronica and hard-edged experimentalism with a couple of stunning releases from Bruce, and Ploy sealing the deal.
At the other end of the scale, Lobster Theremin continue to vie with L.I.E.S for world domination, both labels pushing release schedules that have probably reduced the world vinyl reserves to historically low levels. For Lobster, both Raw MT and Snow Bone continue to impress, the latter in particular with a take on techno which has few rivals. L.I.E.S might increasingly be a label which rewards careful picking of the wax, but those I did end up with, Greg Beato and NGLY in particular, continued to furnish us with fine, dirty funk which nods its head to punk as much as techno.
Jeez, there are a lot of labels I loved this year. Special shout outs go to Don’t Be Afraid who delivered one of the albums of the year with MGun’s Gentium, and a belter from Karen Gwyer, to Super Rhythm Trax’s brilliantly fresh take on stomping, classic house and techno, to Unknown To The Unknown who get better, madder, and ruder with every release, to Idle Hands who continue to future proof house, techno, and everything else that takes their fancy, to Frustrated Funk and DUM for doing the same with electro, and Mathematics who simply continue to astound as they follow their own flight path into unexplored territory. So many labels, so little space. Anyway, here are some favourites of favourites for 2016.
BH continue to muck up the lines between genres, moods and basic good sense with a gleeful abandon, and it provided the label with perhaps their most important year yet. Kicking off with DJ Overdose and OB Ignett slapping us about with some deceptively low slung electro funk, they gathered speed as the months past with a volley of memorable releases from the likes of Koehler, Morah and Jorge Velez before ending the year with the superb Caves Of Steel by Interstellar Funk. Many labels have attempted to swing between genres, very few have done it with such conviction and flare.
Dixon Avenue Basement Jams
A quiet 2015 was replaced with a banging 2016 as the Glasgow label brought some of their best releases so far to our ears. Starting early doors with a pair of twisted, scuttling, acid twinged house monsters from Casio Royale before they furnished us with additions to their own DABJ Allstars samplers, a cracking acid record from Jared Wilson and closing the year with Fear-E’s full rave stained début. DABJ are now without a doubt a vital stop for anyone wanting to get an idea of what stuff does it to us up here on rain-soaked Clydeside.
Central Processing Unit
I’d be fibbing if I said that I loved everything CPU released this year, but while I might not have been quite as keen on some of their more synthy releases, this was a label which pushed electro’s new assurance beyond its traditional ghetto, and brought us some genuine future classics in the forms of records by B12, Annie Hall, Mikron, Microlith, and Blixaboy. Make absolutely no mistake, CPU were responsible for some of the finest electro this year (or any year, in fact,) with the astoundingly good Fuel Cells by 214 and Weightless In The Void by Plant43 emerging as shining examples of the genre’s ongoing rehabilitation.
Now heading into their 4th year of existence, London based Brokntoys continue to push electro’s boundaries. Less classically inclined than CPU, the music they champion seldom stays as close to the genre’s gravity, and the unifying factors tend more towards philosophies and vibes, an ethos which is clearly shown in their excellent series of samplers which have taken in work from producers as diverse as Syncom Data, Microthol, Luke Eargoggle and Junq. Away from the VA stuff, EPs from London Modular Alliance and Dan White provided tunes which ranged from ocean deep to battled hardened electro veterans, while Versalife delivered a masterclass in classic electro-noir as enthralling and malicious as anything Anthony Rother used to make.
In 2016 Apron finally morphed from being an interesting and sometimes exciting label to becoming one which could do very little wrong. Starting of the year with Stephen Julien’s album, Fallen, they somehow found a consistency and level of excellence which put them up their as genuine contenders. EPs from Brassfoot, Bastien Carrara, and Adam Feingold all played marvellously fast and loose with house, techno, funk, hip hop and just about everything else. Particular highlights were Max Graef’s fizzing label début and Shamos’ Games And Dreams which sounded like Omar S had moved somewhere Down South and gone native. Brilliant.