Source: Mixmag

THE BEST RECORD LABELS OF 2015.

A salute to hardest working imprints of the year

bY DAVE TURNER, FUNSTER, PATRICK HINTON, SEB WHEELER 17 DECEMBER 2015


Behind the music is a multitude of record labels.

The legion imprints that operate in the realm of dance music search out and nurture talent as well as give context to the flood of tracks that drop week in, week out.

It’s only right that end of year lists include the labels that work so hard behind the scenes, so here are the ones that we think really nailed it in 2015.

15 THE DEATH OF RAVE

The Death Of Rave quietly, consistently released some of our favourite experimental dance music of 2015. Two esteemed minds collided in April when Mark Fell and Gábor Lázár teamed up to create ‘The Neurobiology Of Moral Decision Making’, a sqwonky and often intense trip. Newcomer Rian Treanor appeared in October with ‘A Rational Triangle’, showcasing an intriguing approach to neo footwork, one that’s immaculately produced but definitely not devoid of funk. And, to round out, Mumdance, Logos and Shapednoise’s collaborative project The Sprawl cut their first tracks to wax and used a 12″ to deploy snarling, sci fi-indebted, WTF?! noise. There was also releases from The Automatics Group, Naturkunde Museum Ostkreuz and Black Mecha, meaning intrepid travellers had a doom-laden field day with The Death Of Rave’s discography in ’15. Overseen by leftfield music retailer Boomkat and with an emphasis on vinyl and full-colour art sleeves, there’s no detail overlooked or dark electronic corner left unpoked here. SW

14 SMALLVILLE

For 10 years now, a Hamburg label has been gradually carving out a name for itself as one of the smoothest imprints on the circuit. It’s rare that a label can make you feel warm and euphoric with every release but Smallville has a bloody good knack of doing so.

Christopher Rau, Move D, Steven Tang and Jacques Bon are just some of the artists who’ve created cosmic lullabies for Smallville over the years but the last 12 months have been particularly strong. Not only has the label celebrated a decade in the game with a series of worldwide shindigs, it released an all-new birthday compilation and fantastic EPs from Lawrence, Arnaldo, Smallpeople and label flagbearer Moomin, who’ll release his second LP at the start of 2016.

The music is other-worldly and intergalactic by nature and the label parties transport you to somewhere safe, somewhere beautiful. Happy birthday Smallville, thank you for the one way ticket to the clouds. F

13 COYOTE

As grime steamtrained through 2015, there’s been one label that’s focused on the wavier side of the genre, throwing out releases flowing with off-kilter melodies, ice-cold synths and the odd vocal sample that would send a shiver down the spine of even the most hardened grime fan.

Home to some of the most norm-defying material the genre’s got to offer, this year saw its first LP land courtesy of Letta, a Los Angeles resident we had no idea about. Sombre and laced with yearning emotion, it’s the type of record suited to sitting in a corner, headphones on, sobbing your heart out after a break-up (or maybe that’s just us?!) While Spokes (‘Green Eyes’ EP) and long-term Coyote pal Tom E. Vercetti (‘Future Perfect’ EP) also made label release debuts, 200 copies of Last Japan’s haunting ‘Harca’ came out via its white label series.

Last Japan’s also lined-up for a release in early 2016, as he hooks up with MC on-the-rise AJ Tracey for ‘Ascend’. We’re told there’s a « quick-fire surprise club 12 » expected as well. DT

[Full disclosure: Coyote boss Tomas Fraser is Mixmag‘s Dubstep & Grime Editor]

12PAMPA

Pampa Records has been responsible for putting out this year’s most mystical records. Label boss DJ Koze led the way with ‘XTC’, with its production that swells towards bliss while the pitched-down female vocal sample (reciting a letter written to Indian spiritual teacher Osho) disorientates to create a record that is both trippy and overblown, but also gentle and emotive, leaving listeners somewhere in the middle of out-of-body enchantment and grounded introspection. This intrigue is all part of the magic, inducing many a transcendent dancefloor experience.

It’s an essence that has filtered throughout Pampa releases this year, marking each one a special event. Axel Boman’s ‘1979’ featured ‘Nokturn (Grand Finale)’ on the flip which is similarly idiosyncratic. The intro builds aggressively for four minutes with the intensity of notorious floor-frustrater ‘Up’ by Butric, but this time it does level out into a rolling, percussion-driven house track, resulting in a tune that is steeped in Boman’s charisma, toning Ricardo and Butch’s brazen smirk down to a playful wink and nudge.

Pampa also called Gerrman house veterans Isolée and Robag Wruhme back into action after a few years out. The former offered up shimmering house, while Wruhme’s effort placed two short explorations of soothing piano work and haunting ambience next to the chunkier ‘Cybekks’ and ‘Volta Cobby’ that aim for the floor with pulsating, robotic bass lines, but find character in sparse percussion flourishes and sped-up vocal squeaks. PH

11DIAL

In Roman Flügel’s ‘Sliced Africa’ and DJ Richard’s ‘Grind’, Dial Records was home to both one of 2015’s best EPs and best albums respectively, marking it as a surefire inclusion on this list. The former was among the most ubiquitous floor-filling anthems of the past twelve months, never failing to delight with its staccato synth melodies and undercurrent of West African percussive sounds, while DJ Richard’s debut LP is arguably the finest record put out by Dial to date, with all the makings of a classic in its traversing of ambient soundscapes, crunching techno and entrancingly beautiful house.

The label also showed its prowess outside the house spectrum, putting out the dark, r’n’b-styled album ‘Eternal Love’ from Dawn Mok, and celebrating its 15 th anniversary with the eclectic compilation ‘All’ featuring Stefan Tcherepnin, Pawel, James K, and many more. Not a prolific release schedule by any means, but one that reflects the enduring importance of Dial to the scene as an imprint that consistently produces high quality records spanning a broad-range of stylistic influences. Despite its founders Lawrence, Carsten Jost and Turner purposefully running the label as a low-key, relaxed affair, Dial forced a spotlight upon itself this year with the remarkable standard of its output. PH

10GIEGLING

Giegling is a label that effuses charm and melancholy in equal measure; when it’s not making you beam it’s making you cry, and vice versa. Any label that can evoke such a range and strength of emotions is undoubtedly special, and each of the three EPs and mix the Weimar-based label put out in 2015 captured this rare quality.

The title track of Map.ache’s ‘The Golden Age’ is enchanting and warm, while ‘Message From Myself’ on the B-side is brooding and wistful. Edward’s ‘Birds’ lands squarely in the charming bracket, with each record sleeve uniquely hand-crayoned by children and lead track ‘Open’ characterised by bouncy melodies and upbeat rhythms. Matthias Reiling fluctuates between the two feelings on ‘Gefällt Mir Nicht Mehr’ with the swinging mood of a hormonal teenager, covering alternative-metal group Helmet with the sentimental ‘Speechless’ before showcasing the uplifting production he has come to be known for as part of disco-driven duo Session Victim on ‘Outpace’. Giegling’s golden boy, the enigmatic Traumprinz, turned in the year’s best work with the ‘This Is Not’ mix under his DJ Metatron alias. Comprised entirely of his own original productions and remixes, it’s an hour long stimulation of your amygdala, stirring visceral responses with the delicate deep house remix of Efdemin’s ‘Parallaxis ‘ and the breakbeat laden trance of ‘State Of Me’ alike. PH

9LOCAL ACTION

You never know what you’re going to get with Local Action. Since launching in 2010, the London-based label’s fired out sugar-coated garage, punchy house, storming juke, techno-infiltrated bass and an assortment of grime flavours. Though the house material may have disappeared this year, there’s still been as much variety as the Pick ‘n’ Mix at your local cinema.

Amazingly, the first release of ’15 – Deadboy’s glorious ‘White Magick’ EP – didn’t arrive until April, a month before Jammz hooked up with Finn and Fallow for party-starting grime jam ‘Final Warning’. That quick-fire brace was followed by a few months of quiet, asides from a few parties in London, but the wait ended in style with Finn’s ‘Knock Knock’ EP. With one track, ‘Iya’, featuring grime MC Faultsz, the rest are zany and full-of-zest instrumentals that prove Local Action’s not afraid to show off its eccentricity. Add to that the return of T.Williams’ grime alias Dread D via the ‘Siege’ EP, two of DJ Q’s most cherished bassline dubs, ‘Rocky’ and ‘Poison’, and a surprise ambient album from Yamaneko’s Talbot Fade alias, we reckon this year’s been their best, and most generous, yet. DT

8BESTE MODUS

When we went to a Beste Modus showcase in a Cardiff car park back in July, the sky was dull and rain was falling down by the bucket load. Not the type of weather you’d wish for at an outdoor party, but the sets of Cinthie and Diego Krause were enough to give us the radiation the non-existent sunshine would have done.

Deep, spanky and swinging house jams were the orders of the day and it’s that type of material the German vinyl-only imprint deals in. It was only at the beginning of the month we premiered Cinthie’s ‘High In Hong Kong’ from ‘Beste Modus 06’, possibly one of the tougher releases since its inception in 2013. Key Modus members Krause, stevn.aint.leavn and Ed Herbst also turned in cuts on that one, with Herbst and Cinthie doing the business on ‘Beste Modus 05′.

It’s not a totally family affair, though. The Beste Freunde series launched in June, giving a home to Liam Geddes’ weighty ‘Revolt’ and tracks by Nick Beringer, Tecture, Jonathan Ritzmann and Marius Krackow. Label boss Cinthie’s told us she’s got a collaborative record with Berlin producer Mike Denhert due next year, as well as the second Beste Freunde and another various artists 12″. Elegant and consistent, this label’s one of the Beste around. DT

7ULTRAMAJIC

Jimmy Edgar has always been a purveyor of the weird and wonderful. His recent In Session mix showcased a mystical array of fierce house, techno and mutant club tracks and it comes as no surprise that the majority of tunes featured were from his Ultramajic label.

Despite only being active since 2013, the imprint has already established itself as one that only deals in the unique and diverse and the last 12 months has shown off an abundance of style and substance. Edgar and Machinedrum reunited for a new Jets EP, Danny Daze turned in some of his wildest tracks yet on the ‘Dual’ EP and Lando and Chambray built upon their reputation as two newcomers that need to be on your radar. L-Vis 1990 also re-adopted his Dance System moniker for one of our favourite EPs of the year but it’s not just all about the music.

Ultramajic’s artistic direction is a sight to behold and has presented some of the most striking visuals in all of clubland. Pilar Zeta has been brain-boggling artwork for the label since it began and the only way we can describe it is like a some sort ofLawnmower Man hybrid. The Ultramajic cauldron is bubbling and it’ll surely boil over in 2016. F

6CRITICAL MUSIC

Critical Music may have been running since 2002, but this year has seen the drum ‘n’ bass label in extra prolific form. On both Critical Music and limited vinyl imprint Systems there’s been a host of EPs, two LPs, worldwide label takeovers and four additions to the Binary digital-only series that was launched last year as a platform for artists on the rise.

Under the stewardship of label boss Kasra, lesser-known names such as Slovakian producer Subtension and Dutch 15-year-old (yep!) Signal gave us a total of nine tech-flecked wonders as part of Binary, adding to an already-strong armoury of European imports. Russian producer Enei (‘Rituals’) and Sam Binga (‘Wasted Days’) delivered on the LP front, giving us tough, tearing basslines, soft, seductive liquid d’n’b and frenetic, MC-heavy riddims, and Ivy Lab almost made us weep thanks to the heartache vocals on the title track of their ‘Twenty Questions’ EP.

Hyroglifcs (‘No Drama’ artwork pictured above), Kasra and Phace were others who put their names to EPs, with 2016 to welcome the debut album from Emperor, a white label VIP series of Mefjus’ album, ‘Emulation’, and a collaborative EP from Ivy Lab and Alix Perez. Make sure you catch the Critical takeover of Fabric’s room one on January 22, too! DT

5ILIAN TAPE

Berlin may act as the de facto centre point of European techno, but to find the most interesting output in the genre this year you needed to cast your eyes down to the south of Germany. Munich-based label Ilian Tape has been shaking up the scene with its own unique take on techno, offering more subtle and melodic productions than the bare-bones industrialism of counterparts in the capital.

The title of head honchos the Zenker Brothers’ debut album ‘Immersion’, put out in February, acts as something of a blueprint for the imprint, with each release submerging listeners in raw, analogue sounds, layering textures on thick for a truly captivating aural experience. Over the course of the past twelve months Ilian Tape has also clocked up releases from Munich locals Skee Mask, as well as Italians Stenny and Andrea and Argentinian Andrés Zacco. Yet, despite these intercontinental nationalities there’s a pervading familial feel to the label that goes beyond the siblings at the helm.

Whether its Skee Mask working outside the confines of the club and constructing a staggering amount of ideas over a beatless base like on the ‘Junt’ EP, or Andrea imbuing the kick-lead tracks of the ‘Outlines’ EP with emotion through soaring synth melodies, each record is connected by its atmospheric weight. PH

4NON

NON is a collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, founded by Chino Amobi, Nkisi and Angel-Ho. It launched in May and uploaded three missives to SoundCloud in quick succession, each one containing a trio of solo productions and a mix. It allowed the founders to introduce their respective sonic styles – Chino Amobi’s enveloping collage, Nkisi’s epic hardcore and Angel-Ho’s hybrid club workouts – and the way they operate as DJs, as well as the collective’s politics. Angel-Ho told Faderthat the founding members of NON use « sound as their medium to articulate the recurring violence on non-white bodies – by which we mean people of color… It started because we are angry about having to operate within policing political systems which are still functioning [under the] effects of colonization. We all felt an agency to communicate with each other and discuss how change can be encouraged and tangible – not only preached, but practiced. »

This was manifested in protest songs like Chino Amobi’s remix of Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ and thrilling live performances by Nkisi and Angel-Ho at Unsound festival. A NON compilation followed in November, expanding the collective to include artists like Yves Tumor and Mhysa of similarly radical crews Dogfood Music Group and ATM, respectively. And the year was rounded out by a joint mix with Mexico’s NAAFI, presenting yet another set of empowered and thrilling tracks.

NON is essential in reminding us that the club can be a place for political discourse and the exchange of ideas, especially when certain areas of dance music can feel so apathetic – think mindless hedonism, soulless big rooms and vacuous top tier ‘DJs’. And let’s not forget about NON’s music itself, which is wild, exciting and, most importantly, new. SW

3NUMBERS

Numbers has a proven track record stretching back to Deadboy’s generation-defining ‘If U Want Me’ in 2010. It’s basically a given that the Glasgow label will have a good run year in, year out. But 2015 was particularly golden, thanks to the way Numbers broke new talent, helped cultivate its artists and even reminded the world of a couple of cult, older heads.

So let’s look at the scores on the doors: grassroots Glasgow hero Denis Sulta made a late bid for track of the year with ‘It’s Only Real’, a gorgeous cut that’s been entrancing clubs all autumn; Adesse Versions’ smouldering, vocal-flecked, deep house found an established home after a run of self-released 12″s and bits for niche labels Local Talk and Make Love In Public Spaces; Sophie’s album ‘Product’ made him the most talked about artist of the year, thanks to the fizzy avant pop contained within and some mischievous merchandising (see above); everyone lost their shit over the DJ Deeon reissue, and twelves from the equally long-serving Lory D and Sparky kept the energy up; last but not least, Kornél Kovács jumped over from Studio Barnhus to deliver an EP of delicious house.

With an appetite for consummate dance music and an inherent, fun-loving rave spirit, Numbers is basically the label equivalent of a lively cocktail made from ice-cold Veuve Cliquot and Buckfast bought from the offy down the road. SW

2LOBSTER THEREMIN

Back in November last year we documented the rapid rise of Lobster Theremin, one of the most exciting imprints to emerge from London recently. In the 12 months since, it has continued to evolve and show us why it deserves such credit.

Label boss Asquith has set broad parameters for Lobster Theremin, with its releases touching on dystopian techno, washed-out, sun-kissed house and fucking weird acid and electronica. Daze, recently tipped as one of our 16 artists to watch in 2016, released the intense ‘Neuromance’ EP which contained wonderful takes on techno, acid house and dusty breakbeat, Route 8 played with our emotions when he dropped the frankly beautiful ‘The Sunrise In Her Eyes’ and Steve Murphy pushed boundaries with the cymbal-laden ‘UK Treatment’ EP.

As ever the label art has been poignant and reflective of its musical policy: think desolate landscapes, dreamy panoramas and twisted visions of the past (and the future). The label parties have also been a success this year, with the crew heading to Panorama Bar as well as hosting regular parties in London and other cities. And we love that we never know when the next record is going to drop (the LT release schedule is brilliantly erratic) and that there’s no guideline to what each will sound like. One of London’s best assets is only going to get bigger and we’re backing it 100 per cent. F

1ТРИП

Nina Kraviz is one of the best DJs in the world. Her sets expertly blend ferocious techno, wild acid and undercover gems you never knew existed. And in autumn last year she minted her own label, трип (Russian for ‘trip).

It’s released three various artist compilations and a single from Bjarki in 2015. That’s a total of 26 tracks, making up some of the most exciting techno of the year (and some of the best art, too, with each release wrapped in the bizarre and compelling designs of Tombo). Bjarki’s ‘I Wanna Go Bang’, arguably the most contagious track of the year, came out in the summer but the beautifully padded ‘Organezized’ by Deniro, the whimsical ‘Bells’ by Nikita Zabelin and the unearthed, re-released weapon ‘Barcode Population’ by the artist of the same name all turned heads in a serious way too.

Kraviz obviously has flair for discovering new talent and giving it a strong platform from which to launch and трип has, in a very short time, become a genuinely exciting imprint that’s bringing forward artists in one of the most contested genres in the world.

The techno has been top notch, the artwork both thought provoking and striking and the label’s underlying ethos admirable. трип is our label of the year and although we have no idea what new music to expect, that’s what excites us the most going into ’16. F