In today’s climate of free downloads and disposable music, it takes more and more commitment to curate a solid label. The labels that White Noise has chosen as the year’s best are the imprints that have put out consistently excellent releases, and those that have continued to eke the best from established producers while keeping an eye out for fresh new talent.

10 – Hinge Finger
Joy Orbison and Will Bankhead’s new label only put out three releases in its first year, but since a couple of those contained two of the year’s very biggest tracks, it’d be a crime to leave the oddly-named label off the list. Quality is the watchword here; gorgeous artwork and top notch mixdowns. The label-heads were similarly discerning with their releases; after Madteo’s analogue jams in Bugler Gold Pt. 1, Joy Orbison’s Ellipsis and Blawan’s His He She & Sheprovided some hefty club tunes that had dancefloors shaking up and down the country.
Essential Releases:
Joy Orbison – Ellipsis
Blawan – His He She & She
9 – Hotflush
Scuba’s unpredictable Hotflush imprint continued to run well ahead of the curve in 2012, with a busy release schedule offering a host of excellent releases. Although every cut wasn’t necessarily a winner, Hotflush offered a diverse and impeccably produced set of singles from the likes of Jack Dixon, Guy Andrews and Locked Groove, while stellar LPs came our way courtesy of Jimmy Edgar and Sigha.
Essential Releases:
Guy Andrews – The Wait / Hands In Mine
Jimmy Edgar – Majenta
Jack Dixon – E / Find Shelter
8 – L.I.E.S.
Ron Morelli’s eclectic and uncompromising Long Island Electrical Systems label has been in action since 2010, but this was the year where it broke into the big leagues. The only common factors uniting the label’s diverse output are a taste for the rawest, darkest corners of electronic music, and Morelli has done an expert job sourcing fresh sounds from unknowns and scene stalwarts alike. Aside from the excellent American Noise compilation, special attention should go to great releases from Steve Moore, Bookworms and Legowelt.
Essential Releases:
u-202 – Straightjacket
Bookworms – Love Triangles
Various Artists – American Noise
7 – Aus
Will Saul’s excellent Aus imprint had an uncommonly fine year in 2012, offering a series of stellar EPs from some of the House scene’s very best producers, all precision-built for the dancefloor. George Fitzgerald’s Child EP spawned two of the year’s most ubiquitous dance tunes, while Midland produced the typically classy Placement EP. Elsewhere, excellent singles showed that Cottam hasn’t lost any of his edge with another lengthy, epic house tune (Relapse), while Bicep took the focus away from 90s House to conjure one of the year’s very best with the You / Don’t EP.
Essential Releases:
Bicep – You / Don’t
George Fitzgerald – Child
Midland – Placement EP
6 – Hyperdub
You’d expect Kode9’s Hyperdub imprint to be losing some momentum by now, but the London-based label has continued to evolve and impress, and 2012 was one of the label’s strongest years to date. Focusing more on albums than singles, Hyperdub played the field with a wide range of successful LPs, from Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland’s career-highlight Black Is Beautiful to Cooly G’s RnB mutations on Playin’ Me to Laurel Halo’s confusing and undeniably impressive Quarantine. And that’s all without mentioning label-legend Burial, who came out with two of his best releases to date to bookend the year.
Essential Releases:
Burial – Kindred / Truant
Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – Black Is Beautiful
Laurel Halo – Quarantine
5 – Tri Angle
Tri Angle burst out of the stables with a rare brilliance in 2011, with fantastic releases from Balam Acab, How To Dress Well, and Holy Other among others. It was certainly a hard act to follow, but Robin Carolan has kept the quality material coming, and managed to simultaneously stay true to the label’s eclectic, independent roots. This year saw great sophomore releases from Holy Other and oOoOO, an interesting debut from Hip Hop experimentalist Evian Christ and still managed to come up with one of the year’s very best albums in the form of Vessel’s searing Order of Noise LP.
Essential Releases:
Vessel – Order of Noise
Holy Other – Held
oOoOO – Our Loving Is Hurting Us
4 – Hypercolour
Hypercolour lost nothing this year by being firmly rooted on the dancefloor. The label continued to put out almost every variation possible of the House sound, continually straining against the boundaries of what we recognise as a generic 4/4 dance tune. The label had an alarming hit-rate of bangers, from Tom Demac’s terrifying Critical Distance Pt. 2 to Mosca’s Eva Mendes, by way of Huxley’s Let It Go and George Fitzgerald’s superb Needs You. Any label that can put out so many huge tunes in one year is more than deserving of a high place on this list.
Essential Releases:
Tom Demac – Critical Distance pt 2
George Fitzgerald – Needs You
Last Magpie – (Who Knows) Where Love Goes
3 – Hessle
The Hessle imprint, run by three of the UK scene’s biggest names (Pangaea, Pearson Sound and Ben UFO), only matches its extreme eye for idiosyncrasy with its unbelievably consistent quality. The Hessle release schedule wasn’t that full this year, but when almost every release spawned a leftfield knockout that left listeners reeling, there’s no point trying to complain. Pangaea impressed on the label’s longest EP to date with Release, while Objekt, Elgato and Bandshell provided excellent superb releases that neatly sidestep generic sounds whilst remaining dedicated to the floor.
Essential Releases:
Pangaea – Release
Elgato – Zone / Luv Zombie
Objekt – Cactus / Porcupine
2 – 50Weapons
With 50Weapons Modeselektor eschew the goofiness of their releases on the Monkeytown imprint to focus on a darker strain of dance music which is even more powerful. This year the label put out an astonishing selection of LPs from most of their roster, unconventional full-lengths came courtesy of Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka, Shed, Addison Groove, and Bambounou among others. The range of styles is impressive but Modeselektor never let the quality drop, equally seen in a range of superb EPs from the likes of Dark Sky and A Made Up Sound.
Essential Releases:
Dark Sky – Myriam
Addison Groove – Adventures in Rainbow Country
Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka – They!Live
1 – Unknown To The Unknown
White Noise’s number one label is also it’s most unconventional. Unknown to the Unknown has a brilliant year that saw the coming of almost 20 releases, with no unifying aesthetic or sound to be found. Nearly all digital, UTTU’s unique brilliance can entirely be put down to the superb taste of curator DJ Haus, who birthed the label from a Youtube channel he started last year. The release schedule’s manic nature is matched only by the songs themselves, which take hyperactive swipes at everything from Electro (DJ Stingray’s unstoppable fururistic productions) to Jungle and Bassline (DJ Q’s All Junglist EP) to classic house (Capracara’s superb Ronin) to bizarre bass hybrids from 5kinandbone5, Checan and Palace. In a year where austere, industrial Techno seized the dance world by force, it’s fitting that one of the labels that shone brightest was one which threw all seriousness out of the window in search of fun tunes and dancefloor killers.
Essential Releases:
Capracara – Ronin
Mista Men – UTTU EP
5kinAndBone5 – Make U Understand / Reset