In 2013 we were given more reasons than ever why record labels really matter. The glut of new producers needed sorting and supporting, the ever-oscillating sales of vinyl needed bolstering, and dance music’s tentative re-entry into the mainstream needed careful managing. Luckily, it seemed that there were more great labels and label-heads on hand to deal with these problems than ever before. It’s been a phenomenal and varied year in the world of dance, and here White Noise wants to pay tribute to the people behind the artists who make it all happen.
A good label can be many things: it can be a stamp of good taste, a reliable source of fresh tunes which earns the trust of the listener. A label can also be brought success by a discerning A&R man, who diligently picks out talented fledglings and nurtures them to greatness, or spots the glittering gem in a mire of soundcloud also-rans. A good label can be a stable which defines a style, whether local or global, better than anyone else – or even creates a home for exploring brand new sonic territory. It doesn’t even have to be all about the music: some labels are appreciated because of the care they put into their packaging and cover art, marrying great music to bold aesthetics. In 2013 more labels opened their doors than ever, while a few stalwarts clung to their positions among the industry’s very best.
Before we begin, it’s worth spreading the word about a few labels not on the list that are looking promising for next year: the likes of Argot and Nous have been offering quality releases with a tight grip on quality control, while Sued has upped its output of superb techno EPs. Elsewhere new imprint Berceuse Heroique has had a memorable first year, with excellent slices from MGUN and Gesloten Cirkel pressed onto high quality 12”s. Another new label which attracted our attention was Fifth Wall, a Brooklyn-based imprint whose steady stream of roughneck techno has carved out a singular sound, demonstrated memorably on Divvorce’s Used Experience EP. Finally props go to Berlin’s Leisure System, who scored two home-runs this year with Visionist’s grime-trip Snakes and the blistering Tetrahymena, which marked the welcome return of electro vets Dopplereffekt.
Following from those worthy runners-up, we now present WN’s favourite labels of 2013:
‘In order to dance’. Many will recognise the slogan emblazoned on R&S’ vinyls, a statement of intent which has held true across the label’s lengthy career. R&S held onto its reputation as a dance institution this year by branching out, offering a more diverse range of records than ever before. While not all of these hit the mark (albums from Vondelpark and the promising Airhead proved blandly sentimental), R&S’ year was still far more hit than miss. They excelled in the singles department with superb offerings from Lone, Tessela and Paula Temple, while Welcome To Mikrosector-50 gave the delightful Space Dimension Controller some room to really let his imagination run wild. It was the most impressive year since the label’s recent relaunch, proving without a doubt that the old horse still has legs.
Tessela – Nancy’s Pantry
Lone – Airglow Fires
Space Dimension Controller – Welcome To Mikrosector-50
15: Mister Saturday Night
After a debut release as impressive as Anthony Naples’ anthemic Mad Disrespect, many labels would spend the rest of their time desperately playing catch-up. Not so with Mister Saturday Night, a label run by the men behind Brooklyn’s popular loft party of the same name. The imprint showed their versatility through an impressive second year, with Lumigraph, Hank Jackson and a returning Naples demonstrating a tougher, noisier side of MSN, while Dark Sky and Alex Burkat’s releases plied an unparalleled softness.
Anthony Naples – Moscato
Dark Sky – In Brackets
Lumigraph – Yacht Cruiser
14: Wicked Bass
Kiev’s Wicked Bass stepped their game up a notch in 2012 with the release of Huerco S’ sublime No Jack EP, but all three of the label’s 2013 offerings show an imprint going from strength to strength, summoning the rawness of the lofi house scene without ever sacrificing a fierce lust for the groove. Two of this year’s releases come from big new talent Innershades, whose Dancemania-indebted That Girlturned into one of the year’s most compelling anthems. Elsewhere newcomer Raw Music Theory pumped out a scintillating debut EP, backed with ace remixes from fresh blood Greg Beato. Wicked Bass’ year was all about new talent, and they clearly had it in spades.
Innershades – That Girl
Raw Music Theory – Raw M.T.
Innershades – Gravure
13: Tri Angle
The inimitable Tri Angle may have had a quieter year than last year’s musical masterclass, but each of the imprint’s releases was still a compelling invitation to the enigmatic darkness of Tri Angle’s sound. Genre-defying newcomer Fis closed the year with an intriguing offering alongside The Haxan Cloak’s heavyweight Excavation LP, yet Tri Angle’s biggest coup of 2013 was undoubtedly the return of the singular Forest Swords, whose album Engravings surpassed even our lofty expectations.
Forest Swords – Engravings
The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
Fis – Preparations
12: 100% Silk
Amanda Brown’s 100% Silk released an awful lot of music in 2013, perhaps too much, but the hit-rate was still more impressive than almost any other stable. Not Not Fun’s little sister is a dream for fans of retro house and synth-fed live jams, and this year gave us some gorgeous albums by Octo Octa and Coyote Clean Up, while Les Level, Bobby Draino and Bobby Browser were responsible for just a handful of the imprint’s run of ace EPs across the year.
Octo Octa – Between Two Selves
Les Level – House Of Need
Bobby Draino – Brain Drain
11: Opal Tapes
Teeside’s Opal Tapes continued their unrivalled dominance of the cassette game in 2013, with an enviable slew of releases that straddled the worlds of noise, ambient and techno. OT’s quality control is always admirable, but some of its releases this year shone particularly bright, including those of Lumigraph, Karen Gwyer and Shapednoise, alongside a stellar debut for the more floor-focused material of Patricia. The latter garnered so much praise that label-head Stephen Bishop is launching the new Black Opal vinyl run next year, which sets expectations high for another bumper release schedule in 2014.
Patricia – Body Issues
Manse – Lying In Wait
Karen Gwyer – Kiki The Wormhole
Sheffield’s venerable music outpost has surfed electronic music’s vanguard for almost fifteen years, and in 2013 it was the imprint’s ability to welcome talent both old and new which secured its ever-growing reputation. New albums from electronic legends (and label stalwarts) Boards of Canada and Autechre were worthy standard-bearers of the Warptradition, but it was new work by the likes of Mark Pritchard and Oneohtrix Point Never which proved the imprint’s most exciting new releases.
Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Mark Pritchard – Lock Off
9: White Material
While Brooklyn’s White Material have released less this year than any other label on this list, their position is secured by the quality of those two EPs and the strength of the label’s aesthetic. Starting out peddling self-described ‘working man’s techno’ in 2012, this year saw WM come to prominence in the underground scene, their limited-issue releases quickly reaching exorbitant prices on discogs (though a series of represses is apparently on the way). It’d be easy to pass it off as a case of the hype machine gone wild if it weren’t for the brilliance of their records: this year saw Galcher Lustwerk follow a superb mix with a debut EP that twinned gorgeous deep house grooves with languid spoken word accompaniment. Later came White Material, a collective statement that defined the label’s sound in four concise, compelling excursions into 4/4 territory.
Galcher Lustwerk – Tape 22
White Material – White Material
After almost fading away for a few years, grime has been on a very exciting upswing of late. The fresh new producers are undoubtedly to credit – free to produce without making sonic space for an MC’s vocals, the likes of Beneath, Wen, Logos and more have been charting strange, seductive territory in their lethal new grime hybrids. Yet these disparate producers are brought together by a few key voices in the scene: one is undoubtedly Slackk, whose Grimetapes blog continues to be an inspiration, while the other is Dusk and Blackdown’s dependable Keysoundimprint. Keysound has been on ruder form than ever this year, with great EPs from Etch and Wen bookending the year and debut albums from E.M.M.A. and Logos. The latter’s Cold Mission was a particular triumph, and alongside the label’s vital This Is How We Roll comp, capped off what might just be the best in the label’s six year history.
Logos – Cold Mission
Wen – Commotion
Various Artists – This Is How We Roll
You might have guessed from our recent label profile that we love Damiano Von Erckert’s ava imprint. In 2013 ava sailed through another beautiful year, pushing their signature house sounds all drenched in soul. Murat Tepeli spun gold on his Fee Fi Foe Funk For Me EP (backed by a monster Prosumer remix), but ava’s year belonged to label-head Von Erckert, who released not one but two stellar albums: his misty-eyed collaboration with beatmaker Tito Wun and his debut proper, the sublime Love Based Music.
Damiano von Erckert & Tito Wun – Mr. Pink, What Have You Been Smokin’?
Murat Tepeli – The Fee Fi Foe Funk For Me EP
Damiano Von Erckert – Love Based Music
6: Trilogy Tapes
Will Bankhead’s impossibly tasteful Trilogy Tapes imprint completed its transition to vinyl this year, with stunning leftfield releases drawn from old talents and new. Tuff Sherm and Anthony Naples produced two of the label’s most compelling listens since MM/KM, while the likes of Eomac, Levantis and Rezzett brought that crunchy lofi sound in inimitable style.
Anthony Naples – El Portal
Tuff Sherm – Burglar Loops
Levantis – Believe
5: Crème Organization
DJ TLR’s fantastic Crème label ran through a kaleidoscopic 2013 with all guns blazing, never once letting slip either their wild energy or their strict quality control. Almost all of Crème’s 2013 offerings were gold, with Willie Burns, D’Marc Cantu, Xosar and Simoncino peddling their distinct brands of off-kilter house, while floor-focused work came courtesy of Legowelt and Innershades. As if that wasn’t enough Crème went further– christening Orgue Electronique’s addictive Henry Saiz remix with a white label release, and offering a searing EP courtesy of The Exaltics. Then of course there’s R-Zone, the Crème-affiliated imprint which let out a quickfire schedule of top-notch ravework across the year under its own anonymous banner. Every year we think that TLR can’t possibly keep up the pace, and each year he proves us wrong. Here’s to an even madder 2014.
D’Marc Cantu – Alternate Frequency
Innershades – No Stopping
R-Zone – R-Zone 06
In its nine year history, Kode9’s Hyperdub has yet to have a dull year. The label has managed to hold onto the bleeding edge of electronic music for nearly a decade, and its enviable position was held fast in 2013. The last twelve months were particularly bountiful on the album front, with superb long-players coming from talents as diverse as DJ Rashad, Jessy Lanza and Walton. It’s not just Hyperdub’s forward-thinking music which deserves plaudits, but also its dedication to showcasing female talent. Alongside Lanza’s sterling debut, this year saw great LPs from label-stalwarts Laurel Halo and Ikonika, who, alongside the likes of Inga Copeland and Cooly G, show that Hyperdub is interested in breaking more than just sonic boundaries.
Walton – Beyond
Jessy Lanza – Pull My Hair Back
DJ Rashad – Double Cup
3: Livity Sound
Pev, Kowton and Asusu have been quietly building their Bristol stronghold for the last two years, but it took this year’s superb compilation for us to take stock and realise just how brilliantly consistent the label’s output has been. Each club-tooled release seems better than the last; a blend of raw dancefloor know-how and inventive textures which never fail to hit the sweet spot. Besides four of the label’s best singles coming quick and strong over the year, their eponymous compilation showed just how singular Livity’s vision is: three distinct voices combined in a raging, vital roar.
Various Artists – Livity Sound
Pev – Aztec Chant
Pev & Kowton – End Point / Vapours
No label in recent memory has had a stronger first year than Houndstooth. Helmed by Fabric and Rob Booth, what Houndstooth lacked in anonymous underdog appeal it more than made up for in quality releases, with a staggeringly impressive collection of records coming over the last twelve months. Houndstooth’s guiding vision is a dark, vigorous vein of dance that mines the UK’s rich tradition while never taking its eyes off the future. Call Super offered two EPs of sublime techno that kept us dancing through the cold, while UK dance history was dealt two monumental tributes in the hi-def dread of Akkord’s self-titled debut album and the raucous grit of Special Request’s Soul Music.
Call Super – Black Octagons
Special Request – Soul Music
Akkord – Akkord
Like it or not, Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. is here to stay. The Brooklyn imprint released over twenty records in 2013, and while they weren’t all to everyone’s taste, the label released more music we loved than any other this year. Whether it’s the expanding scope of their lofi aesthetic, the compelling fusion of experimental sounds and dancefloor muscle or the label’s dedication to pushing new talent, L.I.E.S. undoubtedly ruled the roost in 2013.
The wonderful Music For Shut Ins compilation closed a year which, somewhat hypocritically, actually saw L.I.E.S. aim more for the dancefloor than ever before, with sterling EPs from Voiski, Legowelt, Delroy Edwards and Terekke among many, many others. The year also saw a new dedication to the long-player in the L.I.E.S. camp, with brilliant work from Gunnar Haslam and Marcos Cabral, all capped off by KWC 92’s phenomenal Dream Of The Walled City. And then there are the anthems: Kupfer’s blissful Feelin, the excellent title track from Samantha’s Vacation, Greg Beato’s murky Gimme A Light – any label would be hard pressed to have a better year than L.I.E.S. did in 2013. Despite the enormous amount of hype surrounding the label, in our view there’s no imprint currently more worthy of attention.
KWC 92 – Dream Of The Walled City
Florian Kupfer – Lifetrax
Various Artists – Music For Shut Ins
Terekke – YYYYYYYYYY
Voiski – IAI Movement