The RA staff pick their favourite imprints of the year.
It takes real commitment to run a label these days; we live in a world where physical media is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Fortunately for us, the unforgiving climate hasn't stopped people from starting labels left and right. This year, a few embryonic labels came to life in spectacular fashion, while smaller boutique projects provided the ubiquitous dance floor bangers. Inveterate imprints reinvented their identities or continued on solid streaks, heading down bold new avenues or just confirming what made them great in the first place. If 2012 proved anything, it's that record labels still play an important role with what we listen to and how we listen to it. Here's 20 that managed not only to stay alive but fully thrive this year.
What could be found on Semantica in 2012? Here's a start: Orphx's potent industrialized rhythms, Plant43's shimmering electro, Skirt's beatless melancholy and Surgeon's delightfully discordant textures. And, of course, label boss Svreca continued to provide, sparingly, his own cerebral take on techno. But what impresses most of all is the aesthetic he's developed for Semantica by working with such a broad, uniquely talented collection of artists.
Musically, Prologue didn't do anything that differently this year compared to those previous. Deep and hypnotic techno remained its starting point, though a focus on the album format propelled its reach. Exceptional full-length efforts from Voices from the Lake, Claudio PRC and Dino Sabatini, each with a distinct sound of its own, helped push the Munich-based label's output beyond the realm of techno purists. Prologue's sound has always been one as suited to headphones as it is to Funktion-One stacks. More people discovered that in 2012 than ever before.
Last year Omar-S boldly claimed It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It. Turns out he was right—well, almost. The Detroit producer made his label one of the best of the year mostly off the back of his own productions, but it was the guest artists (not least Gunnar Wendel, AKA Kassem Mosse, and Luke Hess) that really made it soar.
SunkLo isn't so much a curated label as a quick-fire outlet for its two founding artists. Joy Orbison and Boddika paired up to produce some of the weirdest techno of 2012—or was it house? It was honestly hard to tell. What was evident is its fearlessness, from the nervous jitters of "Dun Dun" to the unexpected noise avalanche of the Pearson Sound collaboration "Faint." Even weirder? These tracks were played by just about everyone.
The guys behind Smallville know what they like, and there's nothing wrong with that. You could call it all "deep house," but wouldn't that miss the point? Take Arnaldo's "A Song Name Of One Word": this is understated, mature and emotionally complex music, which just so happens to have a perfect groove. It's a winning combination, and one that could serve them (and us) well for years.
As retro fetishism kicked into overdrive this year, few labels drew inspiration from the past with quite the same panache as Running Back. Phillip Lauer brought '80s yacht rock to the modern dance floor. B.D.I. made vintage drum machines sing. And Matthew Styles wrung fresh life out of well-worn breakbeats. Among the classicism, Gerd Janson's label enhanced its reputation as an MVP in the field of diversity.
Modern Love has been a bastion of experimental UK techno for a decade. This year started off like any other, with longtime affiliates Demdike Stare supplying a series of hazy dub techno cuts with the continuation of their Elemental Series. The label debuts of Miles Whittaker's Suum Cuiqe alias and American veteran Vatican Shadow then arrived, with the year coming to a close courtesy of Andy Stott and his Luxury Problems LP, one of 2012's defining full-lengths. Only one newcomer was invited into the Modern Love family this year, but with a stable this strong, they barely needed it.
Scuba's Hotflush ramped up into high gear in 2012 with a release schedule that seemed to bring at least two new records every month. That meant the broad label became even broader, encompassing the sleek techno of Sigha, Jimmy Edgar's funk-fuelled electronic pop and, of course, the big-room sounds of Personality from Scuba himself. It was another 12 months that confirmed Hotflush as one of the most unpredictable and fascinating imprints going.
Turbo reinvented itself in 2012 by largely focusing on one aspect of its splintered personality: techno. New Jack Techno to be exact. Its buzzing new family included Gingy & Bordello, Locked Groove, Duke Dumont and Nautiluss all at the top of their game, making techno that wasn't afraid to be poppy, adventurous or, in some cases, just really goddamn hard. Like founder Tiga, Turbo was a bit of everything in 2012, but united in its quest for dance floor supremacy.
When exactly did Modeselektor become such visionary tastemakers? One minute they're making goofy tributes to their moms, the next they're running a label that churns out impeccable club music with impressive disregard for genre boundaries. Looking at the artists they've featured this year—Marcel Dettmann, Atoms For Peace, Addison Groove et al.—you realize the common thread on 50 Weapons isn't a particular style, but a rambunctious disregard for convention. If only this wasn't so unusual.
Spectrum Spools continued its run as one of the essential experimental electronic labels of 2012. Emeralds' John Elliott is the driving force behind the imprint, whose furious release schedule has meant that there's been a constant stream of material to chew on from artists like Bee Mask, Container and Motion Sickness of Time Travel. As a clearing house for the outer reaches of electronic music, there are few better.
Blackest Ever Black is one of the latest in a long line of UK labels to wade into the darker end of the electronic music spectrum. Since debuting in 2010, the London imprint has kept its roster small, calling upon regular contributions from the likes of Raime, Cut Hands and Regis. But with a few key outside contributions coming from Gareth Williams & Mary Currie, Vatican Shadow and Black Rain—as well as Raime's debut artist album, Quarter Turns A Living Line—"guilt, envy and revenge" have never sounded as good as they did in 2012.
The label arm of Berghain/Panorama Bar released two stellar mix CDs this year, plus a remarkable album from Barker & Baumecker. That's not to mention the smattering of smart singles from club residents like Marcel Dettmann and Steffi, and a killer guest appearance from The Mole. Berghain/Panorama Bar has become a center for techno and house, and its imprint remained every bit as influential in 2012.
Kode9's Hyperdub never really stops shapeshifting, and the form (or lack thereof) it took in 2012 was among its least familiar. It was a banner year that rivaled the label's peak dubstep-era run, with artists like Laurel Halo, Cooly G and Hype Williams breaking the envelope completely and taking the imprint into wild and exciting territory. (It probably didn't hurt that Burial released some of the best music of his career either.)
If you can forgive the awkwardness of the term, Hinge Finger was among 2012's best boutique imprints—cut at Dubplates & Mastering, high quality artwork. Joy Orbison and Will Bankhead were also incredibly discerning with their release schedule. After Madteo's dislocated house jams, they put out just two more 12-inches—Joy Orbison's Ellipsis and Blawan's His He She & She—which just happened to include two of the year's biggest club tracks.
Whether they were releasing pop, experimental or experimental pop, Tri Angle continued to revel in ambiguity in 2012. "I've always felt like a bit of an outsider," Tri Angle head Robin Carolan told us last month, confirming the mindset of a label boss who will happily release dub/techno headfucks—Vessel's Order of Noise—next to sugary London synth pop—AlunaGeorge's You Know You Like It.
When we profiled PAN for our Under the Covers series early in 2012, we had an inkling that something special was happening. After a year that saw remarkable releases from Heatsick, NHK'Koyxen and Lee Gamble, we feel pretty certain that we were right. Is the dance world moving toward PAN's experimental outlook? Or is it the other way around? Either way, we're excited to hear what happens next.
Hessle Audio doesn't release much, but what they do is enough to have the label stick in the collective mind year-round. 2012 saw some new additions to the fold and strong comebacks from familiar faces. They made moves towards the abstract with Bandshell's dusty lucid dreams and Pearson Sound's intricate minimalism, yet their idiosyncratic grasp of the floor remained as keen ever, held intact by Pangaea's junglist visions and Objekt's prickly techno.
In a year in which terms like "weirdo," "raw," "outsider" and "lo-fi" became de rigueur, no imprint cut through the noise quite like Long Island Electrical Systems. Ron Morelli's Brooklyn imprint had been operating out of leftfield (and attracting attention) since 2010, but 2012 was most certainly its watershed year. L.I.E.S was conceived in the punk-like spirit of The Hague's scene in the '90s. (Bunker Records in particular was a touchstone.) This manifested itself in a sort of "fuck you" attitude towards the recording process and conventional club music functionality. You had the shimmering techno of Xosar. Steve Summers' crepuscular house tones. Bookworms' soaring Africanisms. And Professor Genius' Arabic-themed electronics. In fact, L.I.E.S released nearly twenty 12-inches in 2012, nourishing the scene's unquenchable thirst for music both challenging and danceable.