It's partly a staff thing. A few years ago the bulk of RA contribs were listening to progressive, house and a bit of breaks. These days – to put it bluntly – the contributors are different people: mostly house and techno fans. And if you like a bit of tech in your dance music, you’ve bought a lot of German records in 2006. They’re good at it. They’re not so good at dance rock, but they’re very good at techno. RA staffers are not all mindless techno-loving dancing machines – there’s room for all sorts – but this year there are enough techno lovers to vote en masse, squeezing out the breaks fans and the disco fans and the proggers. Thus the votes for all those German labels: Systematic, Bpitch Control, Cadenza, Perlon, Compost, Liebe Detail, Poker Flat, Sonar Kollektiv, Modern Love, Playhouse, Styrax Leaves, Cocoon, Triebstoff and International Deejay Gigolo. Great labels, one and all.
It's also partly a progressive thing. Those us of who used to listen to a lot of Sasha and Digweed, truth be told, are now listening to Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos too. Not everyone, but a lot. And it’s not just the fans, it’s the DJs too. Check the tracklist of Digweed’s ‘Transitions’ mix this year and half of the records came out on German labels. Check the club CD on ‘Balance 10’ and three quarters of the tracks are German. We think this is a big change. We even sent out a poll form to a diehard progger who we thought wouldn’t let team down, but it came back the same as the others: Trapez, Klang Elektronik, Playhouse. Go figure.
It's also an English-speaking country thing. Generally speaking, the big headliners in London clubs have had a lot of umlauts over their names in 2006, the very same names who couldn’t get a gig to save themselves even two years ago. The UK might still use the pound, but they’ve decided to join the Schengen zone in terms of club culture. And about time too.
It’s also a German thing. Electronic music is very deeply rooted in Germany right back to Kraftwerk in the seventies and even Stockhausen in the fifties. On a recent trip to Frankfurt, RA went to the supermarket and electronic balearic trance music was wafting through the aisles. You just don’t hear that in New York or Sydney – it’s more likely to be soothing jazz or pop. In Germany, your average Hans is just as likely to go out and dance to electronic music as he is to see a band. Lots of support means lots of labels, and lots of labels means lots of votes in our poll. Distributors Intergroove GmbH had a successful 2006; sadly the same cannot be said for Intergroove UK, which went under in November.
That's why we've gone for German labels. And while the quality of German dance music should be celebrated, but let’s also celebrate the fine music made in other countries too. Our contributors voted for a lot of quality British labels: Classic, Fabric, Border Community, Hospital, Resist, Audio Therapy, Buzzin’ Fly, Modern Love, Renaissance, Bedrock, Underl_ne, Bear Funk, Finger Lickin’, REKIDS, Tiny Sticks, Defected, Against the Grain, What We Want, DC Recordings, Leftroom, Freerange, Mute and Dubsided. Lots of great British dance in 2006.
North American nominees included Wagon Repair, Turbo, Spectral Sound, Dirty Bird, SAW, Om, DFA, Ibadan and King Street Sounds. So big up the American labels. Votes came in for European labels too: Pickadoll, Pryda, Eskimo, Feedelity, Delsin, Apnea, Kitsune, PIAS, Versatile and Ed Banger. Australian labels included Modular, EQ and Future Classic. On ya, mates.
But the truth is that music, and especially dance music, is like the old cliché says: an international thing. It doesn’t matter where a record comes from: as long as it grooves, it stays on the turntable. RA hopes that nobody likes music just because of its country of origin, we hope y’all enjoy it because of how it sounds. And in 2006, it sounded good.
A mixture of minimal, electro and deeper releases on Lazarus and Styles' label saw them stay at the front of the record bag in 2006. James Holden turned in another big rerub (Black Strobe's Nazi Trance Fuck Off') while the Pier Bucci 'Familia' remixes breathed new life into tracks from the hit album of 2005. Lazarus once again showed he has his ear to the ground signing Sweden’s neu-proggers Minilogue and up-and-coming local Jamie Jones. Despite the name, Lazarus’ free monthly Stink parties in East London continued to spread the Crosstown word with tasty line-ups for locals, and in case you'd forgotten where the label's been, it wrapped up the year with its first label comp 'Crosstown Rebels Vol. 1'.
MySpace: Crosstown Rebels
The Traum/Trapez family continued to puts its faith in the new kids in 2006. Earlier in the year ‘Interkontinental 5’ hinted that Traum was shifting into Border Community territory with neu-trancers Jesse Somfay and Linus Quick heading up a line-up of new faces. Label head Triple R told RA that “static techno” was the gameplan for Trapez in 2006, offering up as proof Shane Berry’s 'Fillertet2' Ryan Crosson’s 'Gotham Road' and a 12" of colourful Spanish minimal from Alex Under. Hot Swedes Minilogue provided a mid-year burst with ‘The Leopard’ and recently Extrawelt have drawn raves for ‘Schmedding 8000’, but it was the strength of Jeff Samuel's debut longplayer 'Step' which pushed Traum/Trapez over the line and into our top ten.
Former sublabel of Sonar Kollektiv detached from the mothership this year to strike out into the deep on their own. Ame’s ‘Rej’ was 2005, but Innervisions have stepped out of the shadow of that track with confidence. They released four super-fine 12”s this year: The beautiful instrumentation and musicianship of At Jazz’s ‘For Real’, Stefan Goldmann ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and Château Flight ‘Baroque’ are all EPs worthy of your coin, not to mention ‘Where We At’, Âme & Dixon (and Henrik and Derrick’s), which pretty much defined the sound of clubland early on in 2006.
Slam's Soma output had plenty to celebrate in 2006, notching up their 200th release in June. The label cranked out no fewer than six albums this year including Alex Smoke's rated 'Paradolia' and the electro funk of My Robot Friend's 'Dial 0'. Seasoned label hands Funk D'Void and Phil Kieran partnered up on two big techno 12"s including 'White Lice', while IDMers The Black Dog made their label debut with 'Riphead'. But it’s probably the stable's comp series ‘Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi’ which renewed interest in the fifteen-year old Scottish label. Volumes by Luciano and Alex Smoke this year further cemented the series as the big one to watch. In 2007 the Glasgow imprint has a few more tricks under its kilt: look out for new Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi volumes from Andrew Weatherall and Slam, as well as Octogen's debut album and a newie from The Black Dog.
Dial’s first release this year was titled ‘Music For Non-Existing Dancefloors’, but big Dial showcases in Berlin and London in December proved that there’s a growing audience for the Hamburg label’s unique, gentle take on techno. RA once had to cart label head Lawrence’s records back to his hotel room because he’d tucked into his rider too eagerly, but judging his release schedule in 2006, the man’s judgement is usually impeccable: Key 12”s such as Efdemin’s ‘Bergwein’, Pantha Du Prince’s ‘Lichten’ and label Lawrence’s ‘Deep Summer Hole’ made 2006 a year Dial can be proud of. Watch out for Pantha Du Prince’s stunning new album which is just around the corner.
MySpace: Dial Records
Carl Craig is probably the only DJ out there in 2007 who could satisfy everyone in the room just playing his own tracks. But his big work this year was in fact for other labels (DFA, Skint, Mute, Burial Mix); instead we celebrate Craig’s Planet E for a new record by a relative unknown: Martin Buttrich – the engineer behind ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ – came out of nowhere to define quality dance music with the epic ‘Full Clip/Programmer’, a rethink of Detroit techno that managed to channel a little of the spirit of Carl Craig too. Vince Watson’s just issued ‘Renaissance/Rendevous’ is pure quality too, and watch out for PE 65289-1 in the new year: the in-form Ripperton from Lazy Fat People is touching down on Planet E.
MySpace: Planet E
New kids on the block Mobilee are only a year and a half old, but they’re already overachievers: they’ve clocked up nineteen releases, they unofficially stole the show at Sonar 2006 and - most importantly – they’ve nailed a sound of their own. The brainchild of Berlin radio host, DJ and producer Anja Schneider, Mobilee is bringing a bit of spunk and colour to minimal Berlin. They’ve issued great tracks by Sebo K (‘Moved’), Daniel Stefanik (‘The Bells’) and Anja Schneider herself (‘Lily Of The Valley’) but in Mobilee’s case it’s equally about the overall cohesive effect. A great entry point is the recent 2CD compilation ‘Back to Back’, but a better one is probably the Mobilee All-Stars party happening at Watergate in January. Easyjet here we come.
MySpace: Anja Schneider
Runners up in our poll are Michael Mayer’s pop techno consortium, whose international appeal is slowly but surely widening. The Kompakt 12”s heard everywhere this year were Oxia’s ‘Domino’ and the Supermayer mix of ‘Like You’, while Mayer himself unveiled his long-awaited ‘Immer 2’, our runner up mix of the year. Deeper in the catalogue the label returned to schaffel nicely on Maxime Dangles’ ‘Noemie’, while The Field and Justus Konchke handed in key singles. Mikkel Metal great ‘Victimizer’ was unjustly overlooked, but what we’re really waiting for is to hear The Rice Twins mental-but-we-love it ‘Poppers’ out in a club. The sound might have shifted a bit from the old days – would Sasha have ever played Wolfgang Voigt? – but the maverick Cologne label is still doing things the same way: on their own terms.
Label managers M.A.N.D.Y, DJ T and Booka Shade have only got themselves to thank: wild club nights, 'Played Runner', the 'Darko' remixes as well as our album of the year 'Movements'. But they've also released great tracks by the worker bees, too: Radio Slave's remix of Chelonis R Jones 'Deer in the Headlights' gave us goosebumps while Trentemoller's rerub of Djuma Soundsystem's 'Les Djinns' achieved the small feat of being the biggest download on Beatport ever. Booka Shade told RA they’ve got another album in the works for 2007 and they’re touring around the world in the next few months so prepared to get more physical than ever.
MySpace: Get Physical
And the winner is... minimal techno. Want to be sure you have to queue to get into a club? Go to a M_nus night. Not only has Richie Hawtin’s label – let’s face it – owned parties over the last twelve months, the output of M_nus has been undeniably strong this year: Loco Dice’s ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, Heartthrob’s ‘Baby Kate’, Gaiser’s ’Egress’, Troy Pierce’s ’25 Bitches’, Marc Houle’s ‘Bay of Figs’ – almost everything the label has touched has turned to gold. Whether you think the Emperor’s clothes are too minimal or not, the rise of the M-genre has undeniably been the biggest club phenomenon of the year, and genre-definers M_nus rightfully snag our top prize. Congrats!
Contributors: Jeremy Armitage, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Cameron Eeles, Tami Fenwick, Stéphane Girard, Chris Hobson, Ben Hogwood, Nico Ilickovic, Mohson Iqbal, Matt Langler, Alex Macpherson, Joshua Meggitt, Tal Messing, Dave Noonan, Barry O'Donoghue, Siana Petro, Dave Rinehart, Nick Sabine, Kiran Sande, Christopher Thomarios, Jacob Wright.
What are your top ten labels of 2006? Have your say in the RA forums.