|RA Poll: Top 10 labels of 2007
Todd L. Burns tallies the votes for top record labels of the year.
Labels? Who needs them? Everyone’s favorite parlor game in 2007 was charting the decline of the music industry. The sub-question? Do labels really matter when any 18-year-old with an internet connection can upload his latest track to MySpace in seconds flat?
The answer is, thankfully, a resounding yes. And for precisely the same reason that you’d think that they wouldn’t. Labels help separate and order things. They are the gatekeepers of quality. This is why we “buy label X on sight.” In fact, labels matter more than ever precisely because any 18-year-old with an internet connection can upload his latest track to MySpace in seconds flat. If the label is consistent, we follow them where they take us.
In 2007, plenty of labels were worth following indeed. There are many labels that it could be argued “fell off” from last year, especially considering they disappeared from RA’s year-end label list. Planet E, Soma, Innervisions, Traum, Crosstown Rebels all apparently had a worse 2007 than 2006. But I’d put that down more to other record labels having extraordinary years. And, well, RA having, you know, different voters with different likes and dislikes. But no one wants to hear about that, do they?
Instead, before we begin, let’s simply give a little love where love is due, shall we? Nary a label from North America made our final tally, but Wagon Repair, DFA, Spectral Sound, Environ, Italians Do It Better, FXHE, and Dirty Bird all had a 2007 to remember. And while a couple made it from England, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Will Saul’s Simple Records, Border Community, Buzzin’ Fly, Hyperdub, Skull Disco and Freerange as imprints of note.
There were other geographical pockets mentioned by our voters this year (France and Scandinavia, of course), but the overwhelming majority was German. Surprised? We thought not. Even so, every German label in existence didn’t end up making the cut. Connaisseur, Perlon, Diynamic, Philpot and Cadenza all had exemplary years. No RA hardware to take away, though.
These following ten labels, though? They made the grade. Congrats to all of ‘em.
10. Get Physical Music
GP’s flagship act Booka Shade might have had a quiet 2007 (Anyone remember ‘Tickle’?), but the label itself managed to successfully negotiate the post-electro house milieu by embracing a myriad of different genres: The Body Language series found space for fidget house (Jesse Rose’s Vol. 3), deep house (Dixon’s Vol. 4 and even technoid disco (Château Flight’s Vol. 5), while singles on the label flirted with Mobilee-style tech house (Sebo K & Transit’s Transit EP), deep house (Tiger Stripes ‘Mad at Me’) and electro-pop (Elektrochemie’s ‘Mucky Star’, Lopazz’s ‘2 Fast 4 U’). Oh, yeah, and then there was that little track called ‘Heater’...
With ‘Bell Clap Dance’ currently annihilating dancefloors, it needs to be asked: can we do a recount on this here label poll? Yet Rekids’ 2007 was an up-and-down one, if you can believe it. Up in that every single one of their releases was pretty much solid gold on the dancefloor, notably Mr. G’s breakbeat hardcore-loving ‘U Askin?,’ Discemi’s relentless ‘Data Sapiens,’ and the aforementioned ‘Bell Clap Dance.’ Down in that all of the proceeds from their two biggest-selling releases of 2007 never actually got to them, due to the liquidation of Amato Distribution. But as long as Rekids can get back on its feet with another distro, we’re sure that the money will take care of itself. With more tunes like these, how could it not?
The M-word! It’s finally over! Well, not quite. 2007 might’ve been the year that deep house took over, techno proper came back, bassline house broke in the UK, etc. etc, but minimal hasn’t shown much sign of slowing its reign over DJ charts worldwide. Just check the lines outside every Richie Hawtin party this year. Or take a listen to Troy Pierce’s experimental and wide-ranging Gone Astray EP. Or freak out to False’s 2007. Sure, M_nus put out a couple of turkeys this year (‘Techno Vocals’ comes to mind), but something tells me that Hawtin—and minimal—will persevere. If there is any label firmly looking towards the future, it’s this one.
07. Ostgut Ton
In 2007, Ostgut Tonträger began to get serious about releasing music on a more regular basis. Lucky for us. As the label spinoff of Berlin’s “premier techno club” Berghain/Panoramabar, Ostgut’s output this year felt like it had been road-tested in the most demanding environment. Not a dud in the bunch, actually, from Dettmann & Klock’s dub meisterwerk Scenario to Len Faki’s unforgettable ‘Rainbow Delta’ (and the attendant remixes). What separated Ostgut from the pack, though, was the CD issue of Shut Up and Dance!, Berghain’s collaboration with the Staatsballett Berlin. Regardless of the mixed event reports, the CD version featuring Âme, Luciano and Luke Slater branching out away from the dancefloor was essential listening.
06. Cocoon Recordings
Uncle Sven’s strategy of cherry-picking hit singles from hot producers paid off big in 2007: ‘Unreliable Virgin’ was Argy’s most well-received 12” since ‘Love Dose’, David K teased listeners with his too-short ‘Mayann’, and Sven even managed to snare one of the most anticipated tracks of 2007 (Lucio Aquilina’s ‘Magic M’) to cap off the year. The best of the Cocoon full-lengths was undoubtably Guy Gerber’s Late Bloomers, a retro-tinged mixture of progressive and trancey-techno that contained more than a few standalone killer cuts (check the title track), but the compilations were where the true Cocoon action was at in 2007: Hot Romanian Raresh debuted with style on Freakshow Cocoon Ibiza Summer Mix, while the green vinyls of Cocoon G tempted even poverty-striken DJs with fine cuts from My My, Chaim, and Cobblestone Jazz.
The Hamburg label’s motto is “From Hamburg With Love,” which is exactly right as there was a lot to love in liebe*detail’s output this year. To steal a line from RA scribe Jacob Wright, listening to this label in 2007 was like “being beaten to death with a fun stick.” The liebe*detail concept of one-producer-a-side 12”s yielded one of 2007’s most indelible tracks in Tiger Stripes ‘Hooked’, as well as fine cuts from Ed Davenport and Sebbo, but there was also a further development: Eurokai and Meta.83 branched out into remixes with a new sublabel, liebe*detail spezial, which released five vinyls of remixes of the parent label’s finest moments (Sydenham & Rune’s nu-prog remix of ‘1985’ was especially memorable). Might we humbly suggest Sebbo’s ‘Beirut Boogie’ next year for some spezial treatment?
Admit it—at various times during Kompakt’s reign you’ve said to yourself that they’ve had it. That you’ll never buy another 12-inch. That they’re too popular for their own good. We all have. And then we all keep coming back for more. This year it was the Field and Gui Boratto that held up the Cologne giant, and quite ably, too. The Field’s massive From Here We Go Sublime
reminded listeners that Lionel Ritchie is, in fact, somehow responsible for every great song of the past 20 years in one way or another, while Gui Boratto’s Chromophobia
proved that working on a Garth Brooks record
isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hell, RA even found good things to say about Supermayer (Not an easy task, mind you.) With another year in the books, there’s just one question left to ask: when are these guys going to let up?
03. Modern Love
You’d be tempted to blame Modern Love’s placement on RA’s label list this year down to Echospace’s fantastic run of releases. Well, you’d be half right. While Echospace is brilliant, there was plenty of brilliance coming out of the Manchester-based label under other names as well. You had Andy Stott soldiering on with, as Chris Mann put in his description of ‘See in Me,’ “stark dance[s] at death’s door.” You had Claro Intelecto again deep inside the warehouse. And you had Pendle Coven laying down enough bass to rearrange your head ten times over. Quite simply, in 2007 Modern Love was dub techno (and more) at its finest.
Anja Schneider’s baby met its fans in 2007, embarking on fully-fledged European label tours (dubbed ‘Back to Back’ and ‘Back Up’), throwing successful parties at Sonar and the WMC, and inaugurating a new monthly residency at Weekend back in Berlin. Release-wise, Mobilee consolidated its two-prong approach to dance music, riding (and defining) the deep house wave with Sebo K’s excellent mix Back Up Vol. 1 and delivering a solid minimal techno longplayer in the form of Pan-Pot’s Pan-O-Rama. On vinyl, releases by Exercise One (‘Dark Star’) and Sebo K (‘Far Out’) stood the tallest, but perhaps it was Anja herself whose work most impressed: her ‘Loop De Mer’ 12-inch successfully melded both sides of the Mobilee sound into something unique, and it didn’t hurt her growing rep as a DJ that she turned in one of 2007’s best RA podcasts either. But as if all that wasn’t enough, Mobilee also inaugurated its first sublabel, Leena, for more house-based efforts. Kids, they grow up so fast these days, don’t they?
With two of the year’s best dance music full-lengths and a handful of stellar singles, how could we not? Dial has always been one of the most consistent-and collectible-of German labels, but 2007 will undoubtedly go down as the year Dial broke: suddenly in 2007 the emotive, Detroit-inspired house music that Lawrence, Carsten Jost, Efdemin, and co. have been producing seems not only to be more appealing than ever, it also seems particularly au courant, perfectly bridging deep house and techno in a forward-thinking, historically minded fashion. It would, however, pay to remember that Dial haven’t caught up with the wave; the wave has caught up with Dial—lucky newcomers to the label have an embarrassment of riches to delve into as Dial have been making this music since 2000. This year’s standouts were, of course, Efdemin’s self-titled LP and Pantha Du Prince’s This Bliss, both of which proved that unsettling, hypnotic dance music can remain engaging over the course of an hour, while singles-wise, Efdemin’s stunning ‘Just a Track’ helped stoke the fires of the deep house revival (and offended Larry Heard in the process, supposedly), while Lawrence’s ‘Compulsion’ and Pigon’s ‘Promises’ simply played to the label’s strengths. In a year when looking for the next big thing was the name of the game, Dial was a surprisingly obvious choice for our top label, sitting right under our noses all along.
What were your top labels of 2007?
Have your say in the RA forums
Voters: Jeremy Armitage, Chris Arden, David Berkley, Philipp Cerfontaine, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Angus Dawson, Tami Fenwick, Ronan Fitzgerald, Stéphane Girard, Mohson Iqbal, Janet Leyton-Grant, Alex Macpherson, Chris Mann, Joshua Meggitt, Steve Mizek, Patrick Munoz, Siana Petro, Carl Ritger, Nick Sabine, Colin Shields, Björn Schaeffner, Lee Smith, Christopher Thomarios, Nik Torrens, Enrique Vanegas, Rick Warner, Jacob Wright and Sean-Michael Yoder.