Have you ever fell in lust with a record label?
You know the feeling: A couple of smooth talking releases whisk you off your feet and before long, you find yourself staring longingly into the eyes of its artwork, secretly wishing it could be like this forever... Only, it very rarely is.
In our defense, labels are an easy thing to fall for. At a time when every other music-related news story is charting the industry's imminent demise, imprints are the subconscious comfort blankets we cling to as signs of the scene's prosperity at a grassroots level. On a more discernible level, though, they guide us through the choppy data-sea of releases as luminous buoys of quality. And let's face it; the ocean is only going to get deeper and stretch further in the coming years. It's really little wonder that find ourselves being seductively swept up from time to time.
When it comes to our top twenty then, we'd like to think that these are all relationships that are destined to last; labels that not only charm with their good looks and the things that they say, but stick around long enough to make it a full-blown love affair. Even if it is just for a year...
20. FXHE Records
2009 was a quiet year for FXHE, making this vote as much for Omar-S's fabric 45
(and the label's history) as it was for the past 365 days. That said, Still Serious Nic
was yet another smooth house and raw techno master class, while Big Strick's 7 Days
was a welcome debut. And 1 Out Of 853 Beats
? That was a seven-inch (a seven-inch!), a further reminder that Omar couldn't care less about the game as it's currently being played.
19. Cécille Records
If 2008 was the year that Mannheim's Cécille Records broke, 2009 was the year that they celebrated their success: Reboot and Sascha Dive further elucidated the percussive house sound emanating from southern Germany on their double mix CD, and the imprint began to look far outside its usual environs, corralling Chicago supporter DJ Sneak for the Somero 2009
compilation and Berlin duo Sebo K & Metro for its biggest hit
18. Permanent Vacation
Of all the labels generally regarded as having something to do with cosmic disco and modern Balearic, it seems as though Permanent Vacation is uniquely primed to remain relevant once the hype fades. In fact, with fingers in pies like modern library music (Space Odditites II
), synth pop (Sally Shapiro
) and house (If This Is House I Want My Money Back
), it's almost as though they aren't a disco label at all.
17. BPitch Control
Certain labels that hang around for a while become so big that they simply escape attention. BPitch Control is one of them, releasing albums from all over the map (Moderat
, AGF/Delay, Fuckpony and Kiki) and solid singles (Rusty Nails
, Good Voodoo Remixes
, Berlin Calling Vol. 1
), yet somehow flying under the radar simply because people tend to forget exactly how much they're responsible for. Respect is due.
16. Warp Records
A legacy inclusion? Hardly. Warp Records celebrated their 20th year in style by presenting their version of the future of music. They released albums from one of the finest indie rock bands currently operating (Grizzly Bear), a wonky take on hip-hop (Hudson Mohawke
) and an update of Boards of Canada's psychedelic warbling (Bibio). This Sheffield imprint is most assuredly not fading gently into the night.
Deep house was the name of the game in 2009, and Innervisions was one of its finest purveyors. Starting the year off in epic fashion
with their South African friend Culoe de Song, the scene-stealing moments were mostly down the imprint's braintrust: Dixon proved
that mix CDs still have life in them yet, while Âme's "Setsa
" was yet another anthemic cut that further broadened their sound.
14. 2020 Vision
20:20 Vision has always had an eclectic feel, taking house as its basis and easily folding in varying shades of the genre into its catalogue. That was very much the case again in 2009 when it celebrated its 15th year in style with the massive Johnny D remix
of 2020Soundsystem's "Sliding Away," Motor City Drum Ensemble's solid Lonely One
12-inch and Stacey Pullen's imprint-spanning mix
13. Crosstown Rebels
How many lives does Crosstown Rebels have left? Let's hope at least a few more: After being struck down by distribution issues, Damian Lazarus has taken matters into his own hands, and the imprint has never been better, whether it be soundtracking WMC 2009
, helping rescue the credibility
of differentGear or providing the scene with a stunningly photographed series of promotional videos
actually worth watching.
12. Mule Musiq
Why Mule Musiq and not Mule Electronic? Maybe it's the Lawrence album
. Or perhaps the DJ Sprinkles full-length
, which saw wide release in January. There are those singles too: Tony Lionni, Mr Raoul K, Culoe de Song, John Daly, Runaway, The Revenge. Why Mule Musiq and not Mule Electronic? Who cares? Let's just be thankful we have both.
It was a relatively quiet year for Perlon yet again in 2009, but listeners hardly felt malnourished: Baby Ford, Dimbiman and Markus Nikolai represented well for the old guard of the imprint, while San Proper
, Margaret Dygas
forged new directions for the label, with the latter trio providing ample evidence that Perlon is less about a particular set of sonics and more about a particular standard of quality.
10. Smallville Records
Hamburg's Smallville spent much of its 2009 rolling out the 12-inches that would eventually make up And Suddenly It's Morning
, but it's hard to blame them. There were plenty of highlights to be had on the compilation, none more so than STL's "Neurotransmitting Cloud on the Secret Freeway," which built on the massive success the producer had already enjoyed with his Silent State
09. Sandwell District
Richard Brophy put it best
in the single review that RA published of a Sandwell District release this year. Underneath all the willful misdirection and the (conscious and unconscious) anonymity, it's pretty simple: "Sandwell have their own way of doing things—but this singular vision would mean nothing were it not for the alluringly mysterious music that accompanies it." Uncompromising techno at its finest.
08. DFA Records
07. Running Back
Gerd Janson's weird and wonderful Running Back imprint shifted into high gear in 2009, releasing a fascinatingly broad range of music. Tensnake's In the End (I Want You to Cry)
was among the year's finest disco releases, while Dplay's Huub Sand
got deliciously deep. But it was The Voice from Planet Love
whose ubiquity in clubs almost made us sick of it by year's end. Almost.
06. Underground Quality
A vote for Underground Quality this year felt like a vote for something more than simply music. Traveling through Europe with DJ Qu, Fred P, Levon Vincent and more, the UQ team seemed to be spreading a sort of deep house gospel. Those who listened heard one of Ed's most plaintive moments—"Sweetness"—and got down to the auspicious debut
of Russian producer Nina Kraviz.
After the dust settled on Gui Boratto and The Field's albums in 2007, you got the sense that 2009 would be one of the biggest years the label had to date. The Cologne imprint didn't disappoint, unleashing sophomore efforts from each
, as well as Matias Aguayo's sublime Ay Ay Ay
and a Pop Ambient
installment that shrewdly looked outside the Kompakt family for inspiration.
04. Hotflush Recordings
Dubstep...kinda. That was Hotflush's 2009. And what a year it was. Scuba's label introduced the world to Mount Kimbie
, one of many acts seemingly too young to know how to have much reverence for the genre's conventions. That's a good thing, of course. And so is Joy Orbison, whose "Hyph Mngo
" was among the most important tracks of the year. Oh. And did we mention this Scuba guy
03. Wolf + Lamb
We don't want to know what goes on at Burning Man
. We're just glad Wolf + Lamb take inspiration from what they see out there, bring it back to Brooklyn and apply it to a deep house aesthetic that has a wandering pop eye. Otherwise, Wolf + Lamb's 2009 would not have been possible, potentially depriving us of gems like "If U Had
," "I'll Set Your House
," Nicolas Jaar, "Fall
" and much more.
02. Ostgut Ton
Aside from the sterling full-length
from Ben Klock, Ostgut's biggest 2009 moments came as a result of the A&Ring of its DJs: Len Faki rocked Tony Lionni's piano epic "Found a Place
," while Tama Sumo enlisted Levon Vincent for a "Late Night Jam
." Bad sign? Maybe not. Even with a lackluster full-length here or there, we can potentially expect Ostgut's welcome reign to continue unabated for a long time to come.
What can we say about Hyperdub that hasn't been said in the past few months? Any publication with an interest in electronic music, theory or the intersection of art and sound seemingly weighed in with their thoughts in advance of the imprint's fifth anniversary compilation. Steve Goodman, AKA Kode9, has guided Hyperdub from its humble beginnings to its current status as one of the most consistently fascinating outlets in the world. You could call what they do dubstep, but we prefer to call it music. Because how else do you put together the likes of Darkstar, Cooly G, King Midas Sound, Burial, Joker and make it feel absolutely coherent? Bass may be the common currency, however it's clear that Goodman doesn't listen with dance floor functionality in mind. At heart, he's a lot like us: A fan of thrilling music, plain and simple.