RA's staff takes over polling duties, as we run down the top imprints of the year.
As time goes on, electronic music becomes both more thinly sliced and more mixed together: genres become sub-genres, crossover becomes the norm, and qualifiers like "post-", "advanced" and "forward-thinking" pop up more and more. It's a phenomenon that's plain to see in our 20 favourite labels of the year. The list is a patchwork of different styles, and many of the labels represent a mosaic of sounds within themselves. This makes it especially interesting that the label to come out top specializes in classic reissues, as if there's a general nostalgia for a time when the words "house," "techno" and "garage" did the job all by themselves.
All the same, the record industry has always been about survival of the fittest. Some labels fell off our list after ranking highly last year, others enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top, and some stayed in exactly the same place. In almost all cases, success was determined by the ability to evolve.
The liquid neon sound of '80s R&B seems to be one of the guiding principles of Jamie Jones and Lee Foss' Hot Creations imprint, a label devoted to straightening out intimately familiar and funky sounds into a 4/4 framework. That it was wildly popular in its debut year, then, is hardly a surprise. Riding the fine line between pop cheese and underground cred, the duo provided some of the year's most unapologetic thrills.
New York's coolest party collective may not have reached the same lofty heights as last year's #3 ranking in our label poll, but it had just as a successful 12 months. Kicking off the year with the slo-mo house fantasia of Nicolas Jaar's "A Time for Us," the crew kept the quality control tight: With Zev's "Don't Break It," jozif and No Regular Play's excellent debut 12-inches and parties around the world, though, they hardly needed much else to place in our top 20 once again.
Classicist and futuristic at the same time, Punch Drunk is perhaps one of the most productively conflicted labels in the dubstep sphere. While label boss Peverelist's simple synth riffs are undeniable, his complicated rhythms evoke IDM giants past. And then there's the unabashedly pop-leaning full-length from Guido rubbing shoulders with the hissing collages of Ekoplekz where the beat is nowhere to be found. There were few labels with two more dissimilar releases this year...which is just one of the reasons we love them.
Love it or hate it, Addison Groove's "Footcrab" was among the year's most indelible tunes, a track that once again reaffirmed UK bass music as one of the most malleable and open-minded scenes in the music world. DMZ's Loefah is already a legend in these circles, but the excellent run of releases in 2010 from artists like Ramadanman, Skream, Kryptic Minds and more on his Swamp 81 imprint only cemented his place as one of its most important figures.
Celebrating ten years of service in the field of house music, Dial showed no signs of slowing down in 2010. Label heavy-hitters such as Pawel and Efdemin dropped full-lengths, a hefty label compilation of exclusive tracks further solidified their unique downcast sound and they welcomed the debut album of American deep house maestro John Roberts. While some may claim that Dial's old news, this year proved that they have plenty more to say.
Twenty years is a long time in the music biz. So you'd be forgiven if you thought that Ninja Tune was simply going to go off gently into the good night of tastefulness. That it celebrated its anniversary, however, with such a phenomenal compilation that paid as much attention to its history as it did to its future was a welcome surprise. Joker next to Coldcut, Bonobo next to DJ Vadim. We can only hope we'll all be so cool when we reach 20 ourselves.
Label mainstay Matthew Dear once again delivered the goods for Ghostly International in 2010. But perhaps the more interesting thing about the label was their continued commitment to discovering new talents and bringing them to wider audiences. If artists like Mux Mool, Shigeto and Gold Panda represent the next generation of Ghostly, the label will be on lists like this for a long time to come.
There's not much to say about a label that continues to be relevant 20 years into its existence. Anyone that can figure out a way to release records by Seefeel, Autechre, Flying Lotus and Brian Eno in a 12 month span, and still maintain its identity doesn't need a pat on the back from us. Instead, we just ask that Warp continues to surprise. Haitian folk dubstep hybrids? IDM played live by Greek street musicians? We're ready.
Damian Lazarus' A&Ring skills haven't diminished over the years. Indeed, they seem to have only gotten stronger. Somehow, the Crosstown Rebels' label roster these days looks like a who's who of potential 2011 superstars. Art Department, Deniz Kurtel, Soul Clap, Glimpse. And that's not even taking into account the satisfying one-offs from N/A and Freaks. It's no secret why Crosstown Rebels continues to rise from the dead after repeated distributor disasters. His name is Lazarus.
Something tells us that Mike Paradinas will go down as one of dance music's most important figures when it's all said and done. His label may not be as hip as similar UK bass music outposts, but with a furious release schedule it's become one of the biggest and wide-ranging platforms for its dissemination. And, as he did a few years ago with dubstep and grime, Paradinas has once again brought a genre to a wider audience. Would juke and footwork have been profiled in both The Guardian and NPR without his tireless efforts?
Perhaps best known for its dedication to music's past, Honest Jons appeal in 2010 lay largely in the future. Actress' Splazsh was a wondrous collection of post-everything beat science, while The Moritz Von Oswald Trio's New York live show featuring Carl Craig and Francois K was documented in stunning clarity. Shangaan Electro and T++'s final 12-inch also provided thrills and, in the latter case, a rare 5/5 designation from our reviewing staff.
Our first label of the month in 2010 didn't do much aside from reshape the landscape of drum & bass. Maybe that's enough. Whether it was pushing the dulcet tones of ASC's Autonomically-inclined Nothing Is Certain or coaxing skittering IDM from Kassem Mosse, the only constant in NonPlus+'s sound seemed to be warm pads. (And even those sometimes deserted us.) Drum & bass' appeal used to lie in its ability to constantly surprise. There was no label more consistently able to do so in that sphere in 2010 than this one.
It seems strange somehow that Munich would be the home to some of the world's most funky disco and house, but Permanent Vacation have become one of its most dependable purveyors. In addition to the usual slate of tracks like Tensnake's remix of "Reckless" or Jacques Renault's rework of "Beam Me Up," they also proved their record collector bona fides with a stunning compilation of mind-expanding electronic music from the former East Germany.
It's a story as old as time: Dissatisfied with the way X had gone, Y goes off and tries to put their spin on what they loved about it. Y rarely does it as well as Night Slugs, though, and that's why the label has landed in its first year among our top imprints. Grime was the X in question, and all you need to do to figure out what Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 have done to it is hit the play button to the right and stare at the label's logo on the left.
Few labels in recent times have been afforded as many pixels as Hotflush, but Scuba's brainchild continues to deserve such accolades. The DJ/producer brought the prep school dubstep of Mount Kimbie to the wider world as well as his own long-awaited second full-length, but, as always, you can't help but look to the future. Is a Sepalcure album in the works? Where does Sigha fit into all of this? 2011 can't come soon enough.
Dropping from its 2009 perch at #1, Hyperdub didn't really have an off year. It just didn't have a label-defining compilation like 5 to hang its hat on. And with left turns like Kyle Hall's jumpy house and Darkstar's synth pop, people may have been less sure of what Hyperdub meant than ever in 2010. But that's the exact reason that the imprint is such a rarity in the electronic music world.
"Hessle Audio releases electronic music full of sub bass around 140 BPM" is how the label's description reads on RA at the time of this writing, and it seems about as apt as anything. Ramadanman's EP, James Blake's The Bells Sketch, Pearson Sound's Blanked, Panagea's EP. Yep. All right around 140 BPM. But it'd be impossible to say that any of it sounded much alike. Indeed, tellingly, the only thing that didn't seem to be there, Elgato's house opus Tonight, sounded perfectly at home there too.
Who could've guessed this one? When we profiled R&S as our label of the month last year, it was more techno history lesson than anything else, with the vague promise of new talents on the way. But with exceptional 12-inches from James Blake, Untold, Space Dimension Controller and Pariah, it seems like the respected Belgian imprint—with its A&R firmly entrenched in the underground of UK's bass music scene—is once again one of the most relevant imprints in the world.
Has any label defined the sound of techno so heavily over the past few years than Ostgut Ton? Despite the plethora of sounds that its released over the previous 12 months (Scuba's Sub:Stance, the rave-y Barker / Baumecker 12-inch, Galluzzi and Ruh's tech house), it's been defined by names like Dettmann, Shed and Klock. That's for good reason, as the trio provided some of techno's most defining moments whether it be as DJ, producer or mix CD compiler.
The past 12 months of Rush Hour have seen Recloose and Anthony 'Shake' Shakir mining their back catalogues, Detroit upstart Kyle Hall swapping stories with elder statesman Rick Wilhite, local luminary Tom Trago leaving a trail of new remixes from his recent album, while rough diamonds from the archives of Chicago's legendary Trax Recordings were given new life—and a decent mixdown.
And that's not even mentioning the sublabel, Hour House Is Your Rush, which further dissected the legacy of the Windy City, as the lost tapes of Gene Hunt and Ron Hardy were nestled between new cuts from Tevo Howard and KiNK. Like each of its predecessors, RA's top label of 2010, Rush Hour, harnessed the defining club sound of the year. Unlike each of its predecessors, however, Rush Hour snagged the top spot by simultaneously ushering in a new era, and reveling in the past.
To hear more about Rush Hour, check out our interview with label co-owner Christiaan Macdonald as part of RA's Exchange podcast series.