At a time when it's never been easier for an artist to get music into the world, a record label can seem like an old-fashioned concept, a vestige of a pre-internet age. But even when anyone with a tune or two can turn to Bandcamp and release their own tracks, labels have never seemed more relevant: as the distance between producer and fan grows smaller, labels help us connect the dots in an increasingly complex array of them.
Many of 2013's best labels homed in on a signature aesthetic and let it grow, cultivating artists and assembling bodies of work that helped define the year's sound. For others, the year was about emphasizing quality over one style or another. 2013 produced reams of great music, and the labels on this list were essential in getting it to the world.
Leisure System, the label arm of Berghain's most open-minded club night, only had four releases in 2013, but they were varied enough to match the party's anything-goes ethos. They had Visionist
at his most vicious, but most importantly they hosted the return of Gerald Donald's Dopplereffekt
, who offered up three tracks of icy electro that were up there with the group's best material.
Label head Charles Damga sees little limit
to what UNO can sound like. Its exceptionally diverse crew of artists spent the year showing us why this notion wasn't so far-fetched. SFV Acid's quietly magnificent The Dwell
sounded nothing like Kallisti's junglist Arc Of Fire
(let alone Kanye West's Yeezus
, which brought label star Arca to the world). But they share a restlessness that made UNO's every pivot worth hearing.
After a few quiet years, Rabih Beaini's label roared back to life in 2012. The flower really came into bloom this year, though, with bruising material from American outsiders Metasplice
and a noisy December surprise from Madteo. Morphine's greatest feat this year, though, was lifting Philadelphia synth tinkerer Charles Cohen
out of obscurity, with Morphosis' mind-bending remix of "Dance Of The Spiritcatchers" and a trio of archival albums that already feel like classics.
So much popular dance music these days is about oversized drops and overwrought emotions. Innervisions is as widely appealing as ever, but it reaches out with subtler gestures. Their tunes this year were summonses to dance—if you set foot in a club in 2013, you probably cut a rug to Ten Walls' "Gotham
" or Agoria's "Scala
"—but they also cut deeper, leaving crowds floating long past peak-time.
R&S has maintained a staggering amount of momentum in the years since its re-launch. A progressive A&R policy coupled with a busy release schedule has meant its purview has broadened with each new signing. In 2013 there was drum & bass (dBridge
), hardcore-indebted bass music (Tessela
), industrial techno (Paula Temple
) and stepping electronica (Alex Smoke
), while the label marked its 30th anniversary with a compilation that gave us a refresher on its incredibly rich history.
The only thing PAN artists have in common is a desire to make music that sounds like nothing else. This year label boss Bill Kouligas coaxed a solo album out of Rashad Becker
, and released impressive records from Helena Hauff and F#x (as Black Sites
) and Concrete Fence
(Regis and Russell Haswell). He saved the best till last, though, with albums from dance oddballs Heatsick
and NHK'Koyxen rounding out 2013.
Warp had one of its best recent years, thanks to old staples and new faces alike. They snatched up Oneohtrix Point Never to release the stunning R Plus Seven
, and they surprised pretty much everyone with Boards Of Canada's long-awaited comeback album
. Further LPs from Jamie Lidell
, Mount Kimbie
and Grizzly Bear showed the electronic institution is still as adventurous as it's ever been.
In 2013, Acido Records released four EPs. They featured no well-known artists, and received no promotional efforts. Though not particularly DJ friendly, they were available only on vinyl. So how did Acido end up on this list? Their records are lovely, subtle and abstract, and absolutely unlike anyone else's. Even in this day and age, sometimes that's all it takes.
Despite the limitations of its format, Opal Tapes had no trouble getting its music heard in 2013. With every new batch of cassettes came new artists exploring a cross-section between noise, techno and ambient. From Patricia's floor-ready Body Issues
's bewitching, slowed-down trance, its continual left turns made it one of 2013's most exciting labels.
As fresh as the label is, you can get nostalgic listening to Pampa. Think of their big records from this year: an EP from Isolée
, a blockbuster album
from label head DJ Koze, and remixes
of that album from Efdemin and Matthew Herbert. In a way it's comforting that, as so many artists shuffle in and out of relevance each year, these members of the old guard are still untouchable.
RVNG chief Matt Werth throws himself into album projects with more gusto than most. In 2013 the highlights came thick and fast, from Stellar OM Source's kaleidoscopic techno opus
to Max D's bubbly House Of Woo
(and equally ace follow-up mixtape
). There was also a strong debut from Gardland
, an excellent LP from Blondes
, plus a thrilling addition to the FRKWYS series from avant-garde percussionist David Van Tieghem.
The recent surge of electronic music in the American experimental underground has led to some amazing stuff, much of it on Spectrum Spools, the Editions Mego sub-label. The Ohio outfit released just a handful of records in 2013, but they made a huge impression. Then again, it would be hard not to with such exotic gems as Unicorn Hard-On's Weird Universe
or Donato Dozzy Plays Bee Mask
When we caught up
with Anthony Parasole in April, he insisted The Corner is about more than techno, but its 2013 output has included some of the year's hardest pitch-black club tracks. It's difficult to imagine these scorchers played outside cavernous nightclubs. But even if you don't play for thousands each weekend, you may have found yourself scrambling for The Corner's transcendent transmissions, including an impeccably twisted turn
from Fred P.
Tri Angle Records has successfully cast off the trendy associations that dogged it when it emerged in 2010. This is no small feat, and it's been achieved by working with artists that lack easy categorisation. 2013 saw the label put out two superb albums—from UK artists Forest Swords
and The Haxan Cloak
—and a breakthrough EP from drum & bass experimentalist Fis
This year saw Will Bankhead build on the foundations he laid in 2012, moving The Trilogy Tapes away from cassettes and towards vinyl. His tastes revolve around the strange and esoteric end of house and techno, with a focus on emerging and under-the-radar talent like Anthony Naples
, Tuff Sherm
. All the while he remains in the background, letting the artists—and his routinely stunning sleeve designs—shape the label.
Martin Clark's Keysound has been searching the nooks and crannies of London club music since dubstep's halcyon days, but it hit a new peak in 2013 with a fresh roster of fearless young producers. Logos' Cold Mission
stood the tallest with its dissociative take on grime tropes, but E.m.m.a's technicolour beats
and more grimy goodness from Etch
kept the label in top form throughout the year.
Hyperdub spent 2013 doing what it does best: evolving. The label only added two new artists to the fold this year (three if you count Champion's collaboration with Terror Danjah), but a new LP from Ikonika
, Jessy Lanza's silky R&B
and Laurel Halo's sublime techno
pushed the label further out of its comfort zone. And the new guy? DJ Rashad put out two stellar EPs
and one of the best footwork albums
yet, solidifying Hyperdub's increasingly global status.
Rob Booth had a clear vision when he established Houndstooth, fabric's new label: its output must be new, fresh and challenging. 11 months and 14 releases later, they can reflect on a job well done. The highlights ran deep in 2013, but Call Super's two EPs
and the recent full-lengths from Special Request
were particularly gripping. With such a thirst for innovation, Houndstooth seems set for a long and illustrious run.
"Let's just see if the phone is still ringing come December 2013, you smell me on that?" Ron Morelli said this last year, just after L.I.E.S. took the #1
spot in this list. 12 months later, Morelli and his cast of misfit producers have another 29 records under their belts. Most are strange, some sad, a few are even painful to listen to. All are inspired and defiantly singular.
The hallmark of Livity Sound is austerity. The UK trio only release a few records per year, preferring patience over profligacy. Their music comes in minimal packaging, with cryptic artwork and hardly any text. The beats are stripped back to a skeleton of deep basslines and tribal drums. Peverelist, Asusu and Kowton make techno-minded music that feels very now, but there's something timeless about their approach.
Each member brings something different to the table. Peverelist harnesses the quivering energies of dub. Kowton roughs up the sound palette. And Asusu brings a 4/4 perspective. 2013 was their most active year yet: four singles and a two-disc compilation that collected their work so far along with four new tracks. No hype, no gimmicks—just two hours of imaginative and perfectly engineered tracks. It made it clear why Livity Sound is our label of the year: they've never released a bad record.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and current contributors.