The RA staff vote for their favourite labels of the year.
Loft - With Eye Contact
Astral Plane Recordings
As a blog, Astral Plane already had a knack for finding little-known artists with a lot to say. But with the label they launched this year, they outdid themselves. Making every release count, they put out two face-melting deconstructed club records from SHALT, remarkably broken techno from LOFT, and barbed-wire grime from Chants. We weren't familiar with these artists before 2016, but thanks to Astral Plane, we're now watching them closely.
Binh - Dreifach
Time Passages only released two records in 2016, but it's easy to see why Binh's modest outlet for lean and spacey dance music is among our favourites of the year. The leader among an ever-growing group of minimal-minded labels taking cues from house, techno and electro of the past, its releases twist decades-old influences into something fresh. This year, Binh's Dreifach and Onur Özer's Frequent Forest Turn kept things weird without losing sight of the dance floor.
Obadikah - April 8
Honest Jon's Records
2015's label of the year continued its quiet excellence in 2016. Though the venerable West London outlet didn't release as many records this time out, they continued to do things entirely on their own terms, paying scant regard to trends in the pursuit of timeless music. In addition to one of Shackleton's most out-there releases to date, we got two challenging-yet-rewarding records from Kassem Mosse and, perhaps best of all, an EP with dub versions of Nigerian brass band Obadikah by Mark Ernestus—the kind of collaboration that only Honest Jon's can make happen.
Quirke - Sa45 Circles
Nic Tasker's label burst out of the gate this year with its best 12-inch yet, Avalon Emerson's soaring Whities 006. Whities kept its momentum from there, dishing out hazy dub techno from Quirke, art-house house from Reckonwrong and bass mutations from Minor Science (an artist we'd make more noise about if he weren't RA staff writer Angus Finlayson). All these records affirmed the London label as precisely the kind of thing our scene needs more of: a steady source of striking club music from young and original artists.
Duke Hugh - Believe
Rhythm Section International
As anyone trying to build a label from the ground up will tell you, the challenge is finding the talent. Harder still is signing acts who fit with your sound and aesthetic, but whose music also stands out on its own. Bradley Zero, head of Rhythm Section International, makes both look easy. In 2016, he unearthed newcomers like Duke Hugh and Silentjay & Jace XL, while continuing to nurture the careers of more established artists (Chaos In The CBD, Al. Dobson Jr.). There was ambient, deep house, broken beat and more, all bound together by the warmth, soul and richness that's become the label's signature.
DJ Taye - Burnin Ya Boa feat. DJ Manny
There was a time when Hyperdub's bread and butter was club 12-inches, but this year they've been further from the dancefloor than ever. Babyfather's BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow, RA's top full-length of 2016, is a blunted, head-nodding hip-hop record that poses more questions than it answers. Scratcha DVA's debut under the name [Hi:Emotion] has a dense conceptual side that'll send listeners' heads spinning. Jessy Lanza's poppy second LP is suited more to a stage show than a dance party. And the new Burial 12-inch is basically an ambient record. If this is the sound of Hyperdub getting older, they're certainly aging gracefully.
Umfang - Force
Whatever city you're in, 1080p seems to be just around the corner. Vancouver is the prolific label's home, but overall it's a worldwide concern, having pulled fresh talent from local scenes in Brooklyn, LA, Montréal, Manchester and Okayama. That wide reach made 2016 another great year for 1080p, highlighted by records from Umfang, LNS, J. Albert, Jayda G and Perfume Advert. It's testament to 1080p's focus on both quantity and quality that jumping into its catalogue anywhere is a safe bet.
Marco Zenker - First Feeling
The Zenker Brothers foster a specific sound, and in 2016, their label continued finding artists to take it to unique places. Roger 23's white-label blazed a bewildering path through ambient and techno, Djrum and Struction's split-EP had a stronger UK flavour, and Marco Zenker confidently veered between storming techno and celestial breaks. But it was their sole 2016 album, Skee Mask's Shred, that best presented the towering peaks and soothing valleys that define the label's sound. In the hands of Ilian Tape, the history of rave will always find new ways to delight and surprise.
Bibio - Town & Country
Warp brought out the big guns this year, releasing landmark albums from artists like Brian Eno, Autechre and Mark Pritchard. They also kept the flame alive for headstrong hip-hop, signing Detroit rapper Danny Brown and releasing Hudson Mohawke's video game soundtrack, Watch Dogs 2. Aphex Twin even dropped by for a cheeky EP, and a new signing, Lorenzo Senni, surprised us with six tracks of "pointillistic trance."
Saverio Celestri - Reality Is Not Reality (Ethereal Logic remix)
2016 was the year Slow Life grew up. Putting out a long-awaited double-vinyl compilation, Chromophore, and its first album, Saverio Celestri's Reality Is Not Reality, the Berlin-based collective further explored a timeless deep house sound while finding room for the occasional excursion into experimental fare. These flirtations with leftfield material—like the ambient Ethereal Logic remix of Celestri's "Reality Is Not Reality"—are turning Slow Life into something beyond an outlet for exquisite club music.
Spacetravel - Run Way
Perlon ushered in a new guard in 2016, hosting modernist, album-length releases from Spacetravel and Binh, along with a 12-inch from Ion Ludwig's new Alter Mahnn collaborative project. There were also down-the-rabbit-hole contributions from veterans like Fumiya Tanaka, Margaret Dygas and Maayan Nidam. Some of these records were in keeping with minimal's current embrace of electro-tinged sounds; others offered something more classic. Embracing the future while keeping one foot in the past helped to push Zip, Markus Nikolai and Chris Rehberger's label into this list for the first time in seven years.
Jam Band 80 - Jammin'
Dig around Rush Hour's new shop on Spuistraat in Amsterdam and you'll find second-hand vinyl from Brazil, Japan, Nigeria and more besides. This cosmopolitan feel was evident in the label's 2016 output, with a batch of prized Japanese boogie reissues, some Caribbean music and a second collection of Surinamese dance floor heaters. Throw in Rush Hour's usual diet of house and techno from the Netherlands and the US, and you've got a record label that manages to evolve without forgetting its roots.
Ploy - Iron Lungs
Every Timedance track has the weighty significance of a self-contained work. They tend to develop with controlled compositional care, eschewing functional arrangements for shifting structures that embellish the robotic-yet-organic sounds typifying the label—especially so on founder Batu's Monolith. But for all their artistry, Timedance tunes hit like a punch to the gut. Take Lurka's appropriately titled "Beater," a roiling electro-EBM beatdown, Ploy's explosive "Iron Lungs" or Bruce's barnstorming "I'm Alright Mate." They all released strong work on other labels in 2016, but Batu gathered their most daring and rewarding productions.
The System - Almost Grown
Music From Memory
The sight of Music From Memory's core artists performing to the backdrop of Sydney Harbour this September was a great illustration of just how far this Amsterdam label has come. Run by three golden-eared diggers, Music From Memory had its busiest year to date, with some wonderful reissues and retrospectives—Dip In The Pool, Suso Sáiz and Roberto Musci were the standouts—complemented by new music on the Second Circle sub-label from Tornado Wallace and Dazion.
Bass Clef - Entendrillar
The Trilogy Tapes
Will Bankhead has a knack for coaxing idiosyncratic tracks out of well-established producers, and for good reason—he's out to make singular, and singularly weird, objects. Blawan and Skudge turned in scuzzy, if functional material; Call Super dropped out-there twelves as Ondo Fudd and Elmo Crumb; and Accident Du Travail and Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy veered far into experimentalism. In each instance, Bankhead's bang-on art direction made these records something to cherish. TTT also pumped out mix cassettes from the likes of Samo DJ and Robert Bergman that were fine examples of outer-limits DJing, just as you'd expect from an imprint hell bent on defying expectations.
Palms Trax - Paws
There's only one reaction a reasonable person could have when considering Dekmantel's 2016: "How?" Never mind the crew's three festivals (plus a fourth next year), flawless weekly podcast and DJing commitments, their label alone was a remarkable feat. Where else could you find masters like Robert Hood and Vakula releasing next to newer names like Call Super and Matrixxman? Or Danny Wolfers' mind-altering synths next to Palms Trax's breezy house grooves? Throw in Motor City Drum Ensemble launching the Selectors reissue series and the UFO sub-label shining light on techno's dark corners, and there wasn't a moment this year when Dekmantel wasn't making big moves.
Bocal 5 - Gourmandise
Dark Entries boss Josh Cheon is like the cool older brother you wished you had. He looks after one of the most prolific vinyl labels out there, all while keeping up a busy DJ schedule on his own and alongside his Honey Soundsystem brethren. Cheon uses this energy to construct an alternate history of the '80s, where Young Marble Giants and Coil top the charts, and the kids smoking under the bleachers wear Patrick Cowley T-shirts.
Equiknoxx - Last Of The Mohicans
This is DDS's first year in the labels poll, and they've entered the list guns blazing at #3. Run by the British duo Demdike Stare, DDS went stylistically wider than ever this year while maintaining a sound unmistakably its own. From Equiknoxx's oddball dancehall instrumentals to Shinichi Atobe's not-quite-ambient techno, the duo has a keen ear for otherworldy—almost supernatural—sound design. They received less attention, but don't miss Micachu's whacked-out party starter "Dare You" and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe's hypnotic modular synths on Cognition / Observation.
Bjarki - The Lover That You Are
Nina Kraviz's relentlessly oddball label picked up right where it left off last year, with another compilation full of psychedelic techno, which included an appearance from AFX. On top of that were three albums of zany IDM and breaky rave-ups from Bjarki, a young Icelandic producer who stands as the label's best discovery so far. Bjarki got the last word on 2016 with "Fresh Jive," a drum & bass-inspired cut that mashes genres with childlike glee. If there was a single track that summed up трип's all-conquering year, that was it.
map.ache - Happy Birthday
Last month, Giegling revealed details for Prince Of Denmark's 8, a vinyl box-set on the sub-label Forum with the eyebrow-raising price of €100. As with all their records, there was no press release, no official announcement—the info simply appeared on giegling.net, was quickly noticed and, riding its own natural momentum, disseminated across the internet. Within a few weeks, before anyone had heard it (there were no audio samples online), the first pressing had sold out.
Other labels would be forgiven for thinking: how do they get away with this shit? While everyone else falls over themselves in an effort to be heard—hiring publicists, devising marketing strategies, maintaining a social media presence—Giegling hang back, let people come to them, and still manage to be the most fetishized electronic label out there. The explanation, of course, is simple. They release music that people not only love but truly connect with on a personal level, a rare achievement in club music.
After a relatively quiet 2015, Giegling and its related labels cranked into high gear this year. Aside from 8, there were 12-inches from Leafar Legov and Chicago's Olin, remix EPs featuring Huerco S., Lawrence and others, a compilation called Mind Over Matter, plus two records from Prince Of Denmark's other aliases, DJ Metatron's 2 Tha Sky and the sixth EP from Traumprinz. Observing the fervour surrounding those releases, you see the elusive power that makes them such a great label: in their hands, the release of a vinyl record becomes a massive event.
This poll is decided by the votes of RA staff members and current contributors.
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