The 5 best labels of 2012 This year, in an extremely crowded market, a handful of exceptional labels stood tall.
While there were no new labels that slapped us round the face and forced us to pay attention this year – that is to say, no figures with bold new mission statements like 100% Silk last year or Night Slugs the year before – what we did see was established labels really excelling in what they do best. It’s testament to the quality of these labels that, despite having a few years behind them now, they’re still motorways ahead of the game when it comes to forward-thinking new music.
There isn’t a bad thing to say about RVNG, the New York label that joins the dots between the seemingly singular entities of dance, experimental and punk music in a way that seems both coherent and natural. Their year started with Blondes’ debut album, and from there they put out Julia Holter’s much-hailed ‘Ekstasis’, a collaboration between psych rockers Sun Araw and legendary dub reggae group The Congos, an incredible retrospective from lesser-known prog hero Sensations’ Fix and Holly Herndon’s fantastically inventive ‘Movement’. At the time of writing, they are prepping a new album from oddball dance artist Maximillion Dunbar for release next year, and if first single, Woo, is anything to go by, 2013 should be another good year for RVNG.
Maxmillion Dunbar – Woo
Julia Holter – Goddess Eyes I
Holly Herndon – Movement
Eight years in and Hyperdub are still showing themselves to be one of the most adventurous platforms for modern music. Hyperdub have always dealt with the avant-garde, be it their earliest experiments in sub bass from Zomby, Burial and label head Kode9, but 2012 saw them dabble with more blatantly formless music in Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s ‘Black Is Beautiful’ and Laurel Halo’s ‘Quarantine’. This was on top of full-lengths from DVA, LV, Cooly G and Terror Danjah, as well as a number of killer dancefloor 12”s (a highlight of which was Ill Blu’s ‘Clapper’, which came with a frantic rework by Traxman). This is all without even mentioning the return of Burial with his Kindred EP which, naturally, sent the internet into overdrive.
Dean Blunt feat. Inga Copeland – 2
Cooly G – Good Times
DVA – Where I Belong
This year, New York-based purveyors of strange UNO have had a solid run of records from the likes of Arca, SFV Acid and Fatima Al Qadiri, as well as playing host to Mykki Blanco’s wonderful ‘Cosmic Angel’ mixtape, and alongside Friends of Friends and Fade To Mind (who have far surpassed being the mere Night Slugs sister label that they started out as), UNO have had a hand in shaping the post- internet aesthetic that seems to be everywhere nowadays. There is something of the spirit of ZE, the oddwave label operating from the same city during the 1980s, about the way that UNO recontextualise various strands of contemporary pop into mutant and hybrid forms – it’s avant-garde and ripe for intellectualising, but it’s also downright fun.
Arca – Manners
SFV Acid – Ashland Slumber
Fatima Al Qadiri – Hip Hop Spa
Whilst they have been on the ball for a good few years now, 2012 saw LuckyMe break through in a big way, mainly in the form of TNGHT’s absurdly heavy EP and Baauer’s ‘Dum Dum’, but also with heavyhitters from Machinedrum, Cid Rim and S-Type. But LuckyMe is a collective more than a label, and 2012 was their year because of everything else they did – the parties, the ongoing mixtape series and the artists that associate with them – and they’re showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, with their own Rinse FM show coming in 2013. It’s odd to think that, despite the far-flung roots of trap and trance synths in club music right now, its spread in popularity can almost entirely be attributed to this small arts collective from Glasgow.
TNGHT – Higher Ground
Baauer – Dum Dum
S-Type feat. Budgie – Walrus
Last year we had Julio Bashmore’s inescapable Battle For Middle You, and this year we’ve had wicked singles from the likes of Jessie Ware, T.Williams and Disclosure – it’s safe to say that PMR, the newest and brightest label on our list, have got their particular corner of crossover dance music covered. It’s crystal clear and plainly infectious pop that’s done incredibly tastefully, and their slow but steady intrusion into the UK charts as of recent needs to be commended in the increasingly corporate landscape of limp EDM hybrids and forgettable Guetta–by-numbers vocal house.
Disclosure feat. Sam Smith – Latch
T. Williams – Pain & Love EP
Jessie Ware – Running