2019 has been another exciting year on the label front thanks to a healthy blend of perspectives: some of the oldest and respected labels are still setting benchmarks while the new wave of independent labels that launched in the last few years are all getting into their stride and making interesting artist moves.
Here are 19 (of many) great examples of how labels are rolling as we venture into a new decade, as picked by the UKF writer team.
1985 Music – take a bow, please… Take a few, at least. Surveying the label’s rapidly-growing repertoire it’s staggering just how much they’ve achieved in their first three years of operation, hitting an unstoppable stride that’s made 2019 their biggest year to date by far.
They kicked their release year off with a bold statement of intent: the immense, highly-anticipated Edition 2 LP – another badass 12-track multi-genre excursion celebrating the best in forward-thinking bass music from the likes of Bredren, Monty, Lewis James, Fixate, Tsuruda and the late Razat. What a way to come roaring into 2019.
Rarely predictable, the next release was a proper curveball and became an instant future classic. Dogger, Mindstate and Liam Bailey unleashed four soulful cuts on their debut EP Broken Home – a release that made as many waves on dancefloors as it did on headphones and systems at home, once again widening the imprint’s scope.
This scope continued to widen with the Last Rites EP – label boss Alix Perez’s diabolical dubstep excursion that turned all of us into sour-faced, gun-finger wielding heathens, shouting obscenities and desperately clamouring for IDs in the dance. At this point it was clear that this was going to be a particularly special year as a fiendish slew of EPs followed from Fracture, Monty, Bredren, SubMarine and Perez himself, along with Folio / 2…
Few imprints have managed to assert such a bold identity in such a short period of time. From the release art (almost solely designed by Perez himself), to the extensive clothing range and notoriously particular A&R process, what truly shines through is Perez’s unwavering vision and dedication to the label. He encourages the absolute creative best out of all artists he works with, all the while producing some of his own best work to date. I can’t wait to see what other treats they’ve got in store in the new year. (Maja Cicic)
Astrophonica is grounded in the artistic musings of Charlie Fracture, who sees the label spread flirtily over drum & bass, jungle and basically else anything that sounds sick and sits in and around 160 bpm. The output on the label this year has been sparse but incredible, the highlight coming only recently, as the Turbo compilation finally arrived and blew us all away with its contributions from Fracture, Addison Groove, Sam Binga, Hyroglifics, Lewis James and more. It was a statement of refurbished intent, an aesthetic shift as well as a piece of music that showed off the new direction and health of the label. Fracture’s own Big Up The Ladies EP was another highlight, as is the recent dgoHn EP, an artist Fracture has always wanted to get onto the label. The breaksy jungle sound is very much on the rise, with new faces like Sherelle pushing it hard and, as a sound that’s always been at the heart of Astrophonica, the label is very much part of this exciting movement. (Ben Hunter)
Having celebrated their 10th anniversary slightly later than planned at the end of 2018, Shimon’s AudioPorn marched into 2019 with renewed energy and a few fresh names.
First came the seismic headbutt of Gino’s Minor Problems, a gargantuan EP that set the year up with a strong rolling/jump-up hybrids and angular, face-melting basslines. It was followed by an exciting range of sounds from new AudioPorn members; Trex’s brilliant Screen Time is easily one of the hookiest, most addictive bass riffs this year while Nvrsoft’s two EPs soundtrack one of the most impressive and fast-rising breakthroughs we’ve seen in years.
Elsewhere Benny L and Pastrymaker set the scene for Benny’s highly anticipated debut album with Pictures, Trimer chopped our short and curlies with Space Flight and Leaf made his label debut with Warp, a track so freaky we’ve previously described it as Salvador Dali making a foghorn tune.
Each artist and release has represented a completely different sound to the label, but what’s held it all together the most is an attitude, spirit and tightness among the label members that very few labels have… Every artist involved in AudioPorn is incredibly supportive of each other. If any of them drop a tune – even if it’s on a different label – or do something significant they all share it and support it online and give each other boosts. At a time when there are more artists vying for music fans’ attention, this collective spirit is essential and it really works. There’s an energy and realness to AudioPorn that labels with much larger operations would kill for. (Dave)
Bad Taste’s proprietor Vegas of BCUK promised that 2019 would be a big year for the label and he did not disappoint. Since the D&B legend decided to focus almost exclusively on his imprint’s releases, this year saw more new artists, innovation and interesting twists coming from Bad Taste than many other drum & bass labels. With their end of year compilation due out on Christmas just after Akov’s Syndicate EP, it’s a compendium of stellar work the label has thrown town this year. From the afore-mentioned Akov to the label’s most breakthrough artists Zombie Cats to neuro manistays like Transforma and Agressor Bunx to Vegas himself, Bad Taste brought forth some of 2019’s best heaters and it doesn’t show signs of slowing. (Layla Marino)
Born On Road
There are so many small D&B labels who deserve a shout out for what they have done this year and Born On Road is without doubt one of them. From a core roster of artists who are constantly making appearances across the festival circuits, to the incredible achievement of winning Clash In The Capital at Printworks earlier this year. Those at Born On Road have been working away at their craft for years and are now starting to get recognised for their ability to throw some of the best parties. If you’re from Bristol then more than likely you will know all about this as they’ve become a cornerstone of the scene in the city. But big developments are on the horizon as the collective have been announced as one of the stage hosts at Hospitality on The Beach next year, along with recent signing Ben Snow set to grace the Rampage stage in March. It’s really is an exciting time for the label.
I’m particularly stoked to see co-founder Kelvin 373 get the recognition he deserves. He is an absolute machine when it comes to festival appearances. Ever since I first heard him in the hidden woods at Boomtown last year I’ve looked for him on every line-up! (Jake Hirst)
One of the longest running labels in the scene, Total Science have guided C.I.A through years of drum & bass history, keeping it aware of the past but rooted in the present and fixated on the future. 2019 has been an excellent year, a return to regular releases after a short hiatus that’s been boosted by new entrants onto the label in the form of Ill Truth and Myth, the latter of whom put out an unmissable debut EP in October. But there’s also been a resurfacing of the Classified series with instalment 4, featuring Zero T and Satl but headed up The Sauce, the new supergroup comprising DLR, Hydro and Spinback. This is the big story with C.I.A this year; a rejuvenation in their personal artistic creations and a resultant overflowing of this energy into their label. They’re in a massively strong place as a result. (Ben Hunter)
There’s been some big anniversaries in dubstep this year as Circus, Never Say Die and UKF have all turned 10 this year. All of us coming through and supporting each other on the crest of the YouTube tsunami, all of us now representing an immense scope of sounds and styles in completely different ways.
In terms of Circus, they have now reached that elusive expect-the-unexpected status yet there’s a consistent sound and energy that runs through everything they do. Just look at the output from the two main founders; Doctor P has dropped epic, high energy melodic jump-up (Voices) and industrial strength tear-up (Death Anxiety) while Flux Pavilion has been writing full-on songs like Saviour and Endless Fantasy and collaborating with likes of WhatSoNot and Turin Brakes.
In between the two founders sounds we have the full range. And it comes courtesy of a really health balance of label OGs and fresh blood operating on the label. One minute you’ve got Cookie Monsta hurling unfettered filth in our faces, the next you’ve got Xavage sleazing us up with some greasy, unclassified D&B gritty funk hybrids, the next you’ve got Conrank laying down sharp conceptual LPs that tread the fine line between humour and heaviness, the next you’ve got Funtcase slapping us within inches of our lives with 23rd century riddim. And this is only the tip of the big top; Circus continue to play the role of consummate showmen. (Dave)
Context Audio is one of those small labels that has all the right ingredients: a consistent style, a clear aesthetic, fantastic artists and regular releases. These are all necessary and the label has thrived on them this year, putting out a stream of sumptuously deep, sophisticated music that straddle all the right boundaries. Take their first release this year, for example. A three tracker from Mystic State, Circles was loping, ambient halftime that constructed deep soundscapes and stuck with them, creating a journey through progression and sound. More recently, Constrict rolled out some properly deep 170 business with a side order of heat, a heavier release that shows off Context’s breadth. The scene needs small labels like this one, so big ups to the crew there. (Ben Hunter)
The flagship North American label founded by Zeds Dead really came into its own this year, focusing in on the darker sound Zeds Dead were first inspired by. This year has seen the label dropping some of the best releases of the year including Eprom’s Aikon, a heavy dubstep smasher from Rusko and, most notably, the re-introduction of Halogenix as Lordel on his self-titled EP.
As Deadbeats wraps up the year with its We Are Deadbeats vol. 4 compilation featuring all new tracks and collabs with the like of Subtonics, Delta Heavy, Ganja White Night and Urbandawn, Deatbeats has proven to be a home for all forms of bass music, from highly structured dubstep to ultra-slow leftfield bass. All are welcome at Deadbeats, so long as you can shatter teeth with your bass. (Layla Marino)
The techy, futuristic and minimal side of the genre got truly fantastic this year, with a massive drive of creative and original sounds being bent and twisted into all new shapes and sizes. Flexout led the charge, solidifying its place at the forefront of drum & bass’ innovation and releasing a shedload of incredible music. Amoss’ Tinnies & Ciggies EP is a perfect example, with gasping tendrils of minimalist funk wrapped around pummelling percussion and permeated with the eerie ambience of early 2000s neurofunk. Other releases came from Charli Brix, Ill Truth, Fre4knc, Survey, Ordure and host more, all of whom built upon and improved Tom Bassi’s commitment to the Flexout sound. (Ben Hunter)
With a string of weighty EPs released this year, Ulterior Motive’s Guidance has levelled up to a buy-on-sight label in 2019. As selectors, the pair have never been afraid to bridge the gap between new and old, with slept-on classics nestled in the mix with the freshest dubs – and this is reflected in the music coming out on the imprint: intricate, hefty, futuristic tunes that retain that swing, that musicality of vintage D&B. Highlights include Ulterior Motive’s own The Ripper with Judda, which recalls Dillinja in his prime, screwface-inducing stepping J’undastand from Lovely on his Run The Square EP, and the menacing robotic growl of Was A Be’s Shell. The Guidance Podcast has also been fierce this year, featuring mixes from Was A Be, Tyrone, Quadrant & Iris, Lovely and Neve & Crimson. Genuinely, everything Guidance has put out this year has been worth checking. (Craig Haynes)
How anybody can claim to be a diehard fan of dubstep and not bump Interval Audio on the regular is entirely beyond me. Known for promoting some of the hardest, strangest, and most downright-deranged tunes circulating around the interwebs, this label has really outdone themselves during their 2019 campaign. Let’s begin with the basics, shall we?
Well, for starters, Interval has made it overwhelmingly clear that they are now the premiere distributor of the filthiest tunes emerging from the underground dubstep pipeline. Here’s a substantial list of featured names from this past year: Akeos, Arcrux, Canna, CyberSex, Dala, CLPR, Exille, HELA, Invictous, Masq, Moley, Neonix, Nimda, Punishment, Stabby, Supercool!, SYZY, Trilla, Yari, and so, so many more. Which is to say, if you were putting out ear-smacking dubstep bangers during 2019, there was a very high likelihood you were doing in coordiation with the friendly faces over at Interval Audio.
I have no idea what’s on the docket for this promising outfit in 2020, but I’m sure whatever they have in store will almost certainly lead us into an era of bass-fuelled destruction and devastation the likes of which we’ve never seen. Big ups to Interval Audio on the massive year, keep up the great work. (Barrett Nelson)
25 years deep and still at the very forefront; Metalheadz remain one of the brightest beacons and forthright voices in the sprawling drum & bass sound. The two albums Goldie and Ant TC1’s label have put out neatly map the furthest poles the labels operates between; Lenzman’s beautiful second album Bobby represents the label’s sense of soul and groove while Scar’s High Five & Devil Eyes celebrates the label’s breadth, variety and deep, deep roots.
In between these LPs they’ve dropped killer EP after killer EP from some of the most innovative names possible. Kicking off the year with Grey Code’s immense Reprieve, 2019 has been a whirlwind of forward-thinking futurism from the likes of Phase, Black Barrel, Phaction, Amit, HLZ and Jem One. And that’s before we even get to the immensity and total ubiquity of Benny L’s Vanta Black or the fact they hosted one of the most highly anticipated and extraordinarily produced shows Printworks has ever been home to. Looking forward to the 50th anniversary. (Dave)
Never Say Die
10 years deep and still staying true to the uncompromised, heavyweight sound they’ve always celebrated and encouraged from their artists, Never Say Die have had an exceptional year that’s climaxed with a tidal wave of crucial VIPs and a riotous roadblock at Electric Brixton – their biggest London show in years – to mark their decade of dark designs.
Musically it’s been a really interesting year for SKisM’s label as they’ve pushed the boundaries further and further out into the unknown badlands between bass genres while keeping that distinctive balls-out uncompromised signature. MUSTDIE’s Funeral Zone, for example, fuses EDM vibrancy with some strange outerplanetry funk while Space Laces remains in his own universe with startlingly savage designs such as Phone Tap and D.A.W. Elsewhere we’ve moshed and headbanged to Vulgatron, we’ve lost our minds to Zomboy and continuously uttered ‘wtf?!’ at all the trouble LAXX has caused and had our skulls well and truly cracked by Kompany. Like any concise appraisal of a label that’s steadily dropped absolute bangers on a weekly basis, this really does just scratch the surface of Never Say Die’s output this year. Happy anniversary. (Dave)
The might have only started up two years ago, but Ōdio Records have making serious noises since day one… And 2019 has certainly been their biggest year yet. With a consistent bombardment of releases from newcomers such as Redax, JOOL, Sews, BVSSIC, Spitfya (to name but a few) Ōdio cover the full spectrum of bass music and beyond with brazen uncategorizable fusions, hybrids and curveballs. Renowned for pushing new names into the spotlight and high-quality, out-of-the-box records that celebrate the creativity and defiance our little corner of the music scene is all about, if Ōdio are new to you, a great place to start would be their Issue 4 V/A album which features all the talents from the label and many more. Armed with an aesthetic and bold branding to match their heavyweight sounds, Ōdio is set to be at the forefront of a new generation of bass music and offers a lot to be excited about. Get to know Ōdio! (Rhiannon McCarter)
Entering their fifteenth year as a label in 2019, Shogun have used this point in the label’s journey to take stock and hone the elements that made the label such a success in the first place. In a recent interview, Friction explains how the label’s enjoyed a renewed energy and focus in recent years and their epic anniversary compilation certainly reflected this with excellent tracks from the likes of Kanine, DJ Marky and Pola & Bryson, Technimatic, and more. What has always stood out about Shogun is their celebration of the diversity of the genre, and this year has been exceptional on that front, especially with the albums they’ve released: 2019 saw the release of the incredibly groovy debut album from Document One, the illustrious third album from Technimatic with Through the Hours and Ed:it’s Silhouette. Real albums that take us deep into the artists universe and flex across the styles, they represent Shogun’s rude state of health right now. Looking forward to another 15 years… (Rhiannon McCarter)
Serum and Benny V’s Souped Up has been consistently turning heads with its heavyweight, vibrant signature in the last few years, but this year it feels like they have really excelled. Not only are they responsible for an array of amazing productions, they also have one of the most interesting brands where the music, artwork and clothing merch all combine to create a one of a kind label. Not to mention the passionate following of fans who help make this label special. This year Souped Up have unleashed a range of wicked productions. Whether it’s Current Value’s face-melting PUER LP or Bou’s heavy Scorpio EP, every time Souped Up announce a release you just know it is going to be packing a punch. Along with an artillery of successful releases, the label also announced plans to kick of 2020 in style with it’s first standalone London show taking place at Studio 338 in January. (Jake Hirst)
The Chikara Project
Over at The Chikara Project, less is more. They don’t release something every other week, but the music which does see the light of day is always considered, precise and well curated by Mystic State, who run the imprint. If you’re familiar with their personal output, you’ll get an idea of their label’s stylistic direction. It floats across bpm boundaries, sometimes ethereal in its rose petal delicateness, on other occasions powerful and driving. The pair are also wicked at breaking new talent and Deviant’s Stretcher EP, released in July, was stunning in its blend of liquid junglism and rolling, Calibre-esque minimalism. We’ve heard there are big things coming next year, including a Mystic State LP, so things are only just getting started. (Ben Hunter)
The North Quarter
In pretty much every interview we’ve done with an artist on The North Quarter they say the same thing; Lenzman gets the best music out them.
FD said it around the release of his impressive debut album Better Days, Satl said it recently when we interviewed him about his beautiful Things We Can’t See EP, Submorphics and Redeyes have said it in the past, too… There’s something about Lenzman’s A&R, attention to detail and passion for the music that brings out something special in each artist he works with.
Perhaps that’s why most EPs on the label hit with near album-level weight and reveal different shades to the artists we’ve not heard before. Check out the smouldering dubby house of Satl’s Modern Jah (a tune so warm and subtle you could easily be mistaken thinking it’s Calibre) check out Redeyes techno-influenced The Rhythm or FD’s dreamy two-step Knots on his album… Every release shows a deeper layer to the artists, making The North Quarter much less about a defined or particular sound and much more about the protagonists Lenzman invites to the label, and the freedom they consequently have.
This year has also seen the label drop its first full hip-hop album. A sound and culture synonymous with the label since it launched – especially with the skits and sketches on many of the label’s early releases – Abnormal Sleepz confirmed TNQ’s hip-hop stripes in September with his debut album. A consistent collaborative voice on many of the label’s releases in the past, he was the perfect artist to take The North Quarter fully into that field. And while we didn’t interview the Manchester rapper about it, we have a good feeling that he too would agree that Lenzman gets the best out of him. (Dave)