WORDS

18 For 2018: The Labels

2018 saw the mass DIY exodus of the last few years quieten a little… Less artists are leaving established labels to set up their own. And the artists who have set up their own imprints have got into their groove, established their sound and confirmed their place in the spectrum.

As a result, it’s been an exciting year for labels across the board. The established guard have been on their toes not resting on any laurels while the new imprints are fizzing with new energy and ideas. Between them they’ve blessed us with some serious low end gold. Here are 18 of the most exciting imprints this year…

 

31 Recordings

Doc Scott’s 31 Recordings has remained at the forefront of cutting-edge bass music with every release, and the output this year was certainly no exception. Let’s take a moment to review this year’s alumni – From Krust’s first new material in over 10 years, Amit’s incendiary Red Flag EP and Bungle’s highly-anticipated Cocooned VIP EP, to smokey atmospherics on The Rum Baba’s Hollywood EP, deep bass excursions with J:Kenzo, minimal funk from Thing, and Calibre’s 4AM LP, citing some of his best work to date.

Rarely predictable too, as seen with the surprise drop of the 4AM LP, boasting vintage Calibre and an instant future classic. The imprint has always been genuine, future-focussed but with a healthy serving of nostalgia, and understated in its approach to releases – no fancy PR campaigns, just quality artists and beats that speak for themselves.

Doc Scott has always been a purveyor of the freshest of gems, as evidenced in his sets as well as his Future Beats radio show, and with the imprint’s impressive catalogue continuing to grow, we’re all ears in 2019 and beyond… (Maja Cicic)

 

Critical Music

Critical took second place in the best-label category at this years Drum&BassArena Awards, and there’s a reason… Simply put, they’re one of the most cutting-edge D&B labels in operation. When you have Emperor, Sam Binga, Halogenix and Enei on your list of regular contributors it’s almost hard not to be, but it’s the newcomers to the label that have really defined it this year. Kiril, Shyun, Stoner and Klax have burst onto the Critical release page like they’ve always been there, contributing to its sensationally good output this year as much as the more established members of the roster. This combination of new-school talent with old-school quality, all expertly curated by head honcho Kasra, has proliferated across the Critical Sound events too, with some of this year’s best parties coming from the Critical brand. It’s been a non-stop year for the label, so hopefully after a much-deserved Christmas break they hit 2019 equally as hard. (Ben Hunter)

 

Disciple

Myro and Dodge’s Disciple well and truly battered 2018 with an onslaught of releases from across the bass spectrum. Barely a week went by without another Disciple demolisher being thrown our way from the likes of 12th Planet, Virtual Riot, Ivory, Oliverse, Panda Eyes, Oolacile, Modestep, Bandlez and a whole stack more. With massive albums from the likes of Barely Alive (which covered the board from funk to D&B via synthwave) and Dodge & Fuski, plus expansive V/A collections such as Rapture and Alliance. Hell, they even got The Upbeats and Truth on a collabo jam. Still operating as tight collective and doing it with great rail-fixing humour, there’s a reason they sold out the Hollywood Palladium last month… (Dave Jenkins)

 

Deep In The Jungle

Consistently, relentlessly, heavily… Deep In The Jungle’s release rate is one of the most prolific in the game with at least two destructive dispatches every month. But the quality, as always, remains unswervingly high as the label capitan DJ Hybrid brings through damage from a whole new league of break splicing vibesmiths.

Firing off premium break-based bangers several years before the recent renaissance for all things jungle, the label has been sharper than ever this year as its supportive and steadily growing crew develops. And whether it’s a release from one of the label heavy hitters such as DJ Hybrid, Euphonique, Kumarachi, Epicentre or RMS or acts who’ve really made a name for themselves on the label this year such as Veak and Conrad Subs, you’re guaranteed a heavyweight slab of break-based fire. The label signed out for the year this week with Euphonique’s awesome Dangerous EP and look set for another year of damage with their annual Deep In The Jungle Anthems album that’s a staggering 50 tracks deep. Amen to that. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Eatbrain

While Eatbrain is known for their unflinchingly hard and neuro-tinged take on drum and bass, label head Jade encourages all the artists who release with the zombie-themed label to take some experimental license. Jade led the experimental charge with his own solo EP release Awake, which featured a very experimental track called Man Eating Lizard Dragon wherein he basically invented a new genre.

Many other producers followed suit with experimental interest pieces such as the unexpected yet fully committed breaks track Machine Heart on Teddy Killerz’s Hellblade EP and surprising techno track Dark Machine II off Synergy’s EP of the same name. 2018 wasn’t just about pushing new artists for Eatbrain but pushing new sounds as well, as Jade and the crew flew the flag for neurofunk but also completely pushed its borders. (Layla Marino)

 

Exit Records

Here’s a little list for you… Strategy’s debut EP, Zed Bias remixes from Skeptical and Calibre, a killer EP from Fracture, new gen boundary blurring from Itoa and Groves and two heavyweight artist albums from dBridge and Skeptical. Oh, and a Dub Phizix / Fixate Versus EP before the year is out. To say Exit has had an impressive year is like saying Andy C’s won a few awards. Every release has said something or pushed and developed the music into interesting new places; Itoa’s technoid workouts and Fracture’s recent turbo Berghain explorations are especially of note. As Fracture explained in a recent interview, the new four-to-the-floor fusions have the same energy and excitement as juke did six or seven years ago with a lot of fresh ideas coming into the mix. Once again, Exit is at the forefront. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Flexout Audio

Flexout has done an exceptional job over the past five years of supporting new talent and bringing them to the much deserved spotlight. Focusing more on the darker, grittier side of drum & bass, 2018 has seen the release of new music from a wide array of artists on the label. Some personal favourites include Monty’s ‘Games’ featuring the ever lovely Charli Brix, Data 3’s ‘Tyrant’ EP, Fuj’s ‘Kinematic’, and Vorso’s remix of QZB’s ‘Heptine’.

One thing all of the London imprint’s releases have had in common is quality – their A&R department certainly know their shit – as well as a strong brand image. While some labels do find strength in diversity, Flexout has found its niche and is doing it well – constantly delivering the best in dark and sinister drum and bass. (Rhiannon McCarter)

 

The Dreamers Recordings

If ever there was a year when Italy really stuck its own flag in the D&B map, it’s this year. Talent has been flowing from all sides; Maztek is back, Was A Be continues to rep at a Shogun level, Inward, Hazno & Randie have been smashing it and whole new generation of acts such as Neve, Synth Ethics, Merikan, Stoner, Qua Rush and many more have been dominating playlists.

As we discussed with Kiril in September, the rise in talent there has been rapidly developing in recent years as the genre’s become more accepted by the clubs (who have been traditionally very house and techno) and not seen as some dirty rave love child any more. And The Dreamers have been at the very forefront of that movement as promoters since the late 90s pushing D&B as hard as they can from their Turin base.

Their dedication is paying off as the last few years they’ve become one of the most interesting and exciting labels to watch develop. Especially this year; they’ve dropped three massive V/A albums, all oozing talent as fresh as their country’s famous cuisine, and exceptional EPs from the likes of Trex, Samurai Breaks and the label manager Neve. Signing the year out with another Dream Cycle V/A album, it’s clear The Dreamers are only just beginning to wake up. Living the dream. (Dave Jenkins)

 

FRESH BLOOD

And the award for best dubstep label based on name alone goes to: FRESH BLOOD. The Buygore offshoot stealthily morphed from a yearly compilation series into a full-fledged bass music one-stop-shop in 2018. Much like Black Label to NSD or Round Table to Disciple, FRESH BLOOD specifically flaunts the heavier and harder side of this multifaceted genre. Best of all, the people pulling the strings really dig deep to unearth gem after gem.

Many of the producers they support are relatively new faces, but dubstep regulars like Code:Pandorum, Gentlemen’s Club, Point.Blank, XaeboR, and Yakz all contributed to the label in some form or another. It’ll be interesting to see how FRESH BLOOD ratchet’s up the intensity here in 2019, but rest assured we’ll be listening. (Barrett Nelson)

 

Metalheadz

Another year gone by in a world with an uncertain future… At a time where leaders often resemble cartoon characters and global events seem as though they’ve been plucked from a Hollywood blockbuster rather than real life, one thing has truly remained strong and stable, and that is Metalheadz’s quality output.

It’s been another huge year for the imprint, now approaching 25 years in the game, with a prolific roster of releases from established names, as well as some truly prodigious up and comers. Take one look at this year’s back-catalogue and it’s clear the label’s ethos is uncompromising, and remains the driving force of the imprint, supporting the best in underground music.

Blocks & Escher’s Something Blue LP alone was a ground-breaking moment in drum & bass; not only this year, but in recent times too. Innovative and layered with complexities, it’s a stunning body of work and a great example what happens when 2 artists are given full artistic freedom, with the end result speaking for itself.

Other gems included Benny L’s Summoned EP – the sounds of the young London-based producer flourishing and further developing his signature sound – not to mention OneMind’s immense album, Jubei & Tyrone’s long-awaited Arcane EP, as well as Jubei’s collab with the late Marcus Intalex, and other sublime releases from the likes of Detboi, SCAR, Commix, Nucleus & Paradox, Kid Drama, Phase, and more. The list truly goes on… And let’s not forget various METHXX excursions highlighting some of the scene’s brightest talent.

Consistently highlighting and nurturing all that is truly intriguing and powerful in breakbeat culture, they’ve remained a platform for innovative underground music to thrive, while also investing in the genre’s new wave of talent. Respect is due! (Maja Cicic)

 

MethLab

This year MethLab really stepped into the spotlight for much more than drum and bass, even while carrying one of DnB’s heaviest hitters, Current Value. They made themselves known as a multi-genre label and one that’s highly innovative by introducing new and strange acts like Icelandic halftime weirdo Balatron, a very trippy electro bass artist named Woulg and of course the breakout all-bass smorgasbord that was Audeka’s Engine Block EP.

On top of pushing limits musically with a huge amount of genre diversity, MethLab went all with visuals. A huge AV show for the afore-mentioned Current Value called CVAV was toured while label also stepped up its game in the album art arena with 3D album art and moving gifs to accompany releases. If that weren’t enough, MethLab offered more and more perks to its Inner Core fan group and even produced its own limited edition Minirig portable speaker. In 2018 MethLab became a hydra, growing many arms to include lots of multimedia, but its core is still there, and it’s filled with bass. (Layla Marino)

 

Never Say Die/Never Say Die Black Label

Unquestionably the gold standard in the dubstep arena for years now, this powerhouse label continues to not just push the boundaries, but slash through them with lightspeed force. In addition to holding down their perennial pole position, NSD’s Black Label division really took on a life of its own during the past year. Between the Black Label XL series and the Black Friday EP’s, these bass-dealing busybodies kept our ears more than thoroughly entertained at all times.

The laundry list of featured musicians is near never-ending, and no other dubstep label does a better job of staying faithful to their former flings while also extending an olive branch to burgeoning new talent. Sound systems around the globe are surely trembling at the thought of what the bright minds behind Never Say Die might throw at them next… and we feel precisely the same way. (Barrett Nelson)

 

The North Quarter

Lenzman has been one D&B’s premier soul-merchants for years now and 2018 has seen this hit new heights. His label – The North Quarter – has only put out four releases this year but they’ve been album-length endeavours from Submorphics, Tokyo Prose, Redeyes and Zero T, which says it all really. The North Quarter combines stunning sonics with a unique art style that dwells in abstraction yet represents concrete emotions and Lenzman’s preference for creativity that has longevity, not just instant appeal, is endemic to every aspect of the imprint. The lounging ambience of Amsterdam is another perceptible strand of his artistic ideology, with each release having this air of Amsterdam record stores and coffee shops – more wood than plastic, more vinyl than digital download. But at the same time, there’s no pretension or arrogance – it’s just good music. The North Quarter is quickly evolving into a stunning centre of the scene and 2018 has been its best year yet. (Ben Hunter)

 

Open Outlets

Culprate’s gold status doesn’t just stop at his brain-melting productions; his label Open Outlets is just as vital, exciting and artistic. Originally a vehicle for his own releases (bar Koan Sound’s Forgotten Myths EP in 2015) this year has seen the Bristol artist welcome a whole new league of boundary blurrers and frequency sculpters to his freeform fold. With the tone already set by his collaborative Unity Project series, this year the label opened its arms to kindred spirits who all resonate with Culprate’s creative fusioneer approach starting with February’s Mosaic Vol 1 V/A album. It’s been a solid flow ever since; from the warped bass wizardry of Sabroi to the unabashed experimentalist of Skovsboll via the disarming soul and chill of Chimera, the sound, reputation and sense of surprise that Culprate has always maintained with Open Outlet has developed even more this year. No wonder he returned to Inspected for the first time in five years; the release schedule on his own label has been too busy! We caught up with Culprate earlier this month to find out where he’s at… And where he’s going. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Shogun Audio

Shogun Audio have had a prominent presence in D&B for a long time now, but 2018 was an especially big year for the label. Some highlights include the release of Pola & Bryson’s debut LP, Lost In Thought, Document One signing exclusively to the label, EPs from Signal and GLXY, and, of course, the release of Joe Ford’s seminal Colours in Sound. With an already impressive roster of artists, Shogun Audio stands out for both providing a home for some of the scene’s most well-seasoned veterans as well as creating a space for new talent to shine. 2018 especially has seen the label take more risks, with releases such as Was A Be’s Overstep EP, which included the gabber-esque Move.

Another highlight for the label this year was the third installment of their Point Of Origin compilation series, which featured a stunning collection of new music from some of the scene’s best and brightest names to watch, like Monrroe, Aperio, Ill Truth, Data 3, and more. One of a label’s greatest strengths comes from its ability to recognize young talent, and Shogun has certainly excelled at that this year. (Rhiannon McCarter)

 

Southpoint

From Bushbaby dropping ambient tracks (and teaching us all what the word phengophobia means) to label co-boss KXVU dropping two more mystic grime adventures via Saidwho’s blissful love letter to the far east Saigon, Southpoint have once again remained on point this year. Flexing right in the central overlap between garage, bassline, grime, breaks and dubstep, they’ve successfully commandeered the fine line between having a signature and a brazen ‘expect the unexpected’ reputation; one minute Pavv & Tengu are curating the ultimate bassline rollcall for 2018 on their Pavv & Tengu Presents collection, the next minute Hamdi is snapping your neck with grime on his Dictatorship EP, the next it’s Freddie Martin, whipping up bass theatre on his Feel EP…. But it all makes sense as Southpoint weave a thread through the currently thriving UK sounds, championing some of the freshest and most distinctive young talents to emerge in recent years. That’s before we even get to their Southpoint Introducing sister imprint where even more new talent is championed. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Subcarbon

In something of a landmark year, Subcarbon essentially ascended from Ganja White Night’s personal release platform into one of dubstep’s most influential music distributors. Expanding their label’s roster earlier in the year was a risky maneuver that I’m sure was initially met with some skepticism, but looking back now it’s abundantly clear that every well-executed decision paid some serious dividends.

Whether it was bringing Dirt Monkey (a staple of any recent Rusko set) on board, summoning the underground sounds of Subtronics, or providing Boogie T. with the freedom to explore the full depth of his musical creativity, this forward-thinking label completely disrupted the bass music landscape during 2018. Having also showcased tunes from low key producer’s like Walter Wilde and SubDocta, our best guess is that you’ll still be hearing plenty from the Subcarbon crew throughout next year and beyond. (Barrett Nelson)

 

V Recordings

Celebrating their 25th anniversary in style, Bryan Gee’s V has been on impeccable form this year. With such a diverse and exciting release rollcall that traverses both generations and genres; they’ve represented the full D&B spectrum while reminding us of both their foundation weight and ability to blur the boundaries and subvert expectations. From the gritty jungle chops of Saxxon to the stylised designs of Need For Mirrors to the dancehall vibes and island charm of enigmatic new acts Think Tonk and Tolima Jets, every release has had something to say, has a story and roots and makes a statement. And that’s before we get to Murdock’s certified amen barnstormer I Need A Riddim, two killer Brazilian albums (step forward L Side and Alibi) and the return of Blame who, along with his mate DJ Concrete, took us back to 2003 with the BLAZING Velvet Rooms which was one of the most unabashed feel good tracks of the year. In the words of the mysterious Think Tonk… What a ting! (Dave Jenkins)