Holding it down during the toughest of lockdowns, the best labels in 2020 have rallied up the troops, encouraged creativity and continued to push exciting, boundary-blurring music throughout the strangest of times. We asked our editorial team for their own personal favourites this year…
There are so many labels in bass music now, with new ones cropping up each year with a different mission or purpose. Alix Perez’s 1985 specialises in everything from 140 to 170 BPM and beyond, hosting a multitude of incredible artists and styles. The entire brand is so fresh, with some of the best merch, artwork and general aesthetic I have seen. On top of this, 1985 also run a lot of events with great line-ups, which is something that I really like to see from labels – it’s a great way to showcase the sound and the talent on the label.
Release-wise we’ve been spoilt for choice: Visages’ About You EP and Monty’s Blinded EP both made a big impression on me this year, both of which were well at home on 1985. But these are two of many releases, including two massive VA collections in the form of the recent Folio and Edition volumes. Simply put; I’m yet to hear a tune on this label that I don’t rate highly! (Hannah Gowen)
Banoffee Pies Records
While some record labels choose to maintain a certain sound throughout their discography, this certainly isn’t the case for Banoffee Pies. With releases ranging from the synthesised and electro sounds of Nikki Nair, a jungle various artists EP with the likes of Interplanetary Criminal, through to the more musical, acoustic jazz LP from Soulstatejazz, 2020 has seen a plethora of variety from the label. Catering for all styles of music, it seems like the only common thread that links all of their releases together is that they are all of the highest quality. Serving many as a reliable source of a variety of music, Banoffee Pies’ extensive back catalogue has been significantly bolstered by their 2020 releases and hopefully it will continue to be a label that is a staple source of varied, quality releases. (Purav Parmar)
Pick a month, any month, from 2020 and we guarantee it included an exceptional Critical Music gem. Often more than one. From QZB’s Perspectives EP in Jan from Kasra’s awesome low-riding, bass-purring operation I Don’t Know What The Future Brings just weeks ago, the label has been a well-oiled machine, firing out major missiles despite the world situation. A consistent source of dark matter in another otherwise upside down world, the output has ranged from Buunshin’s industrial strength Abrasion to T>I’s debut album Blank Canvas to Halogenix’s Dragonforce EP to Enei’s massive Sinking which dropped right at the end of 2019, was unavoidable pre-rona, and turned into an even bigger VIP later this year.
That’s just scratching the surface. Kasra & Serum’s Noodles EP was a chop-slapping fusion of both artist’s styles, Particle’s Business Techno gave us all a big fat vibe commission cheque and a promotion and Hyroglifics released an almighty Best Of… Full of brand new music we’d never heard before. We could go on and on listing highlights, but the headline is simply this: Critical Music have dealt us some seriously winning hands this year. (Dave Jenkins)
After a quiet winter of plotting the sheer DIVIDID bombardment we’ve enjoyed since April, Abis and IMANU’s label bulldozed into our psyche’s this spring with The Caracal Project’s All Our Duty and they haven’t stopped since.
Each month has been a new-generation odyssey, sitting right on the edge of the new futuristic vibe that’s been a huge influence on the D&B sound throughout 2020. Synth-based, trance-tinged, crisp, melodic but mean-as-hell and laced with infectious amounts of drama, each DIVIDID release has felt like a tailor-made soundtrack to the turbulent year we’ve had, especially as many of the tracks stray pretty far from the standard (and slightly predictable) DJ-friendly arrangement formula.
Freshness overload; every release has been a world unto itself as the likes of Waeys, Skylark & Gyrofield, Grey Code and Tom Finster have all given the label some of their most interesting and startling works so far. The soft melancholy and brazen dynamic flips of Finster and Echo Map’s Eyes Closed, the emotional overture that is Grey Code’s Masque and the cosmic tour de harmonic force that is Skylark & Gyrofield’s Ergo are just some of the many highlights on the label this year. DIVIDID we stand, united we vibe. (Dave Jenkins)
The vision and passion behind label owner Bassi is admirable, with Flexout Audio having consistently held their space in the scene as a hub for all things minimal and progressive in drum and bass. Backtracking through the labels output over the last few years is a constant reminder of how many stand-out releases they have mustered – yet 2020 has shown a fundamental progression.
The roster stays true to its roots, with artists like Data 3, Trail and Amoss returning to the label, and new additions including the likes of Objectiv and En:vy feeling like a perfect continuation of the Flexout story. The artwork has also taken a change in direction, steering further from the teal colour scheme to introduce more experimental art fitting with each release.
Not to mention launching an official sample pack, a limited edition run of skateboards for Amoss’s South Of The River EP, and Arkaik’s debut LP Fate Determined – Flexout are more on top of their game than ever. (Scott Claridge)
Dutch deep D&B institution Fokuz is an imprint really pushing serious no-cheese, high quality liquid d&b sound for years now. A go-to for a myriad of vibes on the soulful spectrum, courtesy of artists such as Random Movement, Satl, Silence Groove and Leniz to name a few. Perhaps the most exciting artist to follow this year has been under mysterious moniker Unknown Artist. Whoever the shy beatsmith or collective may be, they’ve a back catalogue of bootleg galores. To round off 2020, Fokuz releases two (junglist) massive remixes of mega 90s classics on OPUS III/Kingz Of The Castle. Play these tunes loud. Lockdown or not, it’s going to be a fine night tonight… (Liohness)
Goldfat is run by a producer and MC duo who deserve a far brighter spotlight: Mitekiss and Mr Porter. Both successful artists in their own right, the pair’s collective ear for emerging liquid talent has seen 2020 support for Winslow, Pyxis, Leniz and more. Those acts have propelled Goldfat to the forefront of the liquid scene, which, in comparison with its techy cousins, lacks a dedicated infrastructure for breaking new producers. Goldfat has this year become an integral part of that architecture and the benefit for us has been a slew of releases packed to the gills with fast-paced soul. Auris’ Flat Ground single stands out, as does Winslow’s Mumbles Of Grace, a two-tracker with a title tune that bubbles with effervescent funk. An infinitely long shoutout to Porter and Mitekiss for their hard work this year is in order, we think. (Ben Hunter)
As far as 2020 success stories go, Invicta Audio are definitely one of them. Set up in the midst of lockdown when uncertainty was gripping us all, Viatic UK (Anton Bailey) started on a journey that has seen Invicta rise from a label no one knew, to one that has now been nominated for Best Breakthrough Label in DJ Mag’s Best of British Awards and Best Newcomer Label in the Drum&BassArena Awards.
Crazy? Absolutely not! Invicta fully deserve the praise they’re getting. They’ve easily been one of the most productive labels in the D&B scene this year, in the process growing a passionate community who really believe in the brand. Yet another D&B label to spring from Bristol’s music mecca, I have no doubt we are going to see massive developments from this label in 2021. (Jake Hirst)
This year, helmsman of Kiwi Rekords and NUKG don Conducta has majorly come through. Though mostly 2019 releases, the tracks featured in Conducta’s April mix The Kiwi Sound speak volumes for the quality of music being churned out by the label this year. Prescribe Da Vibe’s I’m Here EP is an instant mood booster, and Sharda’s Dreamer will be a guaranteed dance floor staple when (if?) dance floors open again.
With a postponed European tour to look forward to, several tasty merch drops and many new releases, its easy to see why Kiwi Rekords are up raking in the award nominations this year. (Martha Bolton)
If they stop enjoying the smells of their own farts for long enough, every label that’s lasted longer than 10 years will be able to identify moments in its back catalogue where they went off-piste or followed a current trends too much. Sometimes it’s a few off-key releases, other times it’s a few years. But I genuinely believe this cannot be said for Metalheadz.
Take any era in the label’s discography and you’ll find nothing but authentic drum & bass music from artists who pursue something a little more than five-minute banger hype. Sure, there have been years when the output hasn’t been as relentless as it is now. There have been substantial patches over the decades where the label didn’t indulge us in artistic bodies of work. But the label has always stayed true to its uncompromised musical vision and aesthetic… A vision and aesthetic we’ve lapped up by the bucket even during the most non-ravey of lockdown times.
Once again the label lived up to its recent check-on-sight status for albums with Mikal’s Metalwork, Adred’s KIM, Mako’s Oeuvre and Friske’s A Different Perspective all hitting spots we didn’t know existed. Meanwhile on the 12” side it’s been equally premium: Seba & Paradox, Rene LaVice & Future Cut, Zero T & Beta 2, Phaction, John Rolodex and, most recently, Digital & Outrage have all pummelled us with blueprint bruises and thoughtful-yet-powerful dynamics. And that’s just scratching the surface of the year.
With major (if slightly delayed) 25-year releases lined up next year (kicking off with Data 3’s version of John B’s seminal Up All Night in January) we don’t think Goldie and the gang are going to have to stop and smell their farts at any point in the near future. The most consistent and uncompromising label in our culture, without question. (Dave Jenkins)
In a year that’s been laced with continual disappointment, when people have made telling contributions to the scene, they deserve all the credit they get. Put your hands together (or raise your gun fingers in the air?) for Onyx Recordings. Throughout both the original lockdown and November’s edition, they, along with Goat Shed, supplied the drum and bass community with our very own festival, beamed directly into bedrooms all across the country. Providing fans with the chance to listen to their favourite artists, as well as giving young DJs the platforms to establish and build new audiences, Stay At Home Festival was exactly what the scene needed, so big up to all involved.
In terms of the label itself, it’s continued to go from strength to strength, solidifying itself as one of the premium new independent labels pushing the drum and bass sound into new directions. Throughout the year we’ve seen storming releases from the likes of Mofes, Manual, Kontakt, Thread and a remix single from Jappa, but the label really saved the best for last, unleashing a storming collaboration between two of the most in demand young guns in the scene; T95 and Duskee. Break The Ice encapsulates what Onyx is all about; providing opportunities and showcasing the talent that the underground truly holds. Here’s hoping we see more of the same in 2021! (Paddy Edrich)
Overview have really bloomed this year. Their focus on awesome newcomers and up-and-coming artists with the dark and minimal sound has led them to hosting some really great releases this year, with the likes of Klinical, T95, Wingz, Waeys and Gyrofield all cropping up throughout 2020. Their releases are always quality and extremely consistent, which is something to be applauded this year, especially when there has been so many uninspiring and difficult periods. Overview is definitely one to watch out for if you want to hear some of the freshest and most exciting D&B. (Hannah Gowen)
Pick N Mix
Do you secretly miss the illicit childhood buzz of pinching a few sweets from the pick’n’mix section in the shops (usually Woolworths)? Then look no further… TJ’s got your back.
The sonic equivalent of stuffing ten king size cola bottles, a Wham bar and paw-full of Quality Street and a couple of fudge blocks up your sleeve when your ma’s not looking, there’s a buzzy energy and sense of mischief to everything Pick N Mix do.
You feel it from the free downloads to the vibey (often retro game related) technicolour artwork. At the heart of it is label boss, DJ and much-loved internet vibesmith TJ and his ever-growing roster of new-gen talent. Blckhry, Hexa, Refracta, Hoax, Amplify, DJ Gaw – the list of seriously exciting young talents cutting their teeth and finding their sound on the label is up there with Overview, Nuusic and Incurzion, making Pick N Mix a must-check imprint for anyone who wants to know what’s coming up and who’s going to be big in the next few years.
Not only that, but with the recent all black artist VA album The Black Excellence LP, Pick N Mix’s reputation is arguably one of the most important right now, too, as they help to reinforce and rejuvinate us all of drum & bass culture’s truly diverse and united identity.
Plus their beats are sick to petty pilfer to. TJ’s got the whole scene’s back. And, having told us in a recent interview that he’s already got 2021’s releases locked down, we know next year’s going to be even sweeter. (Dave Jenkins)
Rua Sound is based over in Ireland and Rob Rua, its founder, has steadily carved out a reputation for releasing some of jungle’s most creative, innovative cuts. This year saw a series of singles and EPs from jungle producers you may not have cottoned onto yet, and the best was arguably These Days by Sun People. With a frenetic energy and pin-point precision drum work, it was a release for the heads and one which belies Rua’s uncompromising stylistic approach. It’s a label you can’t miss if you enjoy music broken, rhythmic and with a heart of soul. (Ben Hunter)
Three things are certain in life; death, taxes and everything that’s released on Samurai Music releases being absolutely sick! The consistency of the Berlin-based label is outstanding, with their boundary-pushing, genre-bending fusion showcasing the possibilities of 170 bpm music. With bass hybrids that explore the middle ground between jungle, breakbeat and fast techno, their tracks are full of mysterious textures and energies, built through the use of swirling, moody atmospheres and savage breakbeats.
Alongside the regular faces such as Homemade Weapons and The Untouchables, the label has brought in some extremely exciting new names. BBC Radio 1’s B Traits saw the label as a perfect opportunity to return to her jungle roots as she launched her Baby T project, before Quartz stepped up to the plate at the backend of the summer with his no nonsense, clinical production. Elsewhere we’ve seen sprinklings of sinister magic from the likes of Antagonist, Donato Dozzy, Torn and Roho, as well as two top-drawer V/A compilations.
The whole year has been built around the two albums however, both coming since the winter months began to roll in. Last Life’s Recon was a masterful crafting of stripped back, progressive drum and bass, before ASC continued his return to jungle with Isolated Systems, a stunning body of work that transcended the jungle story from the golden years to the new school revival. Samurai is certainly for the heads, but if you scrape below the surface, you’ll definitely like what you find… (Paddy Edrich)
Sofa Sound have smashed the releases this year from a whole range of great artists old and new including Trex, M-Zine, Break, Molecular and the bossman DLR himself. It’s no surprise that they won Best Newcomer Label at this year’s Drum&BassArena Awards. Well deserved and, after being nominated every year since they launched, it’s about time! But it’s not just about the releases, pre COVID Sofa Sound were smashing the parties and their first Manchester event way back in February was a persy highlight off the year. If you’ve ever caught one of their shows, you’ll know just how fantastic their in your face, raw yet refined style of D&B truly is. Offering a remix competition this year was a great idea to keep producers busy and creative during lockdown, respect to head honcho DLR. Also, a shout out is due for Adam Menzies who does the fabulous artwork for Sofa Sound’s releases. Big up the brand… And the bananas! (Liohness)
Brainchild of Bristolion bass prodigy L U C Y, fledgling label SZNS7N has spent 2020 cementing the previous year’s roaring start. Born from a disdain for artist fees and contemporary music distribution, the label is notoriously hard to pin down – but also notoriously worth the effort.
With music from the likes Yazzus, Obsidian Dan, Ship Sket and Jossy Mitsu, S7NSZN has both bark and bite, and carefully fuses elements of dubstep, grime, breakbeat and techno with astounding elegance. Big things to come from this crew. (Martha Bolton)
The North Quarter
FD, Satl, Redeyes, Submorphics, Anile. This is only a small handful of names, but see any of these mentioned and instantly the mind thinks one thing – The North Quarter. Label boss Lenzman has done a stellar job over the last four years at building a steady roster that celebrates family values and a shared musical ethos, with 2020 only cementing this further.
The sprawling Quarter To Quarter VA LP released in May was perhaps the most ambitious project on the label so far, opening it up to names new to the label’s roster such as Echo Brown, LSB, Kyrist and Break. It was a statement piece that provided us with a clear snapshot of where the label is musically in 2020 – settled in a distinguishable sound, yet able to push the boundaries within this framework.
Myth’s aptly named Long Time Coming EP is the perfect example of this. As a whole body of work, the release is weightier, more stripped-back and more club-centric than most others on the label, yet it feels perfectly in line with every other release put out since 2016. Lenzman’s many years in the scene as a respected producer and DJ have left him with an ear more tuned in than most, and it continues to show on The North Quarter. (Scott Claridge)
The appearance of YUKU earlier this year with its mysterious, eye-catching aesthetics and experimental but exceptionally produced releases has caught the attention of many across the world of electronic music. With releases from Audeka, Yunis, Subp Yao, War and many more, YUKU’s first year has certainly been impactful, with the label focusing on an immersive experience that stretches beyond audio. The artwork of each release adds to the listening experience rather than just being something nice to look at, physical releases are treated to coloured and marbled vinyl to complement the artwork and the concept store in Prague brings another dimension of physicality and life to the label and record store. With an LP from Current Value and an EP from Es.tereo already lined up for release in 2021, this exciting new label is undoubtedly going to be the gift that keeps giving. (Purav Parmar)
For years V Recordings have been purveyors of some of D&B’s finest productions and pioneers at the heart of the scene, but despite their age they somehow manage to stay at the forefront of the game with fresh, inspiring productions. 2020 is no different. Everything they’ve released this year has oozed soul, creativity, and a real unique flavour. During a pretty bleak year the label has been motoring away like a well-oiled machine, constantly churning out banger after banger. From pushing young talent in Sl8r and Dunk, to featuring the familiar faces of L-Side and T.R.A.C, V are such an exciting label to follow right now. 2020 also saw Bryan Gee present the huge release of V’s long-awaited Future album – a milestone optimising the attitude of a label who are always looking for new ways to innovate. (Jake Hirst)