Labels: we’d be up the creak without a paddle if it wasn’t for them.
And when we say creak, we mean oceans of poorly produced, unfinished, unguided and even more unavoidable than they are in the internet age when anyone can release anything at anytime and, sadly, at any quality.
If anything labels are even more important in the internet age: filtering out the best stuff then advising and guiding their artists to ensure it’s the best they can possibly do. And these imprints are doing it best according to our editorial/content team. FYI: Like all these lists, picking a mere 10 was not easy. In fact it was so hard we’ve included honourable mentions below.
Shout out to all these guys for feeding us with freshness and forward-thinking releases on the regs…
FACT: if you say ‘dubstep is dead’ in the mirror five times, J:Kenzo will appear and slap you raw with a hamper of Artikal heaviness.
Okay, so that hamper will also include elements of grime, jungle and electronica as well, but that’s the original spirit of dubstep anyway: fusing ideas, styles and genres with barrels of dub-minded subs, physically moving rhythms and, most importantly, creativity.
Creativity like Piezo’s totally unique Conquer, Eshone’s swampy Monopoly, Thelem’s death march banger Equippin, TMSV’s sci-fi slice of cinematica Head For Home, Caspa’s dramatic remix of Straight Defeat and, of course, Kenzo’s recent 170 hamper-slapping Intalek.
2012 and 2013 were relatively quiet years for Artikal but this year has been an extraordinary. There’s not a release I wouldn’t recommend, hype, or throw a shoe to. (Dave Jenkins)
I’ve been following the halftime/160bpm sound a lot in 2015 and for me Cosmic Bridge have been at the centre of this. Known for bringing forward more adventurous takes on conventional drum and bass and dubstep in previous years, Cosmic Bridge have been on top of their game for a while now, and there were no signs of letting up in 2015.
The label have been consistent on every release with each one sounding better and better, and for me, they haven’t put a foot wrong. The likes of Danny Scrilla, Neuropol and DJ Madd have all delivered with huge sounds under the halftime influence and the hard work of label boss Om Unit has been there to steer it in the right direction.
Not to mention a massive 10-track Cosmology 2 compilation with some of the biggest, baddest Cosmic tracks at the end of the year which sealed the deal for me and capped off a prolific 12 months for the Cosmic Bridge crew! (Reuben Hunt)
This year Critical Music has been, without question, the label pushing the scene forward the most. Not held down by a single sound or even a single BPM, they’ve released everything from dark and menacing rollers from the likes of Fre4knc, smooth liquid from Ivy Lab and others, in your face bangers from people like Mefjus and Emperor and the weird, almost unexplainable sounds of Sam Binga and Hyroglifics. Throw in a series of hugely successful residencies in Fabric and it’s easy to see why this is the label of the year. Rumour has it they’re going even bigger next year… Bring on 2016! (Sampo Kaskia)
This year has been jam-packed for Ant TC1’s increasingly prominent imprint. It got off to a flyer with a dark collab between Amoss & Fre4knc and went from strength to strength from there. Next came arguably one of the finest albums of the year, DLR’s impeccably produced Seeing Sounds, and a handful of brilliant EPs including Gerra & Stone’s Unbreakable and Ed:It’s Telling True.
More recently, Zero T delivered his stunning Golden Section LP and newcomers DBR UK dropped their gritty Rough Edges EP, hinting at what’s to come in 2016. The label also celebrated 15 years of existence this year and marked the milestone occasion with a selection of massive landmark events. Dispatch, for me, is proof that a label doesn’t need to rely on flashy marketing and a large budget to succeed; instead, good music and passionate management is what really matters the most. (Robin Murray)
Superbeats channels came correct in 2014 with their own imprint: Elysian Records. Since then they have been behind a countless amount of my favourite tracks, especially this year. They’ve played an integral part in the booming Soundcloud scene this year, having featured a plethora of talented names such as Ricky Remedy, Medasin, Quix, Dabow and many, many more. What’s more – almost all of their tracks are available free of charge. If you’re in any way a fan of wonky trap beats and forward thinking electronic music then get to know. I expect to see this label flourish even more in 2016… (Mike Atkin)
In North America, labels like this are not common. Drum & bass over here is still seen as a very underground and niche genre. You must dig to find the gems, but thanks to the internet, it’s easier to learn about these types of tunes through our accessibility to labels all over the world. Labels like Lifted are around to educate those who want to be educated, and supply quality music to those who want it, and we cherish outlets like that in North America. Even though their releases aren’t as frequent as other labels, the quality and history this label brings to electronic music is really important. I can only see these guys gaining momentum in the coming years with popularity in North America.
Release-wise Lifted gave Memtrix his best year yet. The young gun has blown me away with his collaborations, mixes, and EP’s. But there’s been plenty more to Lifted than Memtrix. Running alongside its Breed 12”s imprint we’ve been steadily dealt an assault of exciting, energetic, forward-thinking drum & bass from the likes of Zombie Cats, L 33, Uman, Cruk, Nouwa and more.
I’ve been impressed with Lifted’s dedication to its artists and releases. From a North American perspective, their sound is one that really resonates with dancefloors this side of the Atlantic and will help to ensure the US D&B takeover continues (Tabitha Neudorf)
NSD Black Label
It was a pretty sizable year for the new Never Say Die subdivision, to put it lightly. EPs from the likes of Trampa, BadKlaat, Axel Boy, and a handful of others merely painted a small picture of the label’s substantially broader vision. With a full year of experience now under their belts, it’s almost impossible to fathom what this outfit will strive to accomplish during their much-anticipated sophomore campaign – but I assure you of this, it will be massive, a pure spectacle. Black Label ensures than NSD will continue to make dubstep a major priority, which is completely fine by me. (Barrett Nelson)
Labels who’ve excelled themselves for me this year are Integral, Soul:r, Exit, Critical and Hospital. But in these uncertain times sometimes you just want to listen to music that gives you a big warm sonic embrace and Spearhead Records have been cuddling me and caressing my face for most of 2015.
With an impressive repertoire of artists like LSB and bossman BCee, they’ve continued to champion the liquid sound that I love, and have managed to take it up a notch with their range of quality events. From boat parties to intimate club nights, they’ve consistently delivered the goods with their line-ups, and I look forward to seeing what 2016 has to bring. Considering the line-up they’ve secured for their first event of the year (Spectrasoul, Technimatic, LSB, Hybrid Minds, BCee + more… WHAT?), something tells me the best is yet to come… (Maja Cicic)
Virus Recordings is extraordinary, Ed Rush and Optical are astounding and the releases on the label are awe-inspiring. I am sure that the ‘98 era of drum n bass holds a special place in all of our hearts, Virus have consistently succeeded in brewing and bottling the quintessential essence of that legendary time. Remaining current with stunning production and exciting releases for them, would be status quo.
Listening to Virus music is an immersive experience that transcends other labels to be almost multi-sensory; the stunning, eccentric and unconventional artwork that accompanies each release is a spectacle in itself. Virus Recording is music that deserves to be played loud, it can transport you to futuristic lands and then slam you back to earth with some of the hardest hitting production in the scene. They manage to do all of this without ever sacrificing groove, this just shows that good old-fashioned funk breaks are a strong foundation to build on. With releases from Optiv & BTK, Mefjus, Insideinfo, Gridlock, Audio and Maztek, the line-up throughout the year has been all-star. 2015 is a big year for Virus and I am looking forward to many more. (Matthew Chapman)
Vision / Division / Invisible
Three for the price of one: While all of Noisia’s labels work autonomously there’s a clear harmony and consistency in their collective remit for us to shout them all in one fell swoop.
Just as Noisia have swept the floor clean with Dead Limit (both at the Drum&BassArena Awards and with the pro selectors) these labels have had a similar affect on electronic music. Invisible has shot out a slew of forward-thinking, futuristic underground D&B from the likes of Skynet, Xtrah, Current Value, and Hybris while Vision has been home to two of the biggest EPs in D&B this year: Incessant and Dead Limit.
But if I’m honest, it’s the two near-album sized EPs on Division that really show the collective labels’ scope and range: Sofie Letitre’s Uncanny Valley smacks of smokestacked dystopian soul (and came complete with some incredible remixes, including Thijs’s abrasive, juke/jungle hybrid remix of Home) while the return of Amon Tobin’s Two Fingers reminded us that there is so much more gas left in the bass tank with the right perspective. (Dave Jenkins)
We could have easily celebrated 20 labels in this list. Shout outs are essential for the following labels:
Hospital: Hospital have left no subgenre unturned this year as they’ve poked and prodded the darkest and lightest psyches of the scene from Reso to Urbandawn. It’s been an exciting year for Hospital’s trademark substance-loaded albums with seven key long-players including essential bodies of work from Lynx to Anile to Royalston by way of the label boss himself London Elektricity. Throw sister-stable Medschool into the mix too and they really have smashed 2015 to pieces.
Ram Records: Ram have scudded us with sonics this year, putting out a release almost every week this year: Audio’s Shatterdome, Misanthrop’s Collapse, Calyx & TeeBee’s rifle-like EP assault, Teddy Killerz Hyperspeed… The list goes on. It’s been a big year on the album front for Ram, too with Rene LaVice showing us his widest creative spectrum on Play With Fire and June Miller’s daring Robots & Romans concept piece that included the benchmark busting/brain-melting Saus. Need we say more?
Deep Heads: Deep dubstep has been enjoying a real renaissance this year as artists have moved from the dungeon to sunnier, jazzier and more soulful pastures. Deep Heads have played in this space since inception and have lead from the front with releases such as Ash Walker’s beautiful album Augmented 7th, Biome’s EP and their Deep Heads Dubstep 2 collection