WORDS

2016: The Labels

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2016 has been an exciting year for labels in bass music. Not only have we had a whole host of new imprints popping up and arresting our senses this year, but many established labels across the field have also really pushed hard to find new talents, sounds and ideas and encourage new perspectives and fusions.

Here are 15 who our editorial team believe did this the most this year…

 

Crowsnest Audio

This was the year that Crowsnest flew the coop. Well-established labels like Never Say Die, Disciple, and Firepower deserve some props year in and year out, no doubt about it. Taking that into consideration, I made it a priority to shed light on an outfit that’s poured blood, sweat, and tears into everything they’ve accomplished thus far. Their name recognition might not yet measure up to that of a SMOG, Savage Society or Monstercat, but their long line of next level releases sure as hell do.
Founded by underground producers Code: Pandorum, Lord Swan3x, and TenGraphs, Crowsnest Audio happily provided a warm home for some of the most contaminated dubstep creations to emerge during the 2016 campaign. MurDa, Lūx, Sudden Death, DALA, and 100hurts are just a small sample of the names that help make up this label’s constantly expanding roster.

Heavy bass music hasn’t fallen out of favour, it’s just not at the forefront of the EDM movement like it once was. Given the way this cyclical music scene operates, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to see this subgenre make a resurgence in the near future. (Barrett Nelson)

 

Disciple

Ditching the Recordings surname at the start of the year, it’s felt like Disciple have gone back to their new talent hungry, all-style roots this year. Whether it’s established names Virtual Riot and Dodge & Fuski forging into fusions unknown or fresh fam additions like the sonic-twisting Oolacile, the funk-riddled Oski, the melody muscle of Fox Stevenson or the madcap almost animate feels of The Frim, each release has kept us on our toes this year. Honourable mentions have to go to Virtual Riot for his co-lab heavy Chemistry EP and label boss’s roots-focussed Myro mission has really captured the current quest for original roughness right now. (DJ)

 

Division

We could bang on about Vision and Noisia’s epic successes all day long (and we have) but for labels that really surged ahead and gave us exciting new names, brave sounds and a diverse repertoire of inspiring sounds this year the Groningen overlords’ Division imprint is the real winner. Any label that can release delicate, soul-stirring songs of Sofie Letitre one minute and the jaw-breaking halftime weirdery of Bleep Bloop and Razat the next commands respect in today’s headliner-focused, numbers-addicted market. Bonus points for introducing us to the majestic tones of JNTHN STEIN and luring Emperor’s freaky inner beast Monuman into life. (DJ)

 

Eatbrain

With almost every valued drum & bass label at Let It Roll this year, the opening night Eatbrain take over stage was incredible. Eatbrain has been the label that has excited me the most, not just at Let It Roll, but this year as a whole. They’re so much more than dark sounds; Agressor Bunx, Jade, State Of Mind, Chris SU, L 33 and Machine Code have created the most outrageous, menacing creativity that I simply never hear elsewhere. I hope the Hungarian label bursts onto the UK scene in 2017 as much as it has in Europe’s party capitals because it’s definitely too under the radar at the moment. Eatbrain’s production, artwork and press releases always embody a sinister, dystopian nightmare. To anyone who thinks originality in underground drum & bass is a thing of the past, or to anyone who’s simply bored – check out Eatbrain. (Candice Fernandez)

 

Exit Records

Artistic integrity and freedom are at the core of Exit’s philosophy, and this philosophy shines insanely bright in each and every release they’ve put out this year (and let’s be honest – every year preceding it). Their output has been nothing short of outstanding, with the whole spectrum of bass covered and repped. Let’s talk about Richie Brains for a second… dBridge’s absolutely brilliant idea of bringing the artistic genius of Alix Perez, Chimpo, Fixate, Fracture, Om Unit, Sam Binga & Stray together culminated in the genre-bending Who Is Richie Brains LP – an album that again exhibits the label’s core values in allowing its artists to flourish musically, exploring and developing their sound even further, and in turn inspiring a new movement of freedom and creativity. Throw mind-blowing releases from the likes of Fracture, Sinistarr, Kid Drama, Fixate, Zed Bias, Calibre, Skeptical, bossman dBridge and more into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a label that prides itself on quality over quantity. And that it does extremely well. Maximum respect. (Maja Cicic)

 

Hospital

It’s near impossible to think of a year where Hospital haven’t surpassed all expectations, but this year they have done that and more. Not only have they signed the likes of rising stars Urbandawn, and Maduk, but they’ve also released a jaw-dropping selection of LPs – from Metrik’s long-awaited LIFE/THRILLS, to Fred V & Grafix’s spectacularly diverse Oxygen. This year the artists on Hospital have been producing pure fire and every Hospitality night I have been to has been a truly memorable experience. Each year the label seems to substantially grow, reaching out to more fans across the world. This year has been particularly special not only for the music, but also for the ambitious Hospitality In The Park day festival the label curated. While there are many labels making waves at the moment, there’s no doubting the fact that Hospital currently represent everything good about drum and bass. (Jake Hirst)

 

Illian Tape

A project started by Marco and Dario Zenker in 2007 that has since evolved into one of the finest techno labels currently showcasing the classiest blending’s of techno, breakbeat, industrial and ambient (I could throw out adjectives forever…) What made Illian Tape’s 2016 particularly impressive for me was the consistency of beautifully crafted, intelligently-designed music in each and every one of their releases – a nod towards the Zenker Brothers’s identification of the label’s philosophy of ‘not being about big clean studio productions, but more the human touch in music’.

Most definitely a German label, Illian Tape’s 2016 roster has seen the names of artists working in Italy, UK and even as far as Argentina. Evidence that their sound and brand of heavy industrial, yet ethereal techno is as far-reaching as it is deep-hitting. Adding Andrea, the alias to UK experimental don Andy Stott, as well as my artist of the year, Djrum, to their discography with two stunning EPs, put Illian Tape on another level.

Needless to mention the consistency on all fronts from the Zenker Brothers and their releases including Marco’s Phony Pictures EP, which features personal stand out track Motion. To Skee Mask’s phenomenal Shred LP. I raise a glass to all things Illian Tape! (Reuben Hunt)

 

Metalheadz

The output on Metalheadz has been so delightfully varied and yet bang on consistent this year, it’s been near impossible not to sit up and notice. From seminal albums courtesy of Dom & Roland, Mikal, and SCAR, to legends like Commix making a highly-anticipated return, as well as John B proving he’s still an absolute menace with the beastly release that was Lava/ Lie To Me/ The Colossus, the label seem to inspire the very best output from their artists and the music speaks for itself, and in volumes. I’ve admired the way they’ve been able to stick to their roots, all the while pushing forward-thinking production, striking a perfect balance of vibes along the way.

From Lenzman’s soulful sonics on the Golden Age EP, to Artificial Intelligence’s heartfelt, but hard-hitting Shrine EP, to OneMind’s sinister EP1 and Dub Phizix’s recent jungle suite Rotate/ Spotlight. Yet another reminder to expect the unexpected when an artist you know and love steps up on the Headz platform. Massive shouts to the whole team, and here’s to another great year of music… Honourable mentions also go to Dispatch Recordings, The North Quarter, Critical, Fokuz & 1985 Music. (Maja Cicic)

 

Never Say Die Black Label

Show us another label that’s gone in as hard as Never Say Die Black Label this year and we’ll shoulder barge you into the moshpit of your life. Or at least have a mature conversation about the benefits of being a dubstep fan in 2016. Seriously, though – Never Say Die Black Label has consistently fired shots month in/month out. From Megalodon’s pure gutter riffs such as Dutty Skank to Zomboy’s huge Invaders, via the exciting new fusions of Krimer and Trollphace’s sense-blurring ruffage The Booface, NSDBL haven’t let up. Also of note are the label’s funkier excursions… The swagger of tracks like BadKlaat’s Fizzy Strings and wry humour of Midnight T’s Rat Jazz are just two examples. Black label by name… (DJ)

 

Night Bass

The feedback loop between the US and UK peaks when AC Slater is on the dials. A longstanding, upstanding member of the bass music community, he’s been a hugely influential figure in the transatlantic flow of bass house for well over a decade and his Night Bass brand has really galvanised this reputation and skill.

From Chris Lorenzo, Jack Beats and Taiki Nulight to Petey Clicks and Jay Robinson and Volac and many more, Night Bass artists join the dots between the deep, the broken, the heavy and the plain filthy and roll with a proper crew-like mentality. This was evident when they launched last year but this year it really feels like the label’s found its sound and place… And they’re not budging. (DJ)

 

Punks

In case you’ve been in one of those famous bubbles or echo chambers we’ve been hearing a lot about this year, broken beats – breaks if you’re classically trained/old – have been a dominant force in all 130-ish genres around house to techno. And Punks have been leading the charge with consistent assault of fractured flavours throughout the year. From exciting new names (Bromley, Badjokes, Hypho, Aloka, Distro, Zander) to established scene patriots (Left/Right, Mafia Kiss, Marten Horger) via the original pioneers such as the label bosses Stanton Warriors and this year’s comeback success story the Plump DJs who reminded of their boss mode abilities with both Yes Yes and Lose Your Mind. Deep, rolling, techy and not shy of the occasional on-point D&B remix, too – Punks have delivered continuously this year and captured a much wider movement happening across electronic music.

 

Shogun Audio

From Prolix’s ridiculous Danger to Karma’s soul-soothing Augmented to Rockwell’s asbo-awarded Out Of Vogue plus superb albums from Technimatic and Fourward and loads more in between, Shogun have steadily slapped us with uncompromised smashers throughout the year. In hindsight this was always going to be the way… Their 100 series stretched throughout the spring with key releases flexing the label’s breadth and scope with crucial cuts such as Ed:It’s Turn To Nothing, Break’s Emeralds and Phace’s Mumbo Jumbo.  Setting us up for the firm balance of established names and new talent, 2016 has been a year of steady, almost stealth-like evolution for Shogun.

 

Soulvent

The weight of a label is held by their mannerisms and the way their artists support each other. Soulvent is an entirely organic, fresh look at the liquid scene. They’ve supported artists from the likes of T & Sugah, Ownglow, Pola & Bryson all the way to Monrroe. They’ve received massive support from Hospital Records, and were nominated as Best Label at the Drum&BassArena Awards last month.

Without new labels and fresh ideas, this scene would be a nasty pile of regurgitated nonsense. Whether you’re established for decades or only one release deep into your discography, as long as you’re pushing your artists as well as the sounds you cohabitate with, people will come to support you and your music. Soulvent are proof. (Shane Consouls)

 

TEKLIFE

For those who know much at all about footwork the name Teklife most probably won’t strike you as a new one. Go to any rave of any genre and that hexagonal logo will be on a cap, tee or hoodie somewhere inside and as a collective their numbers spread far and wide around the globe.

Within music they have come to embody the spirit of community. Founded by a clutch of key names in the scene including the late DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, Gant-Man, DJ Tre and the visual style of Ashes57 their ranks have expanded to include most of the key names in the Chicago born now worldwide sound.

They have always been crucial but 2016 was the year they (finally) launched as a label and, although only dropping three releases, each one was vital and each for different reasons.

Launching back in March / April with the release of Aftelife, a posthumous DJ Rashad collection that featured a myriad of his contributors followed by DJ Earl’s shattering Open Your Eyes and finally capped off just this past week with Taso’s New Start all three releases displayed the diverse skills and sounds of the individual artists involved but were united by their lean, efficient track selections and beautifully designed packaging (the pearl of which probably being the Shephard Fairey designed Open Your Eyes)

In 2016 it’s easier than ever to dump endless amounts of landfill music on Spotify and Bandcamp with a hastily cobbled together “post-modern” Shutterstock sleeve, so to see an new label launch with such a staunch regard for proper track selections and physically desirable products is always a joy. For that label to be the sleeping giant that was Teklife is merely the icing on the cake. (Matt Bayfield)

Viper Recordings

With an extensive reach into North America and beyond, Futurebound’s Viper Recordings is my label of choice for 2016. They’ve have had an incredible year. With the launch of Viper Live in early 2015, this year we saw even more Viper shows around the world. Spreading the D&B vibe loudly and proudly, their work with Bassrush helped to bring America’s attention to drum & bass even more as they compiled Bassrush 1.0, a 50-track bounty that showcased the very best of our music and led to an insane EDC takeover where Cyantific, Brookes Brothers, The Prototypes and Insideinfo threw down the B2B2B2B2B of the century.

Release-wise 2016 also included massive releases from NCT, Mob Tactics, Matrix & Futurebound, Cyantific, the return of master craftsmen such as Original Sin and J Majik and continued work developing exciting new actus such as Dossa & Locuzzed and BMotion.

Judging by the sound of the exclusives on their forthcoming Drum & Bass Annual 2017 album, this exciting range and scope is set to develop even more in 2017. (Tabitha Neudorf)