It’s been another exciting year for labels across the bass sphere. Last year’s DIY culture remains rife, as does a fresh sense of fusion as many labels, especially those sitting around the 130/140 mark have toyed with tempos, hybrids and styles more than previous years. With all imprints still encouraging new talent and championing variety, the label landscape has been an exciting terrain this year. Here are just 10 of many great labels who’ve dominated the year. As picked by our editorial team.
From its free download roots to its status as a fully legit label with releases you’re more than happy to invest your dollars in, Left / Right and Zander’s Broken Music Syndicate has spent the last few years stealthily scaling the ranks to its current bass prominence. Flexing the breaks/beats axis with a keen ear for space, depth and vibe, the label have established a pretty elastic yet consistent remit that can range from soulful driving breaks (Tyler Clacey’s near-evangelistic I Feel Good) to jaw-dropping neuro style bass designs (Bushbaby’s Mitsuko) then ping back in your face and poke your eyes out with raw ravey mischief (Rico Tubbs’ Chemistry) No release ever retreats over old ground yet there’s a really clear atmospheric, stately and unhurried thread running through it all and the roster is a rollcall of tomorrow talent with the likes of Inkline, SaidWho, Daze Prism, Celladore and many more gracing its discog. Whatever your prered genre is, if you like the low end and play around 130 Broken will definitely fix things for you. (DJ)
For me, labels don’t get any cooler than Kasra’s Critical Music. The aesthetics, the music, the ethos and the club nights all come together in various shades of black and white, edgy and aloof but still embracing the ‘all are welcome’ attitude we love about D&B. If there were D&B Top Trumps then the Critical roster would certainly be the cards to have; Ivy Lab, Enei, Signal, Mefjus, Emperor – the list goes on. The sheer strength and diversity found on Critical is impressive, but what’s even more impressive is the consistency found in that diversity, the way a wonky Sam Binga record somehow feels similar to a Mefjus tearout, a barebones Enei strip-down or a luscious Ivy Lab roller. If you don’t believe me, check out their 15 Years of Critical Music VA and tell me it’s not one of the best albums of 2017. Spoiler: It is, and you’d be deficient in all the wrong places if you don’t think Critical deserve a spot on this list. (Ben Hunter)
Quantity AND quality; Truth’s triple-D imprint has been nuclear in its operations and output this year. 20 releases since March alone, the label has been a one-stop dubstep shop in so many ways. Firstly, it covers the spectrum from ruthlessly face-melting (see DMVU’s killer new remix of Truth’s Militant Sound) to mystic and beat-freaked (see Oudjat’s Skarla) via classic smouldering sub-soaked deepness (see Khiva’s In The Quiet). Secondly, it celebrates the work of established masters and new game changers alike (from Thelem to Pushloop) Thirdly (and most importantly) the consistency and quality has been impeccable with every release… No mean feat when you’re firing out murk missiles on a near weekly basis. They explained in a recent interview that energy and enthusiasm they’re experiencing from the new acts they’re work with on the label is inspiring. Yet more proof that we’re peering over the precipice of whole new creative chapter of development for dubstep. And Deep, Dark & Dangerous are leading the charge. (DJ)
Perhaps one of the most prolific D&B labels this year in terms of releases, Dispatch have had one helluva 2017. From growling basslines and rugged grooves, to uplifting gems and minimal creepers, they’ve well and truly covered the full spectrum, all the while maintaining an uncompromising ethos and recognisable style. With huge albums from Survival and Gerra & Stone, as well as heavy-hitting EPs from the likes of Kyrist, Bredren, Nymfo & Phase, SCAR and loads more, the real standout for me was the output on their sister imprint Dispatch LTD. Home to rising talent, it’s where the label takes the biggest risks, and where some real hidden gems lie. From twisted sonics courtesy of Gamma, Survey and Spline, to menacing riddims from Sustance and Black Barrel, if you like your drum & bass deep and brooding, then Dispatch have got you covered. Having recently launched another sister imprint – Dispatch Blueprints – with the aim of taking it back to the roots, 2018 is set to be an even bigger year for the label, and I’m all ears… (Maja Cicic)
If you like your drum and bass hard, marginally evil and experimental, then Eatbrain was definitely the neurofunk juggernaut you were looking for in 2017. While label head Jade is based in Hungary and some may foolishly associate Eatbrain with Eastern Europe, the label has truly gone international in recent years with releases from French, Spanish, German, UK and New Zealand artists. In 2017 Eatbrain brought the pain, quite literally in some cases, releasing EP after EP and podcast after podcast with glitched-out basslines and absolutely insane album art at a speed that no publication or music critic (including this one) could keep up with.
The speed with which Eatbrain was churning out releases this year was largely due to their finding and signing heretofore unknown or little-known artists from Eastern Europe and Russia and giving them a solid platform for what was some seriously mind-bending bass. Between their Eatbrain nights all over Europe and now even the U.S. and their solid base of artists who released with the label early on like Teddy Killerz and Maztek, Eatbrain has always had an ear for the next innovators and this year brought the likes of Gydra, Akov, Telekenesis and Mizo to the table, just to name a few.
It’s tough to pick just a few of the best releases from Eatbrain this year. No Brain, No Pain from Telekinesis and Shapeshifter by Akov are two which really show not only the pulsing power of Eatbrain’s unhinged bass acumen but also the diversity that can be found there. Then of course there is Jade’s personal favorite and one of the most lauded EPs to 2017, State of Mind’s Automata EP. This one really showed how far neuro and jump up have come in terms of fusing to create danceable but still sufficiently twisted basslines. Suffice it to say Eatbrain will be one to keep watching in 2018, and while fans can likely continue to expect lots of gruesome album art, they should expect the unexpected when it comes to the music. (Layla Marino)
This year has seen D&B dive back into the murky confines of the underground, just where I like it. It’s in this environment artist tend to be at their most inspired and the genre truly thrives. It’s also in this very atmosphere that labels like Metalheadz are able to inspire the most out of their own artists to deliver mind-bending productions that leave you either intrigued, shouting profanities or throwing shoes, with some arrangements so complex and powerful they leave you scratching your head trying to comprehend how the hell they pulled it off – and that’s exactly what they’ve managed to do yet again this year. With immensely unique releases from the likes of Digital, Voltage, Benny L, SCAR, OneMind, Detboi and more, they’ve kept things fresh, all the while consistently maintaining that signature Headz sound, which in itself is a seriously impressive feat. Throw MethXX into the fold with some future classics from Andy Skopes, Battery, Adred and more, and you’ve got substance and style across the full label, executed with pure class. (Maja Cicic)
Every drum & bass producer under the sun seems to be starting up their own label these days and while lots of DIY imprints have shown promise, the one which has really stood out is Lenzman’s North Quarter, which isn’t that surprising considering he’s one of the best in the business. Everything to come out on it this year has been sublime, including the Earth Tones EP from the man himself, Redeyes’ Blueprints EP and the aforementioned Alone With Everybody from FD. Not only that, but Lenzman and his main partner in crime Dan Stezo recently teamed up to present us with The Boom Box, arguably one of the year’s best mixes. (Robin Murray)
The story of how Night Bass infiltrated the US with their own blend of UK-inspired underground bass is the stuff of underdog legend. Don’t take our word for it, take label boss AC Slater’s when he told us earlier this summer. Since launching in June 2015, the label has been unrelenting in its assault with an ever-growing roster of on-point bass carvers. From bonafide OGs such as DJ Q and Jack Beats to the rising likes of Phlegmatic Dogs, Petey Clicks and Bijou via Wax Motif, Jay Robinson, Chris Lorenzo and Taiki Nulight, Night Bass’s sound has transcended it UK-inspired underground roots to comprise its own distinctive global melting pot of house, bass, garage, breaks, bassline and more. Even techno got a look-in this summer Russian warp-monster Proxy entered the fray with his far-out technoid Sirenade EP. The label’s most significant release, however, was AC Slater’s (and consequently Night Bass’s) debut album Outsiders. Running his own personal groove gamut, and casting the Night Bass musical net even wider than before with touches on more US hip-hop influences, it amplified the label’s consistent bass message at an even higher volume.
This label deserves a special shout with it being their 25th anniversary in the game. Ram has been one of the driving forces behind the progression of drum and bass over the years and has been continuing to demonstrate its strength this year. From a range of top drawer LP releases including Frankee’s Sanctuary and Loadstar’s I Need The Night to the consistent supply of fire courtesy of Calyx & Teebee and Delta Heavy. Despite this, what has made 2017 such a memorable year is the mammoth shows the label has held; the jaw-dropping Ram celebrations at London’s Printworks and Manchester’s Warehouse Project (where the line up was so big that it had Loadstar b2b DC Breaks b2b Mind Vortex in room three) and Andy C taking on a staggering three month residency at XOYO, where he nostalgically celebrated the foundations of the label and the genre itself are just two examples. This year Ram really put on a show, and to top it all off, last week the label released the RAM25 remix album, which spectacularly revisits some of the labels most influential tunes by some of the biggest producers. With a new Rene LaVice album scheduled for early next year and the upcoming prospect of the next instalment in Culture Shock’s Sequence Series, 2018 is already gearing up to be an exciting year for Ram. (Jake Hirst)
Slowly, almost stealthily, Shogun Audio have been regrouping and refocusing and releasing some solid gold this year. While some of its strongest voices have now moved on to develop their own successful brands (which is in itself a sign of Shogun’s strength) they’ve had a chance to refresh the label sound, freshen up its roster and get back to its underground and understated roots. As a result we’ve had an incredibly diverse year that’s ranged from Ulterior Motive to Pola & Bryson via Was A Be, Ed:It and some chap called Moby! Break also made a cameo role at Shogun HQ this year with his killer remix of Technimatic’s Bristol, but for me Shogun’s success this year is best represented by two releases. Firstly, My Nu Leng making their D&B debut with their awesome Portal EP. Many house artists try their hand at drum & bass and fail miserably. Tommy and Jammo did it so well they spent a large proportion of the summer playing b2b with Goldie! The other release would be the Point Of Origin Vol 2. 15 tracks of fresh fire stacked with an-point balance of next-gen and unsung talents – Satl, Paul SG, Gerra & Stone, Dub Elements, Phaction, GLXY, QZB, Data 3 – if any album took Shogun back to its core and really showcased the label’s energy, attitude and spirit, it was this album. We’re interested to see how they build on this in 2018. (DJ)