WORDS

2021: The Labels

While the nightlife and events industry took a huge hit throughout 2020 and substantial parts of 2021, labels enjoyed an increase in business during the lockdowns as we reported earlier this year.

With more new imprints and brands entering the game each year – both launched by established acts and and an exciting rise of young indies representing the new generation – the label game remains exciting and varied and ensures we’re always stocked with high grade music.

As part of our end-of-year reflections we asked our writer team to select one or two of their favourite labels this year. These are just some of the many labels that have inspired us in 2021…

1985 Music

It’s been a massive year for Alix Perez’s phenomenal label 1985 Music, which turned five this year.  To celebrate this, the label brought out a collection of remixed tracks. Theres been so much quality music released on the label in 2021 – EPs from Fracture, Drone and Tsuruda to name a few, and of course the fantastic Dark Guru EP by Visages. New favourite Monty has also just released his much awaited debut album Hit The Lights on the label, too.

This year also saw 1985 introduce a new VA series called Atlas, after the huge success of their first Various Artist series, three-parter Edition.  Special mention has to go to Atlas, I’ve probably listened to the whole thing about 100 times, it’s such a great mix of tunes and different styles.

In terms of events, the label nights have continued, with 1985 hooking up with The North Quarter at Hidden in Manchester and more recently a label night in Bristol.  There have also been nights on in Sheffield and London this year.

The label is my favourite of 2021 because of its consistency in releasing quality, fresh, unique music and its roster of artists who all push boundaries with their tracks and styles. (Louise Lake)

 

4NCY

We’ll save you the back story on PAV4N’s burgeoning 4NCY brand, we’ve already told you that. What you need to know right now is this: no matter how deep you think you dig, no matter how fresh your finds on Soundcloud are, no matter how early you’re sent your dubs, there’s talent on 4NCY and its sister label Darkmode that you’ve never come across before.

Flexing across all the best genres from D&B to hip-hop, 4NCY knows no boundaries or barriers. brijplease’s emergence collection last month is a great example of both the label’s wide-armed sonic signature and its dedication to curating and presenting talent from all corners of the world, especially those that aren’t necessarily associated with electronic music and don’t have the same access to the scene as the UK or Europe might… For now.

With a hyper-prolific output and a collective-like management structure, everything about PAV4N’s label smacks, slaps, tingles and buzzes with forward-thinking freshness. And the music reflects that, too with highlights ranging from Don Piper’s experimental bass excursion Trips Around The Sun to Kartik’s trippy Dilla-ish adventure Kumposishuns to Diligent Fingers’ soulful-dancefloor fusion Killing My Dream on Darkmode. And that’s just not even beginning to scratch the surface. Head to the 4NCY Soundcloud and get lost in the hundreds of releases so far. For a label’s that not even two years old yet, they’ve already developed a remarkable catalogue and presented many new acts to the world… And you get the feeling they’re just warming up. (Dave Columbo Jenkins)

 

Audio Addict

Audio Addict is a label fronted by the majorly prolific DJ Hybrid and the qualities of its head honcho definitely transfer to the label itself by constantly releasing EPs from the start of the year right through to the end. Kicking off the year with Hoaxes’ single, the foghorn slapper Backstabber, and ending with the humungous VA Addict 100 V2 album, featuring a mix of original tunes and remixes a whole host of talented new names in the scene, Audio Addict has not let up on momentum or focus throughout 2021.

The sheer range of styles presented on the label spans many genres of drum and bass: Jungle, rollers, jump up, minimal and all things in between. It is also great to see a label that is forthrightly committed to exhibiting new artists on such a wide scale and injecting new blood into the scene. It’s about time we all became audio addicts. (Jake Williams)

 

Cutcross

Across their three stellar releases this year, Sicaria Sound’s Cutcross imprint has continued to go from strength-to-strength – it says a lot that, despite only dropping three releases throughout 2021, they’ve still had this much of a sustained impact. Much is down to the much-loved pairing’s supreme, unmatched ability and reputation as producers, DJs, label heads and pure tastemakers. If I’m honest, they’re the epitome of the latter, and that carries through to Cutcross’ output.

Sandwiched in between CXT002 (Hi5ghost x Saule) & CXT003 (With The Pulse), their first release of the year came in the form of Offcuts Vol. 1, a pinpoint, mysterious release that kept the artists’ names firmly behind closed doors, “inspired by B-sides and tunes that didn’t quite make it to a pressing but hold weight in their own right”. Up next, the aforementioned CXT003, marking the second themed compilation from the label, saw Conzi, Ehua, Zygos and Jamiu conjure up four bits of low-slung magic, with high profile press & media support across the board.

Finally, to round out the year, we were treated to a series of heavyweight efforts from NZ-based producers Ebb & Texture, which picked up a tonne of support from the likes of Alix Perez & of course Sicaria Sound en-route to release. Featuring the cascading breakbeats of Cloudburst, the distinct, sub-low tendencies of ‘Enmesh’ and dastardly crowd favourite ‘5 skin’, this has rounded off the year perfectly.

And now, with gleeful confirmation that Sicaria Sound will now continue long into the future, I can’t wait to see what happens with Cutcross moving forward. (Cal Sorensen)

 

DUPLOC

Whilst plenty of labels plus artists navigated 2021 in a more reserved manner, DUPLOC founder Pieter Grauwels counteracted the decreasing supply with his own deep dubstep label.

What’s more (and cannot be said enough), the creator of DUPLOC brought new hope by co-creating a place for artists and labels to sell music and generate revenue in the form of 140 Plates, the first ever dedicated download story for dubstep and 140 Music. This has been a godsend because, let’s face it, after countless shows that never happened, the sustainability for those professionally involved in a less commercially profitable genre… Well, eventually it shrinks to worrying proportions.

As for the story of DUPLOC: 2021 stacks up as the most industrious year so far. Eleven EPs and three albums were released. Strong material from established artists, like Hebbe, Ternion Sound & Enigma Dubz. As well as the debut album by Mungk – Temple of Mungk. Plus a 140 ALLSTARS Vol. 1 compilation and a ‘Best Of’ album. They even hit their 50th release this year.

Looking forward, 2022 will mark ten years in the game for the label and we have it on good authority that DUPLOC will be celebrating this milestone extensively throughout the year. Starting on January 24 with another unmissable compilation. (Michael Janiec) 

 

Flexout Audio

Flexout have celebrated a milestone 10 years in the game this year the best way they know how: Flexing pure badass releases with an uncompromising ethos built on quality, underground sonics and an insanely talented roster of artists who continue to push themselves, drum & bass, and the label further into the future with every release.

Currently sitting on a whopping 20 releases this year, they’ve built a true sound and vision for the label over years of hard graft. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes, these guys truly put their all into their work, into their vision and into their releases.

Each drop meticulously hand-picked by bossman Bassi, the label started the year strong with releases from the likes of Scepticz, Charli Brix & Primitive Instinct, Data 3 and more – including the simply stunning breakout EP from newcomer Circumference, which featured Ambivalence – in my opinion – one of the most moving and intriguing pieces of music to land this year.

Then came their 10th anniversary X series – a total of three instalments sprinkled throughout the year featuring stellar tunes from Bredren, Revan & Solace, Wingz, Amoss, Waeys, Hyroglifics and more, with celebrations leading to a sold-out show at Steel Yard in London.

And let’s not forget the many quality drops landing throughout the year as well, including Philth’s heavyweight Nineties Yute EP, Bredren’s precision-produced Foundation EP, Amoss’ brilliant Blue Whale EP, Data 3’s highly-anticipated Matter LP and more, all the while committing to vinyl in one of the most difficult years in history for cutting tunes on wax. I could go on and on here, but will take a leaf out of Flexout’s book and cut the bullshit.

Never predictable, always ahead of the curve, Flexout have their sights set on the future, and I, for one, am ready to be beamed up into their galactic spaceship to join them for the cosmic ride. (Maja Cicic)

 

Infernal Sounds

There have been SO many sick releases from the Infernal Sounds gang in 2021 – too many to count! Now sitting firmly in that top-tier dubstep/140 bracket, their output this year has been something to marvel at. Cluekid, Karnage, Kodama, Chad Dubz & Somah, Chief Kaya, Khanum, Nova, Darkimh, Hypho & Abstrakt Sonance, Frenchless, Sordez, DE-TU, Substrada… all have come through and added their own unique touch to proceedings, and all are perfectly suited to that Infernal Sounds mantra of bringing through artists both new & established, and letting them really bring their own sound to the imprint. Here, we know the level of quality control is impeccably high, so we’re always, always treated to best-in-class productions.

Amongst all the standouts this year, the all-encompassing Crimson LP was a real milestone for the label, seeing the likes of Fiend, Bukkha, Ternion Sound, J:Kenzo & Sabab, Oxossi, Causa, Fearless Dread and more contribute blinding efforts, whilst the recent, long-awaited DE-TU 2-tracker (‘Roadblock / St.Paul’s (City Road Dub) was a long time in the making. It’s say to say it didn’t disappoint.

There’s simply no stopping Infernal Sounds – shouts to Aneurin & the crew! They’re always pushing boundaries, and that’ll certainly continue in 2022. (Cal Sorensen)

 

Sleepless Music

There are so many exciting, forward-thinking labels cropping up each year, with each one tasked with recruiting the best talent and releasing the best tunes. It’s hard to choose one specific favourite, but in terms of drum and bass pedigree, it’s hard to look beyond Wilkinson and his new imprint, Sleepless Music. Launching as a label at the start of 2021, dancefloor icon Wilkinson has built a label with foundations rooted in creativity and a solid vision to support its artists.

So far it has hosted the likes of Krakota, K Motionz and Audioscribe, all showcasing a unique take on modern dancefloor drum and bass. This label is nurturing some of the best talent in the scene right now, focusing not only on the biggest chart-toppers, but the song writing and creative process as a whole. If you love dancefloor, you’ll want to stay up to date with Sleepless’ releases. (Hannah Gowen)

 

Spearhead Records

Despite being around for years, putting out many of D&B’s iconic liquid releases and bringing through so many talents, I feel like Spearhead (and BCee) don’t get the recognition they deserve. You’d be forgiven for thinking a label that has been a staple of the D&B scene for yonks would have a big team behind it, but in truth, Spearhead is essentially a humble operation between BCee and his wife. Crazy, but also very admirable. It’s always been a label with a family feel to it, and throughout lockdown this came to the fore with Spearhead constantly offering deals on their Bandcamp and BCee tirelessly entertaining us every Saturday on live streams teasing snippets of forthcoming dubs. Top label, top guy! (Jake Hirst)

 

The Chikara Project

With a discography that can’t be pigeon-holed in terms of genre but is consistent with its soulfulness and production quality, The Chikara Project has exceeded expectations this year. The label heads, Mystic State, kicked off the year with a collaboration single with Captivate which included the eyes-closed roller, Departure. We were also treated to a heartfelt EP from Lurch, mesmerising remixes from My Own Private Island as well as a drum and offering from Levrige. However, it seems like the biggest treats were saved for when summer was receding. Mystic State spread their wings with their diverse Materials EP, featuring the unmistakable vocals of Jevon Ives and a dulcet collaboration with SMBR. We thought that was all but Marenn Sukie delivered an EP with his exquisitely warm signature sound which was followed by a selection of neat and funky dnb cuts from Therma.

Over the last year Chikara has become a go-to source of exciting electronic music so watch out for some big projects coming from some familiar faces next year. (Purav Parmar)

 

The North Quarter

Consistency is the word I’d use for The North Quarter in 2021. Throughout the year we saw a steady rate of releases, all keeping that cool and sophisticated vibe curated by Lenzman – aka the George Clooney of D&B. This runs through not only the music, but also the artwork, label nights, DJ mixes, and merch. 

During the darkness of winter and lockdowns, we were treated to massive hitters like FD’s Bully, Echo Brown’s Love Won’t Do, and Submorphics’ Let It Shine – each inspiring hope for a return to the club. Then, the return indeed came, soundtracked by one of the best MC albums in D&B, Fox’s Squang Dangs In The Key Of Vibes. I could make references to every NQ release, but a particularly exciting one came from FD and Satl with their LIN000 project – the new, stripped-back and techno-inspired angle has left me wanting more. Finally, The North Quarter finish the year off with another NQ State Of Mind compilation, which is becoming my favourite tradition – rounding the year off with a fantastic selection to enjoy over the holiday and beyond. (Sam Yates)

 

Transparent Audio

Founded by the same folk behind the 140-orientated imprint Instigate Recordings, Transparent Audio was birthed at the end of 2020 out of a desire to act as a platform to allow artists a home for untainted creative freedom and limitless experimentation with their sounds.

Now a year in, the Bristol-based label has been run on an ethos of creating a family-based environment where returning artists can house their music for years to come. For me, personal standouts have been Resslek’s Coupé EP, Spektiv’s Invert EP, and of course their first instalment of VA LP Refraction Vol. 001, but I’d encourage anyone to have a delve through the back catalogue and explore all the flavours on offer.

With their artwork, promotion, and most importantly music all top-tier, Transparent Audio has gone from strength to strength over the course of 2021 and radiates all the potential to carry this momentum into 2022 and beyond. (Charlie Cummings)

 

Yuku

Fresh out of Prague, with their own physical record store to boot, Yuku are in that exciting label league that the likes of Stones Throw, BBE, Ninja Tune and Warp have been frolicking in for many years… You never know what you’re going to get, but you know it’s always worth exploring.

Forward-thinking, experimental and anti-formula, this year has seen the imprint flex right across the board from head-bendingly strange and dream-like techno odysseys (see Platoo from Michelle Samba and Phil Mills) to Current Value’s 13th album, the diesel-powerful D&B tank The All Attracting. In between we have a smorgasbord of sounds such as the surreal leftfield beats and bass of Chrizpy Chriz, the stark ambience of Mtwn and Fearful or Killa P fronted Serbian grime from Traka (who we interviewed a while back on this site)

And this isn’t even the tip of the Yuku iceberg. Every month a new adventure awaits. As the year began Yuku distracted us from the bleak isolating winter with Aagentah’s fractured futurism, as lockdown broke down this year Yuku came marching out with Samurai-like D&B techno from Es.tereo and now, as 2022 starts to look a little more uncertain that we had hoped, we’re signing out the year to a woozy, cosmic album from the brilliantly named new Dutch talent Sam A La Bamalot. Who knows how they’ll accompany us next year but rest assured I’ll be exploring. (Dave Columbo Jenkins)