Cutting through the noise, filtering out the rubbish, identifying exciting new trends and creative endeavours, developing new artists… Labels of the world: UKF salutes you.
These are eight of many hardworking labels that have caught the attention, imagination and props from our contributor team throughout 2014. What’s been your favourite label?
Critical Music (by Maja Cicic)
Deciding on my favourite label of the year is like asking a parent to pick a favourite child. The talent was immense this year, and it was (and still is) an exciting time for music. For me the stand-outs weren’t the ‘big’ labels (although props to them and their amazing work throughout the year). It was the underground drum & bass labels pushing the deep vibes that did it for me.
In terms of consistency, though, Critical Music smashed it the most this year. With such a diverse repertoire of artists and releases they really pushed the scene forward and championed a sound that wasn’t restricted to a particular tempo. Ivy Lab in particular really stood out, not just in creating atmospheric liquid and smashing every remix they released, but also in their 20/20 bootleg series, and infusing elements of hip-hop and foot-work into drum & bass. Lines within genres are being blurred and we are seeing tunes that wouldn’t normally be identified within the typical confines of d&b. This makes the possibilities endless and will only push the genre forward and continue to develop its sound. I chose Baby Grey because it’s simply suave. Embodying a certain subtly and ambience, it was a perfect roller for me when it came out on Underground Sonics.
Honourable mention has to go to Samurai Music, Soul:R, Exit Records, Signature, Integral Music, Spearhead Records, Shogun Audio and Med School, who all had amazing releases this year!
Disciple Recordings (By Andy Lee)
Since its inception in early 2013, the Bristol-based label, Disciple Recordings, has rapidly made a name for itself at the forefront of electronic dance music. Heavily influenced and backed by the 2014 Bass Music Awards Top Label of the Year, Never Say Die, Disciple Recordings personifies the future of heavy bass. After a year of bubbling in the background, the now chart-topping core roster with a laundry list of stellar top 10 releases under their belt has firmly situated itself and its artists at the pulse of the industry. With releases spanning across all genres, Disciple Recordings represents a brand fueled by the promising young talent of tomorrow and a heavily praised sound. Whether in the form of frenzied electro or earth-shaking bass, as long as Disciple Recordings is releasing music, you should be listening.
Mad Decent (By Tabitha Neudorf)
One of the most standout labels of 2014 has to be Mad Decent. Owned and operated by Diplo himself, this is a label dedicated to the finding, cultivating and nourishing of artists from the ground up with major support and resources to get them to where they need to be. From the Mad Decent Block Party, to Diplo and Friends on BBC Radio1 to their own stages at major music festivals around the world, it’s no doubt that Diplo and his team has created one of the most influential record labels around.
Metalheadz (By Robin Murray)
For me, there’s one label that stands head and shoulders above the rest as the end of the year draws to an end, and that label is Metalheadz.
The year kicked off with a bang as powerhouses Mako, Villem & ANT TC1 clashed heads to produce the breathtaking Hungry For Atmosphere – an early indication of what Goldie had up his sleeve for the coming year.
We were then treated to the latest instalment of the esteemed Platinum Breakz series; a mammoth compilation showcasing some of the most forward-thinking and established producers in the scene from Calibre to Artificial Intelligence to Jubei.
Things then went from good to better as Lenzman, Ulterior Motive and OM Unit all went on to release highly acclaimed albums; each one demonstrating just why Metalheadz is such an important and highly regarded label.
The label celebrated 20 years in the game this year – and there’s no sign of slowing down.
Monstercat (By Chelsea Burka)
My pick for label of the year goes to Monstercat. Shattering norms and redefining expectations for dance music, like UKF Monstercat started as a YouTube channel for friends to share music and is built on an active, engaged community. Three years later, they’ve stayed true to their roots while becoming one of the most well-respected and creative labels on the scene.
To date, they’ve released 20 compilation albums—half of which reached #1 on iTunes, sold over 1 million singles, and launched a weekly podcast. This year, they launched their first North American tour called UNCAGED, hit 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube, and initiated unique tech partnerships with Twitch and Major League gaming. Talent-wise, they added Aero Chord, Nitro Fun, Laszlo, WRLD, Rich Edwards, Grant Bowtie, Case & Point, Kasbo, Puppet, and LVTHER this year to their already impressive talent roster including Krewella, Pegboard Nerds, and Haywyre – who is currently on tour with gamechanger Mat Zo.
Above all, Monstercat is a label that is does not conform to genres, is unafraid to take risks, and truly embodies creative freedom. Quite literally, with their Monstercat Manifesto, they define what a forward-thinking label is and should be.
OWSLA (By Dave Jenkins)
Three albums alone sum up why I’ve picked OWSLA as my personal favourite label of the year… Moody Good – Moody Good, Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell and MUST DIE! – Death & Magic.
Between those LPs you have almost everything that’s daring, creative and exciting about leftfield electronic music right now. And they were all delivered by OWSLA within three months of each other. That really is the tip of the forward-thinking iceberg for me; releases from Phonat, Jack Beats, The M Machine, Koan Sound, David Heartbreak have all stretched perceptions and conventions of the label and of OWSLA itself while their Nest sub-brand has explored even deeper into the realms of new creativity. Curation standards don’t get any bolder.
Trapdoor (By Mike Atkin)
Future bass, or whatever you feel like calling it (‘chill trap’ anyone?) has been growing in momentum at a pretty breath-taking pace over the course of the last year, and with thriving labels like Trapdoor supporting it – it’s not hard to hear why! With an absolute bucket load of stellar (and often free!) releases from up and coming artists such as Mura Masa, Daktyl and Maxx Baer – the label has knocked out some of the very best tracks of the year – and not least of all, the mighty ‘Bells’ from Andru. For me, this track sums up the pinnacle of the trap genre. Simplistic in its idea, and executed to perfection – you could drop this track literally anywhere and it would send everyone in the nearby vicinity absolutely nuts. For best results, make sure you blast it at the dinner table on Christmas day, trust me on this one.
Terrorhythm (By Craig Haynes)
Terrorhythm kicked off January with AWE’s sparkling, groovy Crystals and have consistently delivered some of the best in futuristic bass mutations all year. Aberdeenshire youngster Parkinson White, like Hudson Mohawke, Rustie and S-Type before him, is bringing that glossy bass sound straight out of Scotland, teaming up with Kyle Cook for the Sapphie EP which included the heavy synth workout Temple.
This was closely followed by KRNE’s Zero Zero One EP, featuring the massive Jangle. Loaded with funk, piano melodies and pure hands-in-the-air euphoria, it showcased the way this purple sound can really meld retro and future. There was also the launch of a free music series, Terrorhythm Elements, the Remastered and Remixed versions of Plasticman and releases from great new artists like Deon Custom, Varsity and Skit, with 2014 bookended with another AWE release, this time taking us into grimier, head-nodding territory with Triassic and the bark-sampling space-age sounds of Griffin. Plastician’s burgeoning imprint has shown itself to be one of the most exciting labels on UKF this year, acting as a stable for future sounds from around the world, with one foot firmly on the dancefloor.