2010 in review

# 20 top labels

2010 in review 20 top labels

Curiously, when it seemed that the music industry was nearing an Apocalypse and that labels were no longer needed to mediate between artists and audiences –that whole utopia of direct sales via the Internet, the payment/donation for a download, the possible rise of Bandcamp as the new supermarket of sound and the comeback of DIY on all levels–, it turns out that the label as an institution is not only still needed, it’s one of the best filters to help distinguish the music that matters from that we can live without. These are the labels that have had the best runs –with regards to surprising discoveries and quality of the releases– from January through to December.

20. DisaroThey release on CD-R and, exceptionally, sometimes on vinyl (like the White Ring record, “Black Earth That Made Me”, of which only twenty copies exist). If there’s any elusive and cryptic label that has made waves this year, it’s Disaro. Founded in Houston and now based in Los Angeles, under supervision of Robert Disaro and James Weigel, you could say witch house in its most “classic” form was born with it: slowed-down voices, according to the screwed & chopped tradition of southern rap, the fogs of dream-pop come nightmare-pop, rhythmic bases of early synth-pop and that aesthetic between kabala, pagan and the new symbols of text messages we find in artists with unpronounceable names like oOoOO, /// ▲▲▲ and GR†LLGR†LL. The best in their catalogue is the “Disaro” mixtape by Modern Witch. Javier Blánquez

19. Ninja Tune Matt Black and Jonathan More’s label hasn’t exactly had a plethoric year when you look at their roster. But 2010 is a special year for Ninja Tune, as the imprint has been celebrating its 20th birthday. To commemorate this milestone, they released the compilation “Ninja Tune: 20 Years Of Beats’n’Pieces” in September, with loads of remixes, rarities, previously unreleased tracks, extra material and beautiful packaging. Delicatessen for collectors and sold out in the blink of an eye, the second issue of the anniversary box is expected soon. Mónica Franco

18. Permanent Vacation The growth of Permanent Vacation has been exemplary. With their publicly declared love for all things disco and Balearic, the imprint led by Tom Bioloy and Benjamin Fröhlich doesn’t shy away from anything. As long as it’s good, of course. Whether it be with compilations of cosmic mantras like “Mandarinen Traüme”, new discoveries like Bostro Pesopeo or releasing hits for the dancing masses like Tensnake’s “Coma Cat”, they always nail it. The stagnation of the German scene has nothing to do with them. They are absolutely on fire. Franc Sayol

17. Dial Records When you put the needle on any Dial record, you know what you’re going to get and that you will not be disappointed. The Hamburg label just turned ten and has done so as they know best; releasing music in sepia tones that soothes the soul during the grey autumn. On the way, they published two of the best electronic records of the year: “Chicago”, by Efdemin, and “Glass Eights”, by John Roberts. Their “2010” compilation distils the essence of their style and confirms the feeling we’re dealing with a modern day classic. Another year on top of the deep scene. FS

16. Olde English Spelling Bee Everything about Olde English Spelling Bee is irregular. For starters, they’re not English –they’re based in New York, and haven’t even got a post address, just a PO box–, and they have been releasing vinyls since 2006. However, the attention in the media made it look like they are a starting label with incredible signings. What happened is basically that the stars aligned for them: sensual hypnagogic pop was established as an interesting genre and OESB started releasing the multicolour works –between folk, cosmic fantasy, noisy feedback and library music– of debutantes like Julian Lynch, Forest Swords, Pigeons, Autre Ne Veut and Stellar Om Source, on top of the already classic Ducktails and James Ferraro. JB

15. Type Recordings The label of Xela and Stefan Lewandowski keeps going its own way. That is, releasing experimental gems with infinite horizons and a spectral vocation. Records like those by Rene Hell (analogue astronaut), Jefre Cantu-Ledesma (latest generation post-rock) and The North Sea (ultra-dark drone-metal) are more than enough reason to keep believing. Essential for any music lover without boundaries. FS

14. Ghostly International Sam Valenti IV’s label has been exploring the margins between restless electronic music and avant-garde pop for over a decade, always running from stylistic stereotyping and maintaining a very high level of quality. This year was no exception. As usual, there was something for everyone; from Solvent’s lunar synth-pop to The Slight Below’s ambient shoegaze, via the dystopic beats of Shigeto and the IDM candy of Gold Panda. And to top it all off, Matthew Dear, one of the label’s emblems, has once again released a top notch album. FS

13. Brainfeeder Brainfeeder, Flying Lotus’ marsupium that houses the young guns of imaginative and precious beatmaking in California, can proudly say that they haven’t released a lot this year, but they’ve all been very good records indeed. Daedelus opened the year without a whole lot of noise, but both “Nothing Else” by Lorn and the album debut of the multi-faceted Teebs reposition the Angelino label. The year ended with that genius The Gaslamp Killer and his “Death Gate EP”, which became the sixth best-selling electronic music item on iTunes in it’s week of release. MF

12. Hippos In Tanks The Oneohtrix Point Never effect that started only twelve months ago –it was during the dying seconds of 2009 when the Not Not Fun label released the vinyl and cassette catalogue of Daniel Lopatin on CD with the hypnotic “Rifts”–, hasn’t only resulted in the “Returnal” album in 2010. It has also worked up his appetite, which resulted in the Games project, alongside Joel Ford. On Hippos In Tanks a 7” and a 12” were released by Games which show the chart-topping potential of the hypnagogic movement: pop inspired by the eighties, mainstream pop with electronic production and disco music, which more or less marks the path of the rest of the New York label, already followed by the girl with the ghostly harp ( Laurel Halo), the hippie who wants to be Arthur Russell ( D’Eon) and no-wavers White Car. 2011 will be even better. JB

11. Captured TracksIn 2009 they already gave us some 7” and EP pills by Dum Dum Girls, Blank Dogs, Veronica Falls and Brilliant Colors. This year they gave us albums, many albums, that will end up high in the lists of those who like their indie-rock 90s-style –closer to K Records than to Sub Pop. Captured Tracks has outrun Mexican Summer (Best Coast) as the pre-eminent label of the season with the series of much awaited and well-made LPs – Wild Nothing, Aias, Beach Fossils, Dum Dum Girls– while at the same time expanding their roster with various singles that show the way to the next year, during which lo-fi will be hip. JB

10. Tri Angle RecordingsCan a label with only two releases be among the best of the year? In principle, no, but if those two releases define a new sub-genre on their own, it’s obvious that the unwritten rules don’t really count. It’s the case of New York label Tri Angle, founded by Robin Caloran (former 20jazzfunkgreats blogger) and his two spearheads, two beautiful signings: Balam Acab and oOoOO. We don’t know if it’s a witches thing, but there is definitely magic going on here. FS

9. Lucky MeThe merits of the Scottish label aren’t only the edits released by the label with the double eyes. Dominic Flannigan has looked beyond the UK and aquacrunk when it came to expanding the family. First with American Men, the label’s first band, and later with the signings of and EPs by Machinedrum, Lunice and young Jacques Greene, the imprint’s progression has been great this year. Their Sónar showcase gained them points as well, pure fun and cheek. MF

8. Hyperdub Kode 9’s label doesn’t only feed off Burial, that’s what Hyperdub has shown this year. After its fifth birthday in 2009, the brand didn’t dither, and has explored different parts of the British underground, releasing some albums that are among the best of this year. “North” by Darkstar and “Undeniable” by Terror Danjah are their stars, complemented by names like Ikonika, Cooly G and Scratcha DVA. Steve Goodman is in a different league. MF

7. Editions Mego Editions Mego only has one weak point: they have a habit of reissuing Fennesz’ “Endless Summer” every year –objectively the biggest bestseller the label from Vienna has ever released–, sometimes in extended version, others re-mastered and/or on vinyl. But if the revenues are later inverted in releases for the rest of the year, it’s not a problem. The Mego people have been smart enough to anticipate the modular synth hype and signed two of the most visible projects of the neo-kosmische wave, Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds, who on top of that have released their best albums this year. But that’s not the imprint’s only merit: despite the layers of noise (in the case of Cindytalk) and without discarding the usual laptop music (Fenn’O’Berg) and drones (Kevin Drumm) suspects, the label is becoming more accessible in their electronic experimentation every day. JB

6. R&S Recordings A key label in 90s techno, R&S has made one of the most gratifying (and unexpected) comebacks of the last couple of years. It woke up from its long sleep in 2006, with reissues of some of their biggest classics, but this year their return has been fully confirmed, occupying a central spot in the electronic galaxy. And all that, thanks to the combination of releases by names that refer to their classic legacy, like Model 500 and Fabrice Lig, and signings of young luminaries like James Blake, Space Dimension Controller and Pariah. All of them have released EPs that are among the best of the year. In order to dance, again. FS

5. Night Slugs Night Slugs doesn’t occupy the first spot of this list but it did win the green jersey for the best sprinter of the year. Among the mountain of releases L-Vis 1990 and Bok Bok’s label has left us there are some of the anthems of 2010 that have attacked the most select dancefloors dedicated to bass all over the world. Without letting more than two months go by, and without lowering the quality standards and with effective artwork, the brand that came forth from the London parties of the same name was on everyone’s mind this year. Proof of this more than optimum output is the fact that Night Slugs closes the year with a compilation CD of its material - quite a feat for an imprint that’s only been around for one year. MF

4. Domino Albums by Four Tet, Owen Pallett and These New Puritans, retrospectives of Pavement and The Triffids, reissues of Elliot Smith and Galaxie 500, a Panda Bear 7”: 2010 has been a year to remember for Domino, a season during which the label has shown once again that it possesses the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. With an unshakable eclecticism, the company led by Laurence Bell and Jacqui Rice discreetly carried on throughout the 90s until it exploding in the past decade thanks to an extremely accurate signing policy. A paradigm of the modern label that cannot be typecast, Domino has gained itself a privileged spot on the map of contemporary popular music, based on good taste and a love for all things well-done. Respect. FS

3. Planet Mu Planet Mu is incredible. There isn’t another electronic label out there that, for such a long time –it's been around for over a decade– has been capable of taking on every new season as if it was their first. Every day, Mike Paradinas proves to be the ultimate A&R, the biggest talent hunter and trend detector of the universe, and this year, without anybody having told him about it, he uncovered the juke scene of Chicago and signed all of its top names –DJ Roc and DJ Nate at the fore, apart from releasing the compilation “Bangs & Works Vol. 1”–, thus scoring a goal his rivals won’t easily forget. Apart from that, Planet Mu keeps doing its own thing: releasing 12”s of the best outsiders of dubstep (FaltyDL, Raffertie), getting a foot in the door of hypnagogic pop (Tropics, Solar Bears) and signing eccentrics like Oriol or Rudi Zygadlo. JB

2. Lefse Last year Lefse label released it's first reference, Neon Indian's intriguing debut album, “Psychic Chasms”, reissued this year with the addition of a remix CD. But there’s room for more people on Lefse, people with ideas, people who understand pop as a vaporous substance, transparent, hard to catch and which never takes a solid shape. And thanks to a stack of albums with an unreal magnetism –by How To Dress Well, Houses, Phaseone and Bikini–, Lefse has gained an unofficial title: the most unexpected pop label of 2010. Because it goes beyond chill-wave and hypnagogia to touch on spectral R&B, the most technoid side of the shoegaze revival and, without forgetting experimental electronica, the bedroom producers, where it more or less came from. A serious candidate to the title of cult indie label, if it hasn’t already earned it. JB

1. Numbers The label of Wireblock, Stuffrecords and Dress 2 Sweat rises like a giant, greeting its colleagues and revealing its superiority. With legs planted wide apart, a foot in each extreme of the bass spectrum, taking on its different mutations and projecting its triumphant shadow on the ocean of genres that have stepped into the arena in 2010. Numbers boasts names with tradition –like Roska, Untold or Deadboy– and a good handful of debutants up for the job –Redinho, SRC and Kavsrave. Reasons for this victory aren’t only the quality and quantity of the releases. On this website, a peacock’s tail for lovers of new clubbing sounds (if you don’t mind us saying so ourselves), there are dozens of mixes the label has given us. Alongside Jackmaster, (a genius on the decks who could be heard this year at any one of their parties, like at Sónar or on Wednesday afternoons at Ustream) the label is run by Nelson & Goodhand (resident DJs and heads of all the label aesthetics via their Remote Location design company) Simply Richard (former head of Stuffrecords), Spencer (resident DJ and former head of Wireblock alongside Jackmaster and Nelson) and Bobby Cleaver. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… and the 10 we give them. MF

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