Labels We Love: 10 More of Our Favorite Labels, Along with a Few Newcomers Worth Watching

Publish date:
Updated on

All week long, XLR8R is presenting its annual focus on Labels We Love. Click here to check out the rest of the series.

After putting together a few in-depth Labels We Love features about some of our favorite labels, we quickly realized that we wouldn't be able to give all of our favorite imprints that kind of attention this week. Nevertheless, we still wanted to shine a little light on some additional labels that have been particularly strong in 2013. Although this list—which is simply being presented in alphabetical order—certainly doesn't contain the names of every single imprint that we're fond of, it does account for the 10 labels whose output has truly been head and shoulders above the rest of the pack during the past year. And though it was extremely difficult to whittle our choices down to just 10 selections, we couldn't bring ourselves to end the Labels We Love list-making there. After all, a lot of impressive new imprints have popped up on our radar during the past 12 months, often out of nowhere, so we wanted to give a bit of attention to four newbies whose initial output has been especially full of promise.



Over the past few years, it's been hard to argue with the run that Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian "Charlie" Szary (a.k.a. Modeselektor) have put together with their 50Weapons imprint. Though its catalog may not be tied to any one genre in particular, the label's dedication to adventurous dancefloor fare with an emphasis on bass weight has made for a discography that is consistently dependable and uncommonly powerful. In recent years, the label has developed a rotating cast of regulars—including Berlin transplant Benjamin Damage, techno convert Cosmin TRG, 808 master Addison Groove, and the percussion-obsessed Bambounou—while respected veterans such as Shed, Marcel Dettmann, and Untold also pop in to make periodic appearances. 50Weapons may lack a concrete sonic image, but it more than makes up for it with its ability to continually release top-notch tracks with a low-end wallop. Given that the music has been plucked from across a wide range of the bass-music and techno spectrums, it seems that the 50Weapons catalog is essentially the result of Bronsert and Szary finding and releasing the music they like, without regard for much else. Fortunately, the pair has some fine taste and, perhaps more importantly, some talented friends to keep the tunes coming. Glenn Jackson


There's a reason that Clone has appeared on this list multiple years in a row. Quite simply, the Dutch record store-turned-label is one of the most consistently well-curated entities in contemporary dance music. What's more impressive is that the label's quality level has remained so high, even after Serge Verschuur, its founder, decided to filter its output through a myriad of sub-labels in 2009. That splintering has turned out to be a positive thing, and now, in 2013, many of those sub-labels have practically developed into fully fledged imprints of their own. In particular, this year has seen a lot of activity on Jack for Daze, which focuses on a tracky and hardware-driven '80s house sound that has shined on L-Vis 1990's Circuits and The Artist Formerly Known As 19.454.'s "Spadesdance." Fellow sub-label Royal Oak has also been active, releasing more straightforward house offerings like Headless Ghost's stab-heavy Frontend EP and Space Dimension Controller's G-funk-tinged Correlation #1. The Clone West Coast series (which references the electro music often associated with Dutch coastal towns like The Hague) remains another strong outpost, particularly with the release of Versalife's epically paranoid Vantage Point LP. Regardless of which sub-label is doing the releasing, there's little question that Clone can be counted upon as a bastion of quality and consistency. Derek Opperman


Given Fabric's pedigree as a nightclub and record label, it's no surprise that its Houndstooth offshoot has been a similar bastion of quality. Named for the distinctive pattern that inspired Fabric's logo and headed up by Rob Booth of the esteemed Electronic Explorations blog, Houndstooth has been churning out quality releases at a steady clip since launching with Call Super's The Present Tense in February of this year. Since then, the young imprint has dabbled in dub (House of Black Lanterns' wonderfully smoky "Like A Warrior"), cavernous sound design (Akkord's Navigate EP), and even orchestral anthems like Snow Ghost's melancholy "And The World Was Gone." In addition to bringing veteran techno producer Dave Clarke out of retirement as _Unsubscribe_, Houndstooth has played a key role in the recent resurrection of jungle, releasing Paul Woolford's gnashing pirate-radio love letters as Special Request on the Hardcore EP and the exemplary Soul Music LP. It's been a tremendous nine months for Houndstooth, and we're hoping the prodigious output can continue to be so consistently revelatory. Aaron Gonsher


Over the past couple of years, the L.I.E.S. label has steadily gained a reputation and following the old-fashioned way—releasing an endless stream of 12"s (and the occasional LP) with almost no PR, and, more importantly, no bullshit. It doesn't hurt that label boss Ron Morelli has assembled one of the tightest rosters in the game, one made up of friends and acquaintances with a shared desire to take house and techno back to basics. Still, L.I.E.S. isn't merely rehashing classic house and techno; its releases rework those structures, and often undergirds them with dense layers of hiss and scree. The label's recent output has made 2013 something of a banner year; between the polyrhythmic techno exercises of Marcos Cabral's False Memories LP and the haunted vocal house of Florian Kupfer's Lifetrax, not to mention reliable transmissions from label denizens such as Bookworms and Steve Summers, L.I.E.S. seems to be working within a larger range of styles than ever before. And with no sign of letting up its prolific output, it's hard to shake the feeling that we're seeing one of today's most important underground American house imprints in its prime. Tim Gentles


Livity Sound/Punch Drunk

Bristol has long stood as a unique and vital hub for inventive, strong-armed dance music, and in recent years, the vinyl-focused Livity Sound label has set up camp on the city's leading edge. Jointly run by veteran tunesmith Tom Ford (a.k.a. Peverelist) and fast-rising producers Joe Cowton (a.k.a. Kowton) and Craig Stennett (a.k.a. Asusu), Livity Sound has served as a reliable source for machinist workouts laced with efficient rhythms and expertly applied touches of space and mood. Relying on the label heads themselves to provide the imprint's entire catalog, Peverelist (usually operating simply as Pev) and Kowton have proven be a particularly successful pairing, delivering the excellent "End Point" b/w "Vapours," while outings such as Asusu's "Velez" b/w "Rendering" have shown the budding talent to be fully capable of holding its own. The much-anticipated Livity Sound double-LP is set to drop next week, and looks poised to elevate the imprint's reputation even further. At the same time, as Livity Sound's run has ramped up, Ford's own Punch Drunk label—a longstanding Bristol institution—has slid slightly into the background. That said, with the long-running label now building at an unhurried pace, its catalog has remained essential, as Ford's own collaboration alongside hometown upstart Hodge, "Bells (System Mix)" b/w "Bells (Dream Sequence)," provided another triumph for the label this year. Together, Livity Sound and Punch Drunk appear to have their fingers on the pulse of Bristol, a place that continues to be an important hub of forward-thinking dance music. Glenn Jackson


Mister Saturday Night
Overtly influenced by the inclusive ethos of David Mancuso's Loft and driven by the ebullient DJing of founders and residents Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin, Mister Saturday Night was a New York institution even before the crew celebrated its 100th party last year. But once Mister Saturday Night started up a vinyl-only label around the same time and kicked things off with Anthony Naples' Mad Disrespect EP, its reputation skyrocketed internationally. Building upon the runaway success of Naples' dusty, sample-based house outings (he also delivered the "Moscato" 12" for the label), MSN has shown a knack for spotting diverse young talent amongst its legions of followers, as both Alex Burkat, who produced the lush Shower Scene, and Hank Jackson, the man behind the tough techno of the Deposit EP, were both frequent party attendees. The label's output also includes Dark Sky's cloudy house and the casually inventive jazz of trio Archie Pelago's self-titled EP, but even as Mister Saturday Night continues to expand its range, there's little question that the tunes have been selected with the party's inviting atmosphere as an ongoing inspiration. Aaron Gonsher


Ostgut Ton
Resident DJs and supporters of Berlin's Berghain nightclub are usually quite vocal in their denial of a unified "Berghain techno" sound, often arguing that the club has a more broad-reaching soundtrack than the dark, industrial techno its name has come to evoke. And while that may be true of the club's weekend-long parties, it's at least possible to detect a semblance of cohesion in the diverse yet surgically clean releases of its in-house label, Ostgut Ton. 2013 has been good to the imprint, with a spread of releases that includes everything from melodically driven ambiance to harder-edged industrial percussion. On the former half of that spectrum was Steffi's Panorama Bar 05 mix, a hazy trip through moody deep house that made for one of the series' best installments so far. Similar, though more techno-leaning, was Marcel Fengler's Fokus, an album-length continuation of his recent ambient-techno experiments. Harder stuff was in abundance as well, in particular on LPs like Marcel Dettmann's minimal Dettmann II and Function's often creepy Incubation. Add in an even more varied list of EPs by the likes of Rolando, Len Faki, and Nick Höppner, and it's not hard to understand why the German label has been one of our favorites. Derek Opperman


RVNG Intl.
Matt Werth's RVNG Intl. has always been an exacting, quality-over-quantity enterprise. Werth is an enthusiastic owner willing to put in the effort to make his catalog distinctive; as a result, the label is perhaps best known for its FRKWYS series, which pairs young, emerging musicians with older, more established ones. That series hasn't seen an edition in 2013, and in reality, there haven't been a ton of RVNG Intl. releases so far this year, just three LPs and a 12". But the label's drops increasingly feel like events, whether it's Maxmillion Dunbar's summery, shimmering House of Woo collection, Stellar Om Source's crazed, discombobulated, Kassem Mosse-assisted Joy One Mile (and its accompanying "Elite Excel" 12"), or Blondes' Swisher LP, which is easily the duo's most accomplished set so far, not to mention an album that revives old-school motifs on a free-flowing, big-room scale. It takes a lot for a label to seem like it has a mature, dignified agenda in this day and age (especially without seeming like it hates fun), but Werth is absolutely pulling it off. Steve Kerr


The Trilogy Tapes
Former Mo' Wax visual director and frequent Honest Jon's designer Will Bankhead has been branding releases with the The Trilogy Tapes name for years. A glance through the label's online presence reveals everything from reggae and noise cassettes to posters and t-shirts designed by the man himself (including one for Torsten "T++" Pröfrock's early alias Traktor), not to mention an involvement with London skateboard brand du jour Palace. This year has been as superb as the last, offering releases by known leftfield entities Anthony Naples, Tuff Sherm, and DJ Spider & Marshallito. The unique curation doesn't stop there, as Bankhead has even made room for YouTube oddity Rezzett and a cassette by Rub N Tug's Thomas Bullock as Tom Of England. This restless mix of upstarts and luminaries, often appearing in small runs and in unusual capacities, is more than enough to please even the most jaded record fiends. Steve Kerr


Led by one of electronic music's most enigmatic innovators, Actress' Werkdiscs label has in many ways reflected the man's own course as an artist over the years, consistently reporting back from the headier regions of dance music while often evolving along less-traveled sonic paths. While much of Werkdiscs' run has seen the label look to a more regular cast of contributors—Lone and Lukid were tapped early on, while the imprint has of course continued to release the work of Actress himself—this year has seen the addition of some new names to the stable, specifically semi-anonymous Londoner Moiré and Hamburg producer/DJ Helena Huff (a regular selector at the renowned Golden Pudel club). Werkdiscs may not be a label that turns out an overwhelming volume of music, but it's this selectiveness and seemingly organic cultivation that allows listeners an ample amount of time to process the singular sounds its artists have to offer. Emphasizing texture while coming cloaked in mystery, the veins of house and techno explored on Werkdiscs offer subdued tones and subtle movements. The impression left is often a faceless one, but it's no less impactful for those willing to tag along with the label's sporadic voyages into the undiscovered corners of dance music. Glenn Jackson



Argot/Tasteful Nudes
Recent years have seen a surge in the popularity of classic American dance music, yet it sometimes feels like only a fraction of that music is actually being released by American labels. Enter Argot and its Tasteful Nudes sub-label, two imprints started by Little White Earbuds editor Steve Mizek that strive to at least partially reconnect the music to its geography. That said, Mizek's approach is far from dogmatic, as he's recently issued first-wave Detroit techno by Elizabeth Merrick-Jefferson, cheerful deep house by Bristolian producer Borai, and spaced-out hardware jams by Gunnar Haslam. Considering that he only began in 2012, it would seem that Mizek's labels are poised to do very good things in the years to come. Derek Opperman


Fifth Wall
Co-founded at the start of this year by the Brooklyn-based DJ/producer pair of Divvorce and Hound Scales, Fifth Wall has already made an impact with its outsider techno stance. With a sensibility that injects a playful, rave-inflected spin into most techno's over-tweaked, Ableton-perfected fare, the label started off with two solo releases from the respective co-founders before branching out with the Man Out of Dubs EP from Scottish duo Clouds and a record from Irish producer Myler. It was towards the middle of this year that Fifth Wall really seemed to hit its stride, releasing The XX Files EP from San Franciso-based weirdo Matrixxman and a second EP, Femen, from Hound Scales, both of which showcased the label's instinct for raw and unhinged techno. With a forthcoming EP from NYC genre-bender Physical Therapy scheduled to drop next week, Fifth Wall's streak of idiosyncratic and intriguing releases looks set to continue. Tim Gentles


Anthony Naples was lauded by DJs ranging from Four Tet to Francois K in the wake of his breakthrough releases on Mister Saturday Night, but the Brooklyn producer's Proibito imprint has traversed rougher terrain. Releases thus far from Huerco S. (operating under his Royal Crown of Sweden alias), Local Artist, and Naples himself have reveled in analog crackle while deftly sidestepping the already tired "outsider house" tag, emphasizing woozy samples, weighty basslines, and erratic percussion. With a record from rising Brooklynite (and fellow Mister Saturday Night alumnus) Hank Jackson in the works, Proibito appears to be taking on a familial vibe; moreover, there's a casual melodicism at work on the records that suggests a crowded living room, gear strewn about, with each friend getting a turn at the controls. Aaron Gonsher


Styles Upon Styles
Brooklyn imprint Styles Upon Styles opened its doors in 2012 with a bold, brave approach; essentially, label founders Cam Curran and Phil Tortoroli sought out producers they liked, and then lined up the artists' most club-ready and experimental offerings on the opposite sides of a single slab of vinyl. The series was dubbed Bangers & Ash, and it put the young label on the map with entries from the likes of Tomlaan, Clay Wilson, kuxxan SUMM, King Garbage, and Best Available Technology. More importantly, those records laid the groundwork for Styles Upon Styles to expand its reach, a process that began with the release of a proper EP from Brooklyn trio Archie Pelago. The young label's catalog is already a delight to dig through, and our enjoyment will hopefully keep rising as Styles Upon Styles continues its exploration of nebulous, adventurous territory. Brad Stabler