Labels We Love: 10 More of Our Favorite Labels, Plus Some Newcomers Worth Watching

Author:
Publish date:
lwl_530x450_labelsWeLove

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

Without question, Labels We Love is one of our favorite annual activities here at XLR8R, as the series gives us a chance to recognize some of the top imprints from around the globe. At the same time, putting together Labels We Love is always something of a stressful process, as we can only go deep with a few imprints. The fact is, there are so many quality labels out there that featuring them all, especially in any kind of comprehensive fashion, would be impossible. Still, we want to make sure that we at least shine a small light on those imprints we feel have been particularly interesting over the past year, which is why we've once again assembled this list. We've written a little bit about 10 of our favorite label outposts, and have also taken the time to highlight five newer labels whose impressive initial runs have assured us that they'll be worth watching in the year ahead. Admittedly, these blurbs don't tell the whole story, but we're hoping they'll at least compel readers to take a closer look at what we think are some of the best imprints in the game.

LABELS WE LOVE

apron_lwl_101614

Apron
Apron is the brainchild of Funkineven (a.k.a. Steven Tony Julien), which was initially conceived as an outlet for his own music following a successful run of 12"s for the Eglo imprint. As such, the imprint's early discography is dominated by the London producer's own efforts, but its direction swerved in 2013, when Julien came across L.I.E.S. affiliate Greg Beato's SoundCloud and recruited him for his debut EP. Operating and delivering records without much fanfare—many of them featuring raw, unpolished pieces of analog electro and techno—the label has since become a nucleus for like-minded artists including Seven Davis Jr. and Lord Tusk, not to mention Funkineven's more exploratory efforts under his own St. Julien alias and collaborations with the likes of Delroy Edwards and Jay Daniel. Jay Donaldson

berceuse_lwl_101614

Berceuse Heroique
On the surface, the mysterious Berceuse Heroique label casts a rather dark shadow. Its vinyl resides in plain white sleeves with pasted-on, agitprop-style covers, and the label's Tumblr account makes the Blackest Ever Black aesthetic look downright docile. Dutch producer Ekman has turned in banger after banger for the young label, which has also managed to draw a straight line between UK post-hardcore (via choice reissues of Cousin Cockroach and Horsepower Productions), The Hague (issuing a Unit Moebius remix and a 12" by Koehler), and today's labyrinthine US underground (records by Vereker, MGUN, and Max D). Chicago cosmonaut Jamal Moss (a.k.a. Hieroglyphic Being) has also made an appearance, contributing to the imprint's out-there Brasserie Heroique edits series. With all of these varied contributions, the label's most impressive feat might be its ability to plot a unified aesthetic while drawing from such disparate scenes. Matthew McDermott

comeme_lwl_101614

Cómeme
Since its inception in 2009, Matias Aguayo's freewheeling Cómeme label has flown the flag for a consistently intriguing and party-hearty strain of music that at its core blends various rough-and-ready aspects of modern house and techno with Carnival-ready hails of Latin percussion. Last year was a particularly hectic one for the Cómeme family, with Aguayo's own album The Visitor, EPs from Ana Helder and Barnt, and two One Night in Cómeme compilations among the biggest attention-catchers. Russian producer Philipp Gorbachev's riotous, Aguayo-esque Silver Album and the double-vinyl compilation Gasoline have been 2014's flagship releases, while Christian S. quietly slayed dancefloors with his punky and percussive Pitch Rider EP, and Carisma, a duo from the more traditional Cómeme territory of Buenos Aires, impressed with June's Directamente EP. As if this busy release schedule wasn't enough, the imprint also maintains an online radio channel, Radio Cómeme, which features varied contributions from the bulk of the label roster, including the enticingly oddball selections of rising Cologne talent Lena Willikens. Kit Macdonald

thecorner_lwl_101614

The Corner
Born out of a frustration with the rapid gentrification of New York, The Corner is now an essential source for sounds of a tough aural leaning. Since launching with a split release—featuring cutting hip-hop from Nor'Easter and DJ Qu's aptly titled "Times Like These"—label head Anthony Parasole has gone on to push close and underrated friends such as Shawn O'Sullivan and Phil Moffa, even coaxing an unusually tenacious appearance out of Fred P. Techno veteran Adam X has also made a cameo on the label as X-Crashed, further driving home a gritty, old-school NY vibe. As an added bonus, label art is supplied by Ryan Ilano, a Madison Avenue advertising veteran whose shared fascination with New York street culture has yielded a strong visual aesthetic based around the city's varied history. Having joined the ranks of Berlin's Ostgut agency alongside the residents of iconic techno outpost Berghain—not to mention his current post as a resident DJ at Brooklyn's Output club—Parasole's profile is continuing to climb, and The Corner appears to be rising right alongside it. Jay Donaldson

creme_lwl_101614

Crème Organization
As Dekmantel's Thomas Martojo noted in an interview with XLR8R recently, the infamous electro scene of The Hague—his hometown—largely died a long time ago. The city's most significant label, however, is in ruder health than ever. Founded by Jeroen van der Star (a.k.a. DJ TLR) in 2001, Crème Organization's early highlights included records by Legowelt, Orgue Electronique, and Bangkok Impact, all of which garnered extra attention because of electroclash while being militantly separate from it. The imprint weathered the mid-'00s obsession with minimal that did in many like-minded labels and distributors, and has of late benefited from the resurgence of rough-edged sounds and spiky attitude—things that were synonymous with Crème years before the appearance of L.I.E.S. and other similarly unpolished outposts. Legowelt's Crystal Cult 2080 album was an obvious standout this year, but EPs from the likes of Yor and Myriadd have also shone brightly in a packed release schedule. Kit Macdonald

hivern_lwl_101614

Hivern Discs
Barcelona mainstay John Talabot founded Hivern Discs back in 2008 as a way to showcase budding producers from his country's oft-overlooked dance scene. Early on, the label largely focused on limited 12" releases from Madrid's Pional and Talabot himself, but the roster soon expanded to include the likes of brawny house producer Kresy, Barcelona duo Aster, and other artists traversing the sensual continuum between house and techno. Over the past year, Hivern has grown further in stature with a remix EP of cuts from The xx's Coexist, the bewitching, cosmic techno of C.P.I.'s "El Túnel" b/w Proceso"—a collaboration between Mark Piñol and Hugo Capablanca—along with efforts from Trances (a.k.a. El Guincho) and Man Power. In addition, Talabot's and Axel Boman's intriguing Talaboman project has seen a joint vinyl debut via Hivern and Boman's own Studio Barnhus imprint. With each new release, the Catalan label is cementing its reputation as an imprint that's not afraid to take risks, but also can be counted upon to deliver what's increasingly being thought of as a distinctly Spanish sound. Chris Kokiousis

iliantape_lwl_101614

Ilian Tape
Munich label Ilian Tape was founded in 2007 by brothers Dario and Marco Zenker and has since moved forward on the back of the duo's impeccable taste, steely hard work, and pragmatism. A techno enterprise through and through, Ilian Tape started right at the moment when vinyl sales began to take a major downturn, with only an early move into digital-only releases and a suddenly implemented DIY approach to everything from mastering to PR saving the label from closure before it had even really got going. 2010's Plex EP by Jichael Mackson was the label's first physical release in three years, and served as a major staging post, both in the imprint's return to financial good health and its move from minimal to dubbier techno territory. Now nearing 50 releases, Ilian Tape continues to turn out various shades of unwaveringly high-quality techno by Dario and Marco themselves—working both in tandem and as solo artists—as well as Jonas Kopp and Italian pair Stenny & Andrea, among others. Kit Macdonald

larj_lwl_101614

Live at Robert Johnson
Working in tandem with the famous Frankfurt club of the same name, Live at Robert Johnson was initially best known for its superb series of Fabric-style mix CDs, which began in 2008 with Chloe's contribution and went on to include unmissable editions from the likes of Ivan Smagghe, Prins Thomas, and Arto Mwambe. Dixon's 2011 offering was the final Live at Robert Johnson mix, and in the years since, the imprint has become an even bigger success as a more conventionally structured house label. Recent highlights have come via a couple of EPs of deeply melodic sunrise house from Orson Wells, last year's essential Lifesaver compilation—which gathered together tracks from Roman Flügel, The Citizen's Band, Tuff City Kids, and Lauer, amongst others—and the soaring, retro-flavored treat that is Massimiliano Pagliara's just-released With One Another LP. Kit Macdonald

rzone_lwl_101614

R-Zone
Conceived by Hague scene mainstay DJ TLR as an imprint to shed the expectations of his venerable Crème Organization label, R-Zone has taken on an unruly personality all its own. Beginning in 2013, the label's garish neon sleeves heralded anonymous missives from hardware-obsessed underground producers, with hints of their identities buried in the matrix runout. It may be fodder for Discogs nerds, but R-Zone is also a throwback to a simpler time when diehards scoured internet bulletin boards and blindly mail-ordered records. (Fittingly, TLR revived the legendary Global Darkness forums earlier this year.) Not surprisingly, the music possesses a retro element as well. Catalog highlight "Jungle Raver," off R-Zone 6, could have been sourced from YouTube footage of a '90s hillside rave, while R-Zone 11's "Visions of a Deepweb" evokes a cyberpunk internet frontier with both its title and FM synth arpeggiations. Still, the label is not merely some anachronistic curio. R-Zone 3's "Dead" is one of the best acid techno bombs in recent memory, and if TLR's track record is any indication, the quality won't let up. Matthew McDermott

trilogytapes_lwl_101614

The Trilogy Tapes
It's been another banner season for Will Bankhead's The Trilogy Tapes, a London-based label that has deservedly received lots of love in these parts the past few years. And what's not to love about a company with a wide-ranging aesthetic that includes mixing media (12"s, CD-Rs, digital, and, of course, tapes, including double cassette releases), genres (noise, drone, Japanese folk, reggae, garage, grime, dubstep, deep house, techno, electro, punk, and classic rock), and attracting stellar artists like Theo Parrish, A Made Up Sound and Dario Zenker for one-offs in 2014? Others to release on TTT this year include Anthony Naples, Ekman, Willie Burns, Chemotex (a.k.a. Marcos Cabral), and Rezzett. However, some of the deepest stuff can be found farther down in the catalog. It's worth digging for limited mixtapes by DJ TLR and Ben UFO (good luck finding those), and vinyl releases by prolific noise vet Andrew Coltrane and rising Detroit house/techno talent MGUN (a.k.a. Manuel Gonzales), whose artfully sick The Near Future EP helped jump start his promising career in late 2012. Walter Wasacz

LABELS ON THE RISE

1080p_lwl_101614

1080p
Richard MacFarlane grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand, co-running the Kiwi music blog Rose Quartz in his spare time. Now based in Vancouver, MacFarlane has parlayed years of web curation into the limited cassette and digital label 1080p. Launched in the summer of 2013, the label has maintained a brisk schedule while exploring good-humored, homespun takes on experimental dance music gathered from MacFarlane's own creative circles and online discoveries. His easygoing, DIY mentality is personified by 1080p's cartoony aesthetic—it's equal parts internet collage and primitive 3-D tableaus—and the label's laid-back approach has also freed up its artists to tinker without worrying too much about critical reception. Nevertheless, recent forays by UNO noise prankster Gobby, fluttery house producer Khotin, Vancouver hardware manipulator Lnrdcroy, and the collaborative ATM project from Perfume Advert and M/M attest to a level of quality that's not seen with many tape labels. 1080p may be moving at blog speed, but also puts out consistently intriguing music. Chris Kokiousis

bunker_lwl_101614

The Bunker New York
The Bunker, a New York party institution headed up by Bryan and Seze Kasenic, waited a full 11 years before launching the record label companion to its events and booking agency. That said, each of the label's nine 2014 releases (nearly one per month) have shown the same kind of impeccable curation that has made The Bunker such a standout in the NYC club scene. There's an equal focus on young New York talent (Clay Wilson, Forma) and esteemed foreign guests of the party (Marco Shuttle, Voices from the Lake), and the young label also appears to have a knack for coaxing unexpected material out of its artists. (New York neo-kosmische trio Forma approached the Bunker with a pair of dancefloor-oriented tracks; Atom™ was convinced to flesh out material that was originally conceived as part of a satirical history of acid house.) Next month, The Bunker will wrap its inaugural run with The Periodic Table, a live LP from Reagenz, the collaborative project of Jonah Sharp and Move D. The album is The Bunker New York's first full-length, and was actually recorded at the party's 10th anniversary last year. And like many of the label's releases, its genesis seems like the sort of thing that might have been spawned by a late-night conversation between smart people in a loud, dark room. Matthew McDermott

lobstertheremin_lwl_101614

Lobster Theremin
Born from London club night Streets of Beige, Lobster Theremin announced itself a year ago with Palms Trax's superb Equation EP, which caught the imagination with three neo-Chicago house gems and included an excellent remix from Willie Burns for good measure. (Full disclosure: Palms Trax is a regular XLR8R contributor.) Label founder Jimmy Asquith says hearing and wanting to share the tracks that would become Equation was his reason for starting up an imprint after toying with the idea for years. Now that the wheels are finally in motion, however, Lobster Theremin has quickly gained serious momentum, putting out over a dozen records in the intervening months while also launching a white label series, a black label series, and a proper sublabel, Mörk. Despite early assumptions to the contrary, Lobster Theremin is not actually a vinyl-only outlet, yet its releases have generally continued down the same hazily full-blooded route established by Equation, with Imre Kiss's foggily atmospheric Raw Energy EP, Snow Bone's spacey, thrumming Mystic Vision, and Palms Trax's sophomore effort Forever being particularly noteworthy. Kit Macdonald

moodhut_lwl_101614

Mood Hut
Vancouver's Mood Hut got its start as a DIY cassette label and party, taking its name from a studio space shared by a clutch of local producers. The label began making inroads into the vinyl market last year with Cloudface's Devonian Garden 12", and subsequent releases have retained its love of analog machines and bargain-bin finds. Output from Mood Hut's core collective (including Hashman Deejay, one-third of Aquarian Foundation, and Jack J of the Pender Street Steppers duo) tends to emphasize the label's vibey overall aesthetic, although its members have recently been spotted on like-minded labels such as Going Good and People's Potential Unlimited. Willingly or otherwise, Mood Hut has been the subject of a lot of hype over the past year—a recent tour saw the label's profile explode with appearances on Boiler Room and Ben UFO's Rinse FM show—but the crew's commitment to authenticity and fun doesn't seem to have been much compromised. Jay Donaldson

nous_lwl_101614

Nous
Since its inception last year, Nous has kept a fairly low profile, and relies mostly on word of mouth to attract new followers. But the label's overall aesthetic—a brittle, somewhat melodic take on house music that calls to mind the output of fellow Greek label Echovolt—has shown itself to be remarkably consistent, with its Berlin-based label head putting his A&R skills to good use in recruiting producers like Route 8, Militiades, and Spoiled Drama. The label's Various Artist compilation also merits mention; with the likes of L.I.E.S. affiliate NGLY and Deepblak fixture Afrikan Sciences remixing material from the label's first four offerings, the EP shows that despite its youth, Nous has already begun to develop a mature signature. Jay Donaldson