Even in the era of Soundcloud and Spotify—perhaps especially in this age of endless choices—record labels are an essential part of our world. They help us to define our tastes, with many becoming shorthand for a specific subgenre ("I'm looking for music that's kind of Brainfeeder-esque, "or "I like music that reminds me of old DJ International tracks); they certainly save us time (if you're an Innervisions fan, for instance, why waste time shopping in the Príncipe section of your local record store or download site?). But mostly, they make us happy—think of that jolt of joy that runs though your body when you find out that your absolute favorite imprint in the world has just offered new tunes for your listening pleasure. So without further ado, here are XLR8R's favorite labels of the year.
Top 10 Labels of 2015
10. Running Back
We'll admit it: We have something of a crush on Gerd Janson. Some of that ardor stems from his DJ sets; he's one of our favorite house-music jocks (with the occasional nod to disco glitter), filling dancefloor as such clubs as Panorama Bar, Closure and Robert Johnson with some of the most groovesome rhythms around. A lot of the credit goes to his production skills, particularly in tandem with Phillip Lauer as one-half of the hard-to-resist Tuff City Kids. But perhaps most of all, we adore him for Running Back, the label that he runs with Thorsten Scheu (a.k.a. Glance). Our affair with Running Back began back in the early '00s, but it really stole our hearts with a fully-loaded 2015, releasing a wide-ranging, uniformly hot batch of tunes from KiNK, Fort Romeau, Tensnake, Octo Octa and many more—including a stunner of a debut from Brian Ring, whose recent three-track deep-houser is something close to brilliant. Alright, we give up—we're in love.
Some people were a bit perplexed when, a few years back, London club Fabric announced it was going to be launching a label dedicated to original material. The club already had not one, but two of the best-loved mix-CD series around, in the long-running form of Fabric and Fabriclive—surely that was enough, wasn't it? But now, by 2015, we totally get it—since its 2013 beginnings, Houndstooth has beguiled us by compiling an immensely varied, uniformly fascinating discography that takes in house, techno, bass music, breakbeat, pop, experimental sounds and whatever else the label can discover, with a degree of quality control that few other imprints can match. And 2015 was perhaps Houndstooth's greatest year yet, with records as diverse as the EBM-esque Document II from Shift Work and the Chicago-jackworthy Raw Materials by Marquis Hawkes to the fractured breaks of Akkord's "Megalith" and the electronic shamanism of Aïsha Devi's Conscious Cunt. More, please!
First as an seminal NYC-based party and more recently as a label, The Bunker New York is one the most respected outfits of the techno realm, particularly among those who crave a bit of adventurism in their electronics. The young imprint may have tempered its schedule a tiny bit after a whirlwind 2014—but what it has put out has been consistently strong and dependently intriguing, with recent music from Clay Wilson, Mark Verbos, Romans (a.k.a. Tin Man and Gunnar Haslam), and LØT.TE all in constant rotation at the XLR8R office. Sure, it's only a few years old, but The Bunker New York has the confident swagger of a label in its prime.
7. Erased Tapes
Erased Tapes had a stellar year in 2015. Nils Frahm's contemporary piano masterpiece, Solo (released in March), set the trajectory, with Kiasmos dropping the Looped EP as a long-awaited follow up to the pair's massive, self-titled album of last year. Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds would then go on a spree—Frahm delivering Late Night Tales and Music for the Motion Picture Victoria, along with three other releases with Arnalds as a duo. Michael Price, The Dawn of Midi, and Masayoshi Fujita would all issue a full-lengths as well, but it was the work of Rival Consoles, and his album Howl, that solidified this esoteric label as one of our absolute favorites of the year. Finishing off with a neoclassical album by Lubomyr Melnyk, and another Kiasmos release featuring a Tale of Us remix, we feel as though Erased Tapes lives in its own world where output is of the highest regard, and all forms of modern and forward-thinking classical music can find a home.
Born out of the London record store of the same name (after an unlikely nudge from Blur’s Damon Albarn), Honest Jon’s Records has been churning out some of the best experimental electronic music for well over a decade now. Ever up for trying new stuff, they took on a host of fresh artists this year, with particularly noteworthy output from Dresvn, Laurel Halo and Sotofett (with his much acclaimed double LP), as well as material from label favorites like the Moritz von Oswald Trio. There are not many other imprints that could boast releases with such caliber as Ricardo Villalobos tackling something as brilliantly obscure a Turkish musician Insanlar, or Kassem Mosse reworking cult singer Simone White, never mind within a few months of each other: it was some year at Honest Jon’s.
Giegling has a pretty unique charm. That's why it found itself in last year's XLR8R Top Ten; even with only a few releases they had made a rather large impression. It was much the same story again this year, with a handful of dreamy releases coming from Matthias Reiling, Map.ache and label stalwart Edward, as well as albums by Zum Goldenen Schwarm and Sa Pa on sub label Forum, all indicating that quality still remains the Weimar label’s preference over quantity. Though the tunes are the driving force behind why we all love them so much, we also love that they still maintain the same close-knit family of artists from the early days—and that they really know how to throw a party. That, plus the music itself, sets Giegling apart.
For sheer breadth of output and consistency, it was hard to go past Richard MacFarlane's 1080p in 2015. The Canadian label dropped over 30 releases this year, its EPs and LPs ranging from dusty minimal to new-age ambient, from hip-hop infused house to old-school jungle, weirdo beats, and well beyond—all of the highest order, we might add. Every year, the label only seems to get stronger, upping the ante with experimentalism and creativity, as well as with the rate of its output—which leads us to believe that 2016 may be the year 1080p indisputedly takes the top spot.
3. Ostgut Ton
Over the past decade, Ostgut Ton has meticulously perfected the craft of positioning its resident DJs and producers to become the strength and foundation of its label. Employing their artist roster to A&R exclusive tracks for mixes centered around Berghain/Panorama Bar, and only releasing music from artists that have a longstanding relationship with it, are a couple of the key components to unique experience they provide to their listeners. Issuing a 30-track vinyl box set for their ten-year anniversary, and easily throwing multiple 72-hour parties with only their label artists on the lineup, are further testament to the strength of the label. With the likes of Function, Steffi, Nick Hoppner, Virginia, Kobosil, and Martyn all having successful releases on the imprint this year, it's no surprise that Ostgut Ton would land this high on our best labels of the year list.
It easy to take Germany's Perlon for granted. After all, the label—launched way back in 1997, with Markus Nikolai and and Thomas "Zip" Franzmann at the helm—has been among the techno and house world's most consistent presences since the beginning, when it offered up still-played EPs from Franzmann (under his other pseudonym, Dimbiman) and Nikolai themselves. Having outlasted all manner of micro/minimal trends, Perlon's still standing tall, largely by focusing on music that's often both serious and friskily good-natured—and for that alone, it deserves our thanks. But that's hardly the end of the story—with recent and excellent output coming from the likes of Vilod and Binh, not to mention Melchior Productions Ltd's Meditation series, the label is as vital as ever. (As if to prove the point, Vilod's Safe In Harbour LP easily made it onto our Best Releases list.) Here's hoping that Perlon sticks around for years to come.
Earlier this year in July, Berlin-based record label 50WEAPONS, created by Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary of Modeselektor and Moderat, that was home to artists such as Marcel Dettmann, Cosmin TRG, and Shed, posted a farewell message that closed with "R.I.P. 50Weapons 2005 - 2015." The Monkeytown sub-label that was widely celebrated for it's successful releases from artists like FJAAK, Benjamin Damage, and Truncate, decided it was time to put the label to a close at its prime. Thanks goes out to the label for all the years of great music by everyone involved. You will be missed.