One thing that comes up time and time again when you speak to record label owners is the concept of family. Of groups of artists who have found creative common ground and respect each other's art to the point where they basically become blood relations. Musical ride or dies. "It’s a band of brothers and sisters, a band of people and friends who are out on their own, exploring the creative space," says Skrillex of the OWSLA squad, while Jamie Jones says that the Hot Creations crew "all come from the bottom and we are all growing together". These "families" bring through young artists, incubate new sounds and, ultimately, push dance music forward into the future, where it belongs.
Most labels form around artists who want to break with tradition. Bored with electronic music's status quo, they'll start doing their own thing, on their own terms and, all going well, change dance music forever. That's why, back when minimal reigned supreme, Solomun started a melodic house music label called DIYnamic and it's why, armed with a hard drive of cutting-edge club music that no one else would release, Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 started Night Slugs. Countless labels begin this way, each one creating a hub for like-minded artists as well as a platform for their music, which is, of course, what we're all here for.
It's clear that record labels are the engine room of electronic music, individual operations powered by blood, sweat and tears. “We do this because of the love of music," Armada co-founder Maykel Piron says. "We are just releasing the music we love." And the last decade, 2007-2017, has seen activity from some of the most important labels in dance music history, which have launched myriad new genres and sub-genres such as dubstep, footwork, French electro, gqom, UK funky, nu disco, LA beats, nu rave, post-dubstep, bass-house, lofi and deconstructed club. It's basically been the best decade for dance music ever so what better way to celebrate than by giving shine to the labels that made it happen?
Below are the top 50 Labels Of The Decade as voted for by Mixmag readers. Thank you all for taking part, we hope you enjoy the results...
50 Little Helpers
One of the rare record labels that releases music for strict use in DJ sets, Little Helpers focuses on material that's exactly like the label name suggests. You won't even find track names on Butane and Someone Else's imprint, as each track is titled Little Helper followed by a number corresponding to it's slot in the release schedule. The concept is this: an artist produces six tracks with a similar motif, each with slight, but essential differences. If a DJ is looking for the perfect track to add to their set, Little Helpers has them covered. It's one of the most unique labels in the industry for these reasons, and its relentless output allows for the catalogue to include material for any and all occasions.
49 Pets Recordings
If Pets Recordings didn't exist, Eats Everything's DJ career may have been non-existent. He was close to jacking his dream in before Catz 'N Dogz picked up dizzying house jam 'Entrance Song' in 2011. Luckily for us, they were wise enough to put it out to the masses. Another huge release is Rachel Row's 'Follow The Step'. Whether you're a one-off Ibiza visitor or a season regular, you would've heard the lyrics echoing through the island's clubs. Playfulness is what Catz 'N Dogz do (just check the artwork for their album 'Basic Colour Theory') and that seeps into the label's output – incredibly infectious, fun-time house music.
Ever since LA Priest’s ‘Engine’ catapulted its way onto dancefloors around the world, Phantasy Sound has been evolving and expanding at a rate that’s been a joy to watch. Erol Alkan’s London-based label has been responsible for releases that have not only taken clubland by storm, but also the greater music universe. Connan Mockasin released two beautifully expansive albums via the label, Daniel Avery dropped his career-propelling ‘Drone Logic’ and EPs from Boys Noize, Tom Rowlands and Cowboy Rhythmbox have continued to push the imprint’s sound further and further into the future than we could have imagined.
When it comes to underground house music, Robsoul has pumped out material at an incredible rate. Lead by the French savant Phil Weeks, the imprint is home to music produced by legends like Joss Moog, Rick Wade, DJ Wild, D'Julz and DJ Sneak, even locking in these artists before they were household names. In more recent years as well, the label has continued to showcase material by rising talents that are set to break though, including Tommy Vicari Jnr, Around7 and Reda Dare. If you're looking to discover the past, current and future talent of house music, look no further than Robsoul.
46 Suara Music
Whether partying on dancefloors in Ibiza, London, New York City or any other rave destination, chances are you've had a Suara release hypnotize your senses. Focusing on the deeper and melodic shades of house, Coyu's imprint has been a strong purveyor of tracks that DJs simply love to play and when coming across the unmistakable cat record covers at record stores, they simply beg our attention. The label is home to household names like Henry Saiz, Jeremy Olander, Mark Knight and Pete Tong, proving Suara is a strong force in the industry.
As well as being a fertile period for musical innovation, the past decade has seen a surge in the role of artists’ digital and online presence. DJs have become brands, lording over vast empires of social media mangers and assistants. Perlon on the other hand are among dance music’s most elusive crews, shying away from the press, and rarely releasing on any format other than vinyl. It’s unsurprising that they’ve chosen to eschew what has become the conventional norm – at times it feels like Perlon exists in its own world. Even as the height of the minimal phenomenon came and went, Markus Nikolai and Zip’s Berlin-based imprint has remained as vital as ever in its second decade of operation. Consistently releasing breathtaking records that take listeners into immersive, trippy, mind-bending zones of consciousness, Perlon artists are exemplary of figures who only need their music to do the talking.
If Detroit is the home of techno and Derrick May is one of the founding fathers, Transmat is the go-to market place showcasing the innovation and evolution of the genre. Seeing as the label was founded in 1986, the catalogue stretches back to include seminal tracks like May's 'Strings Of Life', but in more recent years its contemporary output has guided dance music with releases by DVS1, Francesco Tristano and Hiroshi Watanabe. Whether looking to the past, or the future, Transmat's place among the most renowned imprints in the history of dance music is firmly placed.
For many, Montreal belongs to Tiga and his imprint Turbo Recordings, which was established in 1998 following Tiga’s success and building of a cult-like following within and beyond Quebec’s borders. Boasting a tagline “home of the hits”, Turbo has stayed true to its promise with release after release, featuring both local and international top-tier talents like Jesper Dahlbäck, Chromeo, Duke Dumont, Charlotte de Witte, Amine Edge & DANCE, Andhim, Gesaffelstein and of course, label boss Tiga himself.
42 Night Slugs
In an underground club scene that's constantly expanding and mutating, many innovations lead back to the imprint that started it all. To say that Night Slugs paved the way for a whole plethora of new sounds, visions and artists would be nothing short of the truth. Helmed by Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990, the label started as an off-shoot of a series of South London club nights back in 2010. The imprint harnessed an exciting new movement that was dominating dancefloors in the capital and beyond, opening the doors to a new calibre of experimental, but always danceable, material. The label pioneered a new wave of bass music, as the Night Slugs name became as synonymous with the concept of “club” as the constructions themselves. Jam City, Mosca, Kingdom, Girl Unit, Kelela and more are just a few of the futuristic figures considered part of the Night Slugs family and recently it's looked beyond its instrumental 12" roots and moved into more vocal-focused directions. It may be more than just a bass label now, but we have Night Slugs to thank for the club scene we know and love today.
41 Planet Mu
At this point, Planet Mu is 19 years old and it'll probably go for another 19 at the very least if owner Mike Paradinas' lust for new, experimental club music is anything to go by. Indeed, 10 years feels like small beer to Mu, which is dedicated to cultivating the very latest styles, no matter how batshit crazy. But a lot changes in a decade and the imprint has been there to document it all. Its 2007 compilation ‘10 Tons Heavy’ surveyed dubstep’s fiercest side; in 2009 it welcomed in the myriad sub genres that flourished during the post-dubstep years, releasing wonky, purple wow and broken UK funky; seminal footwork compilation ‘Bangs & Works’ dropped in 2010, with Mu the first European label to properly adopt the Chicago sound; it also cultivated artists from beyond the Windy City who were putting their own spin on footwork; in 2014 it put out Mr Mitch’s debut album, a watershed moment for a new-skool of instrumental grime producers and over the last couple of years it’s provided a platform for out-there new “club music”, plucking obscure producers from SoundCloud and stamping their name to wax. Is there a label that’s mirrored what’s going on in the ever-changing underground of electronic music as Planet Mu? Doubtful.
40 Circus Recordings
We’re big fans of naughty tech house at Mixmag. In fact we went so far as to call it the greatest dance music sub-genre of all time earlier this year. Since its inception in 2009, Circus Recordings has been a go-to for the naughtiest, coal-receiving-at-Christmas tunes across dancefloors from London to Ibiza. As the label name suggests, Circus releases are all about bringing the party. Hot Since 82, Cuartero and Harry Romero are all regular contributors while the label has also put out records from dons like Carl Cox, DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, Nicole Moudaber, Marco Carola, Davide Squillace and of course Green Velvet. The latter’s 2013 smash ‘Bigger Than Prince’ is still a staple track for any self-respecting tech ‘ouse selector.
In terms of a label that showcases top underground talent at a consistent rate, AUS Music is a clear favourite among record collectors and DJs. With artists like Marquis Hawkes, Youandewan, Paul Woolford, Midland and Bicep making repeat appearance on Will Saul and Fink's imprint, fans have come to expect nothing short of brilliance. Soulful and emotive house music has been its specialty, placing emphasis on raw and organic textures both nostalgic and contemporary. Play it safe and don't ever sleep on a release from Aus, the label truly works magic on the dancefloor.
38 Soma Quality Recordings
Soma is the name of the opiate sedative that’s used as a population controlling substance by the government in Aldous Huxley’s utopian/dystopian novel Brave New World. If a parallel can be drawn to Soma Quality Recordings, it’s that the Glasgwegian imprint exerts itself forcefully over human bodies in the club, pummelling limbs into euphoric dancing submission with the force of its weighty techno cuts. Founded by Dave Clarke and Slam in 1991, Soma made early waves of tsunami proportions as the site of Daft Punk’s debut releases. Its relevance has not dipped since, with the past decade seeing the likes of Richie Hawtin, Rebekah, Deepchord and its founding members release dark, powerful records that ensure ears across the world can’t fail to take notice.
You’d be hardpressed to find a fanbase as dedicated and fiercely loyal than the genre of trance, and specifically, of Above & Beyond. So it’s no surprise that Anjunabeats, created in 2000 by Jono Grant and Paavo Siljamäki of the electronic supergroup, has remained at the top of label lists across 17 years. Named after the iconic trance destination of Goa beach in India, Anjunabeats has been recognized as one of the Best Global Dance Labels across the decade and housed releases from standout artists like Mat Zo, 16 Bit Lolitas, Yotto, Andrew Bayer and of course, the dons Above & Beyond.
36 Exit Records
Experimentation is something Exit Records thrives on. Although primarily recognised as a drum 'n' bass label, Exit refuses to stick within the template that comes with that. Instead, its output over the years has included broken beat, glitchy hip hop beats and relentless juke and footwork. 2016's 'Who Is Richie Brains?' LP, produced by the Richie Brains super crew including Fracture, Alix Perez and Stray, is the strongest example yet that Exit sees no boundaries. With dBridge at the helm, and d'n'b icons like Calibre also providing material, limits are continuously being broken.
35 Ilian Tape
Unwavering passion is at the core of any important record label, serving as a vital ingredient for sustained musical success. Munich-based siblings the Zenker Brothers have channelled driving dedication by the bucketload into their Ilian Tape imprint since Dario Zenker launched it in 2007, and over time their commitment combined with ears for a melodic dub techno gem has established the outlet among Europe’s most revered. Early setbacks like a crushing vinyl distribution debt amid the financial crash that forced the imprint into a period of digital-only releases failed to deter the brothers, who have stayed unwavering in their pursuit of providing a platform for producers to flex their artistic freedom and craft inventive, atmospheric music that’s rich with feeling. After pouring so much of themselves into Ilian Tape, the label has become an ingrained part of the Zenker Brothers’ identity, and artists and fans across the globe have been drawn into and won over by their vision. In 2017 Ilian Tape hit an apex with a 24-date European tour through the continent’s best clubs and release of an acclaimed 10 anniversary compilation - a testament to their thriving impact upon this period.
Brainfeeder is a label every bit as surreal and supernatural as the term would suggest. The brainchild of Flying Lotus, the imprint exists on the boundaries of convention, as it fuses jazz, hip hop, psychedelia and LA’s very own beat scene into one vast melting pot of adventurous productions. The label was named after its namesake track on FlyLo’s acclaimed ‘Los Angeles’ album, and encapsulates the visceral, the visuals and the vibes of the LA community that it's fostered and watched fly out into the world. Just check the otherworldly offerings from Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Lapalux, Daedelus, The Gaslamp Killer and more since its launch back in 2008.
33 Critical Music
If searing, sharp-toothed drum 'n' bass is your thing, Critical Recordings has everything you need. Thanks to records by the likes of label regulars Enei, Emperor and Mefjus, Critical packs some of the hardest punches in d'n'b. The majority of music is beastly and sneering and its used that might to conquer all corners of the globe in its history. But that's not all Critical deals in. You'll find d'n'b boundary-breaking music coming from the likes of Ivy Lab, Sam Binga and Hyroglifics - artists that can give you chills with ice cold liquid beauties, send you off-kilter with swirling melodies or send you into head-bopping mode with tasty halftime beats. Kasra's imprint has also held a residency at fabric, hosted its own area at festivals such as Outlook and headed Down Under on tour. 2017 saw it hit the age of 15, celebrating the occasion with muscle-flexing double compilation '15 Years Of Underground Sonics' featuring Ivy Lab, Break, Sam Binga and more. Keep 'em coming, please.
Since it’s inception in 2003, Cadenza has been the go-to label for exotic house and techno grooves. Never ones to shy away from sounds across the globe, label owners Luciano and Quenum, who are based our of Switzerland, have built up a discography that would make any self-respecting ‘world citizen’ blush. From the reciting of Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita on Thomas Melchior and Luciano’s ‘Father’ to the sampling of Mali’s Oumou Sangaré on label stand out ‘Africa’ by Digitaline, Cadenza’s releases embody the spirit of adventure. Organic, loose, spiritual and pushing the envelope of what can work on the dancefloor.
31 Fuse London
What started out as a intimate but rowdy rave at 93 Feet East on Brick Lane has now turned into a worldwide operation and Enzo Siragusa alongside his crew of Fuse allstars are in the best place possible. The London squad have made a bumping, techny and at times dubby house sound completely their own, to the extent that their events are now a must-have ticket wherever they’re held. Be that Amnesia in Ibiza or Village Underground back on home soil, Enzo, Rich NxT, Seb Zito, Rossko and Archie Hamilton are all now household names and their inclusion in this list comes as no surprise.
In 2009, co-founder Wolfgang Voigt called the music he releases on his label with Michael Mayer and Jurgen Paape “adult techno”. “What we do is something apart from rave techno,” he said at the time, and over the last 20 years Kompakt certainly have set themselves apart. It’s easy to think of dark and unrelenting music built for industrial warehouses in a post-war world when you think German techno. But Kompakt has zigged where others have zagged, making sure the tracks they release come with extra splashes of melody and emotion in a minimalist package. In fact they’ve been such champions of this particular strain of dance music, they are considered the creators of the ‘Cologne Sound’. Not that they’re defined by that genre. Everything from deep ambient to German pop to hard techno has appeared under the recognisable and regal twin-eagle logo and still they’ve shown no sign of slowing down or playing it safe with their sound. This year alone they’ve put out 20+ releases from the likes of Gas, Sasha and Laurent Garnier and in Kölsch, who recently appeared on our cover, they have an artist who’s every release on the Kompakt Extra sub label is hotly anticipated.
29 Deep Medi
Deep Medi is the defining dubstep label. Run by scene lynchpin Mala, it has cut the sound to 12” since the heady, formative year of 2006. During the mid to late 00s it was responsible for legendary records like Loefah’s ‘Disko Rekah’, Skream’s ‘Shinein’ and, of course, Mala’s ‘Changes’ and ‘Miracles’. But what’s perhaps more important is that Medi stood firm in the midst of the dubstep implosion and, even when it felt like the genre had driven itself into a creative cul-de-sac, managed to release legendary tunes and bring through hungry new artists. During a purple patch in 2012, the label dropped defining records from Kahn, Swindle and Commodo, igniting dubstep’s new wave. Later it introduced Gantz, Compa and Gorgon Sound to its fold and continues to be a bastion of true, deep dubstep today. It’s clear Mala’s love for the sound will never die and that shines through in Deep Medi’s discography.
28 Swamp 81
Loefah made his name as a dubstep producer but by 2009 he had become disillusioned with the direction the sound was taking. That year he founded Swamp 81 and the direction of underground, bass-heavy dance music in the UK changed completely. While early releases from Skream, Kryptic Minds and The Bug focused on the deepest shades of 140bpm, the Swamp discography quickly became home to a form of dank, bass-loaded techno. Its tempo was more suited to UK clubs that had become infatuated with four-to-the-floor but it retained all of the menace, paranoia and soundsystem wobble that made dubstep and Loefah’s cult productions great. At the same time that the label began to pop off, so did the Londoner’s tour schedule and he hit the circuit relentlessly, drawing rave kids to his renegade new sound like moths around a flame. Swamp parties at Cable, Corsica Studios and Heaven have been some of the best bass music events of the decade and the label has consistently produced certified scene anthems. Just check Pinch’s ‘Croydon House’, Addison Groove’s ‘Footcrab’, Boddika’s ‘Acid Jackson’ and Paleman’s ‘Beezeldub’ for proof.
27 XL Recordings
Not many labels can say it's released three Adele albums and Kicks Like A Mule’s hardcore hit ‘Bouncer’. Or a Powell and Kaytranada album in the same year. Or Tyler, The Creator and Vampire Weekend. But that’s what XL Recordings does; it rips up the rulebook, defies the odds and has the Midas touch.
Launched by Richard Russell, Tim Palmer and Nick Halkes in 1989 as a rave/hardcore imprint, XL was originally associated with the likes of SL2, Flowmasters and Looney Tunes. It wasn’t until striking gold on a group from Essex that it would have the blueprint for connecting the dots between indie and major labels. The Prodigy paved the way for XL to turn artists like Dizzee Rascal, The xx, MIA, Peaches and Giggs into crossover hits while still nurturing niche talents like Dark0, Special Request and Zomby. Genre doesn’t concern XL now unlike many of the labels in this list. As Russell told the Guardian a few years ago, artists are linked by: "a strong idea about what they want to do. Strong personalities. Strong tastes. The music they've done when you sign them is barely relevant. It's not even the start. It's much more about the person and their ideas and strength of character and the direction they want to go in.
It’s all a very punk approach to the industry. XL releases who it wants, when it wants, abiding by one rule: make sure it’s good. Over the last decade, quality control has been a priority, enabling XL to become one of Britain’s most influential voices in contemporary music. Now, the XL logo is a seal of approval for any self-respecting artist among the mainstream and underground. Maybe its biggest achievement though is that you could present a list of artists XL has championed to any music fan and they would instantly understand the label’s gravitas.
We weren’t really needed here. XL speaks for itself.
26 Hessle Audio
Launched in 2007, Hessle Audio’s lifespan directly mirrors the past decade. It’s a fitting parallel: The Ben UFO, Pearson Sound and Pangaea-helmed imprint is one of the leading reasons the last 10 years in dance music have been so thrilling. The label runs itself on an ethos of innovation, fervently seeking out idiosyncratic production talents and cutting their forward-thinking material to wax. From early releases by the likes of James Blake and Blawan to recent offerings from techno’s new school of broken techno pioneers such as Bruce and Batu, Hessle strives to, and always succeeds in, pushing boundaries and energising evolution in the underground. You’ll just as likely hear Ricardo Villalobos draw for a Hessle record as you will Kode9, with the label hitting a sweetspot of universal appeal for DJs seeking out fresh, interesting sounds to spin. Every Hessle release is an event in the dance music calendar, and with the label’s tastemaking credentials firmly established, we don’t see that changing in the next decade or beyond.
When you’re a musical institution, confidence comes with the territory. “Many of the tracks Mixmag readers will hear out this weekend will be Toolroom ones,” label owner Mark Knight tells us. “We’ve carved out a genre. We own our own sound. When people say ‘that track sounds like a Toolroom record’ it shows we’ve had an impact. I think there are only a few dance labels that can genuinely say that. In our own way that puts you among the greats.”
Consistency appears to be Toolroom’s main ingredient. As Knight puts it, the label has never been about following trends, but has always been at the forefront of tunes across the many sub-genres of house. His and Funkagenda’s ‘Man With The Red Face’ is a loping and euphoric cut of progressive house. Dave Spoon’s ‘At Night’ is whiplash electro house punctuated with an iconic riff. Tracks like these have helped keep Toolroom as one of the top five selling labels on Beatport for the last 10 years and it would have been easy for the imprint to rest on it’s laurels. But just three years ago Knight’s label rebranded, focusing on a fresh approach to credible house music that’s lead to new levels of popularity. Solardo, Technasia, Weiss and Adrian Hour are not only the new faces of Toolroom, they’re the new faces of dance music and of course it’s one of the best in the game championing them.
With the mass outpouring of dance music in recent history it can be difficult to remain in the spotlight, yet Sharam's Yoshitoshi imprint continues to release material that stands out in the saturated market. Initially launched in collaboration with Dubfire in Washington, D.C., the label has been Sharam's brainchild for much of its existence. In his eyes, pushing the boundaries is a clear reason why they've enjoyed longevity: "I think we’ve always occupied an interesting place in dance music because we’ve never really been tied down to a specific sound or genre. We’ve tried everything, if only for the fact that we love trying new things and exploring new sounds."
Yoshitoshi's been releasing music for more than 20 years and with that the catalogue is stacked. Like Nicole Moudaber's remix of 'Giv Me Luv' by Alcatraz or Robosonic’s remix of 'House Music' by Eddie Amador, two contemporary tracks that brought music from the past into the future. Artists like Victor Ruiz, Cristoph, Andhim, Anthony Attalla and ANNA, among others, have all graced the label in recent history with tracks that received relentless plays in clubs around the world. If you've been on the dancefloor in any major club, chances are a Yoshitoshi track has graced the airwaves. Its infectious material is some of the most sought-after music in the industry.
If there is one constant regarding Yoshitoshi, it's a focus on quality rather than hype. As Sharam says, if the music is good, nothing else matters: "We don’t have an elitist mentality; music to us is emotive and faceless. I don’t care who you are and where you come from, if you can make amazing records and are willing to push the boundaries, you have a home at Yoshi."
23 Dispatch Recordings
The music on Dispatch Recordings charges at you with venomous snarl. Take DLR's 'Dreamland' album from last year, for example. Tracks like 'Anxiety Attack' are prime to send raves into disarray with its swiping synths and bruising drums. The passion is clear when talking to label boss Ant TC1. Repeatedly pinpointing the label's sound as something "I believe in", he says how "the buzz I get from how well the label is performing is the same as I had from the very start."
Founded in 2001, early productions came from Hidden Agenda and NOS, while Artificial Intelligence, Break, Total Science, Survival, Skeptical and the late Marcus Intalex have all released on it, too. Some of those featured on 2010's 'Transit One' compilation, a 15-track collection of devilish and cranky d'n'b. It's a release Ant TC1 classes as one of the label's biggest achievements. "It was the first album we did," he tells us. "Quite bluntly, I was bricking it because of the thought of what a bigger project entailed." Its success acted as a springboard for further album projects - Octane & DLR, Survival & Silent Witness, Cern, NickBee, DBR UK and Zero T have all released LPs since. Plus, there was the 'Dispatch 100 (The Future Blueprint)' album in 2016, marking the label's 100th category number release.
Now it's all about keeping the family together. "There's no masterplan or business plan in place," Ant TC1 says. "This is an in-house family thing. A lot of the artists are like brothers and sisters. We just want to keep the artists and ensure the working relationship we have is a real solid and happy one at all times." So nothing will change for in a push for wider success? "It's a great bonus to get a feature in your magazine or played on Radio 1, but the main steer in the passion for me is just hearing that tune, my ears really pricking up to it and wanting to sign it. It's been like that since day one."
Taps aff! We weren’t surprised to see everybody’s favourite party-starters finish high in the poll. Since the start of the decade, Numbers has been churning out tunes that would make anyone feel like they could punch a hole through the roof of Sub Club. The Glaswegian imprint perfectly reflects the eclectic and fun-seeking spirit of its founders Jackmaster aka Jack Revill, Rob Mordue, Richard Chater, Calum (aka Spencer) and Neil Morton who formed partly thanks to the city’s 3am closing time at clubs. After-parties became the meeting places of the inspired, creative and downright fucked. Each member was doing their own thing with labels Wireblock, Stuffrecords and Dress 2 Sweat but came together and met soon-to-be label-mates likes Rustie and Hudson Mohawke at these hedonistic hubs of collaboration. Numbers joined the dots.
From techno to hip hop, the imprint hasn’t been afraid to jump on and champion the next genre of music taking clubland by storm. In 2010 it was the woozy post-dubstep of Deadboy and an up and coming Jamie xx. In 2013 it was Rustie’s anthemic aquacrunk (a genre birthed by a well-placed Numbers in-joke) and the epic ‘Walk On In’ by Doc Daneeka. 2015 saw the label give a leg up to Kornél Kovács, Denis Sulta and get a compilation of DJ Deeon classics. All the while Jackmaster was becoming one of the UK’s most influential DJs. He often says he doesn’t believe in cool music. Numbers certainly believes in good music.
While the Scottish vote may have helped, with such a rock solid track record of high quality output, Numbers has proven its place in this poll. You can guarantee that whatever comes next will not only be musically on-point, but destined to take a party to another level.
21 Ninja Tune
For nearly three decades, Ninja Tune has been at the forefront of independent greatness. It was launched back in 1990 by trip hop duo Coldcut and the label remains at the forefront of mind-expanding sounds. Even today, the imprint embraces the obscure and abstract just as passionately as it did in its formative years, never losing sight of its creative vision as it’s grown and flourished year upon year.
Matt Black, one half of Coldcut and Ninja Tune co-founder, has expressed his honour at releasing a whole host of “incredible records” over the years, from artists as diverse as Bonobo, Actress, Young Fathers, Peggy Gou, Helena Hauff, ODESZA, Kate Tempest, Wiley, The Bug, Thundercat, Throwing Shade, The Cinematic Orchestra, Bicep, Romare and many more. With Ninja Tune, the label’s formidable formula for great bodies of timeless work can be witnessed time after time.
“Ninja has always worn its eclecticism on its sleeve which has meant we’ve never really been particularly associated with any one scene”, Black says. “Nowadays having an eclectic taste in music is the norm not the exception, we’re not responsible for that but it is nice to feel like our approach from day one has been endorsed.” A first-choice imprint for those seeking an alternative to conventional, contemporary cuts, Ninja Tune will continue on into the future, leaving a legacy of leftfield classics in its wake.
20 Boysnoize Records
‘Oi, Oi, Oi’, ‘Dirty & Hard’, ‘Brap’, ‘Strapon’; Yes, you’d be excused for thinking that those song and album titles were a tad extreme or a bit racy, but then the label that they’ve been released on has never been one to shy away from the risqué. Boysnoize Records is of course ran by the electro and techno fire-breather Alex Ridha aka Boys Noize and for just over a decade he’s been dedicated to bringing you the most ferocious, dancefloor-aimed weaponry known to man. Naturally we’ve been lapping it up and he’s introduced the sounds and careers of artists like SCNTST (now Skee Mask), Djedjotronic, Housemeister and Spank Rock. Veterans who’ve graced the imprint include Erol Alkan, Chilly Gonzales and even Skrillex under his collaborative alias with the boss himself, Dog Blood.
“I was always looking for new shit as a DJ, so I was always thinking, 'If I had a label I could put this and this out, or whatever, do it different.' It became reality when I actually had a lot of my own music and I didn't want to send it to labels.” says Ridha.
It was this tenacity and reluctance to let the music go anywhere else that made the imprint’s output almost feel like an act of rebellion. The stark, razor-sharp music was a form of release for not only the people listening on dancefloors, but for the varied range of artists putting it out. The imprint’s 100th release came in the form of a Chemical Brothers remix, a testament to the gravity of the label and the man behind the magic. One of Germany’s finest labels and one that’s wholly dedicated to making you sweat.
19 RAM Records
Andy C's not willing to answer our question about the impact his label RAM has had on the drum 'n' bass scene. "You want me to sit here and blow my own trumpet?" he responds, laughing. "That's for you to say." Moments later, though, the answer naturally comes out when discussing the label's biggest achievements: "We've grown artists like Chase & Status, Sub Focus and Wilkinson to incredible heights." Each of them released their debut album on RAM and each have gone to sign for major labels and taste chart success. That's not to say RAM's a label only with fingers in the mainstream. "We're happy that we're able to nurture artists at every level," Andy adds. 2017 alone saw releases from Bensley, DC Breaks, Culture Shock, Loadstar, Rene LaVice, Delta Heavy, Calyx & Teebee and more, all pushing the fierce drum 'n' bass sound RAM's championed ever since launching in 1992. The sheer amount of releases this year is proof that the label's come a long, long way from the days of it being "a couple of us making tunes and releasing them now and again."
Andy can't select just one track or album that stands out for him, but Wilkinson's 'Afterglow' propelled the label to new heights in 2013. A polished, pop-leaning, vocal-led cut, it hit number eight in the UK Singles Chart and sold over 400,000 copies meaning it went gold. Chase & Status' 'No More Idols' album is up there, too, having peaked at number two in the UK Albums Chart. The boss is striving to ensure more of this is achieved by carrying out business as usual: "We live and breath the scene and the music. If you do that, there's got to be something wrong if you're not still out there meaning something and being relevant."
18 Hospital Records
"People will always need Hospital to mend their broken beats," says label co-founder London Elektricity. Logistics, High Contrast, Camo & Krooked, Netsky, Danny Byrd, S.P.Y and Nu:tone are among those who've checked in, providing the label with tonnes of polychromatic liquid drum 'n' bass. Its back catalogue is "the most diverse musical catalogue within drum 'n' bass," says co-founder Chris Goss, but he modestly claims the label hasn't changed the scene. "We've just brought a little light and shade from the outside edges." Tracks to have done so include High Contrast's elegant 'If We Ever', London Elektricity's jazz-inflected 'Billion Dollar Gravy' and Danny Byrd's rocketing 'Ill Behaviour'. Then there's "the cult of Netsky", as Goss describes it. His debut, self-titled album in 2010 introduced a star capable of producing anything from a gentle liquid soother to kaleidoscopic arena-sized cuts, one who's gone on to sign for Sony Music and sell-out headline shows worldwide.
Hospital as a label is familiar with large scale parties, too. Its Hospitality event is the biggest travelling drum 'n' bass event in the world, whether that be through hosting all-nighters at O2 Academy Brixton or taking over stages at festivals like Let It Roll in Czech Republic. In 2016, Hospitality In The Park was launched, taking the label into the festival circuit proper. Hospital even set foot inside the London Olympics in 2012 thanks to High Contrast, alongside Underworld, being in charge of the music for the athletes' parade. But being in the spotlight isn't a driving factor for London Elektricity. "We don't worry about being at the forefront. We'll just do what we do, which is to spot artists and tunes that trigger love within us and hopefully you."
17 Warp Records
Warp is considered home to some of the most mind-bending, earth-shattering material around and its affinity for the unconventional side of dance music has blossomed from the backroom of a Northern record store to the world stage, as critics, fans and ravers alike have raced to keep up with the ever-shifting imprint. It was founded back in 1989 by Steve Beckett, Robert Gordon and the late Rob Mitchell, and the trio set off on their journey into the deep, dark depths of genre-defying productions, all the while remaining consistent as a trusted source of authentic new music.
Bleep, bass, breaks and more. From the mighty Aphex Twin right through to underground icon Evian Christ, the label has been commandeering a culture of uncompromising, challenging music ever since its inception back in the late 80s. Zeitgeisty themes and self-assured stars run through the very veins of the imprint, as it releases music from the likes of Danny Brown, Mount Kimbie, Autechre, Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, Kelela, Squarepusher, Boards Of Canada and Gaika.
In conversation with Mixmag last year, Burton explained that the mainstream's shift towards leftfield music has worked in Warp’s favour in recent years: “Music’s gotten weirder and come towards us in many respects, which is something to be proud of.”
16 Cocoon Recordings
In 2000, many people were celebrating 2000 years since the birth of Christ. But in 2017, we’ll look on it as the birth of Cocoon Recordings. Already one of the world’s most famous DJs, Sven Väth started Cocoon as an extension to his already infamous parties with an altruistic element. As well as featuring established names like Ricardo Villalobos, Martin Buttrich, Marco Carola and Richie Hawtin, Väth has used Cocoon as a platform to nurture new talent. As the man himself puts it: “It’s my label so I said ‘no compromises. I’ll just do what I want to do’. It’s very exciting and satisfying, signing up new artists like Ricardo Tobar. His album [‘Collection’] was one of the best of last year.”
His generous attitude has led to a wide variety of music coming under the Cocoon banner but there is one thread that ties it all together.
“The best word is ‘organic’,” says Adam Beyer who used to drive from Sweden to see Väth play in the 90s. “By that I mean a journey – every track with a start and an end, melodies and emotions, more like live jams compared to other labels. I think that’s his style.”
Richie Hawtin describes it more as a story: “Sven has always supported songs that have a narrative and take people on a deep, euphoric, melody-induced trip. This characteristic runs strong in all Sven’s sets and the releases on Cocoon.”
Meanwhile, Väth lives up to the Papa moniker he’s been handed over the last few years, cultivating a relaxed environment to create and release music.
“When I do tracks I send to Edgar the label manager and he listens together with Sven,” Ilario Alicante says. “Then they decide whether to release them. I’m free to do whatever I want, normally even choose the remixers as well which is really important to me.”
Deep down, we all want to be in Sven’s Cocoon.
Leave it to Monstercat to be the label truly of the times. Created in 2011 by Mike Darlington and Ari Paunonen, Monstercat originally started as a YouTube and promotion channel to spread the word about theirs and friends’ releases. It was quick to catch with the electronic community, especially with its out-of-the-box method of signing single tracks, allowing artists to move more freely between labels without the complexities of contracts and exclusivities. Utilizing the wide variety of tools on the web like Twitch for live streams and podcasting, online television channels and radio stations, it’s no surprise that today, Monstercat’s YouTube channel boasts a robust six million subscribers and growing with over 1.7 billion views.
“‘Empowering a creative and passionate community through innovation’ has been a slogan that is actually painted on one of the walls in our office; but it’s certainly more than just a simple tagline,” Co-founder Mike Darlington adds. “Monstercat has become this incredible community of supportive individuals from across the globe that share a love of electronic music. That may sound cliché, but the fanbase we have for Monstercat is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. To go from a small co-working space in Waterloo five years ago, to being able to tour across the globe including multiple dates in China and a stage at Tomorrowland has been truly special.”
There’s no doubt that Monstercat’s unorthodox methods have zeroed in on a niche in the tightly-knit electronic music community. The label has helped to launch the careers of firestarters like Pegboard Nerds and San Holo, tapping into the potential of explosive talents time and time again.
14 Stones Throw Records
When Stones Throw Records launched in 1996, it was impossible to predict that the label would grow into the influential outlet it is today. Back then, San Jose native Peanut Butter Wolf was simply looking for a home to release his music. Three years earlier his close friend and collaborator Charizma had been fatally shot, but the music they made together could stand the test of time. It had style, grit and possessed the raw essence of SoCal's hip hop scene. That debut release, titled 'My World Premiere', kick-started an outpouring of innovation and over 20 years later the label's catalogue is stacked with gems.
Throughout its existence Stones Throw consistently released legendary material, like J Dilla's 'Donuts' in 2006, Peanut Butter Wolf's 'My Vinyl Weighs A Ton' in 1999, 'The Further Adventures of Lord Quas' by Quasimoto in 2005 and Doom and Madlib's 'Madvillainy' in 2004. That said, to call it a hip hop label would be an understatement. In more recent years Stones Throw has branched out to incorporate a multitude of genres, including funk, R&B and soul. Dam-Funk's 2009 album 'Toueachizown' is a great example of the label's eclectic and diverse output. Same goes for Aloe Blacc's 2010 album 'Good Things'. But above all else, Stones Throw has been an outlet for creativity to flourish, remaining independent and free of restrictions since inception.
"We've managed to retain our musical integrity," is the answer Goldie gives us when asking why Metalheadz still matters. A label boss is expected to say such self-praising things about their baby, but you'd have to be pretty ignorant to disagree, whether you're into drum 'n' bass or not. Having been going for 23 years and "retaining our original ethos", as Goldie points out, that's some achievement. Evidence of the class of output staying high over the last 10 years is in the music by the likes of Jubei, Lenzman and Ulterior Motive. Those three represent the melting pot of sounds the label promotes: Jubei with vicious steppers like 'Block Code', Lenzman with soul-drenched liquid grooves such as 'Paper Faces' and Ulterior Motive with euphoria-inducing anthems like 'Tape Pack'. Those three, along with others, are seen by Goldie as part of the label's biggest achievement since 2007: "We've turned many of our artists into album artists, helping them grow and cementing themselves with the label on the way," he tells us.
Being a family is what 'headz is all about, Goldie sitting at the head of the table with familiar faces by his side. Artificial Intelligence, Commix and Dom & Roland are others who've regularly released on the label and the bossman himself still has plenty of music to share 22 years on from his critically-acclaimed 'Timeless'. 2017 saw the release of 'The Journey Man', his first album in 20 years, putting together cosmic d'n'b, gut-wrenching soul and buoyant jazz. It's that freedom to explore genres that Goldie believes will keep 'headz at the forefront of the scene. "We'll keep letting our artists grow naturally with no pre-fabricated agenda," he says. They've got a fine example to follow.
12 Ed Banger
Pedro Winter has always seemed like a man with a plan. From his early days managing Daft Punk and guiding them to the heights they’re now at today, he’s gone on to be one of the most influential and recognisable label heads in the world. Ed Banger Records isn’t just an imprint, it’s a movement and it’s roster of artists are more like a family than colleagues. “I guess we were there at the right time and at the right place. Bringing indie kids, hip hop heads and clubbers together. Unity in diversity. Bringing back fun into nightclubs.” says Pedro.
Of course, the Ed Banger is most famous the French electro house revolution that took place around 2006/07 which was led and characterized by the music coming from the label. Mr Oizo, SebastiAn, Uffie & Feadz were among prominent flagbearers for both the label and the rowdy, raucous sound. The untimely passing of DJ Mehdi, one of the earliest members of the stable, sent shockwaves around clubland and indeed through the label but since then, Ed Banger has had more purpose than ever before, to make him proud.
Arguably there was another catalyst for the label’s super-stardom and that came in the form of another duo Pedro had discovered, a duo that would go on to become one of the most popular double-teams on the planet. “The success of Justice is of course what people will remember of the label," he says. “But I hope we managed to create a musical family and people will remember us as a crüe rather than individuals. We are the Wu-Tang of electronic music” The Parisian pair dropped ‘Cross’ and the world lost its shit. A new, relentless, fun-facing strand of electronic music hit the clubs and it set the precedent for an entire wave of artists. “I know my electronic music history, I’m passionate. I’m proud Ed Banger is now part of this history. We pushed the level button to 11.” That you did Pedro.
11 Drumcode Records
For any label, it is an honour to be synonymous with a sound. For hip hop there’s Def Jam, soul has Motown and you know exactly what genre you’re dealing with when you see the Metalheadz skull logo. In 2017, techno has Drumcode. Adam Beyer’s label is now 21 years in the game and it has helped define what the genre has become over the last 10 years, proving to be the new leader in the rich lineage it possesses. From May to Mills to Sven to Beyer. And like any institution, Drumcode has its loyal fans that have turned the Swedish imprint into something of a cult. They are fans at home in eastern European warehouses in the wee hours and they are fans on a boat pumping Drumcode tracks across the Mediterranean. Drumcode’s biggest legacy might be that it has helped legitimise the idea of techno for the masses, paving the way for festivals like Kappa Futur, Melt and Awakenings without possibly even realising.
Its roster of talent reads like a who’s who of techno’s finest. Joseph Capriati, Ben Sims, Len Faki, Alan Fitzpatrick and the list goes on. At the heart of this operation is Adam Beyer, the Stockholm native who was drawn to the sounds of a drum machine in the late 80s and felt compelled to drive from Sweden to see Sven Väth play on the regular. In 1996, he put out the first Drumcode record, an uncompromising techno floorfiller that instantly set the tone for the label’s later releases. What followed were tracks like Ben Sims’ hypnotic ‘The Afterparty’, ‘Striking Distance’ by the legendary Joey Beltram and Timmo’s absolutely stonking ‘Canvas’. And it’s still full steam with Dense & Pika, Julian Jeweil and A-Sides Volume 6 all coming out on the label in 2017.
A lot can happen in five years and there’s arguably no better proof of that than Skrillex’s label OWSLA, which was created in 2011. Inspired by the fantasy novel Watership Down and the book’s tightly-knit military bands of rabbits, OWSLA has maintained that close-knit family style while also innovating the explosive and modern day interpretation of electronic music, leading the charge during a peak moment in dance music history. In merely half a decade, OWSLA has housed early breakthrough sounds from the likes of Porter Robinson, Zedd and Skrillex himself while simultaneously setting the foundation for promising young talents like Mija, Anna Lunoe, What So Not and plenty more. Dig deep and you’ll even find a release from Skream that now serves as a poetic “then-and-now” nod to dubstep’s metamorphosis.
“To me it’s like a band of rabbits,” Skrillex says, looking back on the earliest inspirations behind the name ‘OWSLA’. “It’s a band of brothers and sisters, a band of people and friends who are out on their own, exploring the creative space.” OWLSA’s out-of-the-box methods and genre-defying sounds have helped the label expand across much more than just music, including visual artists, directors, designers, bands, stylists and more. “To this day, I think OWSLA has created a niche for forward-thinking music and artists,” he explains.
OWSLA has taken its artists across the world to nearly every continent, overseen movie premieres, fashion line launches, hundreds of stage and event takeovers all while continuing to inspiring the next generations of music makers to think limitless. It’s a label that has defied the very definition of what a label should be and instead shown what a label really can be. “Yes we grow, and yes music evolves... but we’re just being ourselves. I think that’s the biggest accomplishment: not compromising ourselves in a business.”
09 Mau5trap Recordings
In electronic music, there might not be anyone as drastically divisive as deadmau5, but controversial persona aside, it’s undeniable that the producer is responsible for influencing a whole new wave of sound and is one who consistently pushes the boundaries of production and performance. His constant criticism of other elements of the music industry and electronic music genre stem from a place of high expectations. It only makes sense, then, that mau5trap, launched in 2007, be equally as innovative and impressive across the decade, too.
Across 10 years, perhaps one of mau5trap’s most memorable releases was Skrillex’s powerful and game-changing ‘Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites’, which has since been hailed by many as a modern-day classic, but the milestone outputs don’t stop there. mau5trap has shared more than a few proud and pioneering LPs, including Feed Me’s 'Big Adventure’, Excision’s ‘X Rated’, Noisia’s ‘Split The Atom’ and debuts from new wunderkinds of the next generation like Attlas, REZZ, BlackGummy, No Mana, Matt Lange and more. “We’ve had the pleasure of working with amazing artists who have shaped the scene over the last 10 years as well as new faces who are changing it all over again,” explains Label Manager Chris Johnson.
“Joel is a fan of artists who have taken the time to learn their craft and aren’t afraid to just try their own thing and the label reflects that,” Johnson continues. “I’m personally very proud of the label’s desire to take risks with entirely new artists and believe in their potential early on.” Artists like REZZ, a fresh-faced Canadian newcomer first came to the label in 2014 with her demos and has since become a rising star readying to release her debut album ‘Mass Manipulation’ and head out on a world tour with artists she curated herself. “That’s the mau5trap ethos right there.”
“I’ve always wanted to release music from artists who don’t follow the ‘trends’ and are genuine,” deadmau5 supplies, adding that mau5trap has just celebrated its 10 year anniversary, a testament to the hard work the label’s team has put in across the decade. “We’ll always continue to do so. Trust me, there’s a lot more to come.”
Hyperdub has been at the epicentre of experimental dance and electronic music ever since its inception back in 2004. From its very first release, a collaborative cut between label boss Kode9 and The Spaceape, right through to the Mercury Prize-winning works of Burial, Hyperdub has set the benchmark high.
Now, Burial may be the label's most famous affiliate, but he’s just one of the many, stellar artists the imprint has championed over the years. Ikonika, Cooly G, DJ Rashad, The Spaceape, Laurel Halo, Babyfather and more can all be found nestled deep into the Hyperdub roster, joining the elusive producer in a shared, visionary creative direction. Today, the label remains as unwavering to that as ever, and has far surpassed its reputation as solely a destination for dubstep and sounds strictly from the UK. Garage, funky, footwork, ambient and a whole host of other cross-genre mutations can be found weaving their way through the label’s discography, as it looks beyond the limitations of dubstep and encapsulates its underground essence in abstract new ways.
Of the label's success, Kode9 explains: “There is definitely a melancholy emotional tone to much of the music we’ve released, and certainly that’s part of the reason some of our music seems to resonate with some of our listeners”. He also expressed his surprise at the fact that, “the weirder our releases are, the more successful they tend to be”.
“We do this because of the love of music. We are just releasing the music we love,” says Armada co-founder Maykel Piron, succinctly summing up the aim of the passion project he started with Armin van Buuren and David Lewis that has flourished into a global sensation over the past decade. In 2007 Armada operated out of Amsterdam with 15 employees, and today it boasts a three-figure strong workforce with a permanent office additionally opened in New York and a London site due to cut its red ribbon at the end of this summer. Considering 2007 marked a global financial crash and industry shrinkages across the board, it’s been a mightily impressive expansion. “We stepped in at the point when digital sales were hardly there, and physical was going down tremendously,” says Maykel, but as the decade has progressed Armada has scythed through the fug of uncertainty, and dancing enthusiasts across the world have been seduced by Armada’s consistent release schedule of tracks that fuel moments of fizzing euphoria on dancefloors.
Starting out as a trance-led outlet, Armada has spread its wings over the past 10 years to cover a wide range of styles, building an empire of sublabels and working with legends like Erick Morillo and rising underground talents such as ANOTR. Whatever it tries its hand at, Armada never fails, curating a catalogue with a hit rate higher than Muhammad Ali fighting a mob of kangaroos. With Armin van Buuren, one of the best loved artists in dance music, leading the way, the label is packed full of producers who show all the potential needed to run his legendary status close. It’s no surprise that Armada’s worldwide events schedule offers up many of the hottest tickets in dance music: From the large-scale Armada Beach bash in Argentina to the intimate Armada Invites showcases in the label’s own club constructed in its hometown Amsterdam location, you can count on Armada for good times in abundance.
06 Hot Creations
With a silhouette of a palm tree against a blazing sun and Miami Vice-style lettering, Hot Creations didn’t just usher in a new decade with their music. They did it with a clear image and a new attitude. “We brought girls back onto the dancefloor and people realised that the underground scene doesn’t have to be banging and dark,” says co-founder Jamie Jones. “Noticeable dancefloor bombs is probably a good name for the genre we are in!”
He and Lee Foss’ imprint is the sound of Ibiza dancefloors, Miami pool parties and LA rooftops, and helped open the door for a new generation of dance music fans, discarding the dark for a dose of sunny disco and bumping house grooves. “I look back at the late 2000s and minimal and big room prog were huge and so ubiquitous. [We were] just making and releasing music from our hearts, that we felt sounded so different, and it seemed like a huge change,” Foss says. “We kind of spearheaded a reaction to musical styles that had swung so far in one direction.”
But the duo’s biggest accomplishment isn’t a Dance Label Of The Year award from Apple, or cracking the UK top 40 chart with ‘Benediction’, it’s the fostering of new talent into one big extended family. Artists like Patrick Topping, wAFF and Richy Ahmed found their feet with releases on the label and are now some of dance music’s biggest names. Foss and Jones quite rightly get to take on the role of proud parents.
“We all come from the bottom and we are all growing together,” Jones says. “Nobody deserves anything, we all work hard and are rewarded for that.” Hot Creations is coming up to its 100th release. Here’s to the next 100.
05 Defected Records
Back in April 2014, we hosted a very special Mixmag Live party. Whoever appears on our cover, plays our party, but that month, we did something a little different. It wasn't just one cover star, it was a whole label as we celebrated the 15th birthday of one of the most prominent house music imprints ever, Defected Records. With Simon Dunmore at the helm, the UK establishment has been responsible for some absolute whoppers in its time, from artists like Karizma, Bob Sinclar, Shakedown and Noir.
The last decade however has been some of its most fruitful, with the addition of the DFTD sub-label and a newer, harder-hitting set of club bangers. Artists like Melé, Guti, Jacky and Sam Divine have not only kept the label’s status fresh and invigorated, instead they’ve attracted a whole new generation of ravers, something Dunmore has aimed to do since the label’s conception in 1998. Despite some turbulent times in which Simon had to guarantee the company’s losses with his own house on order of the bank, the label has remained a more than profitable venture.
“Our mantra was this” recalls Simon “We wanted to be the last plane on the runway. If the music industry was going to die then we would die with our integrity and die our own way. We were lucky. Some weren’t so lucky.” Fast forward to 2017 and Defected are back in Ibiza with a new place to call home and a new sense of ambition. Eden is the jewel in San Antonio’s crown and Simon and co have taken over the mega club to host a run of raves that invites the whole squad to town. To put it simply, house music wouldn’t the same without Defected. The label has been integral to the genre's growth and consistent incline and it really is no wonder that they’ve placed so highly.
If house is a nation, we want Simon Dunmore as president.
History has a habit of weighing heavy, and reviving dormant but once culturally significant projects often comes with a suffocating baggage that makes success hard to achieve, hanging like an albatross around the neck. You see it happen across the entertainment industry: film remakes failing to live up to their source material, cover versions rarely hitting the original’s heights. Prospering in the music world is hard enough, let alone when there’s a generation’s worth of rose-tinted nostalgia to overcome while still striving for freshness. R&S is one of the most historic labels in techno, counting timeless cuts like Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’ and Outlander’s ‘Vamp’ among its discography, but since a period of inactivity and subsequent relaunch in 2008, the Belgian-born and now London-based imprint has established itself as a seminal outlet all over again without relying on its heritage.
“Lots of legacy labels just get loads of shit remixes of the back catalogue done when they reappear, but we had free reign to sign really good electronic artists who are relevant in the last decade,” says Label Manager Andy Whittaker. Futuristic producers with distinctive sounds like James Blake, Paula Temple, Talobomen and Lone have been invited into the fold, contributing to a wealth of first-rate releases that have won R&S a new cohort of fans. “When we do parties it's full of kids,” notes Whittaker, with R&S now throwing events all over the world on a regular basis, including dates at Manchester’s Warehouse Project, Glastonbury festival and in Japan. “I’m really happy that R&S has again established itself as a leading label in the electronic music scene. We haven’t compromised and have stuck to releasing music we love, and supported new artists who have grown with the label,” says co-founder Renaat Vandepapeliere. The imprint’s slogan “In Order To Dance” rings true: R&S always provides the goods to get you moving.
“If people might say there is an Innervisions sound, I would deeply disagree. We are house. With all its facets.” Whether you agree Dixon or not, there’s absolutely no denying the hold the label that he runs alongside Âme (aka Kristian Beyer and Frank Wiedemann) has over modern dance music. The often trippy, transcendent and ethereal musical output has been captivating audiences around the world since 2005 and the label’s success boils down to some key factors.
Firstly, the stable of artists involved with the imprint is one of the finest in dance music. Producers who specialise in emotion-laced electronica that leaves a lasting effect are called upon to create songs that stimulate both your heart and mind. David August with ‘Epikur’, Marcus Worgull and Peter Pardeike with 'Lenoix’ and Agoria with ‘Scala’ have all acted as some of the most moving numbers over the last decade of dance music and the newer inclusions of Frankey & Sandrino’s ‘Acamar’, Eagles & Butterflies’ ‘X’ and Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra’s ‘Too Much Information’ further ramp up the undeniable sense of magic.
Secondly, Innervisions parties and showcases are some of the most heralded around the world. Lost In A Moment has managed to turn the idea of a “label party” on its head, swapping recognised venues for unearthed, exceptional locations. Be it a monastery in Barcelona, a castle in Tuscany or an island off the Southeast coast of England, the events are not just parties, they are experiences you hold for a very long time, brief yet cherished moments of complete joy and they have become the backbone of the label.
Lastly, the label heads, Dixon and Âme, both respectively and together, are some of the most in-demand, sought-after and celebrated DJs of the last decade. Their sets are snapshots of a certain point in time and they are never, ever predictable.
“We followed a vision. We didn't expect to be where we are now 10 years ago but on our way to this we never compromised our core ideas. We tried to be as independent as possible from the scene, business and media that is present around us,” says Berkhahn and that vision is what continues to dazzle and fascinate people from every corner of the globe today.
Innervisions isn’t just a label, it’s a feeling.
These days, it’s hard to imagine a time when colourful house music didn’t fill the dancefloors of clubs around the world. But in 2006, a lack of warm, uplifting four-to-the-floor is exactly what pushed Solomun into starting Diynamic. “The guys had a different approach – they weren’t afraid of melodies or to show emotions,” explains Label Manager Pete Oldak. “Diynamic was one of the few labels that was founded at that time, a little movement in the big pool that is electronic music. Stimming, H.O.S.H. and Solomun were happy to have their own sound, happy to embark on a journey together.”
That journey began with a dedication to lush, loping, bass-heavy house music which propelled Diynamic into the spotlight around the turn of the decade. Thanks to seminal DJ sets from Solomun and David August and a string of sought-after 12”s, the label became known for a ‘Hamburg Sound’ on which dancers and the house scene at large got hooked. The music soon spread beyond the city’s limits and Diynamic became a European, then truly worldwide phenomenon, inspiring a new generation of producers and turning its original stable into superstars. Now, Diynamic remains a thriving label but is also a booking agency, which looks after the talent that the imprint has nurtured, and a party brand, presenting showcases and taking over stages at clubs and festivals across the globe.
While that’s pretty much an inch-perfect resume, it all stemmed from Solomun and his friend’s desire to do things on their own terms. “Diynamic has demonstrated that it’s possible, setting a goal for yourself and then just doing it., Pete Oldak says. “It was never planned to become this big and it’s not really comprehensible how it actually happened. It makes certain things easier and other things harder. And maybe that’s why Diynamic matters: it’s showed other artists and labels that you can start your own thing and become successful.”
Claude VonStroke is, obviously, stoked to learn that Dirtybird has been voted Mixmag’s Label Of The Decade. But he’s surprised too. Because this warm, unassuming dude never expected things to get this big – or influential. “We’ve always done our own thing, even if it wasn’t popular. It definitely wasn’t popular for a while, and it might not even be popular now, but we’re still just doing our own thing.”
Although he’s humble about the accolade, he’s quick to name the artists that the label has broken over the last decade, including Julio Bashmore, Eats Everything, Breach, Catz ‘N Dogz and Kill Frenzy. These European artists found home on a San Fransisco label dedicated to big, bold, booty-moving house and techno and put their first records out via Dirtybird, which says a lot about its importance to the decade just gone.
Bashmore put out his debut EP on the label; Eats Everything dropped the dominating ‘Vertigo’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Tric Trac’ (alongside Worthy); Breach unleashed ‘Jack’, which went to UK #1; Kill Frenzy’s ‘Booty Clap’ ruled 2012 and is pretty much a blueprint for Dirtybird at its very best.
But don’t get it twisted, Dirtybird’s core unit, comprised of VonStroke, Justin Martin and J. Phlip, among others, have been just as pioneering. In the face of the EDM explosion, the North American natives have been making sure that real underground house music is represented on home turf, consistently releasing records loaded with trademark Dirtybird swagger. Just check Martin’s ‘Don’t Go’ or VonStroke’s ‘Clapping Track’ for proof.
There’s a big divide between the scenes in Europe and the US, but Dirtybird has achieved the rare feat of having a massive influence on both. And Claude reckons that coming from California has definitely helped: “I feel like we’ve just done it [put out defining tracks] and almost because we’re not in the middle of Europe. We are on a slightly more gigantic island, but we’re in our own little bubble so we just do whatever we want – there isn’t so hardcore of an influence of “oh, he did that”, “can you believe he did that?” going on because there aren’t fifty gigantic house labels in America.”
While it’s had a massive impact abroad, Dirtybird is now concentrating on cultivating a grassroots house in America, with its Campout events (which followed on from the legendary Dirtybird BBQs) becoming a cult fixture on the US festival circuit. Claude and the label are putting down the foundation for another incendiary 10 years in the game and we can't wait to see it all unfold.