To anyone who was able to stay creative through the challenging times of the past couple of years, we salute you. Producers continuing to release music throughout the clubs-closed times of the pandemic was essential for helping us still feel connected to the scene and excited for nightlife’s return. And of course, when it did come back, hearing new bangers on systems for the first time in 18 months brought tears of joy to our eyes. In the list below, we’ve compiled 21 of our favourite labels whose releases kept us going this year, both at home and on the dancefloor (in alphabetical order).
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1 Absurd Trax
Hong Kong label Absurd TRAX thrives in chaos. We profiled the label in early 2020 as coronavirus and politically-charged violence tore through the city-slash-Special-Administrative-Region, exploring its pioneering creativity in the face of crisis. Nearly two years on, Absurd TRAX continues to be a thriving hub for experimental sounds on electronic music’s fringes. Its global influence grew throughout 2021 with all of its catalogue releases coming from artists outside of Hong Kong: Tokyo’s WRACK and Berlin’s Max Dahlhaus collabed on the ferocious ‘No Hiraeth’; Simon Frank, a Canadian living in Beijing, contributed the scuzzy EBM-esque ‘So Dream It’ album; Brooklyn’s Crown Shyness explored eerie sonics on ‘Stunt Double’; Japanese newcomer 堀池ゆめぁ came through with the mind-melting ‘漂流’ EP; and Seoul-based KISEWA put out the menacing, horror film-inspired ‘Scream Sonata’.
2 All Centre
London label All Centre is a reflection of its founder DJ Pitch: industrious, dedicated to spotlighting new artists, and often exploring sounds that take an unconventional approach to shredding on the dancefloor. He co-runs the imprint alongside fellow London-based DJ Simkin, and together they’ve curated one of 2021’s finest catalogues with releases almost every month. Highlights include August’s third year anniversary compilation of remixes, which starred a full throttle breaks mix of 2020 highlight ‘Flash On’ by Jennifer Walton ft. BFTT, aya adding weight to Lara Sarkissian’s levitating ‘BTWN Earth n Sky’ with a ‘Ground dub’, Ian DPM bringing a dancier edge to Twinsen’s ambient pop, Mary Lake making borderlandstate’s leftfield ‘Resonant Advisor’ into a functional acid roller, DJ Double Oh! bringing bite to Yushh’s sparse ‘I’m With Empty’ and DJ Pitch and Simkin teaming up to transform Endless Mow’s greazy ‘Spellcasters’ into a glossy bomb. From SHE Spells Doom’s magical ‘Rudnick’ to Amazinggaijin’s oceanic ‘Oxygen Tank’ to Maya Q’s addictive ‘I just wanna’ to diessa’s heavy ‘fuck me’, every release sounds distinct.
3 Eastern Margins
Forming in 2018 and launching its label arm last year, Eastern Margins has been everywhere in 2021. The collective from East and South-East Asia and its diaspora has had members broadcast mixes on radio stations such as NTS and 88rising, collab with Keep Hush on TurboFest alongside other community-leading collectives like Daytimers, and nearly triple its label catalogue with eight new releases. Eastern Margins’ first compilation, the 12-track ‘Redline Legends’, spans genres that are rarely heard in the West, featuring Indonesian funkot, Vietnamese vinahouse, Filipino budots and Malaysian manyao. The label has also put out multiple standout releases from Japan’s Primula, Sydney-based Rainbow Chan and London-via-Seoul rapper pianwoo.
4 Future Bounce
Jamz Supernova’s Future Bounce has had a fantastic year. It released its debut vinyl project, gathering some of its best digital releases from this year and last in an 11-track showcase of the next-level club heaters. With tracks by KG & UNIIQU3, Hagan, Sam Interface, Bamz, Lorenzo BITW, and Rose Bonica, among others, it covers breakbeat, Jersey club, techno, juke, and more. Further releases include palpitating rhythms and potent rap flows produced by Brussels-via-Nigera’s Blck Mamba and heady club sounds from New York’s quest?onmarq. It also hosted a residency on WorldwideFM, continually plugging and pushing new artists into the spotlight. And Jamz achieved all this while being pregnant for most of the year, respect.
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5 Gudu Records
Launched by the South Korean DJ icon Peggy Gou in 2019, Gudu Records has taken off this year with five major releases. In January, the independent set the tone of a successful year with the EP ‘Call Me By Your Nail’ from Brain De Palma. Since then, Peggy has also released two of her own tracks, ‘Nabi’ and ‘I Go’; revered Indonesian DJ Dea put out his most extensive release yet with the rousing four-track ‘Glaazer Drum’ EP, before a Discogs-beating reissue EP from diggers’ favourite South African artist Riff rounded out the year. With artwork mainly made by Jee-ook Choi, the label’s colourful visual aesthetic complements the sounds beautifully.
6 Hooversound Recordings
NAINA and SHERELLE - two of this year’s biggest players - came together in 2020 to form Hooversound. This year the pair have pushed out music from some of their favourite producers and close friends, including Chrissy, Prayer, Samurai Breaks, and a special joint release from jungle dons Tim Reaper and Special Request. Their affection for all things jungle, hardcore and footwork consistenetly thrills, with every release hitting maximum levels.
7 HouSupa Records
South Africa’s influence on UK music has been integral to its development, and Supa D has been a crucial linchpin between the two scenes lately, working to foster connections and mutual growth. He launched his houSupa label in 2019 and this year its steady stream of hits blending UK and SA sonics has affirmed his gamechanging influence. From Scotti Dee’s foray into gqom and Afro house on ‘Sea Moss’ to Maestro’s amapiano-rooted ‘Antidote’ to bringing together London house veteran DJ IC and nu-skool Afrohouse artist Jim Mastershine for a collaborative release, houSupa is a go-to label for sounds shaking up the dance.
London's very own Hyperdub has worked hard this year to deliver both exciting music and demonstrate how our scene can benefit from thinking forwards. Its boasted album-of-the-year records such as Loraine James' 'Reflection', aya's 'im hole', Lee Gamble's 'A Million Pieces of You', and continuned to showcase local London heroes and label staples such as Cooly G. Scratch DVA and Burial, as well as investing in newer talents like fiyahdred. Hyperdub is, and will continue to be, perhaps the best representation of what London's music scene has to offer.
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9 Infinite Machine
2021 saw Mexico City’s Infinite Machine celebrating its tenth year of pushing barriers and redefining club music. Earlier this month it released a club-focused decade anniversary compilation, which features contributions from Galtier, Laughing Ears, YILAN, Renslink, Ma Sha Ru, Xiao Quan, Benfika and Daniel Ruane. The label had several releases throughout the year, including Australian Galtier's latest album ‘Pulchra Es Elementis’ and second full-length by Norwegian duo Soft As Snow, ‘Bit Rot’. Marrying together experimental sounds from around the world identifying around the neo-punk movement, Infinite Machine has cultivated a community of disruptive and pioneering artists.
10 Local Action
If you want to see the artists who are going to become household names in the near future, checking out Local Action's roster is always a good way to go. This year the label brought about some incredible releases either side of the pond: Sharda's 'High Tide', UNiiQU3's 'Heartbeats', Baltra's 'Ambition', 96 Back's 'Love Letters, Nine Through Six' - while label regulars such as Finn, DJ Q and India Jordan continue to bring heat.
11 Mavin Records
In its tenth year of operation, Mavin Records affirmed its position among the top-tier of global imprints. The Nigerian label, founded by Don Jazzy, is a star-making machine, putting out the finest in music from across the African continent. Its releases are blessings for the ears of listeners who can’t get enough of styles such as Afropop and Afrobeats. Hits released this year, including likes of Rema’s ‘Soundgasm’ and ‘Bounce’ and Ladipoe’s ‘Feeling’, have racked up millions of streams, asserting Mavin’s position as a powerhouse. It also regularly breaks new names, with debut releases this year coming from young artists Ayra Starr and Magixx.
12 Ninja Tune
Ninja Tune has gained a reputation for transforming club producers into megastars - and this year has been no exception. New signings such as Anz, Elkka, India Jordan and VTSS have proved fruitful, with releases making moves on everyone's end of year lists, and DJ Seinfeld and his 'Mirrors' album were named as both one of our best live performers and best albums of the year. Bonobo's upcoming 'Fragments' record has already been making waves with initial singles 'Rosewood' and 'Otomo' - while his work with Ólafur Arnalds and Totally Enormous Dinosaurs earned him a GRAMMY nomination.
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13 NLV Records
In a year where Australia had some of the most intense lockdowns in the world, NLV Records worked to push the diverse sounds of new Australia out into the world. With more than 40 tracks released in a wide range of genres and the re-launch of NLV Presents as a First Nations Mix Series on Apple Music, it’s been a busy year for NLV Records. Some of the artists who released first-rate work with the label this year include Strict Face, Anna Lunoe, Genesis Owusu, Laces, founder Nina Las Vegas, and more.
Both a label and a collective, PTP (or Purple Tape Pedigree) has been consistently releasing some of the most exciting new music to come out of New York's bubbling underground scene since 2009. It offers a mash of blissful hip hop and deconstructed sounds, preferring to release on cassette tape. The label's output is curated by GENG PTP, with artists such as Dreamcrusher, Dis Fig, Bonaventure, or DeForrest Brown, Jr./Speaker Music, Saint Abdullah, Armand Hammer and Lungs becoming regulars. What stands out about PTP is its commitment to its hip hop origins - involving rappers such as New York's amani and maassai.
15 Rhythm Section
As Rhythm Section explained to Mixmag: “This year has been a journey- a difficult one to say the least; pressing delays, the pandemic and just generally trying to readapt to normal life in a post-COVID society.” Still, they are ending the year on a high with more ambitious projects and a larger team. RS kicked off this year with an EP from producer duo Simeon Jones and Nathanael Williams known as The Colours That Rise which was funded by Bandcamp’s pressing initiative. As the year progressed, it produced some serious soul from Jerome Thomas and MMYYKK, followed by a remix package from 30/70 featuring Yu Su, Carista and Chaos in the CBD. The people behind Rhythm Section, Bradley Zero and Emily Hill, worked on a project close to their hearts named ‘SHOUTS 2021’ which expressed their intention to work with a wider variety of artists and plant the seed for future collaborations. Emily said: “We were honoured that established musicians from across the world admire what we do and want to join the rhythm section family.”
16 Scuffed Recordings
London’s Scuffed Recordings is a pillar of London’s club scene. It showcases some of the best sounds in electronic music and has continued to support artists throughout the pandemic. From taking DJs Nikki Nair and Farsight on tour, to releasing three various artists projects, to the EPs of Ayesha, Chungo, and Maya Q; this has been a busy year for Scuffed. The label provides everything from breaks, to trance, to garage, to bass-heavy bangers- it’s no wonder legends such as Mary Anne Hobbs play tracks from the label. 2021 has presented various challenges for artists globally - Scuffed spotlights artists both in its release and by championing their achievements and always plugging new mixes, good news and passing around good vibes.
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17 Shall Not Fade
Shall Not Fade runs deep in Bristol’s veins - with a whopper selection of new-to-the-scene artists, its become a landmark label in its mere half-decade of operation. Celebrating its sixth anniversary this year, the label pieced together a monumental 24-track compilation from Shall Not Fade favourites, including Black Loops, Kessler, Cinthie, DJ Crisps, Harrison BDP, Ell Murphy and Barry Can’t Swim. Now, the label also focuses on its sub-imprints such as Time Is Now and Basement Tracks, and recently saw the opening of a brand new record store and merch shop in Bristol’s city centre.
After launching at the start of this year as a sub-label from Defected Records, Sondela has swiftly become a leading Afro house outputs, championing emerging artists as well as established names known for dominating the scene. Beyond its aims to curate live events and expose the genre to new audiences, all proceeds go to South African organisation Bridges For Music, a non-profit supporting responsible development in developing countries. The new label has already released work from Hyenah, Native Tribe, Enoo Napa, Benny T, DJEFF, and more.
19 Standard Deviation
Self-described as a ‘multidisciplinary label platform’, Ukraine’s Standard Deviation has consistently gone against the grain since its inauguration just last year. The newly-formed imprint sets out to champion local Ukrainian talent amongst its ever-growing nightlife scene, and this year sought out some of the artists spearheading Ukraine’s underground. With two compilation records featuring artists such as Nastya Vogan, Tofudj, Nene H, and more, among its releases, Standard Deviation has become the foremost imprint to watch as ever more eyes fall on Ukraine’s dance music scene.
20 T4T LUV NRG
T4T LUV NRG put out three absolutely essential releases this year. Kicking off with co-founder Octo Octa’s spiritually energising ‘She’s Calling’ EP and rounding out with co-founder Eris Drew’s essential, ravey debut album ‘Quivering In Time’, the pair also welcomed Oakland’s Bored Lord into the fold for bassy four-track release ‘The Last Illusion’.
21 XL Recordings
It's been difficult to avoid the buzz around XL Recording's roster this year. It's been ridiculous really, a Joy Orbison debut album? check, Two EPs from the unstoppable Overmono? yep - a whole five records from Arca?! you bet. Blawan's deviation from his functional techno roots in the form of the 'Woke Up Right Handed' EP was met with critical acclaim, while LSDXOXO's hotly-anticipated 'Dedicated 2 Disprespect' was released in May and went on to be heard ringing across every debauched dancefloor this side of Tokyo. XL seems to have the magic touch when it comes to elevating artists and narrowing in on that magical little sweet spot that transforms productions from club-ready bangers into the mainstream.