Curatorial smarts, an eye for design, the willingness to graft, the means to graft, an ear to the ground – labels have to tick plenty of boxes before they can start cooking with real gas.
In truth, the stars haven’t really aligned for a label this year in the way they did for, say, PAN or L.I.E.S. in 2012. Some of the following imprints have alighted on the zeitgeist, but not quite released enough to rocket to the top; some have spread their bets effectively, but lacked that flagship release that we know we’ll be coming back to in five years’ time; some have got the tunes covered, but are still one sparky art director away from proper brilliance. It’s been a strong year for albums, for sure – but with so many releases arriving as no-label mixtapes and long-form giveaways, even the canniest labels often haven’t had a look-in.
That caveat aside, the following imprints have all being doing great – and, in some cases, excellent – work this year. It’s certainly our most varied selection to date – a list where Serious Electronic Labels rub shoulders with cheeky online upstarts, where out-there cassettes sit alongside soundtrack LPs, and where neon bangers, sound poetry and pneumatic club tools all jockey for position.
Rush Hour’s hydra heads were all snapping away with vigour this year. Most interesting was their burgeoning No ‘Label’ offshoot, which chucked out great releases from Willie Burns, Aardvarck and DMX Krew. Their reissue game was fantastic too, with N.A.D.’s Dawn Of A New Age, Jesse Saunders’ beyond seminal ‘On And On’ and Jorge Velez’s Home Recordings compilation (technically a very late 2012 entry, but one that ruled our 2013 nonetheless) all seeing the light of day. Factor in a proper release of one of the absolute best compilations of the year, Gerd Janson’s Musik For Autobahns, and fine 12”s from Xamiga and Moiré, and it’s difficult to argue with the Dutch dons’ ongoing big beast status.
Essential releases: N.A.D. - Dawn Of A New Age Black Deer - Trail Of Tears Various - Musik For Autobahns
Boye ‘t Lam, Rush Hour: “In 2013, we focused more on individual projects by local artists, such as Tom Trago who released his new album: The Light Fantastic. It’s his third album, which is a lot more dance-floor focused than its predecessor, and in our opinion reflects the link between Tom as a DJ and as a producer a much better. Still very versatile, but really dancefloor minded.
“With approximately 10 releases on the main label, the launch of our store-only platform and the releases on our sub-labels – e.g. Voyage Direct – we could still offer everything from reissues to current releases and compilations, while giving enough space for all the fans to digest every single release. The reissue projects, such as the essential ‘90s UK techno album N.A.D. and the reissue of ERB’s ‘The Weekend’, gave record enthusiasts the chance to get those lost and classic projects again on vinyl. Xosar’s ‘The Calling’ gained great reviews, and paved the way even more for her upcoming projects for next year on Rush Hour. Other personal highlights are the releases by Moiré and BNJMN.
“We also wanted a more ‘offline’ experience with the label, so we launched our in-store series, a set of six releases which are only available at various record stores worldwide, but remain excluded from any online mail order. Another project by a ‘local’ Amsterdam artist which was supposed to come out this year, but which is postponed to early next year, is the Awanto3 album. Many thanks to everybody who is and has been supporting us throughout the years, onwards and upwards to 2014.”
Mugwump’s anything-goes imprint came into its own in 2013, with eccentricity and good intentions finally matched by proper quality control. Pick of the litter is the blasted heath ambient of Pye Corner Audio’s first album as House In The Woods, but the strike ratio has been high throughout: Hoofus’ Several Wolves, a ragged take on Border Community’s pretty electronica; Deaf Arena, a ghoulish noise-not-noise set from Dead Fader’s John Cohen; quirky spoken word on Dolly Dolly’s Antimacassar; and the gimcrack industrial dub of Hacker Farm’s UHF, which snuck out in the final weeks of 2012 but got a proper second wind with a 2013 pressing.
Essential releases: House In The Woods - Bucolica Hoofus - Several Wolves Hacker Farm - UHF
Mugwump, Exotic Pylon: “The overload. I’ve no idea in what context the label stands or belongs and I care even less. Terminal turmoil chaos confusion. Keeping Exotic Pylon alive this year has been an unforgiving struggle that’s entirely battered my senses and sanity – an uncontrollable nightmare mostly through my own ineptitude. But this is a war of positive irresponsibility. Record labels should be a chaotic unpredictable mess, no compromise, no apologies. This isn’t fun, this is a fucking fight.
“Exotic Pylon exists to say YES to pop or noise or drone or folk or hip hop or jazz or analogue or digital or whatever has been around for 500 years or whatever might be about to drop in 10 minutes time all in excelsis mutationous. If there’s a thread pulled taut through the mess, it’s that every single artist on the label has something to SAY. Something about their world or your world or other worlds or all things at once – just whatever it takes and to keep prodding and unravelling the hideous wasteland of 21st century networked reality. Is this coming out on vinyl? YAWN. Maybe. But what about CD or SD card or cassette or a can of tomatoes (keep em peeled). Every artist I’ve worked with demands absolute respect for their breadth of imagination and commitment to trying to enrich the boundaries of experience. Can I borrow 20 quid?”