What makes a good record label in 2010? There are, of course, multiple answers to that question: some of our favourite imprints this year excelled because they lovingly dug up unappreciated gems from the past, restored them and made them available to a new generation, while others were totally focused on exploring hitherto unexplored terrain with new and exciting music. What unites them is passion; a group of hard working individuals who put a focus on quality over quantity (although some manage to do both), with painstaking attention to detail put into every lovingly packaged release. Without further ado, we present the Juno Plus top 5 labels of 2010.
5. Ostgut Ton
A bastion of stripped back house and techno it may be, but Ostgut Ton’s year began with the release of Scuba’s excellent Sub:stance mix, a dubsteppish exploration that featured the likes of Shackleton, Mala and Ramadanman and debuted Joy Orbison’s then unreleased “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow”. This was followed by a steady stream of stellar 12″s from members of the label’s tight knit roster including Steffi, Marcel Fengler, Tama Sumo, Prosumer and, most memorably, Luke Slater’s sprawling 12 minute “Take It Down In (dub)” under his LB Dub Corp alias. There were also albums from Marcel Dettmann and Shed; Dettmann’s much anticipated debut LP was a brooding exploration of crackly, dubby techno, while Shed’s The Traveller was a worthy follow up to 2008’s lauded Shedding The Past.
The impressive Berghain 04 compilation saw Ben Klock step up to the task of curating the fourth instalment of the club’s mix series (following on from André Galluzi, Marcel Dettmann and Len Faki), and it was a challenge he tackled with aplomb. The subsequent 12 inch releases that accompanied the mix were equally superb – especially the Kevin Gorman/James Ruskin double header. The cherry on the icing on the cake, however, was the 2xCD (or 7xLP, depending on how you roll) Fünf compilation, which saw the Ostgut family make tracks using field recordings gleaned from within the walls of the label’s associated club(s) Berghain and Panorama Bar. A more appropriate concept for a label compilation we have not seen or heard in a long time, and it rounded off an exemplary year for the Berlin imprint.
4. DFA Records
As we mentioned in our 2010 overview, what’s considered as contemporary disco has fractured off in several directions this year with everything from throwback proto house rhythms to sprawling, almost cosmiche jams packaged under the disco umbrella. As you’d expect, DFA seem to have been responsible for the best in all the differing strands of disco, thus their inclusion in our Top 5 Labels was a must. In terms of twelve inch releases alone DFA have enjoyed a superlative year, with the continued support and artistic freedom allowed to Gavin Russom delivering the most rewards for music consumers. The raw orgasmic energy of Russom’s Black Meteoric Star project impressed last year, but the two twelve inches he delivered as The Crystal Ark demonstrate Russom is now dancing to an increasingly psychedelic and hypnotic beat. In addition, Russom obsessives were latterly treated to the belated and much overdue release of “Track 5” his aged collaboration with Delia Gonzales which was culled from their cult DFA album and never fully heard or released (oh and Ame remix too? Wow!)
Taking their cue from Russom in the sonic experimentation stakes were nDF whose debut for the label “Since We Last Met” was an equally enchanting eleven minute sojourn through kaleidoscopic hypnotics that made no allusions towards the dancefloor. The fact that the track was not overawed by the accompanying Villalobos remix shows how much we rate it. Complementing this were a raft of straight up dancefloor cuts throughout the year from a cast including Ray Mang, TBD, Woolfy, Jee Day, Discodeine and Shit Robot. The latter also graced the album shelves with a long player that disappointed only with the slightly underwhelming name (the collaboration with Nancy Whang has remained a perennial Juno Plus favourite). It is however the exhaustive and always enlightening Peter Gordon retrospective that fully secured DFA amongst the upper echelons of our favourite labels.
3. Night Slugs
Night Slugs have enjoyed such a rich vein of success in 2010 it’s sometimes easy to forget Alex Sushon and James Connolly only started putting out records in January. The year has been a microcosmic story of accomplishment that most labels might hope to achieve in a lifespan. Widespread media coverage from Dazed to Pitchfork and feverish anticipation amongst the more discerning corners of the internet have been an organic side effect for a label whose every release has retained the standard in quality set by that inaugural white label from L Vis 1990. It’s pretty hard to find any new superlatives to pin on the label, and Juno Plus is unlikely to be the sole voice of praise in this season of lists and features. What has really impressed throughout the year is the determination of Sushon and Connolly to mould discontent with the direction their musical surroundings was heading into something nascent and exciting.
Central to this of course was the selfless drive of Sushon and Connolly to use the label as a platform to open the music of their friends and contemporaries to a wider and more than willing audience. Let’s not forget they are both respected DJs and producers in their own right, but other label endeavours have floundered by pandering to the egotistical endeavours of the decision makers. Night Slugs have succeeded because no one else was putting out Kingdom tracks and Egyptrixx somehow couldn’t get a DJ gig in hometown Toronto. It’s hard to even pick an outstanding release from the catalogue, although Girl Unit’s “Wut” has been rightly feted because it’s a track that demands to be played loud in clubs to really bask in its crunk glory. The label has really ended on a high with the unveiling of Jam City’s “Magic Drops” and Jacques Greene’s gloriously R&B soaked house anthem “(Baby I Don’t Know) What You Want”.
2. R&S Records
Of all the labels to capture our attention in 2010, R&S stood as perhaps the most smile inducing. Techno fans of a certain vintage have fond memories of R&S, the label founded by Renaat Vandepapeliere and Sabine Maes back in 1984. But after a long line of seminal releases from the likes of Model 500, Aphex Twin, Carl Craig, Derrick May, Joey Beltram, CJ Bolland and Kenny Larkin in the late 80s and early 90s, the label slid into obscurity for many a year. Step up British A&R Dan Foat and label manager Andy Whittaker, who have reinvigorated the label since its relaunch in 2006, scouring the furthest recesses of the musical landscape in search of new talent. Clearly they are men of fine taste: in 2010 Shlomi Aber, James Blake (twice), Fabrice Lig, Pariah (also twice), Space Dimension Controller and Untold all released 12”s on the imprint, along with Model 500′s first new record since 1999′s Mind & Body, which was, of course, released on R&S 1.0.
The two jewels in the crown were James Blake and Space Dimension Controller. Blake released two wildly different EPs on R&S this year, namely the R&B soaked CMYK and then Klavierwerke, on which he was given the freedom to depart from the confines of the dancefloor and enter a realm where there is only a passing reference to rhythm-based music. Space Dimension Controller meanwhile is musically impossible to pin down, with a sound and style all of his own, and the 19-year-old Belfast producer popped up with a six-track double-EP in October that cemented his reputation as one of electronic music’s most distinctive talents. Effortlessly joining the dots between deep house, Detroit techno, 80s soul, P-funk, space disco, IDM and classic 90s ambient house, R&S was in many ways his perfect home.
1. Rush Hour Recordings
We ran out of gushing words of praise to describe Rush Hour in about June, so let’s just stick to the facts: 2010 saw the label in unparalleled form, with a tireless release schedule that included new material, reissues and combinations of the two. Reissuing the seminal Virgo LP gave Eric Lewis and Merwyn Sanders some long overdue time in the spotlight, and was closely followed in the masterstroke stakes by the Space Dimension Controller and FaltyDL remixes of Detroit legend Anthony Shake Shakir. A comprehensive retrospective of Recloose was also released, as well as a welcome oddity from Robert Hood’s little known disco-house alias Floorplan. Some thundering 303 house from Gene Hunt/Ron Hardy was also reissued, and we were treated to three volumes of the new House Of Trax series, the highlight being a previously unreleased version of Jamie Principle’s “Bad Boy”. The recurring appearance on the label of Cosmin TRG gave the label a contemporary sheen to sit alongside its retro leanings, with a particularly memorable release seeing the Romanian producer trade remixes with New Yorker FalfyDL aka Drew Lustman. FaltyDL turned “See Other People” into a crazed futuristic techno R&B hybrid, while on the flip “St Marks Place” got a truly menacing techno funky rerub from Cosmin.
Several straight up house and techno 12”s served the role of Rush Hour’s bread & butter, and with Kirk Degiorgio, KiNK & Neville Watson, Hunee, Marcello Napoletano and Nebraska all on board, bread and butter never tasted so good. The Tom Trago-curated Voyage Direct series continued to impress, with the most recent instalment seeing Dutch producer Danny ‘Legowelt’ Wolfers deliver an impeccably atmospheric vintage house jam. Like The Godson’s recent underground hit “Analog Love” – with which it shares vocal and organ samples – “Love & Happiness” was an exercise in classic analogue deep house that oozed with warmth. The Direct Current series hit its fifth release with some classic Aardvarck given a future flex by that man Cosmin TRG and Nubian Mindz. The label continued to work with Rick Wilhite, and released the Rick Wilhite Presents Vibes New And Rare Music compilation which boasted contributions from the likes of Glenn Underground, Marcellus Pittman, Kyle Hall and some young chancer named Theo Parrish. What began as a humble record store on Spuistraat in Amsterdam now stands as one of electronic music’s proudest empires. Long may it continue.