Clash salutes some of its favourite imprints...

Music would be nothing without labels.

Sifting through the results for our latest Album Of The Year poll, the Clash team were struck by just how important, how vivid many of our favourite imprints are.

Offering a clear, coherent voice, a label can become a beacon for fans, a shaft of light dripping across an otherwise darkened room.

Here are seven independent labels who we believe have helped define 2015. Disagree? Catch us on Twitter.

4AD
Few labels in the country can boast as much history as 4AD. Yet 2015 gave the clearest indication yet that this regal independent is about to blaze headlong into a new phase of its history – Grimes’ delivered her stunning ‘Art Angels’ while Holly Herndon’s ‘Platform’ saw the producer deliver her most potent sound art statement to date. New signings such as PIXX has raised the intrigue still further, while a wonderfully expansive Lush box set saw 4AD warmly embracing its past.

With both Daughter and new signing Tim Hecker set to deliver fresh material shortly, 2016 bodes well for this much-cherished imprint.

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Tectonic
This year Pinch's Tectonic imprint had everyone pulling their best screw faces to the Pinch & Mumdance-produced 'Big Slug' (with London city warlord Riko Dan on mic duty) a track that could probably actually tear off a soundboy's face given enough system power. As well as that, the label put out some seriously dark industrial workouts from Walton on his 'Bulldoze' EP and a solid (as ever) 12" from Wen which threw down some sweet 130 rollage. While in full-length format, the Acre and Ipman LPs were two album highlights - all crunchy breaks and techno clank. (Words: Felicity Martin)

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Bella Union
The music industry tends to work in cycles. After using 2014 to nurture new talent and uncover almost complete unknowns, Bella Union spent 2015 delivering magnificent material from seminal artist after seminal artist. John Grant and Father John Misty both released superlative grabbing LPs, while Beach House saw fit to unleash not one but TWO full length projects on the world. Ezra Furman became one of 2015’s most remarkable cult heroes, while heroic Stateside outfit Mercury Rev decided to make Bella their home for a sumptuous new LP. A gilded and nigh-on flawless 12 months from Bella Union.

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PC Music
2015 is the year that PC Music became an actual, proper label. Initially releasing material via SoundCloud, the collective inked a deal with Columbia that takes their output – vivid and unforgettably controversial – one step closer to the mainstream. With new releases planned from Hannah Diamond, Danny L Harle and Chinese superstar Chris Lee (Li Yuchun), it’s a dream that could well become a reality. For now, it’s best to reflect on a year in which PC Music has ruptured more think pieces than any other label on the planet.

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Heavenly Recordings
Heavenly’s second wind has been a joy to behold. Matching cult favourites to unlikely crossover stories, the London imprint – still using a skeleton staff – have been able to punch far, far above their weight. 2015 witnessed releases from wondrous Welsh artist Gwenno, Mark Lanegan, Eaves, Hooton Tennis Club, Nots and Stealing Sheep. Toasting their 25th year with nary a wrinkle in sight, Heavenly remain one of the most intrigued – and devoutly independent – labels in the land.

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Local Action
Tom Lea’s Local Action imprint continues to act as one of electronic music’s more intriguing bellwethers. This year has included some prime, unreleased DJ Q bassline cuts re-tooled for a 2015 environment and the first new grime tracks from Dread D – T. Williams’ original alter ego – in a decade. Alongside this you’ve got Jammz’ impeccable ‘Final Warning’ and Deadboy’s lush return ‘White Magick’, while the label is seeing out the year with new material from Daybreak associate Talbot Fade. Where Local Action goes, others follow.

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22a
Peckham’s loose-knit 22a crew have been putting out hazy, jazzy, soulful beats for some time, but 2015 felt like the year in which their scattered influences and eclectic approach truly came together. Seizing hold of a Boiler Room showcase, 22a – Mo Kolours, Tenderlonious, Al Dobson Jr. & Co. – have followed this with a series of curiously inspiring releases. Dexterous, subtly intriguing music, 22a is special because it seems to operate entirely outside of any style or trend, instead defining itself on its own terms.

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