If 2016 proved one thing, it's that the way we consume music has rarely been so complicated.
The average music fan might make a playlist for the commute, listen to digital radio at work, and then return home to spin some vinyl. It's a multi-format approach that, if anything, will expand rather than contract.
This state of flux has placed renewed emphasis on the role of the curator, on the importance of returning to voices you can trust.
Fresh from debating the year's finest albums, the Clash team noticed that more and more of these releases were cropping up on the same names.
The independent label as a concept is alive and well - here's a few that defined our musical year.
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Yeah, so Local Action got a shout out in last year’s list, but they’ve managed to follow it up with another blinder. Highlights include Yamaneko’s keygen-inspired ‘Project Nautilus’, DJ Q’s hedgehog homage (‘Sonic’), Big Dope P’s turnt ‘Off Da Bottle’, #artworkgoals from T_A_M, and Dawn Richard teaming up with some of the underground’s finest and dropping one of the best albums of the year. Here’s to that trajectory continuing in 2017. Felicity Martin
The atmosphere at Medi’s tenth birthday in Electric Brixton lived up to the name of the venue, and what a year the soundsystem culture label’s had. Dropping a Kaiju LP (the highly-acclaimed ‘Seven Sins’) alongside releases from Compa, Bukez Finezt and Silkie (whose ‘It wasn’t you’ is nuts, btw). That’s not forgetting, of course, ‘Topper Top’ — the Spyro anthem that’s easily one of our tracks of the year — need we say more...? Felicity Martin
For fans of left-of-centre hip-hop and miscellaneous obscurities, you can’t talk labels without mentioning legendary West Coast indie Stones Throw records.
2016 has been as exciting as ever for Peanut Butter Wolf and the gang. While NxWorries (Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge) made it onto the radars of more casual listeners with the long-awaited ‘Yes Lawd!’ LP, die hard listeners will have gotten sucked into instrumental releases from Mndsgn, Samiyam and the ‘SOS Tape’ curated by Sofie Fatouretchi, a monstrous 4LP anthology from Egyptian Lover and a new rap record from Homeboy Sandman. Grant Brydon
London grime imprint Coyote came of age in 2016. Releases from Silk Road Assassins and Spokes demonstrated the label’s ability to shine a light on new talent, to work with fresh production minds and unleash something startlingly different. Last Japan’s ‘Ascend’, though, broke the glass ceiling – voiced by Last Japan, it became one of the year’s inarguable anthems, perfectly balancing forward-thinking production with AJ’s impeccable flow. The best part? Letta’s second album drops in January, meaning that 2017 could top even this track record. Robin Murray
Bradley Zero’s impeccable Rhythm Section imprint toasts its fifth anniversary in the only way it knows how – raucous parties, and forward thinking releases. Duke Hugh and Chaos In The CBD provided some standout moments on wax, but it was Prequel’s near instant sell out EP ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’ that truly struck a chord. Painting lines between house, jazz, and spoken word, it was a daring release that could only come from SE London’s hot-house atmosphere. Robin Murray
From Glasgow to London, Astral Black continue to unearth some of the most exciting producer-driven music from all corners of our island. From sample-based headphone beats to forward-thinking club sounds, the crew have continued to merge influences from hip-hop, grime and bass music through releases from Bushido and Impey, a collaborative EP from Slugabed & Ed Scissor and their third Frass FM compilation showcasing new beats by DJ Milktray, Drae Da Skimask, Rapture 4D, Creep Woland and more.
They’ve also been throwing some legendary parties featuring appearances from the likes of AJ Tracey, Jammz, Capo Lee and Lee Scott, as well as welcoming radio hosts Jossy Mitsu and Xao into the fold for their monthly Radar Radio shows. Grant Brydon
Seriously, how could we choose?! Jagjaguwar released that incredible Bon Iver LP, Dinosaur Jr.’s kick-ass album, Angel Olsen's 'Woman' and a superb debut from Japanese Breakfast. Dead Oceans wasn’t to be out-done, finding room for Kevin Morby, Ryley Walker, and of course that incomparable Mitski full length. Truly, a golden run. Robin Murray