Clash named J Hus' 'Common Sense' as our Album Of The Year a few short hours ago, ending weeks of discussion in the office.
One recurring thread emerged, however: what does it mean to be signed in 2017? After all, if some of our favourite albums are self-released, this placed the traditional label structure under huge pressure.
Thankfully, some labels are still smashing it. Some have kept a concise roster, specialising in one sound; others have broadened, absorbing fresh influence; still others, though, have proved that they don't care about expectation, and signed whoever they liked.
Here, Clash staff name some of the imprints who have kept them on their toes during the past 12 months...
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Dekmantel (Felicity Martin)
Killer festivals and events, now a ten-year label exposing some of the most exciting dance music going - everything these guys touch turns to gold. It’s plain to see that the Dutch crew, who kicked off the label in ’07, are essentially just a passionate bunch who really, really love raving.
To celebrate their decade in the biz, this year the ‘Dam-based label played an ace with Robert Hood’s ‘Paradygm Shift’, a full-length ode to skeletal, true-to-form minimal techno, while also dropping Juju & Jordash’s ’Sis-boom-bah’, a record which moved beyond techno’s confines to include pretty Balearic grooves and irresistible world rhythms. Then there were the 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions of their ‘Selectors’ compilation series, helmed by Young Marco, Marcel Dettmann and Joy Orbison, plus unmissable outings from Palms Trax, Awanto 3 and Fatima Yamaha. Keep doing what you’re doing, Dekmantel.
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LuckyMe (Robin Murray)
Glasgow’s LuckyMe has long done its own thing. A pleasingly individual spirit seems to inhabit every release to wear their name, and 2017 has brought a slew of high profile releases that challenged boundaries while working the floor. EPs Parc En Ciel and Suicideyear were followed by some titanic work from CID RIM, but perhaps the most notable releases on the label came from two long-term compatriots from the Canadian city of Montreal.
Jacques Greene’s debut album ‘Feel Infinite’ was wonderful, matching lucid electronics to a designer’s eye, creating something both entrancing and utterly original. Lunice is far from a newcomer – we’ve been covering his work for almost a decade now – but his long-awaited debut album found the producer pushing his work in fresh directions, with often startling results.
LuckyMe always keep us guessing – one thing’s for sure, though, what 2018 brings is certain to be worth keeping an eye out for.
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Quality Control Music (Grant Brydon)
Atlanta’s Quality Control Music has been an undeniable force in rap music throughout 2017, with Coach K and Pee demonstrating how a blockbuster rap label is run in the streaming era. Flagship artists Migos have enjoyed their biggest year yet - thanks to the explosion of ‘Bad and Boujee’ at the end of 2016, and the January release of their ‘CULTURE’ LP - dominating charts and headlines throughout 2017, and label-mate Lil Yachty has been unavoidable too.
While the latter wasn’t quite as successful with his debut album ‘Teenage Emotions’, the self-styled King Of Teens has still made his mark, appearing in Sprite commercials with LeBron James, Target adverts with Carly Rae Jepsen and starring in campaigns for Urban Outfitters and Nautica.
After a victory lap with their freshly released ‘Control The Streets, Vol.1’ compilation, the label are ready for an even bigger 2018 having signed buzzing talent like Stefflon Don and Lil Baby, as well as preparing to drop Migos ‘CULTURE 2’ in the new year.
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Dirty Hit (Robin Murray)
Having signed, launched, and brought The 1975 to global domination the team at Dirty Hit could be forgiven for giving themselves a few days off, for cutting themselves some slack.
Not this year, though. Matching new signings to rejuvenated work from old friends Dirty Hit continually left us entertained, with Superfood’s colour-laced second album becoming the unofficial summer soundtrack for many.
That said, the label are all about the future. New signings such as King Nun have torn apart venues across the country, while Manchester’s Pale Waves are on the cusp of stardom – with a BBC Sound Of 2018 placing already in their grasp, few would bet against the group dominating the next 12 months.
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OVO Sound (Grant Brydon)
We get that picking a label co-founded by Drake might seem a bit bait, but it’s easy for OVO Sound to be overshadowed and not recognised for the great work they’re doing elsewhere. And, while the Six God has been out racking up bills in Nando’s, commentating on NBA games and living out his dreams, his label have been putting out some of the year’s best R&B releases.
Of course we’ve got to shout out ‘More Life’ and Baka’s new Canadian national anthem ‘Live Up To My Name’, but it’s really dvsn, Majid Jordan and PARTYNEXTDOOR that have won the Toronto-based label a place on this list. Under the mentorship of guys like Oliver El-Khatib, Noah ‘40’ Shebib, Future The Prince and Drex Jancar, the after-hours R&B sound popularised by Drake has been able to squeeze itself into new places.
dvsn‘s ‘Morning After’ for example, is the perfect balance of contemporary and classic R&B. Meanwhile, Majid Jordan continue on their quest for timelessness with ‘The Space Between’, disregarding charts and trends to continue crafting music that soundtracks their listeners lives.
Winner of the Songwriter of the year at this year‘s MTVU Woodies Awards, PARTYNEXTDOOR has continued to develop himself as a future pop star, trickling out surprise releases like the criminally overlooked ‘COLOURS 2’ and his recent ‘Seven Days’ EP as well as touring with Halsey as he warms fans up for his anticipated third album ‘Club Atlantis’ in the new year. With all three acts preparing to tour the UK in early 2018, there’s no sign of OVO’s R&B streak ending any time soon...
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Planet Mu (Robin Murray)
One of the best things about Planet Mu is that, ever after two decades, it remains almost impossible to define the label as any one single sound. Take a look at the last 12 months of releases: Superb work from Claude Speeed, Antwood, Ekoplekz, Mr. Mitch, Eastwood, and more, but each exist in their own label, rarely intersecting.
That’s precisely what’s entrancing about this run of material. With an emphasis on quality over genre tags Planet Mu have continually skipped outside any bracket placed against them, absorbing fresh ideas wherever they can be found whether that’s left field composition, instrumental grime, a homage to mid 90s IDM or otherwise.
Perhaps the year’s defining point came with Jlin’s outstanding ‘Black Origami’ – having helped expose footwork internationally Planet Mu now act as a base for a producer whose stylistic intersections include everything from footwork’s frenetic percussive ticks to industrial’s crushing weight. A stunning record amid a slew of outrageously good material from the label.
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Ninja Tune (Robin Murray)
Put simply Ninja Tune dominated the Clash stereo in 2017. Almost from the off the label seemed intent on blooding new artists and seeking out fresh work from old friends, resulting a plethora of placings on our Album Of The Year list.
Bicep’s debut was one of the year’s most purely enjoyable dance records, while also betraying a subtle sense of creativity within those house and techno grooves. The Bug releases yet more heavyweight, utterly groundbreaking work, while Jordan Rakei’s debut album matched his soulful vocals against club culture and new developments in UK jazz.
Ending the year with Nabihah Igbal’s wonderful display of left-field pop and beguiling electronics, Ninja Tune have scarcely put a few wrong over the last 12 months.
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