2018 saw the way we consume music continue to change, in a ways no one could previously have dreamed of.
The manner music is released has been forced to change in reflection of this, opening new spaces for labels to operate in.
At the heart of all this, however, is the role of curation, the ability labels have to bring together opposing elements and forge something new.
Here are our favourite labels from the past 12 months of music...
Always keeping us on our toes, you'd struggle to predict what a year in Astral Black's calendar will have in store. The boutique label's 2018 comprised Rebore Kid's gunshot driven Rebore 001, YGG's football inspired anthem 'Strikers', Jon Phonics' ode to hood movies 'Beats To Talk Crud To', and 'Spoons' Shy One's collaboration with Tennis coaching MC Kwam (named after the Nationally treasured pub chain). They also curated our Summer party at Ace Hotel, which included sets from Lava La Rue, Fredwave, Capo Lee and Impey, for which we're eternally grateful!
Now we can only look forward to where the next twelve months takes them, all we can guess is that there will be plenty of bangers involved!
- Grant Brydon
Its rallying cry may be “Peckham Strong”, but since Bradley Zero founded Rhythm Section International in 2014 - to accompany regular dances he started throwing in 2009 - the label’s reach has far surpassed the borders of the South East London neighbourhood it calls home.
Starting with initial releases from local artists like Henry Wu, Mo Kolours and Al Dobson Jr., Rhythm Section has gone global – live events around the world supporting the label’s wide-spanning output, but also retaining a grounding in Peckham.
In 2018, they put out a range that demonstrates this, such as ‘Tropical Bleu’ - the first single from a forthcoming EP by a local MC, Pinty, who has longstanding connections with Peckham’s music scene (working with people like King Krule and Cosmo Pyke), alongside records like ‘Modularity’ by String Theory - a Glaswegian duo making experimental, complex house music - and the ‘80s synth-inspired ‘House Or Home’ from Sydney band Retiree, exploring what the idea of home means for people living across Australia, from “aboriginal tent embassies on the coast of New South Wales, to a retirement village to a one-room flat in Ringwood”.
This year’s ‘Compilation for Dominica’ release demonstrates the heart and soul of the label – interesting and varied musical selections, with a conscience and a character that’s distinctly Rhythm Section.
It was released to raise funds for the rebuilding of Dominica after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island; deep house and techno rub shoulders with jazz, and many of the tracks come from artists of Dominican descent, such as Moses Boyd (with his high-octane jazz groove, ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’ - named after the main thoroughfare of Peckham, where the label began), Chord Memory Band and Louis IV. If you want to hear the spirit of Rhythm Section, this is a good place to start.
- Emma Finamore
Veteran label Ninja Tune have enjoyed some stellar periods over the decades, continually mutating to stay one step ahead of the pack. That said, 2018 did feel particularly imperial, with Ninja Tune ushering out a mixture of big-hitting releases and stellar underground fare.
ODESZA and Maribou State continued their remarkable upward trajectory, while New York jazz rebels Onyx Collective found time to shuffle their debut full length in our direction. However it was a pair of debut album releases by two terrific producers that caused Ninja Tune to rise resolutely above the pack.
Helena Hauff’s ‘Qualm’ was an outrageous statement from a producer working in a realm of her own, while Montreal auteur Marie Davidson delivered the incredible full length ‘Working Class Woman’. With the label’s long-running Solid Steel mix series set to gain a makeover in the next 12 months, the future looks incredibly bright for this defining British label.
- Robin Murray
Brownswood was founded by Gilles Peterson in in 2006 to provide a space for all the unsigned demos he was getting sent. Since then it’s developed into far more than that - releasing everything from Yussef Kamaal to Ghostpoet - but this year really cemented the value of the label’s work, especially when it comes to UK jazz.
This year’s release highlights included ‘There Is A Place’ by Maisha - a collective making spiritual jazz, fusing it with West African and Afrobeat rhythms - and the ‘Brownswood Bubblers 13’ compilation, which includes award-winning composer and trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray and jazz-tinged soul vocalist Yazmin Lacey.
It’s Brownswood’s ‘We Out Here’ - a “primer on London’s bright-burning young jazz scene” - that really seals the label’s importance in 2018, arguably one of the most exciting times for UK jazz in a while. It’s a dynamic, fizzing compilation featuring young luminaries like Maisha, Ezra Collective, Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia and Joe Armon-Jones, along with an accompanying documentary.
It tells the story of young, gifted jazz artists in London, and the friendship, community and influences of the city’s jazz scene; the project demonstrates how the support and innovation of labels can really help power grassroots music scenes.
- Emma Finamore
One of the premiere outlets in the psych/shoegaze/noise rock nexus, Fuzz Club proved to be unrelentingly ambitious during 2018. As if releasing superb new music from The Oscillation, The Underground Youth, Medicine Boy, Throw Down Bones (amongst many others!) wasn’t enough, they also launched their own magazine and hosted a full weekender in Eindhoven.
Committed to furthering the cause of barbed guitar noise wherever it can be found, it’s the communal nature of Fuzz Club which makes the label so potent – bands frequently support one another, building a mutually supportive platform that makes it easier to be heard.
Opening the year with a full length from Dead Vibrations, Fuzz Club helped make 2018 a brighter, noisier, more human place.
- Robin Murray
Based between Bloomington, Indiana and Austin, Texas, the rise of Dead Oceans has seen it become a truly international concern. Just look at this year’s stellar output: everyone from South London outcasts Shame to New Zealand’s own Marlon Williams, astonishing American songwriter Mitski and London-via-Iceland project LUMP.
Ryley Walker seems to release a superb new project every eight weeks, while Khruangbin ended 2018 with a typically funky, outrageously infectious Christmas-themed release.
And that’s just barely scratching the surface. The past 12 months also brought something special from Phosphorescent, and the old school soul of Durand Jones & The Indications, with Dead Oceans seemingly content to re-write the rules on a monthly basis.
A label to stand by, for sure.
- Robin Murray
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