Limited runs of records, cassettes, CDs, and prints appear to have been the norm in 2019, as it sometimes felt as though everyone Clash has spoken to this year is running a DIY label.
Some of these labels are operating with bigger budgets than others, but they are all focused on small runs of exquisite music.
Here are some of the labels that haven’t put a foot wrong this year and need to be praised for their efforts.
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Since 2016 Hidden Bay, the Paris/Toulouse cassette label, has had a knack of finding the best new band and packaging them in gloriously looking cassettes.
2019 felt like a creative high for them as The Death Of Pop, The Cool Greenhouse, Whitelands and Nice Apple, amongst others, released music full of shimmering melodies with lo-fi sensibilities.
The standout release was from Toulouse’s slowcore/shoegaze Docks. ‘Terracotta Ladder’ consisted of six instrumental workouts that oozed melodic charm. This was an EP that not only showed the strength of the label, but the underground French scene.
If this wasn’t enough 2019 saw Hidden Bay branch out into vinyl with Special Friend’s 10”.
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One label that has really grown into itself in 2019 is Brest’s Bloc Note. The 2019 releases show a label firstly working out what it is about and secondly trying to push the idea of physical releases. Musically it ranges from brooding electronic pop or devotional instrumental synth jams.
The release that seems to sum up this newfound scope is Paul-Alexis Leveugle’s ‘Avant que les murs ne tombent’. 11 different tapes were released in batches of three of different Leveugle performances from 2017-2018. Each tape came with a 20-page book. So many variables to create something that sounds otherworldly, whilst totally transfixing.
Keep up the good work Bloc Note!
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South Yorkshire’s Miracle Pond has had a great first year. Since May they have been released four cassettes and one digital only album. Musically these releases combine elements of electronica, prog, drone, psychedelic, ambient, noise, space pop, surreal poetry and the avant-garde to create something that sounds retro yet totally contemporary. Vangelis meets Erik Satie via Ocean Floor.
The album that epitomises this is ‘Brainflowers’ but Polypores, however their most transfixing release is ‘Liquorice Fish’ by Prufrock. This is 20 minutes of surreal poetry coupled with minimal avant-garde piano creations.
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Counter Culture Chronicles
Stepping away from music for a moment, one label that has carved out a niche for itself is The Hague’s Counter Culture Chronicles. This label releases candid interviews, academic talks and readings from the key players of the Counter Culture movement.
This year saw Angus MacLise, Jeph Jerman, Timothy Leary, Louise Landes Levi, Fielding Dawson, Hans Plomp, Piero Heliczer and Kenneth Anger join the ranks of Ira Cohen, Sun Ra, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac all getting the CCC treatment.
These releases offer us a chance to hear lost, or unknown, recordings of these great thinkers as well as offer us rare insights into the private lives.
Find out more HERE.
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London/Brighton’s Gob Nation has felt like a breath of fresh air in 2019. Releasing harrowingly visceral slabs of DIY punk, they feel like the ideal soundtrack to these highly volatile times.
Bitchin’ Car released an album of covers that had very little resemblance to the original versions. PC World’s self-titled cassette was 20 mins of synth punk and Sniffy & The Nits release six minutes pogo punk, but the release that sums up the ethos of the label was the Estate Agents’ ‘Landlords’ album. This was a scathing attack on, well, estate agents and sounded every bit as frenetic as you’d hope given it’s 10 songs last 12 minutes.
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An overlooked genre each year is metal. 2019 has seem some flawless releases, but the album of the year was probably on the metal label of the year.
Wallowing released their ‘Planet Loss’ on Astral Noize in November and it was a thing of beauty. Like Bloc Note Astral Noize really worked hard to find out who they were and then ran with it once they did. ‘Planet Loss’ was half an hour of doom straight from the gloaming, but it was the case and artwork, emphasis on art here, that was the label’s shining glory.
Designed by special effects prop designer Carl Crees each cassette’s case was from a hand pulled mould and hand painted making them definitely standout in your collection. The tapes shell was beautifully printed with the album’s artwork.
Long sold out this is an album to treasure as well as play.
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New Year’s Honours
In the world of noise, drone, experimentalism and the avant-garde three labels stood out in 2019. Outsider Art, Chocolate Monk and Fractural Meat Cuts. Each delivered a single mindedness for finding music from as far away from the mainstream you could get, but still making it captivating. This should be admired, whether or not the music is for you.
A special mention should be given to Florida’s Popnihill and Illuminated Paths. Over the past few years there has been a silent buzz about Orlando’s underground scene and these labels are documenting this talent.
The jewel in their collective crown was the debut album from the prolific lo-fi/punk techno performer Bacon Grease. This tape consisted of two 14-minute live songs that featured some of the finest techno released this year. It shows that the genre is still thriving in dirty back rooms and sounds a visceral as it did when it was first pioneered in Detroit.
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