If 2013 proved that anyone and nearly everyone could have a record label of their very own, the year also affirmed that the experienced hands were the ones guiding the year’s best labels. The five labels below are the result of a series of ballots from LWE staff writers, but I still have to praise some others, as well. Downwards had a stellar 20th year, with fantastic new material from Kerridge and Oake as well as an excellent compilation. Sex Tags Mania released some of the best records of the imprint’s history, with Fettburger, Frak and Skatebard ploughing crackling house, disco, dub and even proto jungle to great effect. Rush Hour came correct with new releases from Willie Burns, DMX Crew alongside the usual expert reissue curation. And Demdike Stares Testpressing series deserves a mention for a particularly caustic and knarled take on techno, jungle and hardcore tropes. However, we had to whittle it down, so here are LWE’s top five.
Live At Robert Johnson
It wouldn’t be a LWE label list without LARJ, and 2013 kept the quality quietly bubbling in a characteristically understated fashion. Julius Steinhoff released the beautiful “You Collect Secrets,” all swirling lucidity and perfectly rendered groove. The Lifesaver Compilation, meanwhile, offered a cross section from newer artists like Chinaski alongside more driving fare from Roman Flugel. However, this was mostly about effortless house music, seductive, musical and assured, from one of the most consistently excellent labels in the game.
Praise be to Livity Sound. At a time when it looked like the sound of the UK underground was fast becoming a somewhat anaemic copy of US house, along they came — a steely, swung and cavernous presence that took the intersection between techno, jungle and dub as a starting point. 2013 has seen a number of strong releases: Asusu delivered the most techno moment thus far in the shape of “Velez” while Pev and Kowton provided perhaps the most anthemic take on the labels sound with “End Point” and Pev unleashed two earlier rollers with “Livity” and “Aztec Chant.” Sterling music that will stand the test of time.
Ron Morelli and his rag tag bunch of music makers had a characteristically busy 2013. While the release schedule was as large as ever, the hit rate was enviably high — and this year saw the release of some bone fide classics amongst more solid fare. While expanding its roster even further, L.I.E.S. went big on LPs with Shadowlust, Gunnar Haslam, KWC 92, and Marcos Cabral. But established names were just as strong this year. Svenghalisghost unleashed a welter of torrid acid stylings on the Vicious Circle EP; Delroy Edwards’ White Owl EP was a party starting three tracker full of stripped back menace; while Tereke’s YYYYYYYYY was truly beautiful music, and LWE’s EP of the year.
After an excellent 2012, PAN continued to inspire this year with a stellar set of releases that were often thrillingly ambitious in conception. Legendary Dubplates and mastering engineer Rashad Becker’s debut LP Traditional Music of Notional Species vol 1 was a fulsome exploration of abstract drone, found sound and all manner else, reveling in the expansive joy of sound itself and guided by some of the best ears in the business. Regis and Russell Haswell collaborated as the fearsome Concrete Fence, a project that synced the mauve ritualistic pulse of Regis to the deranged noise wrestling of Haswell. Elsewhere, Rene Hell’s Vanilla Call Option explored the hinterland of tense and immersive sound experimentation, and Black Sites (Helena Hauff and F#X) made a welcome debut with Prototype, laying out their dark, grinding aesthetic in fine form.
The Berlin techno behemoth rumbled on in characteristically slick forward motion this year. Marcel Fengler put out his debut LP Fokus, a balanced set that incorporated elements of light and shade among the characteristically fierce techno workouts. Marcel Dettman, meanwhile, followed up his much loved 2010 debut LP with Dettmann 2, a noticeably more nuanced set that included collabs with Levon Vincent and Shed. Function, meanwhile, presented Incubation — perhaps the most beautifully sculpted and opulent techno LP of 2013. Ostgut Ton also stepped up their compilation game with the Various, Masse, and Steffi’s excellent Panorama Bar 05 all standing out. Label debuts from Virginia and AtomTM (alongside Tobias) sat even with those of Nick Höppner, Rolando, and Ryan Elliot. Berghain’s label arm was firing on all cylinders in 2013 and shows no signs of slowing.