2014: Favorite 15 Labels of 2014

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series


While we may casually reference it a lot (etc. etc. etc.), Tiny Mix Tapes does not take a univocal stance on late capitalism. Admittedly, some of the strange forms and permutations it continues to spawn are necessary for what we do. Not very continental of us, but it’s true. As capitalism nears its ultimate catastrophe, we are confronted with a torrent of bizarre spectres, as if bearing witness to the final horizon of the omega point. One of these is that the work of independent and “experimental” artists is becoming increasingly difficult to explain without referencing its material production at the hands of the Label, ever-decentralizing into the Group, the Collective (even as it occasionally hardens into the Boutique, the Imprint). What, for example, is Hannah Diamond without PC Music? Burial without Hyperdub? Susan Balmar without Psalmus Diuersae? Generations upon generations of forward-thinking musicians have finally been succeeded by our generation of the forward-thinking musical idiom, one that will be remembered more for its alliances, shared practices, and schools of thought than for its characters.

So, take it or leave it: TMT’s inaugural label list. As we enjoy the period of lethargy in between Thanksgiving and the holidays, it might be persuasive to merely read, stream, follow, and subscribe, but please remember what the holidays, record labels, and Tiny Mix Tapes really stand for: buy, buy, buy. ;)


PC Music

How hard do you commune with the computer in front of you? Letter upon letter, font upon font, sweeps of forgotten MS Paint spray cans, jittering waveforms found in stolen Audio Interfaces. It’s all spunk, sweat, pixels, and tears. This year, no label seemed like a hall of mirrors for our modern, cyborg intimacies quite like PC Music. A. G. Cook and the floating collection of avatars/affiliates who make up the PC Music world have created a sound that, for all its potential hashtag ability (electroclash-alt lit-happy hardcore-Eskibeat-K-pop-J-Pop-8-bit), feels utterly contemporary. PC Music is pop as “identity politics,” a sped-up and distorted vision of our own online personal brands, with readymade pop stars sculpted from the impulse to present ourselves, perfect, to a saturated online world. Eternal adolescence, voices breaking beyond any clear gender, debased dance musics of the Northern working class refigured by posh London art school kids, free downloads that scream about money, happiness so honed it feels almost medicinal. But there’s as much going on beneath the utopian songs of PC Music as within them, and they know it. The label left a discursive wave that, though huge, basically had commentators stumped: some championed it, others were full of bile and latent bigotry. But perhaps it takes a mid-twenties white dude to expose his peers to their own mundane dominance, cans of free Red Bull in their clammy hands. Or, more likely, we have in GFOTY and Hannah Diamond pop modernist experiments in emotion, voice, and gender just as interesting as Katie Gately, The Knife, and Holly Herndon, and just as difficult to compute. Cook may have admitted to dreaming of “producing tracks for Beyoncé one day,” but PC Music’s creations seize the moment as if the fantasy were already realized.

1080p

TMT has been so impressed by 1080p’s remarkable clarity and creative vision this year. Carefully crafted and in-house PR’d by Richard MacFarlane in Vancouver, releases have gone from conceptual house to post-internet, key-scape ‘sthetics to soul synthesia, VHS lingering to hyperbole glitching, disco goddessing to complete-beat worship, and infinitrance rave sludge to smear-llusion. And by employing familiar hallucinogicians such as Beat Detectives, Luke Wyatt, Karmelloz, Magic Fades, Gobby, Joel Shanahan, and Coyote Clean-Up, 1080p opened up the ears of willing listeners to the likes of lesser-known (/TMT-covered) musicians like Tlaotlon, LNRDCROY, Khotin, and Riohv, including live-slaying Via App and MCFERRDOG, and duos ATM and AT/NU. Best part (and key to C Monster’s heart) is that the releases from 1080p, a technology beyond human sight, are all available on cassette tape amongst their not-as-limited digital sales. Actually, it gets better: not only does 1080p perpetuate an entirely independent label entity (internationally, to boot), but it’s also technically in its first full year of operations. Few labels find success their first year, especially without $helling $krill for monthly PR, but Richard has successfully researched and networked with so many labels, musicians, and journalists throughout his years at Rose Quartz (and formerly TMT) that it seems like creating 1080p was a natural NEXT-STEP progression, and inspirationally so. It’s an example that exceeds respect.

Thrill Jockey

Former Atlantic Records A&R rep Bettina Richards started Thrill Jockey in 1992, running it out of her Manhattan apartment. Now based in Chicago, following a permanent relocation in 1995, Thrill Jockey has consistently proven its name as an expository for artists discontent with convention and trembling with potential energy. In short, Thrill Jockey has never ceased turning out music that kicks ass and kicks in barriers, whether those barriers stand between disparate cultures, irreconcilable styles, or even between listener and music (all Thrill Jockey releases are available for streaming on its website). Responsible for capturing and distributing such unhinged expressions as Oval’s 94 Diskont (1996), Mouse on Mars’s Idiology (2001), and Califone’s Roots and Crowns (2006), Thrill Jockey has undeniably left an imprint on TMT in recent years as well, with Future Island’s In Evening Air (2010), Liturgy’s Aesthethica (2011), and The Body’s Christs, Redeemers (2013) all sinking their claws into our hearts and poking out through our year-end lists. 2014’s crop is no less invigorating or transportative: Guardian Alien turned a mirror on its eviscerating audience with Spiritual Emergency, both affirming and constituting an ecstatic experience. OOIOO pushed its own barriers even further with Gamel, cracking through that cocoon we always thought was an entire planet. And Takako Minekawa & Dustin Wong colored outside of their own meditatively drawn lines on Savage Imagination, eventually forsaking their own meticulously woven canvass for a charitable world populated by beautifully violent beings insistent on their own docility. So, yeah, Thrill Jockey knows its shit. Or, as fellow TMTer Mango Starr once said, “Thrill Jockey is fucking awesome.”

Bootleg Tapes

Boasting a EUREKA! on your first release as a label is BIG at TMT. We’re talking how much Ricky Williams loves pot and football big. So when Bootleg Tapes popped off hard in August 2013 with the messy, exotic, sample-based **$$EXT8PE, a cassette/VHS joint release by LAMPGOD and LORD $M$, we all spun in our office chairs, choking in collective hysteria for what was to come. 2014 saw the Brooklyn-based label release 12 cassettes (as of this writing), all of which saw plenty of love over at Chocolate Grinder, with C L E A N E R S’ Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 receiving the most attention. But what made Bootleg Tapes truly stand out as a label this year was their activity in the perpetuation of the mixtape format, with releases like Jónó Mí Ló’s Eco Reject Mixtape (whose experiential melting point exceeded both traditional beat tapes and the twisted found-memoirs of breakless vaporwave) and 50 CENT IS THE FUTURE, a song-for-song secondhand release of 50 Cent’s first mixtape.

Awful Records

Being an avid listener of the mixtape game requires good filtration methods, whether by geography (Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, et al.) or simply by keeping tabs on specific artists, producers, and crews. Awful Records made it easy for us: more a DIY crew than a label, the as-yet online-only group consists of 11 (or, by now, perhaps more) rappers, producers, designers, and artists, many of whom live together in a small Atlanta apartment, all in friendly competition with each other and all with projects perpetually in the works. And with a methodology of uploading without concern for schedules (no marketing, just streams), limiting the impurities from crossovers (notable collaborations include iLoveMakonnen and Rome Fortune), and upholding a staunch independent ideology with no aesthetic cohesion, Awful has become one of the most vibrant, prolific, and exciting crews out there. And also one of the most unpredictable: I can’t think of any rap crew willing to drop music as varied as the raunchy lyricism of Father, the throwback boom-bap of Archibald Slim, the bizarre “rhythm & creep” of GAHM, the gothic experimentalism of Slug Christ, and the somber minimalism of their strongest release yet, Cactus Jack by ETHEREAL. That they’ve made a name in a city that’s already releasing the most captivating rap out there is a testament to their nascent talents. This is clearly just the beginning.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series


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