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.


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.

Her Records

The international success of London-based Night Slugs has opened the door for many like-minded labels and club nights. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a rise in producers that are experimenting with sounds from grime, bass, and industrial music in order to create intense tracks made primarily for the club, tracks with very little influence from house or garage. One of these is South London-based Her Records. Founded by producers Sudanim, Miss Modular, and CYPHR in 2012, Her Records has made a name for itself in the past year, releasing a number of EPs from the label’s founders and compilations featuring tracks from other grime producers like Murlo and Strict Face. And throughout, the label has never sacrificed emotionality in its productions and has never took itself too seriously as a club night. In sets, it wasn’t uncommon to hear Jersey and Baltimore club, with a little Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna thrown in for good measure. But their primary focus? Presenting hard-hitting, no-nonsense club music.

Field Hymns

Despite moving away from Portland, OR, where the mighty Field Hymns got its auspicious start back in 2009, Dylan McConnell got his poop in a group to crank out 11 stellar cassette releases this year, notching catalog number 50 this October with a somewhat uncharacteristic punk rock tape from the duo Sad Horse. Over the years, the label has made a modest name for itself while having a stubborn habit of releasing incredible music from strange strangers in the analog/electronic experimenter world, outfitting retro-futuristic synthscapers and psych-portal openers with super stylish artwork, most of which was created by McConnell himself under the name Tiny Little Hammers. While Field Hymns has also been a nice platform for McConnell’s own work as Oxykitten and Adderall Canyonly, he kept his keyboards quiet this year for his own imprint (Oxykitten had a fine release elsewhere on Singapore Sling Tapes, by the way), leaving plenty of room for the expansive silicon vistas of Black Unicorn, the murky proto-goth-wave of German Army, the glittering disco-opera of Scammers, the cosmic folk of Conrad Wedde, a massive noir-inspired triple-tape trilogy from retro-synthoid newcomer Yves Malone, and so much more. Although never one to disappoint in the past, Field Hymns astonishingly upped its game in 2014 for its most solid year of releases yet, firmly cementing its place as one of the age’s most important labels while keeping us suitably occupied over in the Cerberus section.


I was curious to see if Fabric’s relatively young imprint Houndstooth could follow up Soul Music — Paul Woolford’s excellent LP as Special Request — with a worthy successor this year. While both Throwing Snow’s (promising) Mosaic and Second Storey’s (curious) Double Divide offered detailed, if at times clinical explorations of dance mechanics, it was the debut album double-hit of Call Super’s Suzi Ecto and 18+’s Trust that demonstrated Houndstooth’s “artist-led” passion coming to the fore. Both releases gathered the electric ingenuity of their respective artists’ previous releases into a pair that marks an ascent in trajectory, projecting Houndstooth’s presence into the future. A quiet achiever in the scheme of label entrepreneurship, Houndstooth seems destined to install its slick and refined agenda as a stalwart into the looming mystery of 2015.

Ascetic House

Conflict of interest alert: Your boy lives in Tempe, Arizona, the city in which Ascetic House, a label founded by members of Destruction Unit, has operated since its inception in 2010. After quietly killing it for a couple years, they made power moves this year with their “January Program,” for which they offered over 20 cassette releases for a single day in January. Local flavors include the sinister atmosphere of Marshstepper’s Give Yourself to the Moon, the subdued deep house of both Deep Pill’s Hard Extrct and Jock Club’s Encrypted Files, the dark minimalism of Mallevs’ V.V.V.V.V, and the cinematic synth pop of Body of Light’s Limits of Reason. They also dropped forward-thinking tapes from Philadelphia’s Night Sins, London’s Helm (of PAN fame), Puce Mary, Iceage, and Social Junk. The latter’s release, Give Up, is extraordinarily aggressive, sonically transparent, and one of my favorite albums of the year. Out here in the brutal Sonoran, I’ve conducted some field research. When artists and founders Nick Nappa, J.S. Aurelius, and Alex Jarson aren’t touring the world, they’re back here throwing some pretty uncanny warehouse parties, club nights, and desert raves. Fog, strobes, black clothes, animal blood, katanas, the whole nine yards. My own little cosmopolitan extraterrestrial musical happening, making the heat a little more bearable.

Psalmus Diuersae

Change for its own sake produces a sense of need by way of ephemeral non-potency, which can be draining, and not in a good way. Luckily, Psalmus Diuersae’s constant progress during 2014 didn’t feel importunate; it felt welcome. The newly-formed label posted a plethora of material, only to toss the majority of it into the lost, internet dust pile. Few releases stuck around long enough for their weight to sink in, but the broken clothespin label did produce some extremely limited runs of select albums, selling tapes strapped to miniature hand-crafted houses, VHS, memory sticks, and clusters of other unconventional audio formats and forgotten oddities. Hardly ever did the Psalmus Diuersae Bandcamp remain unaltered for long, with the text, colors, header, cover art, album names, track titles, and overall visibility and functionality of the site fluxing constantly. Standouts stood out, but the label’s perpetual state of transition best summed up the current fractured, linked-to-hell-and-back world we live in. Amen to change, and change to Amen.


This tiny Asheville label has been on quite the tear. Year after year (or so it seems), you’ll find at least one Bathetic release cropping up on someone’s must-hear list. And rightfully so, since they’ve quietly become a tastemaker by being unafraid to explore any sound so long as it resonates with them. Angel Olsen? You’re welcome. Bitchin’ Bajas? Get on your knees and thank ‘em. Lee Noble? Where would we be without him? For six years, Bathetic has been pushing our boundaries by breaking theirs. We were too broke to snatch up all 11 cassettes of the Dynasty at Ghost Town series, but few labels have the wherewithal or reputation to be able to pull that expansive goodness off. That’s indicative of the lengths Bathetic will go to ensure what they believe in is something you can count on. Need further proof? We got samples!

Mello Music Group

In the world of hip-hop, there are two MMGs: the one everybody knows, Maybach Music Group; and the one every head knows (or should know), Mello Music Group. Founded by Michael Tolle in 2007 when he was fresh out of college, the Arizona-based MMG has since established itself as one of the most eclectic independent labels in hip-hop and, perhaps more importantly, one of the genre’s greatest vehicles for artistic development. Producers Oddisee, Quelle Chris, and Apollo Brown have all made some of their most profound musical statements as MMGers, and yet, unlike Maybach Music Group, Mello does not have “a sound.” Indeed, if there’s one quality that the label’s most definitive 2014 albums share, it’s great packaging. Released one after the other like clockwork in April, May and June, L’Orange’s The Orchid Days, Apollo Brown’s Thirty Eight, and Open Mike Eagle’s Dark Comedy were each promoted with the kind of critical insight that would do Blue Note’s liners proud. And in keeping with the best traditions of jazz, each occupies a space all its own while pushing the boundaries ever outward. Any label that can facilitate that kind of creativity consistently is worth following.

Manicure Records

If PC Music could be said to represent an uncanny, cynical deconstruction of the pleasure principle, then Manicure Records is the exact opposite: cuteness in all its gleeful glory. Initially started as a Tumblr-based outlet for founder Ghibli’s lo-fi filter house a couple years ago, it didn’t come into its own as a powerhouse net label until early this year, adding lilangelboi, Guy Akimoto, FIJI, ponibbi, JΛSMINE, KLSWLSK, and DJ CASHINOUT into the fold and establishing a close relationship with Simon Whybray’s JACK댄스 club night. Since then, they’ve dropped six “official” releases — longer DJ mixes that function as production showcases — and a plethora of digital-only singles. They occasionally dabble in “proper” club music, like DJ CASHINOUT and CLVMVTO’s mix of LV’s smash hit “Imminent,” but their real wheelhouse is cheap, dirty edits of cookie-cutter pop music like Megan and Liz’s “Release You” and MattyB’s “You Make My Heart Skip.” 150+ BPMs, trancey synths, and chipmunk vocals are standard affair here, so if you can’t handle a little cheese, then these might not be for you. But if you get your kicks railing Pixy Stix and puking rainbows, Manicure’s take on pop music is simply unmissable.

OSR Tapes

In his short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Jorge Luis Borges writes about the elements of an invented world gradually seeping into reality. As Borges’s work largely explores how an abstract idea can permeate and influence life, 2014 seemed to likewise be the year that Zach Phillips’s Brooklyn-based OSR Tapes actualized his initially esoteric notion of “Open Session Rock.” Since 2012, OSR has released a number of exciting ventures that explored a particularly fascinating subculture of lo-fi pop. But it’s this year’s diverse and expansive crop of albums that have truly solidified what Phillips and co. are doing as a movement. In a similarly Borgesian way, “Open Session Rock” artists are united in their unwillingness to accept the pop song as a closed form. At long last, this is song-based music that is equally informed by the sonically critical thinking evident in experimental composition and the technicality of extended tonal theory and song form. This can be seen in the alternately noisy and jangling odysseys of Moth Eggs, the spatially considered minimalist pop of Ruth Garbus, the conservatory grade dissonant grooves of Ian Kovac Jr. Jr., and the Lynchian reinterpretations of standards by Jimmie Packard, amongst many of OSR’s excellent releases from 2014. OSR’s influence is also gaining traction outside of their roster, as clearly illustrated on the massively diverse tribute album to underground experimental pop icon and OSR artist Chris Weisman that was also released this year. And soon OSR’s influence will gain its most traction outside of the internet itself, when it goes offline starting in 2015.


As the definition of a record label becomes increasingly murky in an era of electronic distribution, Hyperdub has succeeded by sharing qualities with influential imprints of the past while creating beautiful realtionships in the name of curation. More than acting simply as a conveyance of sounds on vinyl or plastic discs, Hyperdub has assembled a stable of brilliant artists and endowed them with the kind of allure other labels try so hard but often fail to achieve. This year saw another solid lineup of releases, with great work by the likes of Cooly G, Flowdan, Fatima Al Qadiri, and Fhloston Paradigm. But the story of Hyperdub in 2014 also centered on both the way it reflected on its own progress (with a series of 10th-anniversary compilations, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, and 10.4) and, sadly, what the collective and the world as a whole lost this year: two amazing musicians, DJ Rashad and The Spaceape, both Hyperdub acts. If there is a singular story of Hyperdub in 2015, it’ll be about how it carries on after such passionate celebrations and memorials.

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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