2015: Favorite Labels

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 that helped define the year. More from this series

When (Burka For Everybody) compiling (Telephone Explosion) a (Fabrica) list (Sanity Muffin) of (Tymbal) favorite (AVANT!) anythings (Hundebiss), the (Hausu Mountain) concern (Mannequin) is (Feeding Tube) that (Blackest Ever Black) we (PC Music) will (Terrible) forget (Tri Angle) some (Opal) important (Important) entities (Dekorder), soiling (Totally Wired) the (Invisible City) vital (Mondo) curatorial (Flenser) work (Seventh Rule) we’ve (Death Waltz) been (Soft Abuse) doing (Editions Mego) for (Shelter) a (Awful) good-long (Centre) while (Bathetic) now (Hospital). But (Robot Elephant) when (Sophomore Lounge) it (Iron Bonehead) comes (Almost Ready) to (Monfonus Press) list (Burger) things (Dream Catalogue), we (NNA Tapes) have (One Kind Favor) learned (Paradise of Bachelors) to (Gilgongo) be (Castle Face) a (Light In The Attic) little (Hells Headbangers) more (Leaving) patient (Patient Sounds) with (Constellation Tatsu) ourselves (Holodeck).

With (Stones Throw) that (Kill Rock Stars) in (Space Lab 9) mind (Beta Lactam Ring), we (Pingipung) present (Small Doses) our (Dais) favorite (Experimedia) labels (Profound Lore) of (Miasmah) 2015 (Kill Shaman), 15 (Holotype Editions) operations (Empty Cellar) that (Desire Path) either (Nuclear War Now!) tantalized (20 Buck Spin) or (Stroboscopic Artifacts) terrorized (Numero Group) us (Medical) so (Bureau B) much (Alter) we (Houndstooth) couldn't (Night School) not (Tank Crimes) include (Watery Starve) them (Mute). And (Minority) just (Trunk) imagine (Haord) life (Eidertown) without (Super Secret) these (Misanthropic Agenda) labels (Further), scouring (Cabin Floor Esoterica) Bandcamp (Death Rattle) for (I Hate My) days (Mistake By the Lake) on (SmartGuy) end (Numbers) for (Yerevan) scraps (Southern Lord) of (Albert's Basement) cold (Cold Spring) aural (Auris Apothecary) breakfast (Hairy Spider Legs) meat (Lurker Bias) like (Psychic Troubles) a (Already Dead) burnt-out (Exo) hippy (Baked) seeking (Full of Nothing) out (Deathbomb Arc) a (Riding Easy) shtickle (Kit) of (Mirror Universe) methadone (Arbutus). It's (SDZ) sad (Twin Lakes); or (Relapse) at (Kanine) least (Megaforce) it (Tofu Carnage) would (Telegraph Harp) be (Baro).

And (Soul Jazz) remember (Goner), when (Hyperdub) it (Warp) comes (Utech) to (FatCat) seeking (Ostgut Ton) out (Students Of Decay) new (Erased Tapes) musik (Mjmj) treatz (Summersteps), don't (Golden Lab) forget (Superior Viaduct) to (Northern Spy) Read The Label.


NON knows the era of political representation is coming to a close. The same players remain standing with puffed chests in the pose of savior, and Republics proselytize the geopolitical language that resounds only to exile speech from the individual. NON struck 2015 with the force of nocturnal vandalism and wordless destruction, prying open the divide between the state and the individual. They acknowledged that resistance cannot share its voice without a common language. That language is in Chino Amobi's brutalized samples, scorched voice, and broken beats, in Angel-Ho's destructive ballroom environments, in Nkisi's micro-repetitive rhythms. Despite these artists' singular and iconic identities, NON's contributors are not its authors. Rather, NON is the common language that articulates undeniable truths: the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, distribute power, and fill eyes with pain. NON are the scribes of this situation. NON is the sovereign nation state working toward the proliferation of PAN AFRICAN IDEOLOGICAL AS WELL AS ECONOMIC UNITY. More than any other label in 2015, NON bluntly states what's before us, unshrinking from dire conclusions.

Planet Mu

Planet Mu celebrates its 20-year anniversary by (releasing a comp, naturally, and) continuing to reinvent rhythm beyond any place that could be reasonably anticipated, following a trajectory started with the mind-bending Bangs & Works series (essential staples of the footwork genre) and now continuing in 2015 with RP Boo's Fingers, Bank Pads & Shoe Prints, Classics Vol. 1 (which claims footwork track "Baby Come On" as likely the first of its kind), and Jlin's masterful Dark Energy to prove the genre has been mutating and evolving as fast as its tempo. Although the label and its founder Mike Paradinas reside in England, it has released a number of defining works for the Chicago dance genre; this is owed to Mike's inimitable curation — his appreciation for art that's cerebral but utilitarian, irreverent but not pretentious, the ideal release a series of quick pleasure points. Forget the posturing. Longtime acts Luke Vibert and Venetian Snares define the label's M.O. best: twisted humor, prolificacy, left-field brilliance, and, most of all, unpredictability. Mike Paradinas's craft and love for electronic music of all sorts has allowed the label to grow a healthy base of breakcore, grime, dub, and acid techno classics, yet it feels utterly rejuvenated each year in operation by his impatience and love of the new. Nothing's certain but futureshock.

RVNG Intl.

RVNG Intl. press releases have a curatorial, archivalist seriousness, though the label's releases are themselves humorous, obscure, and beautiful. I first heard Bing & Ruth's Tomorrow Was The Golden Age on a restless walk through suburban Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, bothered by whatever and unable to sleep. I passed a moonlit mini-golf course and a fire sub-station to the wash of chords and interfering musical series, bleakly and sublimely modern. More recently, I struggled, played, and communed gleefully with Stellar OM Source's futuristic, deterritorializing rhythms and Kerry Leimer's tongue-in-cheek studio experiments. The best moment of all was that at which I first stepped into a cloud of burning sage and droning saxophone melodies that saturated RVNG's Commend store in Manhattan, where French musician Ariel Kalma performed New Age improvisations this August in support of his album with Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, We Know Each Other Somehow. The smell of that afternoon still won't wash out of my Holly Herndon T-shirt. With sufficient luck or dark magic, there will be a long, strange trip ahead of these sonic dungeon scrapers.

Astral Spirits

When the label-blurb assignments were going out recently, I hoped in the back of my mind Austin's Astral Spirits would be my charge, because AS is the most consistent label whose output (through no fault of my own mind you; long story), I've also inadvertently ignored the most. How did I not write up that Rob Mazurek joint? Or that Nick Hennies (also of The Weird Weeds) tape (side note: Nick Hennies appears to now be Sarah Hennies)? Or that Shit & Shine record (oh wait, I did write that up!)? It's like a frothy ocean of activity has opened up mere hours from where I live, and I'm helpless to capture its salty creative juices in full. It's crazy because Astral Spirits came to fruition just a year ago, as an imprint of the sprawling Monofonus Press empire (which, if you read Cerberus, you will know intimately), yet it seems like it's been with us forever, offering the sort of experimental free-jazz we're used to only hearing from compats like New Atlantis Recs and the Power Moves Label. And though it's a secondary aspect of the pleasures of AS, the layout of those cassettes is phenomenal in a very NNA kinda way. TO THE FUTURE!

Princípe Discos

Lisbon's Príncipe Discos entered this calendar year off the back of a relatively quiet (though nonetheless purposeful) 2014. Snap to the present: an impressive bolstering of their catalogue, all-conquering club nights across the globe, and even a string of releases on Warp. It seems like a far cry for such an intensely localized movement, but Príncipe did it by simple virtue of offering up some of 2015's most captivating dance music, track after track, 12-inch after 12-inch. DJ Nigga Fox, as ever, was responsible for one of the crew's barmier servings in Noite E Dia, while the likes of CDM, Nidia Minaj, Niagara, DJ Firmeza, Blacksea Não Maya, and Normal Nada all brought their own eccentric touches to the floor. And that's just the thing; batida, "my beat," is inherently impulsive and producer-driven, effectively guaranteeing that no one riddim will sound like the next. This music hinges on its own unpredictability, teetering on the threshold between the danceable and maniacal. It's why it makes a guy from rural England excited just to be able to hear this stuff, and it's why the world is now paying attention. You could say that 2015 was Príncipe's finest hour. I have a feeling that there's plenty more to come.

Berceuse Heroique

When the mainstream is strong, it is the duty of the underground to declare it dead; when the mainstream is weak, it is the duty of the underground to insist upon its vitality. In either case, the underground's task is implicitly utopian: it locates moments of promise contained within the present (or the past) and proceeds to imagine a better future by excluding all the rest. This is the crux of Berceuse Heroique's (charismatic/engaging/boorish/insane) label owner Gizmo's claim that "Dance music is fucking dead. Everyone is trying to get more gigs because it's the only way to make some money, but they forgot the essence of the whole thing... the party!" The party's the thing, an invite-only counterfactual ballet — and "Dance music is fucking dead" the opening declaration of Gizmo's anti-social raver's manifesto, cobbled together from hazily remembered tenets jotted down in the dingy nightspots of London, Athens, Detroit, The Hague, and called Berceuse Heroique in honor of Claude Debussy’s anti-war lullaby. The broad outline may be clear, but the real pleasure for the reader-listener is found somewhere in the blur and smudge of its badly Xeroxed detail. Moving from the post-world funk of Japan Blues to the acid-burned spectral dancehall of Beneath, from Don’t DJ’s exotic, sprawling neurotica to PMM’s clenched distorto-spank, Berceuse Heroique spent 2015 in some of the year’s strangest and most delightful places. It served as a rallying point for hardcore insiders and electronic eccentrics of the weirdest stripe.

Halcyon Veil

His failing health attracted him to southern climates, and he presently decreed that the north was no longer to exist. Having found a sort of salvation among the “Halcyonians,” he is constrained to wage spiritual warfare against all Hyperboreans,” writes Arthur Johnston on Nietzsche in Musical Criticisms (1905). It conveys a twofold antagonism — one half calming the waters, so to speak, as of the tropical kingfisher of the genus Halcyon; the other, a glacial affection, associated with perpetual abundance. In lieu, shrouded in a complete disregard for demarcation, Halcyon Veil was unveiled (pun intended) this year as the label headed by Texan native Rabit. The producer’s own releases through Ben Aqua’s #FEELINGS and Tri Angle Records have already shown a depth of quality free from constraints and notably unreliant on branding — indeed, Rabit’s music speaks for itself. Channeled through various styles — be it industrial, grime, or footwork — Rabit’s approach is more concerned with a particular meteorological character, and Halcyon Veil appears as an attempt to highlight similar conditions represented by others. With a logo designed by visual artist Kyselina and releases so far by Myth, Why Be, and Angel-Ho (in partnership with NON), Halcyon Veil have exhibited the twisted, heated glaciation that seems to typify the label’s direction.

Sacred Bones

At this point, that little upper-left aligned triangle encircled by an elegant ouroboros is like an unbroken seal of quality. Sacred Bones Records was conceived in Brooklyn in 2007 as a portal for distributing music crafted by friends, with particular attention given toward developing a unifying aesthetic of home-mustered fervor that connects its artists (including filmographers, print makers, designers, and social media wizards) by their sinews. Despite this original focus, Sacred Bones now humbly boasts a catalog that spans a vast variety of material, including skull-smashing TMT favorites Abandon and Bestial Burden by death industrial artist Pharmakon as well as Amen Dunes’ bizarre folk mirage, Through Donkey Jaw. In 2015, its roster has expanded even more, welcoming another TMT favorite, Jenny Hval, into their family and providing a sound stage for film composer John Carpenter’s Lost Themes. Meanwhile, label mainstay Destruction Unit keeps blowing out amps and eardrums with zero discretion on Negative Feedback Resistor. As Sacred Bones keeps mining, however, one thing remains: whether it be Hval’s soft dick rock, John Carpenter’s “Obsidian,” or Destruction Unit’s “Chemical Reaction,” Sacred Bones is unrivaled in its commitment to delivering something physical, closing that void between spiritual premonition and physiological contact.


Scroll through PEDICURE’s SoundCloud page right now: dynasty levels of dn uɹnʇ. Happy birthday! Not only did Pedicure begin dropping/numbering releases this year (starting with creator/founder, Myles Byrne-Dunhill release as A. G. Kush’s Nu Jack Schwag), but they also began a singles club, drawing from musicians/producers/memes/tropes/caricatures worldwide. And their agenda — no-matter HOW varied in sound — draws from exaggerating satire of over-contextualized SoundCloud think-piece pop, layered in infinite onion peels of the whole hype-hyper scene, expecting nothing in return but real music. There’s no PR, just organization (i.e., click “Show More” on the SoundCloud page). These aren’t musicians, but the holograms they were always promised in a nu-flesh. Who? Y’all got Meme Vivaldi from Spain (D3L3T3D M3M3S out end of Nov.) who did a split release with Illuminated Paths, including a giant compilation with PC Noise. Djwwww from Japan, dropping a track off a new Orange Milk tape in PEDICURE’s singles club. Plenty from the Montreal-based Yao Guai Cave. The Unicorn Florida produced WITCH HAZEL. And still to come: a ringtone album this Xmas by LORD ø, December release by DANIEL from Beijing, and opening 2016 on a non-stop cpop mix in January by LI NA.


Embossed with metallic sheens over cybernetic collages or hi-res CGI, seen through outer sleeves overlaid with abstract glyphs, the physical objects that Bill Kouligas’s PAN label disseminates from Berlin out into the world seem like relics beamed back to us from a dystopian near-future. Although much of the music that he highlights falls on the electronic/beat-oriented spectrum, any legible rhythms and concessions to club music paradigms exist in tandem with each project’s defiantly experimental motives. In 2015, Visionist reimagined the cavernous stereo spreads and clipped tones of the grime tradition as an idiom for confessional revelation. Avant kingpin Oren Ambarchi extended his already mammoth “Knots” composition into the sinuous 2xLP drone/drum odyssey of Live Knots. Helm stretched his loop-based work to new extremes of abstraction and narcotic repetition on Olympic Mess. M.E.S.H.’s towering Piteous Gate sits as the 3D-printed cherry on top of this year’s run, churning through infinite alien timbres and redefining standards of hi-fi digital production — abetted by the world-class mastering talents of Rashad Becker. While some imprints are content to quietly present their wares to the plugged-in masses, virtually every PAN release exerts a tangible force on the international underground, scraping against convention and inverting genre distinctions as a growing audience continues to evolve along with Kouligas’s tastes.

Orange Milk

If you read TMT, then you should already be familiar with Orange Milk Records. (If you don’t read TMT? Well, then fuck you.) For those unfamiliar with the Ohio-based label, here’s some information: co-owner Keith Rankin used to write for TMT; its other co-owner, Seth Graham, once barfed on a car; and the two are obsessed with the act of shitting. With that out of the way, let’s get down to the music these boys put out. Whether dealing with outsider pop, insider pop, minimal footwork, hybrid footwork, hyperreal heart-attack music, shit-your-pants club tunes, future funk, breathing electronics, techno computer gaze, modern classical MIDI worship, experimental synth explorations, or the indistinguishably new and old, each release is as enjoyable as it is different. Obviously, then, what makes Orange Milk a favorite around TMT headquarters is its uncanny ability to drop complex, unique, and emotive releases without break. And no matter what it is, there is a surreal and playful presentation in both the music and the out-of-this-world artwork. Orange Milk doesn’t take anything too seriously, and we appreciate that. Oh, and both Seth and Keith released incredible albums this year, too.

Not Not Fun

Back in 2004, Amanda and Britt Brown made up an intricate handshake chockfull of around-the-world handslaps and fistbump explosions, promising to ball forever. Since then, their label Not Not Fun has racked up hundreds of LPs, 7-inches, cassettes, and digital releases, to the point where around 2011 their Discogs page becomes the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon of the blog era. More recently, with the add-on of sister label 100% Silk, Not Not Fun has slimmed down in the way that switching from 2% milk to 1% is a major turning point in someone’s morning routine. The label’s last few years have hit critical mass with albums like Peaking Lights’s 936 and all of Maria Minerva’s LPs, alongside the underappreciated: Torn Hawk’s Through Force Of Will, Sapphire Slows’s Allegoria, and Antoni Maiovvi’s Avrokosm. 2k15 ended up being the smallest sampling from Not Not Fun yet – and, comparatively, one of the largest for 100% Silk – but boasts three of the year’s best. Beat Detective’s Climate Change is desk fern FUBU. The baby of James Ferraro’s LAPD and the actual LAPD is Night Court’s Law & Order. And the cassette re-release of 2814’s 新しい日の誕生 is fully explained here. Thanks for making 2k15 not not fun, Not Not Fun.


Field recordings have always provided a fascinating vehicle for artists eager to document their experiences through environmental sound. Conveying an emotional response to what they are seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, and hearing through a sonic medium in real time can take on a huge number of forms, and Gruenrekorder has done a smashing job this year in promoting gripping, thought-provoking releases. The label operates out of Germany, and it’s dedicated to promoting a massive range in what it deems to be experimental music and phonography. It publishes a bi-lingual Field Magazine, puts on events, holds workshops, and streams online, but it’s also noted in 2015 for the depth of its material and the vivacity of its selections. Hafdís Bjarnadóttir’s Sounds of Iceland and Juan Manuel Castrillo’s El Coro de Arasy stood out as being two of the most powerful field recordings this year, while Bryan Eubanks’s from the cistern and R. Schwarz’s The Scale of Things highlighted the scope of some of the label’s most experimental output. As a niche organization working within a relatively strict, self-imposed remit, Gruenrekorder is responsible for distributing some of the most mesmerizing music this year, giving the label a well-deserved place on this year’s best-of.


Formed in 1999 by Jon Abbey, Erstwhile Records quickly became the definitive label for modern group improvisation. Starting in the early 2000s, Abbey began organizing festivals around the world under the Amplify banner. The ErstLive sublabel was founded to document these happenings, and many other subsidiaries followed. Along the way, Yuko Zama joined and became an instrumental principal within the label, especially with the design of the CD cases, which are undefeated since approximately 2008. And many seminal releases have passed through the doors of the label’s Jersey City headquarters: Keith Rowe/Günter Müller/Taku Sugimoto’s The World Turned Upside Down (2000), Keith Rowe/John Tilbury’s Duo’s for Doris (2003), Sachiko M/Toshimaru Nakamura/Otomo Yoshihide’s Good Morning, Good Night (2004), and, more recently, Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet’s trilogy of The Breadwinner (2008), Air Supply (2010), and Photographs (2013). So with all of that in mind, when I say that the label’s 2015 output is its best of the decade, you should take note. You’ll never hear basketballs in the same way! Wow, this is really pretty! Why is this guy talking about duct tape? LOL.

Lime Lodge

Much like desert-swept Santa Fe, the first impressions of Lime Lodge are dry, arid sleeves. Crisp white broken by knotholes of gnarly color. The clean presentation is beautifully engaging yet intimidating. What lies beneath the sandy surface: is it a viper’s pit of inhabitable flora and fauna, or a vivid experience that only the thickest skinned people can endure? Turns out, it’s both, as the label’s inaugural 2015 batch is rough, unyielding, but ultimately rewarding. It’s a path of spiritual awakening, best captured by founder Angelo Harmsworth’s Cerrillos Disco; the harsh winds of the desert sandblasting away recognizable melody until only a sheen on the rocky noise remains. Torturing Nurse’s Collapse/Ikiru takes it even further, bearing skin to the searing heat until it boils and burbles as penance. But once in total isolation and surrounded by nothingness, the warped alien signals of Justice from Christian Michael Filardo begin to call from the heavens — you’ve found salvation in the middle of nowhere. All this not far from little old Santa Fe, bleached by the desert sun — or is it Night Vale, darkened by a more sinister purpose…

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 that helped define the year. More from this series

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