2016: Favorite Labels 15 honest-to-goodness curators carving us a path through the madness

Anonymous, 2016, Public, digital oil on canvas, 1000 × 776 px

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


PTP (f.k.a. Purple Tape Pedigree) has been on a hot-streak since the second week of this year. Head honcho Geng has expanded the label to encompass limited-run tape releases, two excellent remix EPs, and an album-cum-augmented reality app. He’s also found the time to unleash DJ NJ Drone’s slippery trance fantasias, Endgame’s drum-drenched lullabies, and Celestial Trax’s woozy grime mutations on the world. PTP’s releases are bound together by an exploratory approach to club sonics, a desire to construct new languages, forms, and affects for our networked, asymmetric, and mediated contemporary. These sounds are birthed in the club before fracturing, sending jagged shards across fiber-optic cables and into bodies, bedrooms, and broadcasts the world over. 2016 has seen some lamentations for the aesthetic reification of the “deconstructed club” moment, but PTP remains committed to the radical potentials of this music — its freeform approach to composition, its emotional capaciousness, and its ability to unsettle conventions both inside and outside the club. It’s an approach that privileges a critical orientation toward the contemporary, a mode that becomes increasingly vital as the West veers further toward populism and hysteria. So whether you needed bleeding-edge sonics or recuperative smoothie recipes to get you through the year, PTP had the hook-up.

Roof Garden

Earlier this year, on March 7, SoundCloud label Roof Garden Records sprouted onto the scene with two tweets. They first announced the release of their debut single, “Seafood Counter,” by DJ Supermarket, one of the many musical aliases of the label’s founder, Jack Fawcett, while the second basically explained everything else we wanted to know. Tweet Two’s one liker knew a good thing, as in nine short months, Roof Garden’s self-described “techno-pastoral” feed has grown to include two handfuls worth of EPs and albums, double that amount of singles, and a cassette co-released with Ontario’s Poor Little Music. Roof Garden is a testament to all the labels and loners out there that are still doing SoundCloud right. Their roster includes a who’s who of what’s good, including PEDICURE’s founder Treasure Hunt, the unstoppable Meme Vivaldi, and hydroponic hype-guy HERBARIUM, who has extensively released music on Eco Futurism Corporation, a.k.a., Roof Garden’s conceptual brethren. The releases featured here easily fade between bliss-y ambience, high baroque, nu-age vapor, grit, grime, groove, some sticky-fingered digital collage, and a rendering of a rendering of twin koi tracing figure eights in a pond in the plant-filled atrium of a high-rise office building.


Since its founding in 2002 by Australian composer and sound artist Lawrence English, Room40 has been delivering brilliantly wrapped “sound parcels” that have demonstrated a shrewd understanding of both sound and space. Humbly boasting phenomenal releases, including Bee Mask’s hypnotically cascading dual piece Vaporware / Scanops, Marina Rosenfeld’s remarkably dynamic turntable masterwork Plastic Materials, and DJ Olive’s mesmerizing ambient trilogy on sleep (Buoy, Sleep, and Triage), Room40 remains a quietly bubbling source of cutting-edge sounds and captivating environmental studies. This year’s batch of gifts finds guitarist Mike Cooper deconstructing and expanding on blues music on New Guitar Old Hat Knew Blues, electroacoustic legend David Toop contemplating music’s trembling vivacity on Entities Inertias Faint Beings, and Japanese post-minimal newcomer Ytamo conjuring spiraling sound growths on Mi Wo (released on its Someone Good imprint). While many of our other favorite labels this year have (quite successfully) gone BIG, Room40 stayed at home with its doors and windows open, waiting for any passersby who could pick out a simple bird call amidst a roar of compressed digital noise. Those who stopped were rewarded with a rare kind of excellence that satiates without advertisement nor discrimination. I, for one, haven’t stopped coming back since.

Shelter Press

As the music market has segmented itself into an intricate network of niches and brands over the past several decades, small record labels have come to act as conduits for their preferred avenues of style and aesthetic. Labels delineate themselves from one another by tracing discrete symbolic pathways with which to uncover their artists’ work, and yet Shelter Press, the French outlet operated by Bartolomé Sanson and Félicia Atkinson, have built their presence by shearing all but the barest traces of iconography from their output. You won’t find the word “label” anywhere on Shelter Press’s website — in their words, it is a “publishing / curatorial platform,” and this type of minimal rethinking can be applied to everything the outfit does, from albums and novellas to public workshops and exhibitions. Whether it’s via the disquieted field studies of Atkinson & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, the verbal collage wonk of Matt Carlson, or the spliced rhythmic chaos theory of D/P/I (R/I/P), Shelter Press pulls fibrous strands of sound from the ether of reality and magnifies them further and further in the hopes that we might eventually be able to see those vibrations’ very DNA. If there is any aesthetic to guide us through their mystery, it is the aesthetic of the world itself, the routine giving way to a beautiful overflow, a cartography of discovery and significance.


If nothing else, the penetration of cyberspace into the quotidian has provided us with a chance to continuously project and discover our identities; a screen and a window feeding from and back into our realities, a realm to produce and consume the objects of our desire. Last April, the Buenos Aires government banned “all commercial activities involving live or recorded dance music,” a ruling that was later softened into a legislative standstill tantamount to the same prohibition. Thus, it is natural for Buenos Aires-based collective T R R U E N O, a shapeshifting alliance of mixed media artists and electronic musicians, to find in technology what their materiality denies them. Although they had existed for a couple of years as a meeting of like-minded creatives, T R R U E N O finally gelled into a label in 2016, something they commemorated with the release of their sampler MECHA 1. Comprising just under a dozen acts, some of the label’s music can be traced to fellow globalist subvertors NON, with a recognition of reguetón as Latin America’s pop lingua franca encapsulating T R R U E N O’s experimentalism. A couple of EPs by QEEI and Astrosuka & Ormamenti D’Oro round-out a landmark year for the young label, in which they crafted new emancipation spaces out of their immediate anxieties. Their music — a mixture of daring hybrids appropriated from around the world and inadvertent autochthonous mutations — going on to promise a horizon where a freer articulation of self and desire is possible through the sounds of the Global South.

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

Most Read