Historically, Drum & Bass has been built on the foundation of the excellent record labels that have championed the genre since its inception. Moving Shadow, RAM Records, Metalheadz, Creative Source, Exit Records Formation Records, Reinforced Records are some names from the plethora of labels who have carried the scene forward.
The early 2010s saw artists move away from the prominent labels to start their own imprints. Now, ten years on, we find ourselves in the middle of a rabbit hole of labels that are pushing incredible music week after week. The start of this decade has already seen the monumental rise of labels like Invicta Audio, Jubei’s Carbon Music, and many more.
To close a year that has been one of the finest for Drum & Bass, we are listing some of the labels in no particular order that, to us, have had an extraordinary year!
Starting with the label that won ‘Best Newcomer Label’ at the recently concluded Drum&BassArena Awards 2021, and rightfully so! All the labels that we have listed have followed the motto of quality over quantity, and Onyx has pursued the same principles. Tracks like Trex’s ‘Undergrowth’, Disrupta’s ‘Lost Souls’, and AC13’s ‘Headlights’ are some of the best club-ready tunes we have heard this year; and with tunes like ‘White Lies’, Onyx Recordings have shown that they pitch it down and deliver the goods on the delicate side of Drum & Bass as well.
Next up is the label that we all thought would bag ‘Best Newcomer Label’ at the Drum&BassArena Awards 2021. Overview Music brought Eastcolors back this year and that’s a good enough reason for us to love them to bits. But jokes aside, Overview are at a point where they simply cannot go wrong. Every release is big and every tune sounds massive. Releases with Klinical, YAANO’s Blossom EP, gyrofield, Skylark made sure that the Brighton-based label had a massive 2021.
Hospital Records’ inclusion barely needs any explanation. Be it the mainstream or the underground, emerging producers or heavyweights, releases or events, the legendary label have been pushing the scene forward on all fronts with equal passion. It’s not just their work inside Drum & Bass; with releases like Whiney and P Money’s ‘Buss The Red’ which is the start of an album between Hospital’s prodigy and one of Grime’s finest, Hospital Records are successfully bringing fanbases from other prominent genres into the scene as well.
SOFA SOUND BRISTOL
Since their inception, the Bristol-born, bred and based record label from DLR have grown into being one of the most popular Drum & Bass labels to emerge in recent times. Championing the funky, punchy and techier side of the genre, Sofa Sound Bristol have gone about their business quietly but delivered the goods as always. With a mix of label regulars and fresh talent releasing great music consistently, Sofa Sound Bristol had a solid year.
Like Hospital Records, Kasra’s Critical Music doesn’t leave the conversation when we are talking about the best Drum & Bass labels or best releases from labels this year. Critical’s palate for varied styles is second to none and with releases like Sam Binga’s EP with Chimpo and Redders, Critical have exhibited that they are not just an industrial Drum & Bass label. Critical capped off a superb year with a solid mini-album from Kasra and Russian Drum & Bass don Enei. which we are sure will be on heavy rotation for a long time.
Like Sofa Sound Bristol, Asia’s premium Drum & Bass label, Unchained Recordings have gone about their business silently but throughout the year they have released music that has the capacity of rattling any dancefloor from its foundations; which is the ethos the label stands for. Unchained closed their year with a release from the legendary Zed Bias and brought him on the label for his first Drum & Bass outing in 4 years.
When Goldfat Records say, ‘Run for the Love. Built for the Soul’, they mean it with every release they put out on their label. Goldfat have been championing the lush and tender sounds of Drum & Bass since 2015 and they getting bigger with every passing year. This year they released some of the freshest music we’ve heard this year and by bringing their unmatched scouting game to the table, they brought in talents from across the globe released sensational music in the process. We cannot wait to see what Goldfat have in store for us in 2022.
THE NORTH QUARTER
Lenzman’s label is one of the most expansive labels in the scene promoting the light and dark spectrums of Drum & Bass. The North Quarter year started with American producer Echo Brown’s crisp 4-tracker, followed by the gorgeous ‘NQ State Of Mind, Vol. 1’ featuring Zero T, Anile, Tokyo Prose, Redeyes, Satl, Submorphics, and the label boss Lenzman himself.
The compilation was quickly backed up by Satl’s EP and his new alias with FD, and the label also saw the legendary MC Fox deliver his album this year. Tyrone’s thunderous EP, and then eventually the second part of NQ State Of Mind to close their year. There’s just way too many releases from The North Quarter that have made them one of our top 3 labels of the year.
We did speak about quality over quantity but when the quantity doesn’t dip below excellent, why would we even complain. Run by Ant TC1, Dispatch Recordings racked up over 40 EPs and albums this year and trust us when we are saying that every release is massive. We’d run out of space to talk about the brilliant artists and music Dispatch have covered this year. If anyone at the Dispatch crew is reading this; we absolutely love you guys!!
We mentioned it earlier in our interview with Toronto Is Broken when we talked about how disappointed we were to not see YANA’s name in the list of nominees for the ‘Best Newcomer Label’ at the Drum&BassArena Awards. With tunes like ‘Closing In’ by MYKOOL, ‘Every Nite’ by Lateral, Perplex’s ‘Play Me’, ‘Queen‘ by Sofi Mari, and ‘Rhyme Style’ by Corrupted Mind, YANA Music delivered some of the best Drum & Bass music we came across this year. YANA aren’t done yet; they have a massive compilation coming up tomorrow and it’s going to a big one. Keep an eye out for YANA in 2022!
When Alix Perez does something, he does it big. Just under 5 years since their first release, 1985 Music have firmly placed themselves in the crème de la crème of Drum & Bass. Pushing the darker side of the genre, Alix Perez’s label have come up with outrageously good music this year and they have closed their year with their long anticipated album by Monty which features one of the biggest bass music tunes of the year called ‘Hardware’. We don’t have to get too descriptive about the label because we are certain that 1985 always deliver and that will be the story going into the next year as well.
BORN ON ROAD
Bringing old school styles with contemporary Drum & Bass music, Born On Road are firmly rooted at the heart of the genre’s underground. It doesn’t matter if it’s Neuro or Jungle or Jump Up, if the music is good, Born On Road will push it with all their might. Yet another Bristol-based record label, this year saw the imprint release music from heavy hitters like Rider Shafique, Phibes, L-side, GRAY, Ben Snow, Ragga Twins and many more! Another label that is all set to have a massive 2022!
With such incredible Drum & Bass music that has been on offer this year, we can only say, bring on 2022!