Thinking of starting a record label? You’re not alone. Despite the challenges involved in running a label in 2016, the investment of time and money for little recompense, there’s no shortage of new labels willing to push things forward. In fact, the industry-wide depression has seemingly prompted a surge in creative counter reactions; super-niche imprints doing it for some higher aim than turning a profit. A key motor here, of course, is the internet; whether embracing the internet as an exciting mode of digital cultural production and global networking, or defining themselves as against it, there’s a number of devoted label owners pouring sweat, blood, tears and money into music they believe in. In the post-physical corner, the netlabels. These digital DIY-ers have built their own communities and collectives, utilising the readymade tools of the internet. On the flip-side are the analogue champions, returning – perhaps in response to the first camp – to high production values, short vinyl runs and glorification of the physical object. What unites them? A commitment to taking the independent label into the future. Here’s some of our favourites.
Oxford-based label Bokhari Records have built up a reputation for their creative approach to sleeve design – frequently embracing a different concept for each release they put out. The set of ten wooden, bespoke covers of for Clarke Sawkill was a play on the name of the track contained within – ‘Prototype’ – and called to mind the infamous sandpaper cover of The Return of the Durutti Column. Mark E saw a different, hand painted sleeve for every record in the 50-strong vinyl run. These limited edition runs, which raise questions of desirability, aura and rarity, take on an different complexion when you consider Bokhari Records generally only champion unknown artists.
Formed in 2011, Wo-land are an experimental label from Genoa who invest a lot of meaning in their music and by extension, the packaging of it. Describing their imprint – which releases on digital as well as vinyl and tape, “a space where to practice freedom, creativity and the manufacture of visual and audio projects, in order to modify the perception of reality and to set it free.” They are best known for creating a leather record sleeve complete with hand-stitched Wo-Land logo for their Wa Rious release. The tape came in a similarly artisanal sleeve.
Formed in 2007, Erased Tapes is celebrated for its roster of contemporary classical composers and electronic producers, most notably Nils Frahm, Rival Consoles and Kiasmos. However, thanks to their art direction, the Erased Tapes visual fingerprint is just as identifiable as their musical one. Erased Tapes Collection V, for example, came as a collection of 7-inches in a black debossed box. Inside, sleeves were screen printed and the vinyl itself had a tactile centre cut into the shape of the logo.
There are many, many, many netlabels out there. Hardly surprising, the combination of low financial bar to entry and increasing fragmentation of genres on the internet, means there’s lots of platforms catering for increasingly niche fanbases. The most famous of these netlabels remains A.G. Cook’s PC Music. In 2016, netlabels generally need a strong identity to stand out and the divisive label certainly had one of those: the post internet aesthetic, and accelarationist, hyper global pop was laser targeted to commissioning editors in search of their next think piece. Perhaps most intriguingly of all, what seemed to begin as a kind of distant, art school prank at the expense of pop consumerism has become, you know, chart reality.
Never mind vinyl, one of the more anomalous revivals in recent years has been the cassette. Tape labels demand a certain dedication in their fans; the painfully limited runs and the hassle of sourcing a cassette deck (and promptly getting that super-rare Opal Tapes drop chewed up in said cassette deck) isn’t going to appeal to the average Spotify Free user. Frankfurt label MMODEMM take things even further, with every release packaged as four, plain cassette singles in a single box. You say commodity fetishisation, we say where’s my vintage Sony Sports?
Netlabel culture is booming in Japan, with some of the most established and credible platforms coming from there. Bump Foot was inaugurated in 2005 and divides it electronic music output into two strings, making its vertiginous discography a little easier to palate. Bump Side focuses on their techno output, while Foot Side takes a more free-form approach to genre, encompassing ambient, experimental and IDM.
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