There are ways to quanity success in music – Number of sales, earnings recieved, SoundCloud plays, Facebook followers, etc. Forget all those things. They don't matter here. What this countdown is about is the amount of win exhibited by labels in 2014. We don't care how big you are or how established you are. All we care about is how rad you are. And these labels are quantifiably rad. Let us explain:
10. Big Beat Records
Since their relaunch in 2010, Warner Music Group imprint Big Beat has been the platform where electronic artists go to get big. Established artists like Skrillex and Knife Party, artistically inclined tastemakers like Hercules and Love Affair, and indie darlings like Breach all released on the electronic-only major label this year alone. They're the underground's gateway to the mainstream, and often the other way around. Plus, did you know they released Skrillex's Recess on tape?
9. Critical Music
Critical are the only label in a long time to crack the oligarchy atop the UK drum & bass scene, and they've done it through label head Kasra Mowlavi's tight curation of a roster that ranges from techy and heady to moody and minimal. Their takeovers of London megaclub Fabric have become a regular occurrence, as have their appearances atop Beatport charts. In particular, 2014 was a breakout year for continental neurofunk badmen Mefjus and Enei, while a secret weapon in Emperor further incubates in the studio.
After spending their first couple of years launching the careers of everyone from Zedd to Porter Robinson, 2014 found OWSLA continuing their commitment to discovery with the likes of David Heartbreak and Alesia, on top of huge hits like Jack Ü's "Take Ü There." Their big win this year, though, was the further evolution of NEST, the OWSLA-affiliated free-release label with a Sauron-like all seeing eye that's peered far and wide to unearth classy, classy releases from Anna Lunoe, Valy Mo, Champion, Habstrakt and Nina Las Vegas among others. They drop consistent fire like it's nothing, and the fact that the tunes are free is endlessly commendable.
2014 has been Dirtybird's lap of honor. One year shy of a decade in existence, the San Franciscan label reached a critical mass this year that saw Claude VonStroke and Justin Martin elevated to superstar status while the likes of J.Phlip, Kill Frenzy, and Justin Jay are sharply on the comeupswing. Their style of quirky, funky, playful bass-driven house has resonated with the fast-maturing palate of the EDM generation and their Dirtybird BBQ tour ended with the curation of a stage at HARD's Day of the Dead. Let's go dancing.
6. PC Music
Their tunes sound like a Kidz Bop version of the dial-up modem sound played backwards through a Tamagotchi, and depending on your perspective, that's why they're either awesome or awful. But hey, at least they made you feel something...and isn't that what we're all after? Acts like QT, who is ostensibly an energy drink, Hannah Diamond, who looks fresh out of a mid 90s Japanese karaoke booth, and label-affiliate SOPHIE, who is either genderless or omni-gendered, are defying convention in every manner possible.
5. Future Classic
The Australian label founded by Nathan MacLay and Chad Gillard in 2004 continues to impress us with their characteristically eclectic roster of house, techno, disco, and live acts. 2014 saw the release of Chet Faker's highly-anticipated studio album, Built On Glass, the solo debut of George Maple, the unveiling of HWLS, Ta-Ku's side-project with Kit Pop, a long-awaited LP from Flight Facilities, and many, many outstanding EPs. This year was further proof that the innovative label refuses to repeat the same tricks twice which is by design as MacLay said in an interview earlier this year. With a new Flume album on the horizon 2015 could be an even bigger years for this indie.
Astralwerks has been the home of classy stateside dance music since the days of electronica and although the times may have changed, the label's cultured ear for forward-thinking, dancefloor ready tunage has not. Deadmau5, Eric Prydz, Annie Mac, Hot Chip. Tensnake, Mat Zo, and THUMP's 2014 Artist of the Year Porter Robinson call the New York based label home and nobody is able to match the label's combination of deft touch and great reach.
3. Ninja Tune
The inimitable and unquestionable Ninja Tune are a living monument to lefty electronic music and have been for coming up on thirty years. in 2014, they championed top-notch releases from Bonobo, Dorian Concept, a re-invented Kelis, Machinedrum, Mr. Oizo, Wiley, and they even re-released Diplo's debut album F1ORIDA. Sure, it might go over some of the kandi kids' heads, but if you're looking to be challenged and exposed to new sounds while wiggling' your hips, there's very little competition.
2. Black Butter
No label has been more definitive in crafting the sound of 2014 than London's Black Butter. Only four years old, they've been responsible for launching the careers of crossover acts Gorgon City, Rudimental, and Clean Bandit on one hand, while keeping things definitively underground with the likes of My Nu Leng and Kry Wolf on the other. Still run by the three mates who started it, Black Butter is an example of how doing the right thing at the right time can pay off, no matter how big of an organization you may be.
1. Warp Records
Since the early days of Nightmares on Wax and LFO (RIP Mark Bell), British label Warp has consistently offered one of the most diverse palettes in all of dance music. In dance music's mammoth year of 2014—nothing about that fact changed, instead, it's only continued to thrive and evolve. From the jazzified computer bliss of Flying Lotus' You're Dead to Clark's expansive self-titled debut LP, to new Rustie, and of course, our number one album of the year—Aphex's Syro—Warp has more than ever flexed their affinity for offering a listening experience that transcends trends or any pressure from the public on how they should operate. They're unafraid, ahead of the curve, yet somehow, consistent in their abilitiy to hold on to their long-running ethos of brain-twisting, thought provoking, curation.