Seven Record Labels That Defined 2019

Seven Record Labels That Defined 2019

Imprints paving the way...

Clash has rounded up our favourite albums of 2019, a conversation that took weeks to complete.

Along the way, though, it became clear how pivotal certain record labels can be to the cultural conversation, and how a concise identity can cut through the noise.

With colossal amounts of new music hitting streaming services each week, the task facing these labels has never been more difficult, or more imposing.

It's remarkable, then, that a number of key imprints are still forging ahead, pulling us all in their wake.

Here, Clash staff and writers select seven record labels that defined 2019.

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Speedy Wunderground

This year, South London’s Speedy Wunderground sealed its status as a seriously visionary platform for new, underground UK talent (as if the team really had anything to prove).

Headed up by revered producer Dan Carey - who’s worked with everyone from Kylie and Christina to CSS, Hot Chip, Bloc Party, Bat For Lashes and Emiliana Torrini - the label’s approach is as unique as the people it works with.

Artists are invited to the Speedy studio for short, sharp recording sessions, and the subsequent releases put out as limited runs of 250 7” singles. This means they’re extremely sought after snapshots of artists on the rise – a precious moment in time, captured.

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This year Speedy worked with the likes of the anarchic black midi (one of the UK’s most breathtaking live bands right now) on their ‘bmbmbm’ track, experimental Cambridge seven-piece Black Country, New Road and post-punk, disco-funk phenomenon Squid - on their ‘Town Centre’ EP - while Carey himself was the producer behind three Mercury 2019 nominated albums: ‘Dogrel’ from Fontaines D.C., Kate Tempest’s ‘A Book Of Traps And Lessons’ and black midi’s ‘Schlagenheim’.

With artists like Loyle Carner and Swedish / UK post punk outfit FEWS also under its belt, and new label compilation ‘Year 4’ out now, we can’t wait to see what Speedy’s got in store for 2020. (Emma Finamore)

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Quality Control

When you have the likes of Migos, Lil Yachty, Cardi B and Stefflon Don under your label, it’s pretty safe to say that you’ll always have a good year no matter what. In addition to these amazing few, there also lies City Girls made up of Florida natives, Yung Miami and JT.

With slick lyrics empowering women to take what they want no matter what, these lyrics proved to be all too real when JT was incarcerated in 2018 on fraudulent credit card charges. This led to Yung Miami having to carry the City Girls all whilst her partner was away and with her eventually falling pregnant in June 2019.

As you can imagine, CEO of Quality Control, Pierre Thomas was incredibly stressed out especially when trying to get JT’s sentence reduced.

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But yet with both members evidently dealing with huge issues, their debut album ‘Girl Code’ was critically acclaimed with stand out hits including ‘Act Up’, ‘Twerk’ featuring Cardi B and ‘Season’ featuring Lil Baby. Although a very stressful year, the City Girls managed to take Quality Control Music to new heights.

With JT now a free woman, and Yung Miami raising her second child, QC was one of the most talked about labels this year. With the release of a second compilation album ‘Control The Streets Vol.2’ and with the continuous roll out of music from other acts, this was QC’s best year yet. (Debbie Ijaduola)

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Sneaker Social Club

Bristol and Berlin-based Sneaker Social Club has been staying ahead of the curve for over five years now. With an uncompromising slate of skittish, future rave releases, its brought the faster-paced rhythms of UK soundsystem culture to the ears of an international audience.

These are no mere rave revivalists dredging up a bygone era though. In 2019 the label kicked it up a gear; setting pace with a brutalist 'Basic Rhythm' EP, and a killer collabo from Etch and Nico Lindsay that defied its own lurching drum patterns and meandering flows to earworm its way into radio playlists and club sets across the country.

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Never resting on its laurels, the second six months of the year saw SSC drop LPs from Soundbwoy Killah, Low End Activist and Filter Dread (the latter just last week), serving up warped perspectives on breakbeat, eski and dub.

Finally, shouts out to Horsepower Productions, who sidestepped their rep for Spartan garage with a two-track of euphoric club heaters. Lace up ya sneakers and get down to the dancefloor. (Alexander McFadyen)

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Partisan Records

With one finger firmly placed right on the pulse, Partisan Records continues to impress with a superior aptitude for tastemaking. The company means business. Yet, this is a music business led by fresh minds, innovation and originality.

The team’s global network and knowledge of a constantly changing market means that their bands are well looked after – and happy musicians create the best music.

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There is evidence to support the label’s success including special moments when Mercury Prize nominated Fontaines D.C’s ‘Dogrel’ scooped two Album Of The Year titles from BBC Radio 6 Music and Rough Trade. Equally, Idles (also Mercury Prize nominated) increased their global fanbase and completed some high-profile international touring.

An enviable roster demonstrating not only range, but depth and quality, this independent label has an unbeatable track record when it comes to breaking new bands within eighteen months.

No doubt 2020 is going to be another fascinating year. (Susan Hansen)

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MOVES Recordings

2019 saw UK rap surge into new areas, while also diversifying and splintering into a dizzying array of sounds. Based in the UK – but with a global sweep – MOVES Recordings has set the pace, inviting innovation while helping their artists reach huge heights.

Head of A&R Ian McQuaid is key to their identity, with 2019 providing phenomenal releases from Skengdo x AM, B4Bonah, Offica and more. The label also recently inked a deal with Afro Nation, the two moving hand in hand to support street culture on a global level.

Ending the year with Naira Marley’s ‘LOL’ EP, MOVES Recordings is seizing the agenda with stellar taste and bold ambition.

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b4

Undoubtedly the youngest label on this list, b4 launched little more than 12 months ago but in that time it has become a by-word in the conversation between left field pop, R&B, hip-hop, and club electronics.

Initially focussing on singles, b4 has uncovered gem after gem: there’s teenage aesthete HAWA, the seductive R&B of Andrea Valle, and the arena-ready songwriting of Velvet Negroni, amongst others.

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Refusing to be held to a specific sound, b4 nonetheless has a sharply defined ethos, a kind of fashion-forward, future-fixated approach that makes each new release feel like a genuine event.

Rapidly blossoming, 2020 holds huge expectation for anyone who has become entranced by b4’s output to date.

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Mute

After turning forty in 2018, this year saw Mute continue what they’d dubbed their ‘anti-versary’ with vinyl re-pressings of key releases from Can, Cabaret Voltaire and Fad Gadget. They also issued a seminal piece of live documentary evidence from New Order (‘∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) New Order + Liam Gillick: So it goes ..’), the emotional electronics of Alessandro Cortini’s ‘Volume Massimo’, a continuation of the label’s work with musical auteur Daniel Blumberg, and the the bold symphonic strokes of ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ by Maps.

As the year drew to a close, Mute issued ‘STUMM433’, a family gathering boxset of Mute artists past and present each performing John Cage’s 4’33”.

“A lot of people involved with Mute really wanted to do something, and I managed to put aside my personal feelings about anniversaries,” says label founder Daniel Miller. “I never want to get nostalgic. I’m very conscious of that when deciding to do things like ‘STUMM433’.” (Mat Smith)

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