Feature: Favorite New Labels from 2021

As someone who also operates an independent label with minimal funds, 2021 was not an easy year for it. And yet, plenty of ambitious artists and curators not only found the time and the resources to bring the music they love to the world, but also the drive to begin doing it in the first place. These are my favorite imprints that were first established in this accursed year of your lord.

Black Artifact (Fort Worth, TX, USA)

Anyone who follows this site is well aware that I never shut up about how much I despise the traditional “noise aesthetic”: obnoxiously provocative black-and-white collages, irresponsible invocations of misogynistic violence, juvenile edginess masquerading as serious art. Black Artifact, which announced itself in early January with tapes by brand new projects Insignificant Spirit and Gemengung, is a perfect example of the glorious antithesis of the aforementioned. Each release deals uniquely in creative minimalism in both visual and auditory contexts, and thus they are all singular mysteries to delve into and decipher. My personal highlights are the crude, clumsy concrète of Temple Garments’ brief Dim Radiance; Gemengung’s brutal wall-ish follow-up to their “remix” of Effigy of the ForgottenThe Indifference of Nature (both of which I reviewed here); and SBTDOH’s An Ode to Rock Throwers C11, which is easily some of the best and most concise harsh I’ve heard all year.

Modern Concern (Chicago, IL, USA)

Founded and operated by Chicago musician and soundmaker Andy Klingensmith, Modern Concern is a reverent outlet for exploratory sound art of all kinds, each release presented in extremely limited, carefully homemade CDr or tape runs. Field Dept., Klingensmith’s ongoing collaboration with fellow recorder/researcher Estlin Usher, has so far been one of the main projects featured in the label’s catalog, but their output has steadily become more diverse (from a stylistic perspective, that is…), and it’s the more recent introduction of the Thick Descriptions series, beautifully amaray-cased editions “dedicated to multi-media placestudies [sic] and works of acoustic ecology which utilize unmanipulated, candid field recording techniques.” For an entity so small, however, it is quite prolific, and at 14 total releases for the whole year I had to concede my original goal of picking up every single one in the interest of my meager bank account, but this, undoubtedly, is far from the worst problem to have.

Bromtol Largesse (Austin, TX, USA)

Some may know Neal D. Retke as the subject of Neal D Retke for President!, a 2013 documentary short in which filmographer Victor Van Rossem makes the cross-continental trek from Belgium to the United States in search of a tenuous Facebook connection—a sort of irreverent follow-up to Searching for Sugar Man, perhaps. Retke has been around long before that though, putting out unusual (to say the least) music under both his artistic and curatorial alias of {An} EeL. The “Antarctica”-based Bromtol Largesse (actually a transnational collaboration with the Netherlands’ Volker Störtebeker) is a much newer excursion, beginning its operations in January and releasing more than twenty digital albums since then. Most, if not all of the projects most likely feature Retke, but satisfying variation is not at all an issue here; from the bizarre first “action report” സാമുദായിക dochádzať दान to the absolutely superb three-way harsh noise split by Bukkake Tech, ElekTrauma, and Takeshita, there is certainly something for everyone . . . or, perhaps, everything for no one.

Dasa Tapes (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Savvas Metaxas and Danai Giannakapoulou’s eclectic new label first caught my attention with a release from Glia, a project by Virginia’s Jonathan Ifiok Ntuk that in my eyes/ears is one of the most exciting recent developments in DIY abstract electronica. Since that first batch—which also contained tapes from the collaboration between Ross Birdwise and Karl Fousek as well as some of Metaxas’s own music by way of RETE, his duo with Vasilis Liolios—Dasa has released two more well-curated sets of three, featuring reasonably recognizable names like Eventless Plot and Ben Vida alongside lesser-known (at least to me) artists: Rahel Kraft, Paul Ramage, Elena Kakaliagou. A clean house cover design theme unifies the fascinating work of these myriad creatives, each highlighting a new “hand drawn acrylic painting” presumably done by one or both of the founder-operators.

Titibête (Vienna, Austria)

Though it has only served as the vehicle for two very short digital-only releases this year, Titibête grew from a tiny blip on my radar to a label I’ll be paying extremely close attention to in the future, mostly due to the strength of that aforementioned pair of works by Rosa and Pigeon Discrimination.

Field Strike (unknown location)

This small tape label only just got started earlier this month, but it’s already easily one of my favorites. The incredible first batch of releases by Retraction Pocket (Deterioration Ceremony), Opaque (Black Moncler Hudson), and Maltreatment (Well Raised) are essential listening for any fan of harsh/wall.

Apologies (London, UK)

Apologies has exactly one release under its belt so far, but that single work will be more than enough to convince those “in the know,” even beyond the fact that I will be watching any venture from the mind of Tom White with rapt attention. The pensive sound, voice, and space sketches of Accidental Stereo at the Peninsula, a short collaboration with Renato Grieco, are a perfect introduction.

Anhedonic Records (NC, USA)

Anhedonic made a brash inaugural announcement back in July with the release of two brutal slabs of merciless harsh, Labor of Love’s self-titled and Calf Puller’s Slaktsvin. The strength of these two tapes alone, particularly the former, would be enough for a great year, but the label continued its efforts with the crushing Three Silver Swords and then a drastic stylistic swerve in the form of Piss Dream.

adhuman (Brighton, UK)

A new archival platform and esoteric distro from one of my favorite artists working today, Duncan Harrison. Collected Voice, Text and Tape Works and Korm 88, which compile recordings by Josh Peterson (previously released on various cassettes) and Emil Beaulieau (unreleased), respectively, are a formidable set of releases for the label’s first year of operation.

Mono Time (UK)

Dealing mostly in subdued, often hauntological ambience both light and dark, Mono Time first came to my attention quite recently due to November’s Zebularin release, Concrete Vague. Most of their modest but still impressive first-year catalog would usually be soft for my tastes, but something about the unutterable realities and unrealities explored in We All Think You Should Leave and Ghosts of the British Motorway makes the music irresistibly beguiling.