How many times did you listen to Loud Luxury's "Body" this year? How excited are you about Above & Beyond's second Grammy nomination for "Northern Soul"? Wasn't San Holo's album1 a beautiful triumph? All these wins and more are extra special when you consider that they represent hard-working independent labels.
In 2018, Billboard Dance continued to be impressed by what indie imprints can do when they stick to their guns and believe in their artists. The five labels below (listed alphabetically) earned top marks over the last 12 months and are poised to continue their upward trajectories in 2019.
This progressive house and trance label has been a stalwart of electronic music’s most blissful side since 2000. It was founded by Above & Beyond, a trio that did a lot in 2018. Its recent album, Common Ground, hit a high watermark of No. 3 on the Billboard 200, while single “Northern Soul,” featuring frequent collaborator Richard Bedford, earned the trio its second Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording. This year also marked the 300th event for A&B’s successful live radio program, Group Therapy, in Hong Kong. Beyond the flagship act's success, Anjunabeats made waves with Andrew Bayer’s sweeping, two-disc album In My Last Life, Mat Zo’s beat-heavy progressive EP No Words, Ilan Blusetone’s massive dance floor LP Scars, and Spencer Brown’s pulsing, jazzy blend of sounds Illusion is Perfection. Each voice on the label speaks loud and strong in a variety of moods and styles, and we applaud Anjunabeats for its tireless efforts to bring quality to dance floors around the world. -- K.B.
It's been a banner year for Armada Music, the indie label that just celebrated its 15 year anniversary. The Netherlands-based label achieved a global presence in 2018 and was a frequent visitor on key charts, streaming playlists and radio stations, particularly in North America. The team's all-hands-on-deck approach helped break the career of burgeoning Canadian duo Loud Luxury with the viral success of "Body" featuring brando, followed by "Love No More" featuring anders. Other standout releases on the Dutch imprint include Lost Frequencies' "Melody" featuring James Blunt, as well as festival boomer "Blah Blah Blah" by the label's very own Armin van Buuren. Armada Music stayed active on the live front as well, hosting stages at Creamfields in the UK and Dreamfields Mexico. The team is expanding its presence within the U.S. and appears set to continue making an impact on the market. -- DAVE RISHTY
bitbird doesn't just release records, the independent label fosters a feeling of intimacy and inclusion through its artists and "bitbird family" message. Formed in 2014, the indie hosts a small staff of 10 people, but puts up numbers that can compete with indie-majors due to its thorough understanding of artist development, touring, and branding. Label signees include co-founder San Holo, DROELOE and Taska Black, all three of whom are also managed by Heroic, an artist management company co-founded by Budi Voogt, who also serves as bitbird's Managing Director and San Holo's manager. Holo's career continued to thrive in 2018 with the release of his debut album, album1, which peaked at No. 7 on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. Other successes on bitbird were DROELOE's The Choices We Face EP and Duskus' cute EP, which have earned three and six million total streams, respectively. -- D.R.
Diplo founded this fun-loving dance music brand in 2006, and it’s always been a home for colorful, cross-cultural sounds, with a reputation for pairing releases with wild, left-field music videos. This year, the label breached 1 million subscribers on YouTube, earning a Gold Play Button plaque and everything. It brought its famed Mad Decent Block Party event series to Pakistan with a lineup of local and international acts, and donated a portion of ticket sale profits to a local group that fights child abuse. Mad Decent signees GTA celebrated its Spanish-language EP La Nueva Clásica with a Samsung commercial spot. Experimental pop singer Poppy finished the year big with her Am I A Girl? album release, and label dad Diplo held things down with his California EP. Add to that a series of hilarious billboards around Los Angeles, and this independent outfit solidifies itself as one of the funniest, most innovative and well-rounded labels in the business. -- KAT BEIN
Some fans were skeptical of Monstercat's January decision to split its releases into individual Instinct and Uncaged sub-brands, but in time, fans seemed to rally around them. Noisestorm's April Fools joke release, "Crab Rave," turned out to be no joke when it came to its viral victory on YouTube and breaking into Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. On the artist development front, Conro was a big success story for Monstercat. The up-and-comer's All Eyes On Me EP hauled in more than five million streams on Spotify. Most impressively, however, Conro has appeared in Billboard's Dance/Mix Show Airplay charts for 30 weeks in 2018, thanks to key support from stations like SiriusXM Chill. Monstercat's stage presence has continued to expand, quite literally, with a stage takeover at Tomorrowland, and a branded art car at EDC Las Vegas. The independent label has also earned 1.5 billion total streams across its catalog this year, and that's excluding its gains on Chinese DSPs like Netease and Tencent. -- D.R.