It’s easy to have a big year when you’re a big label. You’ve got money, man power and a lot of brand recognition to get you places; but as music industry moves increasingly toward an independent future, indie labels find themselves winning big, too.
Dance music seems especially kind to the indie label world. Sometimes, all you need is some passion and a YouTube channel – alright, and a good ear. In a few years, you may find you’ve become a taste maker in the scene. You might inspire a new generation of kids to make sounds like yours, or at least follow in your footsteps. You might even get a platinum-selling record. You might even get multiple Grammy nominations.
Such are the stories of our favorite indie labels in 2017. Below, we celebrate their hard work and triumphs in alphabetical order. Expect big things from all of these indies in the year to come.
San Holo had a big year in 2017, and he’s made sure to bring some of his homies with him. He founded this future-favoring label in 2013 with his buddy Thorwald van den Akker. He wanted a place to give his music life without the hands of creative controlling executives, and he extends that privilege to the artists he releases. DROELOE has become a notable breakout, but bitbird’s second compilation Gouldian Finch #2 features 21 tracks from just as many incredibly talented artists in the family. It also caps with a massive group track from eight of the label’s artists, San Holo included. If you’re looking for a primer, be sure to check it out. — KAT BEIN
Since 2005, Claude VonStroke’s baby boutique label has exploded to become one of the dance music industry’s leading underground taste-makers. It almost doesn’t feel right to call it underground anymore, but that’s just because Dirtybird fans flock in tight packs and wear lots of Dirtybird merch with pride. The label is credited with quite a uniquely funky, dirty take on the tech-house sound. This year, it saw releases from new homies and old, including Green Velvet, Eats Everything, Will Clark, Sacha Robotti and more, plus a cool collab LP from the Claudefather called Works Well With Others. It also celebrated the success of its third-annual Dirtybird Campout in California with the announcement of an east coast edition in Florida come February 2018. That’s starting the year off with the right wing. — K.B.
Lowly Palace may be one of the newer labels to the dance music scene, but it’s quickly growing, thanks to its curation and impressive promotional network. The independent label was founded in September 2016 by Andre Benz, who is also the founder and CEO of Trap Nation (as well as Chill Nation, Bass Nation, House Nation and more). Benz has effectively utilized his network’s massive digital imprint to expose Lowly Palace’s records to the masses. Trap Nation alone is nearing a cool 17 million YouTube subscribers and 1.7 million followers on its Spotify playlist. Grandtheft and Prince Fox are among an ever-growing list of artists who’ve released on the imprint thus far. — DAVID RISHTY
This Vancouver, Canada-based indie has a huge footprint. It was founded in 2011 by Mike Darlington and Ari Paunonen and used YouTube to boost its popularity. It signs individual tracks rather than the artists themselves, which opens the door to a large roster of talent at varying levels in their career, and while it favors bass, it doesn’t stick to any strict criteria. In 2017, Monstercat released tracks from Bassnectar, Gareth Emery, Kayzo, Slushii, Snails and more. It also celebrated its first-ever platinum record, for Marshmello‘s “Alone.” — K.B.
Ninja Tune / Counter Records
It’s hard to compete with Ninja Tune, the London-based indie label which has Counter Records under its wing. The imprint has established itself as a true tastemaker in the electronic music scene and snagged a handful of Grammy nominations this year with ODESZA‘s A Moment Apart (exclusively licensed to Counter Records) and Bonobo‘s Migration on Ninja Tune. Other artists under the label’s umbrella include RAC, What So Not and Giraffage. ODESZA’s album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and Bonobo’s LP climbed on No. 59 on the chart. — D.R.