It’s not quite the summer of love, but maybe it can be the summer of underground music downloading. Let’s start with techno.
Bandcamp is the undisputed home of a lot of experimental music. With dance genres, it has more competition – and I plan to revisit offerings like Beatport shortly, so stay tuned.
What you get on Bandcamp, then, is a particular character of music – typically stuff that resists easy categorization, and doesn’t show up as much on charts. For some of these labels, there’s a mix of revenue between Bandcamp and a platform like Beatport (or even Apple, if they’re lucky with charts). For others, Bandcamp is not only the main source of income, but even a way of connecting.
Speaking of Beatport – one piece of evidence that it isn’t only about Bandcamp, I kept thinking for example one of my favorites, Tokyo’s Murasame Industrial Records, was on Bandcamp. They’re Beatport only. More on that label soon.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I wanted to pick out stuff I’ve particularly enjoyed following – which usually means non-commercial, stuff that’s jack-y and groovy, stuff that’s space-y and futuristic and dark and weird. And these labels all have a sense of community, even if it’s a small collective of a few friends unlikely to catch larger attention.
A special shout-out goes to Bandcamp Techno on Facebook, which is a community itself.
This is trending heavily to Berlin and the midwest, with a smattering of Spain and Japan, and techno is more international than that, so — I will definitely have to do a volume II. Nominations gladly accepted.
New York, NY US
The label of Ambivalent (founded in Berlin, now in NYC), aka LA-4A is the high-grade, thinking person’s techno label. Now Kevin McHugh is back with his first solo music in a couple of years, which is not techno but some chilled ambient music to take your mind off the pandemic. And you can get the whole (very techno) catalog for $15.
FLASH Recordings from Florian Meindl is one of the most prolific techno labels on Bandcamp, with a nonstop firehose of great releases. And they’re 90% off the full catalog today, which means DJs can play a game of “how many FLASH tracks can I play in a row before someone notices.)
I’m on this label mainly because I couldn’t stop listening to all of its releases. Started in 2013, it’s been covering a terrific gamut of productions from Russia, Ukraine, and beyond.
Yes, I have skin in the game:
The mighty Avian has an endless, sonically rich catalog.
Some of the best of the Scottish underground.
Little. Yellow. Different. Better. Hamburg’s weird underground imprint I think I convinced (or more like “nagged’) to go on Bandcamp, so now let me urge you to go check out their catalog (not only mine).
If London’s underground techno had a tourism board, this might be it – at least for us weirdos.
The label resident of Berghain has a Bandcamp store. Actually do believe the hype, generally – they’ve still got it, and jumping-off point to the sublabels is also here, so have at it because I think no one is getting back into the club for a while.
“Braindancers United” with acid and rave and more. Proper Paris warehouse dirt.
Fullpanda records & Hunger to Create
Dasha Rush’s label has some of the finest – and most-overlooked – underground techno out there, and her occasional parties at Tresor also count among the most sonically diverse. Music for cosmonautical moods.
St. Louis, MO US
Jack-y, dirty midwest techno, just as you’d expect from Ron S., veteran of that scene, and friends. As thick and delicious as BBQ sauce.
Cari Lekebusch’s label has a deep back catalog from Sweden.
Irreverant, dirty, silly, raunchy – this is the underground side of German techno (and adjacent music) too many people fail to see. Toktok is an outgrowth of the band; V-Records the imprint of band member Nerk (who I’ve gotten to release with). And they’ve found and put out new vinyl on Toktok this week.
[undisclosed city], UK
When Perc runs a label, wonderful things happen. With a full range of techno to experimental and everything in between, this is a heaven for producer nerds.
hyper master recorders
Straight out of Shizuoka – every end of the techno spectrum has been on a hyper master release, holding down a chunk of Japan’s best techno since 1998. You might know them from that circle logo, if that jogs your memory.
Svreca to Stanislav Tolkachev, gorgeous releases here.
I guess Spain is my next destination post-lockdown, but I just love this crew for their lovely rhythms and sounds. And they’re a pan-Spanish indie – “Madrid, Murcia, Gijón, Salamanca, I, Spain”
With major releases from people like D. Tiffany and a stream of unexpected delights, this is a Quebecois gem.
Maria Singer to Dave Tarrida, dark and delicious catalog from the place I know everyone thinks of as a music hub, Tübingen, Germany. Possibly there’s an enchanted forest where this happens.
Bavaria is back on Germany’s music scene in a big way – Alex Bau’s label pumping out classics being a good example of that.
The former boss of Tresor Records and other projects, Pacou has now put out his own deep collection and it’s all worth navigating (including the Mike Huckaby collab I wrote about on the weekend).
Chicago, IL USA
Banging. “Tracky”? “Ghetto flair?” (Their words, not mine.) Whatever it is, take a virtual trip to a Chicago warehouse.
Tommy Four Seven’s label is nothing but the finest production work, when you want compilations and releases that trend very dark and goth-futuristic – but that you’ll still dance to.
Maybe one of the larger labels here, but well worth a mention – Emmanuel’s ARTS is the kind of label that will constantly break you out of the notion that techno is just repeating itself, with consistently forward-looking music.
TH ± Tar Hallow
Rotterdam has so much strange techno laboratory stuff going on, though – it’s not just ARTS. Hard, weird, things that sound like the robots took over… Tar Hallow is inhabited by the likes of Rhyw and Thanos Hana and goes the expected places if you know those names.
Seriously, what is in the water/stroopwaffels over there? Maybe it says something that these labels are so superb that they come before the mention of the city and yes, Rotterdam, I’m aware that us Berlin folks like to ride on the brand of our town.
Chicago, IL USA
Hey, Berlin. You think only you can be dark? Chicago can be dark. Ever been through a Chicago winter? Beautiful stuff from this insanely prolific label and diverse roster.
[undisclosed city], JP
Futuristic adventurous outings from Ryuji Takeuchi and Nil and so on live here.
The Bunker New York
New York, NY USA
The Bunker is both a classic party and a perfect conduit between Detroit and NYC (and Berlin) – their label is every bit as vital.
There’s always just beautiful stuff on Joton’s imprint, since 2005.
Well, did I mention they’re also on Bandcamp?
Uun and Altstadt Echo and friends are putting out some of the most beautiful, dreamy techno productions today, so don’t miss this imprint.
Futuristic, wonderful, almost needs no introduction – the HD Substance and Leandro Gámez project.
Kelli Hand (K-Hand) has a label. Attention must be paid. (Who? Oh, you need to go there now. Enjoy! Tell me when you’re done.)
Detroit, MI USA
Oh yeah – that Transmat. Derrick May Transmat. Also on Bandcamp.
Speaking of Detroit, while I mostly avoided artists for space – Alan Oldham has been everywhere since the Transmat days, and he’s dumping tons of vintage Pure Sonik, etc. stuff alongside his new latest – so, for instance, you get this gem today from 1993’s Generator:
Okay, so who did I miss? Everyone from Africa to Latin America to the Balkans to southeast Asia, I … kinda know where I’m starting episode II. But shoot!