Drum & Bass, perhaps more than any other genre, has its roots in a select few record labels that really were the catalyst for the whole scene’s explosion. As the press release for Metalheadz’ first ever release said, their aim was to “explore both the roots of Breakbeat and Jungle, and rework it into a new dimension, Drum 'n' Bass”. It is exemplary of how this new sound was moulded in the early 90s by labels such as Metalheadz, V Recordings, RAM Records and Playaz. These collectives were critical to the flowering of the genre, and in the present day there are also countless imprints that are continuing to evolve the sound, something crucial to its enduring success. We thought these people really deserved the spotlight, hence this article exposing some of the best rising independent Drum & Bass labels the UK has to offer…
Like so many creative endeavours these days, Onyx Recordings began life at university, with label founder Chris Wickens being given the opportunity to start a business during his Music Promotion BA. As you would immediately be able to tell from the consistently quality output from the imprint, Chris is a lifelong Drum & Bass aficionado, and it did not take long for two fellow enthusiasts Jack Stimpson and Elliot Croft to join him. Since their inception Onyx have been dedicated to providing quality Drum & Bass music from across the spectrum, in the process highlighting breaking artists who just need to be heard.
As they say themselves, “we've had some incredible breakthrough artists come through our doors who are considered the future of the scene, such as AC13, Lupo, Ben Snow, Jappa, DJ Gaw, Adzzy and Manual to name a few”. It is testimony to their ear for talent, and indeed quality control – the latter of which can be easy to forget in the excitement of establishing a new label. These are exciting times for Onyx Recordings as they get ready to launch a slew of new paid releases that all come under distinct sub-genre categories. In a nice touch these are all named after precious stones – “Jet will feature deep, forward-thinking, dark and rolling tunes. Jade will be beautiful, lush liquid and Obsidian will crush dance floors with huge jumpy, fog-horny vibes”. We cannot wait to hear how they sound!
Overview Music are another recent addition to the Drum & Bass world, having been established by seasoned DJ Energy at the close of 2018. He previously worked with the burgeoning label Lifestyle Music, and therefore had a lot of experience with how things worked in relation to the music industry straight from the offset. Overview quickly grew into a team, with Energy at the helm ensuring that everything was done with as much care and dedication as possible. Indeed, he says himself, “our ethos is to sign music and artists on the highest calibre, and create a welcoming home for these producers to release their music with.”
The passion for the project is self-evident, Energy explains, “we take every aspect incredibly seriously, from having top level art and animation, to how we present ourselves online, looking creating something unique and different within Drum & Bass”. It is this tireless dedication that has put Overview Music on the map in a relatively short amount of time, with releases such as Waeys’ “Ropple” EP causing shockwaves in the scene. They are also no strangers to throwing a good old Drum & Bass party too, and have dates lined up in London, Brighton and Bratislava. There is no doubt you will be seeing a lot more of Overview Music in the near future.
It is not often that a young label receives vital mentorship from figures in Jungle and Drum & Bass as well respected as Serial Killaz, but this is exactly how Run Tingz Recordings first got started. The Bristol based label and collective have been going since 2010, consistently pushing a modern synthesis between Reggae, Drum & Bass and Jungle to critical acclaim. Ed and Parker – the guys behind the imprint – were dedicated junglists well before the birth of Run Tingz, and with over a decade in the music industry they were well poised to push the collective in as many ways as possible.
The label has been going for almost a decade now, and in that time they have well and truly put themselves on the map with a variety of very well regarded releases. If Reggae and Jungle infused Drum & Bass is the name of your game then there really is no excuse for sleeping on Run Tingz. The latest release, “Ghetto Youth”, courtesy of Salaryman, Veak and Da Fuchanan perfectly illustrates this. Any budding fans of the genre will also have almost certainly heard of the Run Tingz Cru, an alias the founding fathers also produce and perform under. One thing is for certain, Run Tingz are such a multi-faceted entity that it is seemingly impossible for them to stand still.
“In late 2013,” the story goes, “Jack ‘Pola’ Higgins, Liam Holyoak-Rackal and Joe Goss had a pint in Shoreditch with the intention of creating a digital music imprint where talented friends and peers could showcase their music”. Fast-forward to 2019 and the three mates are now at the helm of one of the most exciting labels in Drum & Bass. In fact, for many fans of the genre, especially the liquid sub-category, Soulvent have become the go-to for finding new music from budding new producers, occupying a vital space in the industry. Original signees such as Pola & Bryson and GLXY have gone on to sign for massive labels like Shogun Audio, testimony to the critical groundwork that the label puts in for up-and-comers.
Their growth in quite a small amount of time is also testimony to the importance of youthful energy and indifference – doing something because you want to and not thinking about anything else. For instance they explain, “it was just let’s put some tunes out with our mates and see what happens. It was only ever intended to be that, but it’s become so much more”. Quite quickly Soulvent began to make a name for themselves in the underground Drum & Bass scene, pushing a refined and quite delicate take on the sound that earned plaudits far and wide. New faces to the label such as Dilemma are ones to look out for, as her sound forms the vanguard of yet another wave of high-quality Drum & Bass music from the imprint.
In recent years the deep and dark strand of Drum & Bass has experienced a surge in popularity, with artists such as Alix Perez leading the way in pioneering and often quite minimalistic beats. This is the side of the genre that Flexout Audio specialise in, having earned themselves somewhat of a reputation for delivering flawless productions from highly esteemed DJs such as Hyroglifics, Monty and Arkaik to name just a few. In fact, in the words of the renowned underground bass music platform UKF, Flexout are “basically your favourite label’s favourite label… A place where new talent is nurtured, encouraged, supported…".
Their attitude to new talent is something that has helped set them apart from the rest too, as the label and roster evolve in tandem with each other. Initially Tom Bassi set up the imprint only in order to release music from a close group of friends. This was in 2010, however, and as time went on “the label developed its sound and became synonymous with deep, underground drum and bass music pushing innovative new artists from around the world”. Take a listen to one of their recent releases like “The Shaman” by Fre4knc & Klinical to really get a feel for what Flexout are all about – experimental, innovative and stripped back underground Drum & Bass.
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