There’s productivity, and then there’s what these five local labels accomplished in 2016—more than just pad their catalogs, they’ve established themselves as tastemaking powers outside the communities that birthed them. In no particular order:
Not Normal Tapes
Not Normal Tapes founder Ralph Rivera plays in writhing, noise-gnarled sociopolitical punk band the Bug, but even if you discount that group’s exploits, the label still had a very healthy year—of particular note are excellent releases from Oakland’s Baus (who mostly sound like the Monks being forced through a sausage grinder) and Kentucky’s Quailbones. Rivera capped off 2016 with an impressive fest called the Infestational—the biggest of its three days featured a 15-band bill at ChiTown Futbol—that locked down his label’s spot at the Chicago hardcore community’s Algonquin Round Table.
The blown-out sludge-pop of Chicago’s Basement Family, the urgent shoegaze-revival ruckus of Saint Louis’s Swear Beam, the snarling scuzz-punk of locals Lifestyles—together they represent just a fraction of what the prolific Maximum Pelt released this year. Even if you consider only vinyl (the label does tapes too), there’s also material by Flesh Panthers, Dan Rico, and the Chives. Run by the tireless and wonderfully nicknamed Magic Ian, Maximum Pelt is happy to give voice to the best of the small-club bands that keep Chicago’s rock scene healthy.
Trouble in Mind
No local label had a better year. Founders Bill and Lisa Roe have recalibrated their mission, building on their foundation of garage rock by adding psych, Krautrock, and minimal postpunk. Two of Trouble in Mind‘s best 2016 releases, Deluxe by Atlanta three-piece Omni and the self-titled debut by Chicago trio the Hecks, fall into the last, but the out-there instrumental art-rock of Portland’s Alto! indicates the lengths to which the label will go to explore different sounds. We’re lucky the Roes seem excited for the challenge.
Founded in 2012 by Doug Kaplan and Max Allison, experimental-music label Hausu Mountain finished the year with a flurry, pushing out seven releases since September. Among them are the programmed collages of Cleveland’s Tiger Village (aka Tim Thornton), the laid-back but ominous arcade-influenced soundtracks of Mukqs (aka Allison himself), the cascading, ethereal ambience of the great TALsounds (aka Natalie Chami), and the fractured, freak-flag-flying elegance of Quicksails (aka Ben Billington). Head to Hausu’s strange home on the range and hang out for a spell.
Founded by Alex Fruchter and Mike Kolar, Closed Sessions has played an undeniable role in influencing and empowering Chicago’s hip-hop community. Black-and-proud albums by Kweku Collins (Nat Love) and Jamila Woods (Heavn)—both of which are finding their rightful places on year-end lists across the World Wide Web—have been the label’s touchstones in 2016, but dig deeper and you’ll find releases from the likes of Milwaukee’s Oddcouple and Chicago’s venerable DJ Rude One, which have helped make this Closed Sessions’ best year yet. v