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The top 5 electronic labels that shaped Toronto

Posted by Brendan Arnott / March 25, 2014

Electronic music labels toronto"Someone once told me, 'time is a flat circle'. Everything we've ever done or will do we're gonna do over and over and over again".

While it's likely that True Detective's Rustin Cohle was talking more about the futility of change than dance music, it's a sentiment that hold true for the latter as well. I recently profiled five contemporary attention-worthy dance labels in Toronto happening right now. But go back in time a few decades, and you'll see the seeds planted that allowed dance culture to blossom, expand and envision new ways of existing. Here are a few labels that set the groundwork for today's dance music scene.

Stickman Records
With releases adorned by the label's distinctive stick figure model, Greg Zwarich and Paul Mintsoulis' specialized in equally bare bones house tracks for Canada's after hours crowds. Specializing in tracks that burrow into your consciousness, tunes like Stickmen's "The Drug" still sound contemporary and invigorating today, with Radio Slave including it in his Strictly Rhythm retrospective.

Also notable is how the label was an early adopter of a pro-queer sentiment - Toronto's own Denise Benson was a contributer to the label's "Obscene Underground" mix series, proudly displaying the word "Gay" in unmissable text on the front. For those interested in the intersection between queerness and dance music, Resident Advisor recently traced the history of LGBT disco and house, which you can read here.

Alien 8 Records
Following in the footsteps of New York's electroclash / dance punk vibe set in motion by DFA Records, Alien 8 was home to a thrashing number of releases that blurred the line between dance and noise. Though some might argue that it's tough to classify Think About Life's "Paul Cries" as a piece of dance music, there's a tension between the hoarse vocals and mechanical drum machine percussion that captures the same energy as The Rapture's breakout hit "House of Jealous Lovers".

Running the gamut from house-party staples like Montreal's Lesbians on Ecstasy, to "lay-in-bed-thinking-about-what-it-all-means" records from noise pioneers like Tim Hecker & Merzbow, Alien 8 captured some of the rampant energy that characterized the early 00's resistance to 4/4 house beats.

Turbo Recordings
While those paying attention to pop music may have first taken note of the Montréal label around the time Chromeo's "Needy Girl" was blasting on campus radio, or around the time Tiga was recording acid house covers of Talking Heads songs, Turbo Recordings had been around for more than half a decade.

Starting in the late 90's as an outlet for Tiga's DJ mixes, full of edits that would end with phrases like "XTC X-Press Mix", big European names like Jesper Dahlbäck and Jori Hulkkonen eventually came on board. More recently, Turbo has been involved in championing several Toronto artists, such as the now-sadly-disbanded Azari & III and Gingy. Their reach still extends far beyond the Northern hemisphere, as evidence by snagging Helsinki architects Renaissance Man and Orekhovo-Zuevo-based nihilist electro producer Proxy for recent releases.

Jinxx Records
A sub-label of 90's house-churning monster Hi Bias Records, Jinxx is the type of label that snagged a number of dance superstars before they were in the international spotlight. Two decades before Kenny Glasgow would be known for his Art Department project, he was releasing vocal house on Jinxx, such as 93's "Pressing On", which also received a remix from DNH Records boss Nick Holder, whose label absolutely would've made this list if we hadn't just included him in our last one.

Jinxx was also known for releasing cuts by Chicago-based "house gangster" DJ Sneak, who would stop in at intimate Toronto house venue Element Bar from time to time (profiled wonderfully in the "Then & Now" series).

Plus 8 Records
The toughest thing about these lists are that often labels will jump around geographically to places where there's more support (cough, Berlin). Such is the case with Richie Hawtin & John Acquaviva's Plus 8 Record label, which began as a modest operation run out of a family studio in Windsor, and eventually catapulted to such an international stage that Hawtin was making techno compositions that were performed in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony.

Some have accused Hawtin of an Elvis Presley-ification the genre of Detroit techno; questioning his widespread success in a context when many other contemporaries are broke and unbooked. But Plus 8 also supported Detroit legends like Kenny Larkin, whose track "We Shall Overcome" transformed Martin Luther King's famous speech into the chorus of a jittery techno stomper. It also showcased Hawtin's own material under the Plastikman alias, whose track "Spastik" blew minds at the time for the way it solely featured whirring percussion overtop percussion - a near-naked earworm of a DJ tool that's still being mixed into sets today.

Photo via Thump



Set Adrift on Memory Bliss / March 25, 2014 at 02:30 pm
Predating all of these labels is Quality Music, home to Chris Sheppard and his Techno Trip.

Brendan / March 25, 2014 at 02:58 pm
I sense a thematic bias towards house and techno labels, several of which aren't (or weren't)actually based in Toronto.

But how about some love for Toronto's thriving late 90s-early 2000s drum n bass scene? Where are the props for Vinyl Syndicate and the ilk?
JJ#31337 replying to a comment from Brendan / March 25, 2014 at 03:12 pm
What do you know about drum and bass?
r / March 25, 2014 at 04:48 pm
where and who are the peep in that photo?
jiggytarsands / March 25, 2014 at 04:57 pm
That's Tiga in the photo, I believe that photo originates from an old Montreal rave.

Decent list, but I agree Vinyl Syndicate should also be on the list. And in more recent days, My Favourite Robot and No.19 (though the latter is based out of Barcelona now I believe).
brendan / March 25, 2014 at 04:59 pm
Hi all,

as writer, i feel like there was a bit of confusion with this article's title (which was changed from my initial title of "5 Essential Canadian Dance Labels From The Past"

As you can see from that title, it wasn't intended to be Toronto specific- surely, almost every one of these labels intersects with Toronto in some way, but they're not on this list explicitly because of that relationship. So a label's inclusion on this list isn't predicated on whether or not it was based in Toronto.

you're right, i definitely don't know tons about Toronto's d&b scenes - and comments suggesting things that i missed out on (preferably done in a tone that isn't disparaging and negative) are appreciated.

and R, that photo is taken from a Tiga show in Montreal in 1992, when he was 18. There's a link at the bottom of the article to the source.
lowrez / March 25, 2014 at 10:38 pm
massive jungle gap detected
lowrez / March 25, 2014 at 10:38 pm
a big gaping wound where d&b should be.
B replying to a comment from Set Adrift on Memory Bliss / March 25, 2014 at 10:56 pm
Totally agree. You can't forget Shep.
Dizzl3 replying to a comment from Set Adrift on Memory Bliss / March 25, 2014 at 11:20 pm
Wow - Chris Sheppard! Haven't heard that name in a long time. He's the reason I ever got into house music...Sheppard's Revenge Vol.2.
Sean Savage / March 26, 2014 at 04:01 am
Toronto Techno label.
Aubrey replying to a comment from lowrez / March 26, 2014 at 09:41 am
If anyone would like to write about Toronto D&B labels (or in general), please do get in touch!
Neil W / March 26, 2014 at 02:14 pm
This top 5 list is so wrong!!... most of these labels are not even from Toronto or even released Toronto thing though if not for alien8 an important generation of Toronto laptop artist would have not made an impact they did release tomas jirku and mitchele akyama's early work which laid the groundwork for international recognition of the toronto laptop artist scene we had in Toronto... it allowed for labels like Noise Factory and Piehead to take chances on artists and put out their early music ... missed the boat on this list: DOVe, Music Gallery Ed, MusicWorks Ed, Shadow, Suction, Noise Factory, Piehead, Blue, nice and smooth, FIAV. There are many other labels Im missing here Im sure but these are the ones that come to mind and should have been listed... also should be listed as the first netlabel in canada also which was super influencial for electronic music in this city... not to also forget DNH Records and Audi Sensa... I think Blog.To needs to do its research before posting things like this...
brendan / March 26, 2014 at 04:17 pm
Neil! Thanks for your message telling me how wrong I am!

I should mention that all lists are subjective. I should also mention that the original title for this article was

"5 Essential Canadian Dance Labels From The Past"

a title which denotes
a) non-specificity to Toronto
b) a departure from the "TOP 5" format that blogTO admittedly loves a lot more than I do

Oh, except I did mention it already in the last comment I wrote.

If you read the article you would've seen that DNH records got a shoutout, and a mention that they would be on here were they not just recently included in another list which was linked.

If you're going to be mean, at least be educated and mean, y'know?
s. dov bouzy b. / March 26, 2014 at 10:23 pm
from my cam..a month series of saturday night club mini rave-wharehouse party atmospheres..till 3-4 ,sometimes 6 am, called,'move'..after the abrupt closing of the club party sensation, pure emadness craze took off at the 'club crisco', which was after 'bar business' closed..the legendary friends got together to just keep on dancing..just 4 weeks at the red zone on st laurence st. above christian pronovost (beat ,business,crisco,angels,warehouse afterhours...)who played the main room,eno (thomas light legend),lisa a.,and myself printed sick flyers , booked the club space, and the people came to sweat. from all walks of friendship and life. i think it was tigas' first party he djed,as lisa a.with a little help from her friend ,willow , booked him in the lounge room,said back then
..if anyone has a flyer,please post it! i lost my whole box.
but i got more pix..
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