The top 5 dance music labels in Toronto right now
It's easy to hate the Canadian music industry. The way we grant funding to artists is biased and weird, the acts we do hear about are overwhelmingly blasĂŠ white indie-rock, and Justin Bieber only started to get kinda enjoyable recently with this whole deposition thing.
Despair not, Toronto. There are tons of great dance music labels that buck trends, challenge expectations, and animate bodies around the world. Here are a few of them.
Now over two decades deep, releases from Nick Holder's seminal label are often sought by international acts dropping by Toronto like Prosumer and Session Victim. Listening to the clanking garage prowess on Toronto Track Symphony's "Do Me Right", or narrative house monologues talking about life in Ontario social housing projects, and it's not surprising why some of the label's records are now fetching around $150 on Discogs. But it's not all bravado - the melancholic saxaphone of Holder's "Feelin Sad" provides the kind of rollicking, soulful groove that Theo Parrish would surely nod his head to. While DNH's output has slowed slightly from the 90's, Holder is still honing his craft today.
Invisible City Editions
Kicking off their label with a re-release of experimental industrial electronic sets from 1986 by cosmic disco legend Beppe Loda sets some high standards, but Toronto duo Invisible City Editions (comprised of Brandon Hocura and Gary Abuga) seem up to the task. I've mentioned before how much of an impact Stephen Encinas' "Disco Illusion" had on the Balearic community this year, but what really distinguishes Invisible City is their approach to collaboration as opposed to appropriation, which involves touches like having Encinas himself preface the release of the record with his reflections. 2014 ups the ante for the label with a planned ten releases in the works for the year, beginning with an LP by the 80's Zambian jam band Witch, which airs out some seriously infectious Fleetwood Mac vibes.
What Rules Records
While Vanessa Smith's label hasn't been active recently, it's responsible for two classic ear-bending CDs of beatmaking that defy definition. They're both full of treasures, jagged house cuts that flitter with trip-hop and broken beat, such as the interstellar-reaching "Spaces Like This". Though it may be difficult to snag a copy of elusive Fun Like Passion and Wild Art Forestry these days, Smith is gracing other labels with her work, such as her recent release on female-centric Sound Warrior Recordings or her work dropping knowledge and chopping up dollar bin finds at Off Centre DJ School.
New Kanada label-runner Adam Marshall credits local institution Play De Record as part of the reason for his diverse musical upbringing, remembering days when Jamacian 7's got played back-to-back with techno records in the Yonge St. store. Even though New Kanada's output hones in on the tech house productions, there's a fluidity and comfort with experimentation present throughout the label's catalogue, such as the anonymous DIVA's "Paris Stabbing", which sounds like a computer becoming sentient and letting out an anguished pixelated wail.
Public Transit Recordings
Don't think Public Transit got on this list on the strength of their Christie station-referencing EP alone - this label has a gift for serious eclecticism, spanning everything from Moonstarr's crunchy Detroit-inspired analogue freakouts to Voice's collaborative hip-hop projects. With a website including podcasts, documentaries and enough YouTube videos to turn your workday into a blur of unproductivity.
Obviously I've missed tons of great projects (which I'm sure folks will fill me in on in the comments) but special quick shootouts to Bedroomer, especially Eytan Tobin's thoroughly satisfying juke-influenced work, as well as Neighborhood Watch, who hopefully will follow 2013's great debut with more soon. The Dovercourt EP on Martyn's 3024 label kind of counts because it's all local Toronto artists - and of course, you can't talk about Toronto dance without mentioning Bonjay in some capacity.
Find Brendan Arnott on Twitter. Photo of Graze by Caroline Hayeur
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