Dubstep as a term and genre has existed since at least 2002 and for a genre that is near twenty years old and almost old enough to bring in a new generation of fans, there are a plethora of early labels who were responsible for pushing the sound that have either folded or moved on to explore more fertile ground within the constantly shifting geography of electronic music.
For a genre that’s thrives on nostalgic and self-recursiveness, it’s almost essential that a retrospective list of labels should exist. Without such labels; many who often gave an opportunity to then newer dubstep artists and further developed the parameters of what dubstep could be the genre itself wouldn’t have become a globalised music.
It should be noted that this list is entirely personal and subjective and by no means an overarching, end-all, be-all of “forgotten” dubstep labels, but rather a love letter to genre and the labels and producers who have contributed to the musical form.
With twelve releases spanning from 2008 to 2012, Tube10 was the sister label of Holland’s SubWay Records which was founded by DJ Nicon. Whereas Subway continued its existence until folding with 2018’s Under Control Remixes by Bukez Finezt. Tube10 had a parallel lifetime that saw the label dig into more interesting crevasses of dubstep.
Tube10’s label roster isn’t something to turn your nose up, featuring early releases from TRG, DJ Madd and even TMSV’s first physical release entitled Conscious Brain. The label’s twelve releases also predate beloved label Box Clever’s use of 10” singles and its latter releases were coloured giving each release a unique and distinct vibe.
Tube10 explored the genre’s most interesting rhythmic takes at the time; mining a sound that referenced techno, house, electro, and breakbeat styles. From Jus Wan’s techno itch of The Crossingto the 140bpm Swamp81-eqsue breakbeat workout of Blackwax’s Offkey, each of the label’s twelve releases was interesting and unique and sadly the label is crucially overlooked.
While some fans may know of this label, Argon was one of the first true US based labels to feature homegrown talent like Babylon System, 12th Planet and Matty G, releasing the latter’s anthem 50,000 Watts and having enough of a reputation to sign some Loefah and Pinch remixes to boot.
Operating from 2000 to 2011, the first six releases of the label focused exclusively on drum and bass, however after a three year hiatus, the label return in 2006 with Matty G’s tribalist and jungle referencing, boymerang break driven For The Smokers.
Later releases from Babylon Sound almost predate some of the more overtly reggae influenced labels by sometime, especially the bubbly and party-time anthems of Loadedand Dancing Shoes. Eventually the label even attracted today’s big stars like J:Kenzo, Von D and Truth around 2010.
However, what’s truly special about Argon was the label really was a forerunner in developing the cross-Atlantic pollination of what was then a UK-centric style to US audiences as well as drawing upon a then globalising genre with homegrown talent.
Immerse Records was another crucial dubstep label based in Bristol ala Punch Drunk that operated from 2006 to 2012 and was graced by the likes of TRG, Benga, Walsh, and even has some of the first releases from later Livity Sound’s Asusu and Hodge’s first release.
Unlike some of the label’s on this list, Immerse flitted between styles much like Punch Drunk did, however unlike Punch Drunk, Immerse didn’t limit itself exclusively to Bristol based producers, and personally speaking, I think it’s one reason the label is over-looked.
The label took risks; releasing drum and bass, breakbeat influenced tunes, classic dubstep, house and techno, illustrating a breadth and depth unheard of for a dubstep label at the time.
An early French dubstep label, 7even Recordings was the brain-child of French DJ F and ran from 2008 to 2013 releasing a total of thirty records from the likes of Likhan, Helixir, and ENA.
Whereas most labels of the time were interested in creating and perfecting the half-step stomp in the vein of Tempa, 7even Recordings developed a more fluid and percussively driven sound, one that almost borders on dub-techno than dubstep.
Take for example Helixir’s Peace Dubor F’s insistent tabla and dubby chord washes on Phantom. Even it’s first release in 2008 by Likhan, both Terre and Uwill, fuse both a steppas march and dub aesthetics while techno-influenced sci-fi squiggles worm around the periphery. It’s truly amazing stuff for 2008 while most producers were interested in copying what Tempa was doing.
Producers like 2562, Martyn and Appleblim are often credited with introducing more dub-techno influenced productions into dubstep, 7even Recordings went full bore with it and not given the proper credit due for further refining those types of tunes within a dubstep context.
Home to Omen and Cyrus almost exclusively, Random Trio Productions operated from 2005 to 2010 and released seven records of dubstep at its most essential; bass, pace and space.
Both Omen and Cyrus forged a sound that relied almost exclusively on bit-crushed drums, eerie horror-film like atmospherics and abysmal low-end to drive their songs. Almost guaranteeing that only the biggest of sound system rigs could handle their sound.
The label’s first release sounds of its time, a three track EP that is clearly indebted to dark, early 2-step garage, but its second record, two remixes of Digital Mystikz’ Hauntedthat truly elevates the label. Outside of DMZ, I don’t recall any label getting that kind of leeway with any Digital Mystikz tune. The label even features the Distance stomper of Violateas well.
However, like Skull Disco, the label was essentially the brain child of two producers whose vision of dubstep was of singular purpose and mind. It’s tracks, while raw and minimal sounding by today’s standards, can still vibrate your eyeballs and leave your nose itchy on the right sound system. Just peep the gymnastic bass groove Cyrus creates on Scanner or meditative stomp of Minimaland you’ll get the right idea.
Another US based label that ran from 2006 to 2010 and featured DJG, Tes La Rok, Djunya and Juju and released thirteen records from those artists almost exclusively. Each release was guaranteed to wobble with the best of what the UK was offering at the time and most of the artists on this label where highly represented in Joe Nice sets.
Representative of the rampant LFO abuse that dubstep began to play with at the time, the label’s tasteful execution of the style was refreshing given the US’s history with brostep and screeching wobbles. Evidence by securing a Pinch remix for Juju’s tune Red Upand even finding Juju’s tune Punks in a very, very early Excision mix. The label also toyed with reggae influenced dubstep that would later come to define labels like Lion Charge and Moonshine Recordings.
Again, another classic cross Atlantic dialogue between the US indulgence of more tear-out styles while remaining firmly rooted in the UK’s tradition of sub-weight and the genre’s reggae origins and sadly excluded from conversations between US and UK dubstep.
A sub-label of the crucial early grime label A.R.M.Y, Heavy Artillery was a label that operated in the interzone between grime and early dubstep where neither exactly had a name yet. Running from 2007 to 2011 and only releasing thirteen records, the label’s earlier release are a prime example of how close both dubstep and grime were in early days.
From Rossi B and Luca’s Legacy EP, to early Kode9 favourite Calenda’s Forever with its soaring strings anchored by minimal and clippy percussion, to a forerunner to the kind of techno by way of dubstep early Peverelist was doing with 2nd II None’s Waterfalls, (which was even later remixed by Peverelist for the label!).
Unfortunately as time dragged on and tastes changed, the label’s earlier creativity was subsumed by some pretty cringe-level tear-out wobblers that haven’t aged well. But if you are looking for label that could fit nicely between your Slaughter Mob and MRK1 records, you’d be hard pressed to find another.
A link-up between Melbourne and Berlin, Project Squared operated between 2009 to 2013 and dropped only a total of eight records, but like 7even Recordings, Project Squared showcased a love affair with dub techno productions techniques and the sub-weight of dubstep by highlighting newer producers who’ve become now scene defining voices – Kowton, AnD and Asusu.
The label continued to mine the field that forerunners Peverelist, Appleblim, 2562, Martyn and others explored, but rightfully so, the label chose to highlight newer voices whose interests weren’t strictly limited to 140bpm but more interested in the rhythmic possibilities of bpms that fell below that 140 threshold long before “UK Bass music” was even a coined term.
Don’t get me wrong though, dubstep is still within the label’s DNA here, but it definitely becomes more blurry the deeper in the catalogue you dig. Just compare Asusu’s Small Hoursto Craig McWhinney’s Disengageto get a better understanding of what I mean.
Most people know about Tectonic and maybe Pinch’s other label Cold Recordings, but some even don’t know about his other other label, Earwax. Operating from 2006 to 2011 and releasing seventeen records. Earwax featured a lot familiar faces from the Tectonic roster such as J.Sparrow, RSD, and Joker.
And like Tectonic, Earwax featured some heavy hitting tunes like Cluekid’s Halogen and RSD’s sublime Kingfisher, a tune with one of the heaviest basslines that genre has ever produced. In addition to the Bristol-centric roster of Gemmy, Joker and others, Earwax also features early US producers like Moldy alongside MC Juakali for Gloryand Liondub on Heartbroken for some reggae-influenced numbers that illustrated, even back then, the affinity for dubstep Americans had.
While sonically the label didn’t push boundaries like its big brother Tectonic, the label is an early snapshot of dubstep as it began to spread beyond its London confines to Bristol.
Operating around the same time genre-defining classics like Midnight Request Line, Sign of the Dub, and Haunted were dropping, little known label Clandestine Cultivations received no love. Running from 2006 to to 2010 with a back catalogue of ten records, the label featured some heavy hitters back in the day like Toasty and even a rare appearance from Shackleton!
Clandestine Cultivations may have lacked a genre defining record like Tempa or DMZ did, but its catalogue has interesting moments of when grime and dubstep were merged. Peep Kion’s Rocka, Dom’s Sodium or Toasty’s One Lifefor stripped back, raw and minimal takes on the genre that possess a sense of forward movement and energy that a lot of today’s newer tracks could take notes from.
What is so surprising is how overlooked Clandestine Cultivations is given that it operated during what most writers and music critics have deemed the genre’s “golden age”. The label is never mentioned alongside the “traditional” founders of the genre. Which on the one hand is a terrible shame for fans of the genre and on the other hand, part of the nature of the beast. Hence, putting together this list.