Last month (or thereabouts) I conclusively put to the sword the notion that the album format is on its deathbed, just a raspy cough, plaintive cry of 'Mother' and voiding of the bowels away from expiration. Buoyed by the overwhelming feedback to that piece I figured I'd turn my attention to another foundation block of the music industry often said to be circling the drain, record labels.

If you're unlucky enough to have ever attended a music industry conference then you'll no doubt have heard academics, technologists and brand specialists huff and puff about labels being surplus to requirements to today's Nietzschean superband. Armed with just a hooky copy of Ableton and Bandcamp account, the modern day, direct-to-fan shilling, social media superstar musician is expected to transcend the rigid structures of the industry's pre-digital dinosaur era, masters of their own destiny (and their masters).

It's a radical and exciting idea and only slightly ruined by the fact that it is, in large part, hogshit. Of course much has changed and some artists are finding success outside of traditional label structures, generally though by replacing them with almost identical 'label services' instead and only after they've benefitted from the prior patronage of established labels to develop an initial fan base.

For those that the new system works for it's a great thing, done well and with a bit of luck it can equal both more artistic freedom and more financial rewards. Still it's very much a setup that favours traditional singer songwriters or popular beat combos and, importantly from this column's myopic perspective, one that has less benefits for your average electronic music producer.

But surely, I hear you say, we live in a golden age for bedroom producers, when all the tools for both production and promotion can fit neatly inside a 13" MacBook Pro, and anyway we all know that labels are nothing but money grabbing parasites, I mean I read that all the time in comment sections on tech blogs.

Well imaginary straw man you might well think that but it fundamentally ignores both the key roles that good labels play, especially in the world of electronic music, and even more importantly the nature of the world of electronic music itself.

Now of course electronic music has its star acts, artists who operate in much the same way as any band of coke guzzling, groupie fucking rock pigs do. But whilst those few may grab the headlines and attention of the rock press, 99% of electronic music producers are for all intents and purposes digital swamp dwelling creatures, laptop tanned cyphers whose personal brand goes as far as an awkward press photo that often resembles a sweating potato in a snapback cap. For these producers, toiling away in their bedrooms, record labels are still all-important.

When trying to stand out amongst the staggering amount musical effluence flushed down the pipe every day, the stamp of authority that well run labels have can raise an unknown artist out of the mire and into the spotlight. It's a stamp of authority that even a Soundcloud pro account cannot offer. Still even that just reduces the role of labels to being little more than glorified marketing departments, when the role they play is so much more important to the general health of the music scene.

Good labels don't just get product onto shelves, they pan the digital stream to find the nuggets that deserves attention, they then work with that talent and shape it, they give guidance, they tell artists when they're being idiots and when their idiotic ideas might just be a stroke of genius. They chide and support, they massage egos and provide hard truths, they can offer a different perspective that the artist too close to their own material will, if they're sensible, take full advantage of.

Great labels though go beyond that, their influence extending well beyond their own catalogue, beyond the music even. Great labels don't just produce artists; they produce whole scenes. They make sense of the chaos, bring together disparate acts and sounds, find those common traits and turn it all into a coherent whole. What's more great labels can look beyond just the music, they understand that there are whole worlds of fashion, design, art, comics, film, you name it, that can complement the beeps and beats, creating not just a music scene but a whole living, breathing fully realized culture.

Anyone whose interest in electronic music goes beyond posting rapey comments under Ministry of Sound videos on YouTube will have at least one, if not several labels whose new releases are bought on sight. Whether it's Warp's purple house bags, DFA's lightning bolt, Axis Records' Iron Cross or any number of other now iconic logos, there are some sights that equal more than just another record, they are a shorthand to a whole set of values, a gateway to communities and taken to an extreme can inspire an almost pathological following, seeming to operate more like cults than businesses.

And like any good cult, these great labels are often built around individuals with a singular drive and vision, people that don't just see the bigger picture but want to paint it themselves. Take the seminal trip-hop (and so much more) label Mo'Wax and its founder James Lavelle, a classic example of a label being an individual's psyche writ large.

Few labels' identities have in recent years been, for better or worse, more inseparable from that of the man at the top and few labels have created a 'brand' that went far beyond just releasing a few records every now and then. Like some rap game David Dickinson, Lavelle and his label probably inspired as many sales of collectable figurines and other branded tat as records. His obsessions with the likes of Star Wars, Planet of the Apes and Japanese pop culture, legitimized a generation of men who didn't want to put away either their toys or fantasies of being in the Beastie Boys when they grew up. All in all it was rather good fun.

Now the label might not have been to everyone's taste for sure, but Mo'Wax and Lavelle's attention to detail and all consuming 'brand', as much as the music they released, mean that a decade on from shutting up shop, we're still talking about the label. Indeed going to show just how much interest there still is a recent Kickstarter campaign to fund an exhibition on the label's history breezed past its target with days to go.

Mo'Wax may be gone but other labels led by pioneering souls and monstrous egos continue to thrive and shape the music world as we know it. Over in New York, DFA, a label that curiously enough shares a significant chunk of its DNA with Mo'Wax, has just turned 12 and shows no sign of slowing down, new and upcoming releases from the likes of Holy Ghost, Museum of Love and of course Factory Floor all sounding incredible right now.

Meanwhile in Paris, a label whose boss has over the years shown both a similar interest in art, design and knick knacks to Lavelle, Ed Banger, is enjoying both their tenth birthday and a new lease of life. Long championed and then vilified by the more studiously hip members of the musical cognoscenti for pioneering the brash abrasive electro sound that the US has pretty much adopted whole heartedly, Ed Banger's boss Busy P has in recent years been steering the label away from fist pumpin bro anthems into increasingly interesting waters.

Whether it's the playfully libidinous disco pop of Breakbot, Krazy Baldhead's esoteric electronica or best of all the psychedelic mind warp of Mickey Moonlight, recent Ed Banger albums have all shown a much to be admired willingness to buck expectations, the result of having one man with a vision at the top able to change course as he sees fit.

Labels with a strong identity and more often than not a larger than life personality at the helm are vital for the continued health of electronic music. They understand that for music to really matter it can't exist in splendid isolation, it needs to interact with the world around it, shape and be shaped by other cultural forces. So long live the record label, it may be going through some awkward growing pains as it stretches to fit our glorious new, nobody gets paid much, era, but despite the naysayers it's never been more important.

Made it this far? Well done… Here's a few other labels you might want to consider adding to your must buy lists…



SOUND PELLEGRINO

Sharing a city, and at times a sound with Ed Banger, Sound Pellegrino are currently celebrating 4 strong years in the game with a new compilation SND.PE. Rising out of the ashes of the brilliant Institubes label, SP has consistently been one of the most interesting electronic labels since its launch, featuring everyone from Surkin and Joakim to TEETH. With the larger than life Teki Latex providing a focal point for the label's activities, SP have developed a playful sound that is both fun and sexy, ranging from 8-bit Megadrive Funk to no-nonsense house jams. Like the best labels SP feels like more than just a production line though, it feels like a family of like minded souls, brought together through parties, design and music.



ATOMNATION

Over in Holland, relative newcomer Atomnation are celebrating not ten years, but ten releases. Still, even though it's in its infancy the label, guided by the hotly tipped producer, Applescal has steadily built up a solid reputation for delivering fine electronic music with an experimental edge. From speaker rumbling techno to delicate, cinematic ambient music, there's already plenty to enjoy here and this new, name your price, compilation is a perfect chance to dip your toe in and test the waters.



PHANTASY

As a DJ and producer, Erol Alkan made a name for himself as someone with a very particular attention to detail, willingness to experiment and exquisite taste, all attributes that he has brought over to running his label Phantasy. With a focus on producing beautiful releases, gorgeous sleeve designs, special edition picture discs, coloured and marbled vinyl, Phantasy make releases you want to stare at and frame as much as sling on the record player. Thrwo in some canny A&R'ing decisions that have led to wonderful releases from the likes of LA Priest, Daniel Avery, Chemical Brothers' Tom Rowlands or most recently In Flagranti, and there's a good case for every release they've put out to date going straight into the shopping basket.



RETROSPECTIVE

It sometimes feels like there hasn't been a point over the past twenty years when their hasn't been a disco revival going on, and certainly right now thanks to Daft Punk mirrorballs and rubbery Chic basslines are all the rage again. Still there have been points over the past few years where the mention of the d word was enough to trigger rolled eyes and snorts of derision, luckily there are labels like Retrospective out there to keep the flame burning in the dark times.

With a discography boasting 12"s from the likes of Elias Tzikas, Slow It Down, Ajello, Rayko and label bosses Ruben & Ra, their releases join the dots between disco, boogie and house and you know when fickle attentions have moved onto the next fad, they'll still be going strong doing what it is they do best.



VLEK

Over the course of 13 releases Belgium's Vlek has delivered everything from the kind of techno that soundtracks unimaginable goings on in the dark corners of Berghain, through to crunching robotic hip-hop, sublime electronica and even an iPad app that lets you draw your own MIDI instruments, nothing if not diverse.

With an emphasis of beautiful design, Vlek's 12" releases don't just sound stunning but look incredible too, from screen printed to letterpressed sleeves, illustrating the kind of attention to detail that comes when labels have a vision and strong sense of identity.



WORLD UNKNOWN

Closer to home (if your home is London that is) the good news reaches us that Andy Blake, one of the best DJs you could hope to hear, has come down from the mountain top and re-started his World Unknown label. Blake whose previous label, Dissident, is still much missed by those who fell for its pricey, limited edition charms, has been running the World Unknown parties in South London railway arches for the past few years attracting an increasingly fanatical crowd, drawn by the promise of primitive electronics, genuinely raw house and techno music and one of the best atmospheres you'll find in the city.

Anyway having taken a year or so off the label roars back into life with two new 12"s the first from Blake himself alongside fellow WU promoter Joe Hart (& Youngtee), smartly followed by another split 12" from Black Merlin and newcomer White Lodge who debuts with a choice piece of slow-mo schaffel. Don't expect either to hang around.




ZONE

If you're looking for icy cold electronic music then few do it better than The Hacker and Gesaffelstein, and as you'd expect their label ZONE is a haven for like minded souls such as Arnaud Rebotini and Remote, whose music sounds like an enjoyable soundtrack to the machines total enslavement of humanity. With a stark design to match the label's brutally efficient techno, ZONE is increasingly the go-to label for those who like their electronic music dark and stormy.



SCCUCCI MANNUCCI

Alongside the likes of Need Want and W&O Street Tracks, Sccucci Manucci are one of the leading labels powering the UK's ongoing house renaissance, their vinyl releases fly onto and off of shelves of the nation's record shops at an alarming rate. At turns deep and soulful and straight up jacking, 12"s from the likes of Squarehead, Jack Fell Down, Silk 86 and more are providing the soundtrack to basement sessions, beach bars and terrace parties around the world this summer.



BALKAN

At the end of the day running a label can be as simple as owning a Soundcloud page, and for many ambition stops there or thereabouts. What sets all the labels above out is the extras they bring to the table, whether it's the singular taste of the person at the helm, the attention to detail to design or the willingness to take chances and put their necks (and more importantly wallets) on the line for something they believe in.

Or, in the case of Balkan, all three. A small label that's probably never made a penny profit in its life, nevertheless it has been responsible for some of the most insanely collectable releases in recent years. Coloured vinyl? Well of course. Picture discs? Naturally. Seven inches that come packaged with Star Wars figures? What do you think.

Currently working on a re-release of an Altern-8 track by Mark Archer, that not only comes with a variety of remixes from the likes of The Hacker and Neil Landstrumm, but a complete 'Rave Armageddon Survival Pack', it's the perfect example of what happens when you let music, design, fun obsessed lunatics run the show not technologists and academics.