10 Black Owned Dance Music Labels You Should Know
Feb 23, 2022
6 min read
From Frankie Knuckles’ first live iterations of house music in Chicago’s warehouses, to the crafting of techno by Detroit’s Belleville Three, the origins of dance music are undeniably Black. Yet, of the current top 5 performing Beatport tracks, not one is released on a Black-owned label.
The white appropriation of Black genres, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond, on an institutional level, is no new issue. The erasure of Black people specifically from house, techno, and everything in between is however a largely ignored and ever-increasing phenomenon, driven by an, often willful, generational ignorance of the history of dance music.
This is not to say that dance music should be halted in its natural evolution, or that dance music should not be produced by people not identifying as Black. Rather the existence and platforming of non-Black dance music should not come at the cost of detracting these platforms from the marginalized communities that birthed it. Supporting Black-owned labels encourages a positive trickle-down effect, besides directing funds where they are most needed, whereby it directly supports the power of Black artists to platform and shape the future of dance music.
Distributing various forms of beats, this label has been particularly iconic in its ownership of some of the notorious sounds from Chicago, where it is based. The label, which is close to celebrating its 30th anniversary, is owned by Curtis Jones, known also as Green Velvet or Cajmere. The label stood out amongst other major labels of its time, namely Trax and DJ International, for its fair treatment of artists and community focus. Cajual features tracks by some of dance music’s most influential shapers, including the late Paul Johnson and Glenn Underground.
Julien Steven, the London DJ once known as FunkinEven, wears a multitude of hats amongst which owner of Apron Records label. Having become somewhat of a ‘cult’ electronic phenomenon, the label features avantgarde sounds, such as Shanti Celeste’s trippy techno and Space Ghost’s astral house. Apron Record’s latest release showcases a different side of the experimental label, with the mellow funk, soul, and house of Jarren’s album Antera.
Founded in 90s Detroit, this label is a must-listen for those dedicated to getting back to the origins of house music. Label-owner and DJ/ producer, Theo Parrish, is vocal in his championing of Black sounds and these come to light on his label where Detroit Techno meets jazz, disco, and Chicago house. A particular highlight of the label are Leron Carson’s tracks released on Sound Signature between 2001 and 2021, these were in fact recorded in the late 80s, while the mysterious, to this day unknown, figure of Leron was still a teenager.
Mahogani Music is another longstanding Detroit label. Alongside staying true to its geographical origins with hearty techno, this groundbreaking label also features classic house, disco and experimental R&B. Mahogani Music was founded by the legendary Moodymann, that is Kenny Dixon Jr, who has been one of the greatest advocates of keeping house and techno true to its origins, especially with regards to platforming Black artists. Artists include Amp Fiddler, Flo Real, and Andrés.
A discussion of dance music labels cannot forgo a mention of Berlin. Once a party held in the city’s infamous Griessmuehle, Mother’s Finest was launched by the party’s founder, Franklin de Costa, as a label in 2020. The label inaugurated its launch with a 15-track compilation, bringing breaks, dubstep, and ambient to a very Berlin techno backdrop. A later release focuses on the frantic energy and vocals that Nasty King Curl has to offer.
Based in New York city, this label was founded by Haitian-born Francis Mercier and Ajamu Kambon. Releasing an eclectic mix of deep house and afro house, Deep Root has garnered support from some of the dance music industry’s most influential names, including Pete Tong, Black Coffee, and Blond:ish. Besides hosting the tracks of house music legends like Roland Clark and Rowetta, the label platforms the releases of up-and-coming talent from around the world, such as Brazil’s REFEL and Kenya’s Idd Aziz.
Prominent member of the second wave of Chicago house, Felix da Housecat, founded this label in 2017, in Montreal. He announced the launch of the label as “an imprint where no rules apply” and has stayed true to the depiction, releasing a steady stream of experimental house and electroclash. The label has released many of Felix da Housecat’s own masterpieces, often alongside equally adventurous artists such as Röyksopp and Chris Trucher.
Cergy-based Boukan Records is run by Bamao Yendé, resident at France’s Rinse and central figure to France’s modern dance floors. The label merges UK garage, breakbeat, kuduro, batida, and house, bringing signature warmth to the dancefloor. Don’t miss the label’s popular “Tumba Tic Tac” track, from Amor Satyr, a Brazilian-French collective combining Afro Beats and UK Jackin’.
This Toronto based label is headed up by Demuir, an internationally touring DJ at the forefront of jackin’ house sounds and committed to re-politicising house music. Purveyor Underground is at the heart of this mission: its dotted logo is a direct nod to the underground railroad, where quilts were hung from windows to aid slaves to freedom. With tracks featuring Gettoblaster, Missy, Darren Marshall, Phil Weeks, and more, the label offers a riveting education in house.
Conducta, real name Collins Nemi, has a distinct focus on moving sound forward, rather than reminiscing the past or falling into electronic purism. This was his motivation founding UK-based garage label, Kiwi Rekords. Founded in 2019, the label has already proved immensely successful, tapping into a modern British sound with feel-good, high-energy releases from the likes of Sammy Virji, Oppidan, Germi, and many more.