Hello there! Welcome to the inaugural article of our I LOVE… series, something that’s been brewing behind the scenes for a long time and which we’re finally hoping to properly kickstart this year. In short, this feature is meant to give us a way to share with you labels, content creators, video series, and various other types of content and its creator who we as individuals writing for EIN love and admire. Think of it as a loose collection of free form love letters – prepare for some wildly different styles of presentation within these articles! Now, let’s get into today’s topic, shall we?
2023 has been a year of revelations for me in many different ways, both anticipated and very much not so. One of the surprisingly… well, surprising (top notch wordsmithing there, champ) was how invested I became in following and supporting independent ambient labels; in hindsight, it shouldn’t have come as any sort of surprise whatsoever. Seriously: everything these labels embody is so in tune with core parts of my aesthetic that it should’ve been a given for me to rally behind them from the start. I’m talking small, exclusive physical releases, often handmade and shipped with care (and extra goodies if you’re lucky). Not to mention the music! Oh, the music! So many familiar names, as well as stellar new discoveries. The moment I fell into this particular rabbit hole, my wallet sighed, made three signs of the cross, and jumped after me – the rest is history.
I won’t be able to make an exhaustive list of all the boutique labels I found over the course of the last 12 months, so I will stick to three that have grabbed my attention (and imagination) the most in 2023: laaps, Home Normal, and Whitelabrecs. These are some of the finest purveyors of forward-thinking, spellbinding, and ultimately relaxing music in the world, and I’m happy to spread the word about their work.
Starting out in order of mention, laaps is a label from the beautiful region of Brittany in France. It is run by producer and musician Mathias Van Eecloo, who has previously helmed Eilean Rec. alongside the similarly stellar IIKKI label, which specializes in photography books to go alongside carefully curated ambient records. laaps is meant to be an ‘exquisite corpse’, a body of work that’s collectively assembled by a number of artists. The goal is to reach 100 records that will eventually loop back into one another, coming full circle with releases that bleed into each other, musically and artistically.
Their physical editions, usually limited to 100 to 200 copies, are absolutely stunning to say the least. Handmade, hand-numbered digipack CDs on thick, quality 300 g/m paper, with custom photography carefully attached to it. Sealed like old books were back in the day, they often come alongside a small smattering of stickers and other little goodies, which is a nice little gesture in my opinion.
See below for example images featuring some of my interior decoration!
Since 2020, laaps has put out records by the likes of Taylor Deupree, Tomotsugu Nakamura, Tomoyoshi Date, and ‘t Geruis, scouting all around the globe for talent to include in this daring, beautiful project. It’s a veritable who’s who of ambient music (as these labels tend to be), and I await their release announcements with bated breath. Last year’s batch included stunners like Considerable by Ned Milligan, Like Floating Leaves by Wil Bolton, and more recently, Sense / Margin by iu takahashi – all of these unified by an overarching sense of aesthetic yet quite different in content and presentation. Their next drop involves the ever-spectacular Benoît Pioulard, so you know I’ll hit that pre-order button with the fury of a scorned god!
From France, we turn our attention to the UK, home to the other two labels on our short list. Home Normal, run by Ian Hawgood (a fantastic ambient musician in his own right), was founded in Tokyo, Japan almost 16 years ago, and has since relocated to Brighton, England by way of Warsaw, Poland. The label’s mission statement was to ‘cross over the connection from the netlabel scene to present analog ambient music’, and I’d say they’ve long since achieved that goal, bringing out stellar releases by acclaimed household names and intriguing newcomers alike.
Standardized packaging is the name of the game, bringing a sense of togetherness and familiarity to the releases. Cover photography is handled by a number of associates; sometimes even the musicians on the label themselves. Usually, we find some sort of nature photography or images lifted from the quotidien, and if you know me, you know that I’m a sucker for that kind of artwork. It’s all very aesthetic, and it fits mine to a tee. These physical editions are usually limited to 200 copies. I own a small batch of them at this point, and they’re very pleasant – haptically and visually.
Home Normal has been… home (another banger sentence) to a number of outstanding artists over the years, including – but not limited to – anthéne, bvdub, Federico Durand, David Cordero, Chihei Hatakeyama, and Hawgood himself. Between those bigger names are nestled a flock of equally enrapturing records by smaller artists, so perusing their catalogue on a lazy afternoon is nothing but warmly recommended. They’ve already got a small selection of pre-orders lined up for this year, so be quick and snag up some beauties!
Last but not least, we travel from Brighton to Lincolnshire, where musician Harry Towell set up Whitelabrecs back in 2015 as an outlet for electroacoustic, ambient, and contemporary classical music, including his own work. Yes, that makes us 3 for 3 in the category of ‘record label owners who are also fantastic musicians’. Scratch that one off your bingo cards!
The label’s ultra-limited editions (usually ranging from 50 to 200 copies) are often quite stunning to behold, as they’re modeled to be perceived as miniature vinyl sleeves. Even the CDs themselves look the part! The record sleeves sometimes come with a protective layer around the record as well, just like a pricey LP would. Now that’s what I call dedication! The artwork is nothing to scoff at either, taking in nature scenes and spur-of-the-moment captures to beautifully cap off these tastefully arranged pieces. Digital-only releases and music cassettes are also on offer for certain releases.
For me personally, it was enigmatic composer glåsbird who first drew my attention towards this independent endeavor; since then, I’ve tried to keep tabs on their release schedule. Alongside glåsbird, Whitelabrecs has brought to light delectable albums by esteemed artists such as blochemy, Mikael Lind, Andrew Heath, Michael Scott Dawson, and Tatsuro Murakami; of course, Towell himself releases at least some of his own work via this imprint, too. There is a lot to discover within the label’s back catalogue, even among the artists I haven’t mentioned by name. My Whitelabrecs shopping list is imposing, but never dishearteningly so – after all, I know I’m always in for a treat when they put out something new.
A heartfelt thank you to anyone who has opted to read this far. The I LOVE… series is meant to showcase little things or large movements within the world of music that have captured our hearts, so relaying those to you is something we cherish deeply. Hopefully this has given you some inspirations (or at least future additions to your record collection). Be sure to keep an eye on these three boutique labels, and try to find some more on your own – trust me, there’s a world of wonderment awaiting you!