Deadbeats Brings the Side Stage to the World
There’s no shortage of artist-based labels in electronic music, but few have seen success and impact like Deadbeats. Founded in 2016, the Toronto label is the brainchild of iconic bass duo Zeds Dead. What initially began as a home for their debut album Northern Lights evolved to become a cornerstone in the industry spanning hundreds of releases, sold-out North American tours, a radio show, and much more.
We connected with Deadbeats label manager Harrison Bennett to charter the label’s foundations and keys to success. He also hand-selected the label’s 12 most iconic releases, which you can listen to below.
The label started with a simple vision. “At the time when Deadbeats launched there wasn't really a label that was focusing on this kind of weird bass music. Think of a festival, you have the main stage and the side stage. Deadbeats wanted to be the side stage,” Bennet explains. “We wanted to support artists and sounds that are not getting the traditional support, especially in the bass music world.”
They had a vision but no fully mapped-out plan. With the Zeds Dead debut climbing the charts, they knew they had to make a move. They put together their first compilation and released Nebbra’s You EP. From there, it was all about signing music they believed in, maintaining a regular release schedule, and building their networks for support.
While some record labels take a narrow approach to the sounds and genres released, Deadbeats manages to run the gamut without ever pandering. From house to dubstep, trap to grime, mid-tempo, downtempo, experimental bass, and more, their offering is diverse as it is deep, but it always feels right at home. The diversity is intentional, as are the rollouts.
“If we have two releases in the same week, I usually don't want to do two dubstep tracks in the same week because there's only so many avenues and places that you can kind of promote this music and I don't want it to cannibalize itself. I want stuff to be able to stand out and stand on its own. So you know, we could have two releases in a week then maybe one's a house track and one's a dubstep track or one's a track off somebody's EP. So there's always, some kind of variety and strategy to it, whether or not people see that is up for debate, but I do try to be very cognizant of some variety in the genres that we're putting out each week,” Harrison explains.
Zeds Dead remain deeply entrenched in Deadbeats. From merchandise to A&R and coming up with crazy design ideas, they remain the creative force behind the label.
“We talk pretty much every other day, and they're pretty involved, which is, you know, surprising… my job would be a lot easier if they weren't as involved,” Harrison jokes.
“You're dealing with too intensely creative people. Every time they spit an idea at me, it's always just like, what? Where are your brains at? Like, they're thinking 234 steps ahead of where I'm at. It's kind of illuminating in that sense, because you're like, well, this is how they've got to be where they are because they're always thinking ahead of where you are.” Always staying ahead of the curve and boundless creativity are essential to the fabric of Deadbeats.
The Deadbeats creative vision, longstanding relationships, and sense of community set the label apart. After a decade on the road, they’ve sowed a sense of family within their team that extends to their fans and artists.
“People work with us because they want to work with us. And they come back to us because they want to come back to us. And they're like, ‘Hey, I got a cool project, no doubt Deadbeats can elevate this and make this something that is bigger than it is right now.’ And, yeah, I think the proof is in the pudding at that point. It really comes down to just putting together a really good team of people to work with. Keeping that team consistent and growing with the people that you started with.”
Building upon that sense of community, one of Deabeats’ foundational elements is their epic live experiences. From their annual Deadrocks shows at Red Rocks to their North America-wide touring label showcases, their live events truly set them apart from other labels within the space.
Bennet emphasizes the importance of events not only to the label but in ensuring the development of their artists. “I think at its core that is how you make a fan and that's really what our mission has been for Deadbeats in terms of supporting these artists, it’s getting them actual fans. I could care less about getting millions and millions of streams on Spotify. It's great, it keeps the lights on for the label. But, you know, if the artist isn't converting and they're not getting followers, they're not growing their fan base then like, what the fuck is our purpose? Right? So the shows really cement the whole idea that there's a person that's making this music, that’s live that you can engage with.”
They’re deeply invested in finding ways to use live events to create interactive experiences for fans. For example, meet and greets, free arcades, and graffiti murals bridge the gap between artist and fan and create memorable experiences.
Deadbeats’ impact on the culture is immeasurable. And their future is brighter than ever. 2022 presents a year of opportunity that will further expand and return to the familiar. Fans can expect more full-length projects from their artists, two compilations (Summer & Fall), a full run of touring, and an expanded focus on their Altered States sister label. The side stage that is Deadbeats evolves and expands with each passing year, but it continues to find new ways to bring that off-kilter energy that makes it so unique.
Deadbeats 12 Essential Songs
Below are twelve of the most iconic releases from Deadbeats and what makes each of them so special, according to their label manager Harrison Bennett.
Zeds Dead x Diplo x Elliphant - Blame
“That's the first track that we formally put out and kicked off the Northern Lights campaign, which was the first full album that we did.”
Zeds Dead x Jauz - Light Go Down
“This was our first label collab release. It's also a drum and bass tune, which got on like a bunch of New Music Fridays, which was super dope. It was kind of the kickoff of the party series that we did with Jauz down in Miami called Deadbeats Goes Off The Deep End.”
LICK x CUBED - 11PM
“This was one of the first tracks that we put out that just took on a complete life of its own. And it happened like six or seven months after it came out or something like that. It just got added to a couple of playlists. So they just started moving and you know, Lick’s career started moving from there too. It really kind of took off and he has released albums since then and done a bunch of cool stuff. So it was a good launch of that project.”
DNMO & Sub Urban - Broken
“DMNO we've worked with multiple times. He's one of our biggest streaming artists on the label. And this was the first instance that we worked with him and this unknown artist at the time that he was collaborating with (Sub Urban) who's since gone on to be a megastar on Tik Tok. And is directing music videos for people and everything like that, but it's just one of those cool like, random demo ended up in my inbox and look at where these people are now.”
1788-L x totto - F U L L / B U R S T
“1788-L was a very small project. Nobody really knew anything about him or who he was. And you know, he kind of just had this like vision for what he wanted to do. Right out the gate. And we put together this as his EP and did a vinyl around it. It was one of the first non-Zeds Dead vinyl releases that we've done, and it sold out immediately. So it was a cool moment.”
Rusko - Squeeze (Burnin)
“I mean, it’s fucking Rusko. At the beginning of this, when I joined the label, I had my own personal list of dream artists to work with. And Rusko was at the top of the list. He's like, my favorite person to have at a show. I absolutely love his sets. His energy is absolutely insane. It's just fucking amazing.”
Eprom - The Cat
“I remember reaching out to Eprom’s manager Jay, and he was like, ‘Oh, I don't have any Eprom tracks for you. But I do have a Shades album.’ And so that's how we got the first Shades album. But then finally, he was like, ‘Alright, I got some Eprom tracks for you.’ And the first one he sent me was “The Cat,” and it's just by far one of the coolest things we've ever done. It's almost like the beat dissolves in front of you at some point. It's just so bonkers and out there and we had it on so many major playlists for whatever reason. It's like over a million plays. It's just such a crazy live tune that is the antithesis of the streaming track and yet it's done very well.”
Peekaboo - Wrecking Ball
“This was interesting because somehow we sold enough records of this one, through I think a merchandising package or whatever, that we ended up on the Billboard charts for dance albums of that week. And that was one of our highest positionings that wasn't Zeds Dead ever. I think we hit like number 15 or something. So that was really dope. And it's, you know, it's big nasty bass music.”
GRiZ x Subtronics - Griztronics
“That's probably our biggest streaming track to date. It was just one of those tunes where we put it out and we just kind of held on for dear life. It just took on a life of its own, every single DJ was playing this at some point. And you still would be hard-pressed to go to a show and not hear somebody include an edit of it or a sample of it somewhere in their set. It's just kind of become part of the dubstep Zeitgeist at this point.”
Alchemy - Blanke
“Alchemy was the first Drum & Bass track that he's put out. And it randomly was like the number one most played track multiple days on Triple J, the Australian radio station, and Blanke is, Australian. This kind of helped us get our foot in the door at Triple J for Blanke. And has really helped us build him up in that market. Because he didn't really have much home country support, really, for whatever reason, he was getting a lot more support in North America prior to that. Since then, his last couple singles have all gone on to radio there. Yeah, and now we're building out a larger Drum & Bass project around Blanke too, which is really exciting. And this is kind of the start of it.”
A Hundred Drums x Pedro Soares - Bone Dust
“She's just kind of…the future. That’s what we're looking for in artists, are people that are making stuff that is unexpected, that's powerful, that can send a message, and that has a very clear vision of how it wants to be presented. And that's what she comes to the forefront with. She's unapologetically who she is, and is making the music that she wants to make, and presenting it the way that she wants to present it. And that's fucking beautiful. That's exactly what we want to be doing.”
Chee - Vultures
“If you have Griztronics as the mainstage bass music anthem, this was the underground bass music anthem of the last couple of years. Nobody does bass music the way Chee is making bass music right now and this kid is again, like A Hundred Drums, he's the future of dark industrial-sounding bass music. Unapologetically heavy, in your face and twisted, distorted and just good, and he's also just a fucking great person. So that's always a bonus tip”