Dancing Astronaut’s 2020 Label of the Year: Anjuna
Words by: Natalie Pereira, Mitch Rose, and Jessica Mao
In a year that struck industries down in a snap, dance music has shown true resilience in its ability to combat and overcome the obstacles presented by COVID-19. Despite this year’s numerous setbacks, esteemed trance giant Anjuna has come out as a trailblazing champion, deservedly earning the designation of Dancing Astronaut‘s 2020 Label of the Year.
2020 brought an abrupt end to live events, forcing people away from dance floors and in front of screens for musical liberation. Though, within the challenges posed this year, Anjuna saw opportunities to not only connect with a swelling fan base through a unique series of online livestreams and arts/culture events on Twitch, but also embark on new projects that would define the label’s dominating digital presence in 2020. Anjuna artfully homed in on using music and community initiatives as both a uniting and healing force in a year where we desperately needed those comforts.
Split into imprints Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, Anjuna has collectively developed a passionate following of dedicated fans spanning all corners of the world. In a typical year, label heads Above & Beyond can be caught hosting weekly radio episodes of their own “Group Therapy” series, jet-setting from Miami to Mumbai for arena and club shows. Of notable importance this year, Above & Beyond were slated to embark on a worldwide tour for the release of their third acoustic album, Acoustic III, though touring plans were placed on an indefinite hold as the year unravelled. Moreover, Anjuna was set to deliver the milestone ABGT400 show—a yearly occurrence marking each 50th episode of Group Therapy that brings together the global community for a two-day festival featuring label artists and friends from both imprints.
Despite not being the ABGT400 many expected, Anjuna’s annual destination celebration still called in a joyous occasion, pivoting to a four-hour extended set from Above & Beyond livestreamed from The River Thames. The virtual congregation featured music from a treasured trove of Anjuna’s 20-year chest laced with welcoming video messages from artists. Anjuna also forged onwards in its momentous 20-year Anjunabeats anniversary this year, simultaneously observing the formative origins of its progressive and trance sounds while embracing its own divergence into new territories.
This year, Above & Beyond honored the importance of mindfulness and mental wellness through their Flow State Meditations album—a series of spoken word meditations in collaboration with female yoga instructors spoken in four different languages. Paired with the album’s release, Anjuna hosted its own Wellness Week on their Twitch channel, featuring a number of free online fitness and conversation sessions to round out the project. This year also saw Above & Beyond take a nostalgic walk through their own extensive vault, unveiling The Club Mix Collection. The three-disc collection convened the trio’s most essential hits over the past 15 years, featuring mixed, unmixed, and extended club versions of tracks like “Sun & Moon,” “Alone Tonight,” “Alchemy,” “Bittersweet & Blue,” and more.
Aside from the bosses’ formidable 2020 output, Anjunabeats also took an all-encompassing approach to highlighting its prolific discography. The first of several celebrations presented a 20-volume artist-curated mix that welcomed Anjunabeats signees to compile their all-time favorite releases from the imprint’s 20-year history. Debuting with the first-ever act signed, Oliver Smith, the bi-weekly installment has since welcomed the likes of Mat Zo, Maor Levi, Nitrous Oxide, Andrew Bayer, ilan Bluestone, and more to the curatorial seat. Spotlighting new and old releases, the series showcases both the Anjuna catalogue’s timelessness and depth. With activity on every side of the label, Anjunabeats still maintained its reputation as home for burgeoning newcomers and veteran producers alike, evidenced by this year’s 34-track Anjunabeats Vol. 15, which spanned releases from Tinlicker, ALPHA 9, Andrew Bayer, and Genix to inaugural appearances from gardenstate and Jordin Post.
The label also unveiled a glossy handful of albums. While Mat Zo made his triumphant return to Anjunabeats with Illusion of Depth in a full-circle moment for the label, which hosted his seminal debut LP, Damage Control, Spencer Brown extended his catalog with his sophomore full-length, Stream of Consciousness. Following up on 2017 indie masterpiece, The Only Road, Gabriel & Dresden also delivered their new studio album, Remedy. 2020 proved a fruitful year for newer artists as well: the supergroup Elysian, comprising Ilan Bluestone, Maor Levi, and Emma Hewitt, surfaced with their debut EP Water, and the Ejeca-headed project Trance Wax submitted his self-titled debut LP.
2020 saw Anjunadeep similarly flourish with an equally impressive stream of new music. James Grant and Jody Wisternoff opened the year on a high note with the surprise release of the first half of Anjunadeep 11. Bringing together Lane 8, Ben Böhmer, and Cubicolor with lesser known artists like HVMP, miru, and several others, Grant said that the compilation surprised dropped early to “give each CD mix its moment in the sun and, more importantly, shine a light on each individual artists’ contribution to the album.” Two weeks later, Yotto, Dosem, and Durante arrived on side two, completing what is arguably the imprint’s most impressive compilation to date.
Just two weeks after the mixed LP dropped in full, Anjunadeep was already back with another full-length record, Cubicolor’s Hardly A Day, Hardly A Night. The trio’s remarkable sophomore LP combined ethereal instrumentation with poignant musical story telling, kicking off Anjunadeep’s 2020 trend of uniquely stunning bodies of work. Just a few weeks later, the imprint was back for another highly anticipated record, this time supplied by Luttrell, whose beaming brand of melodic house shined as a hopeful and inspiring beacon amid COVID-19 doldrums.
Three months and three albums into the year, Anjunadeep was only just warming up. Several more full records would arrive in the following months, including dazzling LPs from Marsh, CRi, Dosem, and Jody Wisternoff. Perhaps Anjunadeep’s most interesting and singular album was Reflections, its first foray into downtempo and ambient music. The nine-track compilation proved to be an immaculate first venture into uncharted waters, managing to stay true to Anjuna’s sound while proving the label’s ability to embrace growth. Throughout 2020, Anjunadeep stayed devout to its ethos while managing to branch out—subtly or dramatically at times—without compromising in the slightest.
The journey to establishing the Anjuna brand as one of the most recognized electronic labels in the world has charted a vast and dynamic history of artists, milestones, and music that have all contributed to the building of a synergetic ecosystem. Its humble origins as Anjunabeats in 2000 first served as a platform for Above & Beyond to release their original works. The creation of sub-label Anjunadeep came in 2005, helmed by James Grant and the Above & Beyond founders, with quality only paralleled by consistency. Now, fast forward to 2020, Anjunabeats now celebrates its twentieth anniversary in the way its always known how—great music and great community—while Anjunadeep reaps its 15th year of existence as not just its counterpart’s underground sister, but as its own distinguished imprint of hyper-prolific releases.
With an industry uprooted by the tumultuous events of the year, Anjuna found exponential reasons and means to connect with its listeners, delivering both depth and range in its programming of state-of-the-art live streams, engaging albums, and exclusive projects. In its continuous effort and dedication to make music the common denominator between us all, Anjuna has solidified itself as a brand to be remembered this year and throughout the ages.
Featured images: Doug Van Sant, Luke Dyson, Rukes, Jake Davis