Dancing Astronaut’s Label of the Year: Ophelia RecordsTOP ALBUMS OF 2021

Dancing Astronaut’s Label of the Year: Ophelia Records

Words by Rachel Narozniak and Zach Salafia

Dancing Astronaut’s Label of the Year: Ophelia RecordsNOCTURNALWONDERLAND OPHELIASL2021 0919 205638 30893 FLG 1
Featured image: Fixation Photography

“My vision for Ophelia was just a place for me to put out my music, but everything changes. Within the last two or three months, our release schedule has gotten so busy that I’m struggling with when to put my own music.

I never really thought it was going to be the way that it is right now, but I’m super stoked. I had no visions of doing a stage at EZoo or anything like that when I first founded the label, so now that it’s happening, I feel that I’m watching it happen, and I’m going to dig further into it. I want to have more showcases and do more stuff like stage takeovers where I can get more [artists] in front of a crowd, so they can throw down and show what they can do.”

-Seven Lions (2019)

At approximately 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 1, 2019, from a seat positioned behind Electric Zoo‘s Riverside Stage, Seven Lions shared the above sentiments on Ophelia Records in an interview with Dancing Astronaut.

Seven Lions had last played the Randall’s Island festival in 2017, and two years later, he’d returned to the Labor Day Weekend event as both an artist and a curator. Branding EZoo’s Riverside Stage as “Seven Lions Presents Ophelia,” Jeff Montalvo—the man behind the Seven Lions moniker—assembled a melodically driven lineup to soundtrack Ophelia Records’ first festival stage takeover. Dimibo, Crystal Skies, Wooli, Blastoyz, MitiS, Dabin, Jason Ross, Said The Sky, Kill The Noise, and Seven Lions made the trip to New York accordingly.

Much like February 14, 2018 and February 16, 2018, the date that Montalvo formally announced Ophelia Records and the date of its debut release (“Calling You Home“), respectively, September 1, 2019 was a watershed in Ophelia’s early history. It was the label’s first stage takeover, a psytrance, dubstep, electronica, melodic bass, and drum ‘n’ bass-embracing microcosm of what the fledgling label could accomplish on the live events end as it further matured.

On that temperate September afternoon in 2019, the words “everything changes” underscored the difference between Montalvo’s initial intentions for Ophelia (to develop a “home base” for his music) and what the label had become in the 19 months following its foundation: a “home base” not only for the Seven Lions project, but also for the ascendant talent in the melodic space that warranted exposure, but had yet to receive it. By January of 2020, Montalvo had already begun to make good on his goal to get Ophelia’s artists in front of the “larger audiences” of which he’d spoken in our 2019 interview, lining up three separate label showcases:

  • January 22, 2020: Ophelia announces a label showcase that will bring Seven Lions, Trivecta, Dimibo, and Gem & Tauri to Atlanta’s Believe Music Hall in April 2020.
  • January 27, 2020: Ophelia announces a Miami Music Week label showcase for March featuring Seven Lions, Kill The Noise, Jason Ross, Wooli, Trivecta, Crystal Skies, Last Heroes, and Gem & Tauri
  • January 29, 2020: Ophelia announces a label showcase for Anjuna Elevations in France including Seven Lions, Blastoyz, Crystal Skies, and Gem & Tauri

A mere six months later in March of 2020, however, the words “everything changes” would take on a different meaning as COVID-19-related cancellations upended Ophelia’s burgeoning calendar of label showcases. But Montalvo’s resolve to position Ophelia talent before crowds endured, and as in-person label showcases and stage takeovers temporarily conceded to the COVID-19 health crisis, the label founder adapted his approach. Thus, Ophelia Records’ Visions livestream was born.

The livestream series, touted by Montalvo as a “musical and visual journey” into Ophelia Records, was hosted on Seven Lions’ Twitch channel on alternating Thursday evenings from May 28, 2020 through December 18, 2020. A surrogate for the in-person label showcases then out of reach, the Visions livestream series was developed to familiarize viewers with Ophelia artists and collaborators. Featuring a new Seven Lions set with two guest DJs and additional surprises every other week, the Visions saga commenced in late May with appearances from the label head, Trivecta, Dimibo, and Gem & Tauri. By the time of Visions’ finale near December 2020’s end, several familiar and fresh faces alike had joined the livestream’s lineup, with Gem & Tauri, Xavi, Amidy, Trivecta, Jason Ross, and of course, Seven Lions himself, bringing the series to a close.

Albeit a new year, to name Ophelia Records Dancing Astronaut‘s 2021 Label of the Year is to recall Ophelia’s activity on the live performance end in 2020, precisely because this activity was a critical precursor to the label’s showcase and stage takeover-related expansion this year. In 2020, Montalvo and his label made the most out of the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, leveraging digital media to provide exposure to Ophelia artists while further expanding Ophelia’s general following. Through focus, consistency, and adaptability, especially on the subject of label-hosted livestreams, Montalvo and Ophelia put their acts in front of digital audiences, cultivating larger dedicated fan bases for each of Ophelia’s artists.

It’s worth noting that the playing field for new artist exposure was perhaps never as level as it was in 2020, when everyone from the casual electronic listener to the dance music devotee was home during the lockdowns with an interminable amount of free time and a relatively limited number of recurring dance music livestreams at their disposal. Montalvo and Ophelia capitalized on this level playing field to increase viewer familiarity with all of the acts associated with the label, both those of established and up-and-coming natures. This approach paid dividends for Ophelia and its artists alike—especially the more ascendant of the label’s acts—when live music programming was permitted to resume several months into 2021. Whereas some viewers of Ophelia-sponsored livestreams were already familiar with the label’s roster and likely would have been among those planning to attend one of its cancelled 2020 showcases, others gained an introduction to Ophelia and/or its artists during the quarantines, translating to new, expanded listener interest in the label showcases and stage takeovers that Montalvo identified as priorities in 2019.

Cumulatively, the aforementioned factors laid the groundwork for Ophelia Records’ triumphant return to in-person event planning and facilitation, which saw Montalvo expand Ophelia’s live events presence to an unprecedented degree in 2021. In fact, in less than half a year, Ophelia hosted four large-scale in-person events, all of which contributed to Ophelia’s rise in 2021 not merely as a powerhouse for original releases, but also as a major events orchestrator:

  1. Seven Lions Presents: Chronicles Chapter III at Washington’s Gorge Amphitheatre, the third installment in the mini-festival series that solicited performances from Seven Lions, NGHTMRE, Abraxis, Jason Ross, Alpha 9, Trivecta, Last Heroes, HALIENE, and Gem & Tauri.
  2. Its second-ever stage takeover, this one at Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland, with sets from Crystal Skies, Gem & Tauri, Jason Ross, Kill The Noise, Last Heroes, Sub Focus, Wooli, and Xavi
  3. Higher Love at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, featuring Seven Lions, MitiS, and Gem & Tauri with special guest Andrew Bayer
  4. The Pantheon Tour, Ophelia’s first official label tour, with appearances from Seven Lions, Blanke, Gem & Tauri, Jason Ross, Kill The Noise, Last Heroes, Trivecta, Wooli, and Xavi.

“From the Pantheon tour to the long-awaited release of the Ophelia mega collaboration [“Pantheon“] to celebrating Chronicles III at the Gorge, we’ve been fortunate to create so many new memories with everyone this year. At the end of the day, Ophelia would be nothing without our amazing community of fans and artists. Thank you for rocking with us and supporting all the new music we’ve been blessed to share with you. I am excited to say our journey is just beginning.”

Benjamin Yi, Ophelia Records Label Manager, in an exclusive comment to Dancing Astronaut

As impressive as Ophelia’s expansion on the live music programming end was this year, it’s only part of its 2021 Label of the Year story. Ophelia’s heightened presence in the electronic events circuit dovetailed with what was arguably the label’s most prominent year of original releases yet. In 2021 alone, Ophelia shepherded 34 singles, 11 EPs, and four LPs to digital streaming platforms, delivering quantity without compromising quality. The raw numbers are staggering, especially for an independent label in its third year, and the tally began on January 8 with MitiS’ “Try.”

The RØRY-backed single, from the label veteran’s then-forthcoming sophomore LP, Lost, provided the opening to what would prove to be a momentous year of music for Ophelia. MitiS first made waves on Ophelia in 2019 with the release of his collaboration alongside Seven Lions, “Break The Silence” featuring RBBTS. “Break The Silence” preceded MitiS Shattered EP, which arrived via Ophelia in October of 2019.

MitiS’ history with Montalvo’s platform considered, it was only natural for a full-length LP to follow. That was Lost, an album that not only told a cohesive story through a 10-song tracklist, but also maintained tremendous replay value on a song-by-song basis—a feat for an LP in any genre. Upon Lost‘s April arrival, it was immediately clear to Dancing Astronaut that it was worthy of Album of the Year consideration, which—quite early into the year—reaffirmed our suspicions that Ophelia was primed for a massive 2021. At the onset of the year, we forecasted Ophelia Records as an industry player that, by 2021’s conclusion, would warrant mention in Label of the Year conversations. Lost gave further credence to this conjecture, but no matter how high-performing, one album from one artist is not enough to warrant that distinction.

Throughout the course of 2021, however, Ophelia gave us one musical reason after another to justify its recognition as Label of the Year. Although MitiS is a prime example of the seasoned talent that Ophelia boasts, year in and year out, the label’s ability to identify up-and-coming talent helps to further set it apart.

Montalvo and Ophelia have traditionally underscored ascendant acts in the future-bass, trance, melodic-bass, drum ‘n’ bass, and dubstep spaces through their bi-annual Advent EP series. After debuting in May of 2020, the compilation series added two ensuing volumes to its 2021 archive, featuring productions from Dancing Astronaut Artists to Watch in 2022, STAR SEED and Xavi, as well as a host of other artists such as Kepik, Nick Ledesma, Caster, and Meggie York.

In 2021, Xavi was perhaps the best example of Ophelia’s ability to identify artists with early promise. No Ophelia label mate released more music on the platform this year than the previously undiscovered talent from St. Louis, who had had Ophelia’s support since he first appeared on Advent Volume 2.

This year alone, Xavi remixed Seven Lions, Last Heroes, and HALIENE’s “Don’t Wanna Fall,” following it with the release of his debut studio album, To The Endless Searing Skies, a five-track EP, Home No Longer, and a remix of Seven Lions, Wooli, and Amidy’s “Shadows.” From first appearing on an Advent compilation to later writing a debut album to be distributed by the label, Xavi embodies everything that Ophelia strives to offer its artists, ascendant and established alike: continuous support, opportunities, and development.

Importantly, Ophelia’s embrace of Xavi also shows that the label isn’t preoccupied with sticking to one genre or one sound—all it cares about is good music. Xavi’s sound is distinctly different from Seven Lions’ or that of other Ophelia staples whom you can think of. It’s a beautiful blend of synth-pop, electro-pop, indie, future-bass, mid-tempo, and melodic-dubstep, topped off by Xavi’s own vocals. Talent like this deserves a larger platform, and throughout its three years of operation, Ophelia has consistently been ahead of the curve when it comes to discovering it. Trivecta, Last Heroes, and Far Out are earlier examples of Ophelia’s success in identifying such talent.

MitiS and Lost and Xavi and his 2021 release log were just the tip of Ophelia’s 2021 iceberg. Jason Ross notably released his Convergence EP via Ophelia, which featured Dancing Astronaut‘s 2021 Track of the Year, “One More Day” with Blanke and Chandler Leighton. And like Xavi, STAR SEED released their first EP, Innerspace, after previously debuting on Advent Volume 2.

The list goes on.

A fresh crop of up-and-coming acts made their presence heard on Advent Volume 3. Last Heroes followed up one of 2020’s most impressive EPs, Finding Light, with their junior EP, Threads. Wooli delivered a thunderous four-track EP, Resurrection, that featured his collaboration with Trivecta, “Light Up The Sky” featuring Scott Stapp of Creed. Far Out—another Dancing Astronaut Artist to Watch in 2022made a welcome return to Ophelia Records, succeeding 2020’s Beyond The Horizon EP with his four-track Somewhere In Between EP.

Of course, there were releases from Seven Lions himself, which—no matter the year—will continue to serve as the foundation of Ophelia Records. He opened things up with Seven Lions: 1999, an ode to an older brand of trance that furnished nostalgic takes on classics like “Rush Over Me” with HALIENE and “Higher Love” with Jason Ross and Paul Meany.

Then came “Shadows.” Seven Lions and Wooli are no strangers to collaborating, and with Dancing Astronaut Supernova Amidy on board to complete the sonic trifecta, fans knew they were in for something special from the moment that the joint project debuted at Ubbi Dubbi early in the year. “Shadows” wasn’t the sole track to see the label boss team up with other Ophelia favorites. Notably, “Wild And Broken” with Blanke, Trivecta, and RBBTS, was another synergistic union of Ophelia creatives and their complementary sounds.

Seven Lions also aligned with Andrew Bayer and Alison May for “Returning To You,” a climactic combination of melodic-bass and trance. Amid it all, the label boss made time to reunite with Dimibo under their shared psytrance alias, Abraxis, for “Black Rainbow.”

But Seven Lions wasn’t done. In a surprise December announcement, he unveiled the perfect sonic stocking stuffer, Opus, an eight-track LP featuring orchestral versions of some of his all-time classics like “Dreamin,’” “Ocean,” and “First Time.” Fans roared their approval when string quartet Atlys joined Seven Lions on stage during his Higher Love set at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The response was so strong that Seven Lions and Atlys decided to get in the studio to prime a string-led project for official release. It’s the cherry atop of a phenomenal year not only for Seven Lions, but also for Ophelia Records—and vice versa.

“It’s been an amazing year watching everyone on the label grow. This all still feels very early on and it’s exciting seeing the Ophelia staple artists growing so rapidly and creating such great music. I’m really happy to be part of this journey and excited to see where it’s going to lead. 2022 is already looking like another major step forward for the Ophelia family.”

Seven Lions, in an exclusive comment to Dancing Astronaut

However, it’s important to note that the releases from the label boss don’t carry the Ophelia brand, but rather further enhance it. Part of what makes Ophelia so special is that the label is not reliant on releases from Seven Lions to stay relevant; its roster of artists is so deep and so dexterous in nature that their productions can capably attract their own attention. But as we’ve heard on Ophelia’s inter-label collaborations, such as “Shadows,” the artists’ power is perhaps at its strongest when they work in concert. Cue Ophelia’s “mega collaboration,” “Pantheon,” a supersized, seven-person crossover that our list of the most-anticipated IDs of 2021 after it appeared in Seven Lions’ EDC Virtual Rave-A-Thon set in May of 2020.

“Pantheon,” featuring Seven Lions, Jason Ross, Trivecta, Wooli, Kill The Noise, Blastoyz, and Dimibo, was eventually granted a grand release in October, uncoincidentally serving as Ophelia’s landmark 100th release.

No other production released via the label so comprehensively encompasses what Ophelia is at its core. An amalgamation of styles including psytrance, dubstep, and melodic-dubstep, “Pantheon” emblematizes not only Ophelia’s genre-roving nature, but also the sense of community that Seven Lions has instilled within Ophelia. This very sense of community was on live display on the Pantheon Tour, during which all of the artists involved in the song’s production gathered on stage to play out the tour’s title track. Ophelia at its heart is—in Seven Lions’ own words—a “family,” and thanks to this family’s collective efforts throughout 2021, the Label of the Year conversation comes to a decisive and melodically driven close.

Featured image: Tania Hauyon

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