Label: FOOL'S GOLD
Calling Card: Pioneer in marrying hip-hop and electronic dance music.
Major Cred: Cofounded in Brooklyn in 2007 by ex-Fader editor Nick Catchdubs and superstar DJ A-Trak; broke rapper Kid Cudi's 2008 Top 5 debut single, "Day 'n' Nite," and 2010's clubland hit "Barbra Streisand"—the video for which includes cameos by label-lovers Kanye West, Questlove, and Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig—by A-Trak's disco-house side project, Duck Sauce.
Next Big Thing: Danny Brown
Gap-toothed rapper Danny Brown's 2011 mixtape XXX landed him on hip-hop bible XXL's Top 10 "Freshman Class" (this was after getting passed up by 50 Cent's G-Unit Records for not looking thuggish enough). This month, the Detroit-bred emcee releases a new album, Old, featuring A$AP Rocky and Purity Ring.
Calling Card: Instaclassic country-folk and rediscovered gems.
Major Cred: Outmaneuvered the big boys to sign the now platinum-selling Lumineers in 2012. The Nashville-based label subsequently ran its total Grammy nominations to 17. In-the-know folkies (Shovels & Rope, Brett Dennen), vintage reissues (June Carter Cash's Press On), and star-studded tributes to country legends (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings) round out Dualtone's Americana-minded catalog.
Next Big Thing: Little Comets
U.K. indie-rock trio Little Comets—think Vampire Weekend with darker lyrics—are releasing an expanded U.S. version of their 2012 sophomore effort, Life Is Elsewhere, in August and following up with their first American tour.
Calling Card: Hipster-pop clearinghouse for L.A.'s white-hot music scene, with underground U.K. flavor.
Major Cred: Launched in 2006 in Los Angeles by London transplant and former video director Niki Roberton at the tender age of 26. In 2008, put out the first two U.S. singles, "Kiss With a Fist" and "Dog Days Are Over," by then unknown British outfit Florence and the Machine. This year released the debut record by electro-goth It girl Charli XCX.
Next Big Thing: Io Echo
Blending operatic industrial rock with East Asian influences (Japanese koto harp, Chinese violins), Angeleno duo Io Echo had already opened for Nine Inch Nails and collaborated with Harmony Korine and James Franco on a video installation (Rebel) by the time they released their debut album, Ministry of Love, this spring.
Label: MAD DECENT
Calling Card: Pushing the geographic boundaries of electronic dance music.
Major Cred: Launching pad for DJ–producer–fanboy–label head Diplo's wildly eclectic discoveries—from Brazilian baile funk like Bonde do Rolê to moombahton (a fusion of reggaeton and house) to Angolan kuduro to his own dancehall project, Major Lazer. Entered world consciousness with Baauer's hit single "Harlem Shake."
Next Big Thing: Riff Raff
YouTube rapping sensation Riff Raff—whose Bo Derek braids, boy-band beard, and gold grille allegedly inspired the Alien character in Spring Breakers—is part comedian, part performance artist. Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Lion make an appearance on his first record, Neon Icon, out this fall.
Label: TRUE PANTHER SOUNDS
Calling Card: The first name in DIY labels, with the institutional muscle of an indie giant.
Major Cred: Co-conceived by Dean Bein in 2004 to press 500 copies of his Oberlin College punk band Red Tape Apocalypse's seven-inch, "I Fucking Love My Friends." Released the critically adored 2009 debut, Album, by San Francisco–based psych-folkies Girls with alpha-indie Matador Records (which purchased the label soon after). Cemented a cultlike following with rarefied acts including Spanish alt-dance quartet Delorean.
Next Big Thing: King Krule
Eighteen-year-old Londoner Archy Marshall, a.k.a. King Krule, who melded a range of disparate sounds (think Morrissey, Gang Starr, Leonard Cohen) on his 2011 self-titled EP, will release his first full album this fall.
Calling Card: The biggest little indie out there. Period.
Major Cred: Founded by Industry vet Daniel Glass, who proved he doesn't need a corporate parent to turn up-and-coming artists into international superstars. Brought Mumford & Sons to the U.S. and transformed Phoenix from a cult fave into a Grammy-winning sensation. Defied low expectations with the top-selling success of rapper Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Community star Donald Glover.
Next Big Thing: Chvrches
Scottish synth-pop trio Chvrches (the Roman "v" facilitates easy Google-searching) embarked on a sold-out North American tour this summer and will follow it up with a full-length debut in September.