a.k.a. Thoughts on the South Korean artist and the criticism that surrounds her, plus the current state of music journalism and an in-depth interview with me.
|Shawn Reynaldo||Jan 21|| 5|
Hello there. I’m Shawn Reynaldo, and welcome to First Floor, a weekly electronic music digest that includes news, my favorite new tracks and (usually) some of my thoughts on the issues affecting the larger scene / industry that surrounds the music. If you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to the newsletter by clicking the button below.
ON MY MIND
I’ve been wrestling with what to write this week. Having just arrived home yesterday after a 29-hour trek from Australia, my brain is admittedly a bit scrambled at the moment. Nevertheless, First Floor goes on, and I usually open these newsletters with some sort of essay.
My first impulse was to write about this Peggy Gou interview that was recently published by i-D, in which she responded to the criticism she received for DJing at the MDL Beast festival in Saudi Arabia last month. (Side note: I wrote extensively about the festival—and the electronic music press’ general silence about it—in the newsletter a couple of weeks ago.)
The i-D article—which is more of a promotional puff piece than a serious interview—is rife with questionable passages and quotes, but this statement from Gou is a real doozy:
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Israel or North Korea,” she concludes, after admitting that her Saudi stint involved a substantial paycheck. “If there’s people who want to hear my music, I will go. I don’t give a fuck.”
Yikes! That statement is both morally repugnant and wildly—or maybe even willfully—ignorant. (Remember, the MDL Beast festival was literally paid for an organized by the Saudi regime.) I strongly disagree with her take on the situation, and her “I don’t give a fuck” attitude is honestly disrespectful to the millions of people who have suffered and died under repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. I’m not big on canceling people, but if this is really how she feels, I honestly can’t imagine supporting her or her work moving forward.
At the same time, I’m hesitant to pen a whole essay tearing Peggy Gou to shreds. Although it certainly wouldn’t be difficult to write a juicy hit piece, I was speaking to my wife the other day, and she said something along the lines of “the last thing the world needs is another white man yelling about Peggy Gou.” I think she’s right.
In truth, I’ve never been a huge Peggy Gou critic. I think her tunes are generally enjoyable (if a bit innocuous), and while I don’t love her manicured Instagram persona, her seemingly endless brand collaborations or how she’s become the subject of seemingly undying—and largely empty—adoration from the fashion world, I’ve also found a lot of the criticism leveled at her to be wildly over the top and, yes, sexist. Intentional or not, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that so many of Peggy Gou’s loudest critics in the electronic music world are white males, particularly those who feel that her success is coming at the expense of artists (usually white male ones) who “deserve” more gigs / income / recognition.
It’s easy to make Peggy Gou the face of all that’s wrong with electronic music, but let’s be real; she’s just one person in a community / industry / culture that is plagued with systemic problems. So yes, while her statement about MDL Beast was troubling, to say the least, she was still just a single artist amongst dozens on the bill. Where is the similar outrage targeting Black Coffee or Kerri Chandler or any of the other DJs who supposedly should have known better? What about all the EDM acts who performed? Most of them probably made even more money than Peggy Gou, but do they just get a pass because they’re not “cool” or “underground” artists?
Anyways, I’ve already gone longer on this topic than I planned. There’s undoubtedly more to say—and I’d honestly love to see some non-clickbait-y discussion on the matter—but for now, I will wade no further into the Peggy Gou quagmire.
To be honest, during the past week I actually spent a lot more time thinking about FACT, specifically the announcement by several of its editors and writers that the site would be ceasing publication of all written content. It’s unclear exactly what that means—for instance, the site still seems to be publishing news stories, and staffers have said that more resources will now be put into video content—but in the grand scheme of things, this is bad news, at least for anyone who values music writing.
Simply put, we’re running out of media outlets, and outlets that focus on more niche sounds (i.e. not mainstream pop) seem to be especially endangered. I hate to say it, but I doubt that FACT will be the the last site to make this kind of shift, and in most cases, struggling sites will just shut down or disappear completely. The outlook is grim, which is why I thought about doing some kind of autopsy, looking closer at FACT’s editorial shift and attempting to spell out (again) how and why the economic model of online media is so broken.
But then I remembered something. Todd Burns recently interviewed me for his excellent Music Journalism Insider newsletter, and it just so happened that he published it in today’s edition, which also includes interviews with Marcus J. Moore, Hilary Saunders, Robert O. Gjerdingen and Elaine Kelly. So… how exactly does this relate to this essay you’re reading right now? Well, Todd asked me a lot of questions about my thoughts on the current state of journalism, so instead of repeating or rehashing many of those same opinions here, I figure that it’s better to just encourage everyone to read the interview instead.
Here is a direct link to the interview. Aside from the journalism talk, there’s also a lengthy recap of my winding career path and how exactly I wound up where I am today, plus some thoughts specific to First Floor, including why I started the newsletter, how it runs from week to week and where I see it going in the future. It’s probably the most I’ve ever written about myself and my work, so I really want to thank Todd for the opportunity and the interest.
(Just FYI: The interview will only be available to the public for the next two weeks; after that, you’ll have to sign up for a paid subscription to Music Journalism Insider, which I would highly recommend.)
And with that, I think I’ve fulfilled my quota of meandering big-picture thoughts and observations for the week. Let’s move on to the music.
A round-up of the week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Omar-S announced the impending release of a new album called You Want, which apparently features John FM, Norm Talley, Ian Finkelstein, John Cloud, L'Renee, Brian Kage and Kingdom. (My guess is that it’s not the same Kingdom who heads up Fade to Mind.) He’s also posted some previews (and a preorder link) at the FXHE website.
Karenn, the long-running collaboration between Blawan and Pariah, popped up on Resident Advisor last week with a thrilling set of live, totally improvised hardware techno that was filmed for the latest RA Sessions. Watch it here.
Speaking of Karenn, their Voam label will soon be releasing a new EP from bass-loving Swede Peder Mannerfelt. The record—the first Voam effort by someone besides Karenn—is called Like We Never Existed and will be released on January 31. Preview clips can be found here.
Need help setting up a home studio? Have no idea where to start? Octo Octa has you covered, as she’s shared a 30-page guide that runs through all the basic components, along with her own setup and that of her partner Eris Drew. Head over to their T4T LUV NRG label website to find both a PDF and a Google Doc version of the guide.
Most Ilian Tape releases come from a core group of artists, but it’s been revealed that the Munich label will soon be issuing a new EP from UK techno veteran Surgeon. Entitled The Golden Sea, the record doesn’t have a set release date, but a few preview clips are available via distributor Diamonds and Pearls.
Last year, Canadian producer Jacques Greene released his Dawn Chorus album to a fair bit of acclaim, and now he’s announced that a deluxe edition of the LP is on the way. Set to arrive on January 31, the new version includes a fleet of remixes from an all-star cast that includes Nathan Micay, Fort Romeau, Patrick Holland, Ciel, CFCF, Lunice, JD Twitch, Martyn Bootyspoon and more.
In recent months, Honey Soundsystem has been curating a series of mixes for Crack Magazine, and the latest installment is a smooth and wonderfully groovy session from crew member Jason Kendig.
The seventh edition of the Air Texture series, which asks two artists to collaborate on putting together a compilation that focuses on non-club music, will be helmed by Rrose and Silent Servant. The collection, which is set for release on February 15, includes new music from Anthony Child (a.k.a. Surgeon), Ron Morelli, Laurel Halo, Octo Octa, Phase Fatale, Luke Slater and Function, amongst the work of many others, including Rrose and Silent Servant themselves.
With this flashy promotional video, Pioneer announced the launch of a new mixer, the DJM-V10, which appears to crib several key functions from competitor Allen & Heath while also adding a number of other impressive bells and whistles. It’s too early to tell if the machine will live up to its promise, but DJ Twitter was awash in hopeful optimism that the mixer could potentially become a new industry standard.
MY WIFE HAS BETTER TASTE THAN I DO
My wife Dania is a wonderful person, but she has little regard for my taste in electronic music. As the head of the Paralaxe Editions label, she often describes the music I like with words like “cheesy,” “simple,” “predictable,” “boring” and, worst of all (in her mind), “happy.” In contrast, I think she has a fantastic ear, and I’m constantly amazed by the obscure gems she unearths, both from record bins and the dark corners of the internet. Given that, I’ve asked Dania to share some of her finds with the First Floor audience. Each week, she highlights something that she’s currently digging, and adds some of her thoughts as to why it’s worth our attention.
I've known Bruno Silva for a long time, and have been a fan for even longer. I even released a tape of his a few years back, which sold out long ago. He works under a couple of names, Ondness and Serpente (the latter project’s Parada EP got some good reviews last year), and while Bruno is extremely talented, he’s also very humble, which is why I think his music sometimes flies under the radar. “Crimes de Gente” comes from another 2019 release, Meio Que Sumiu, and demonstrates his intoxicating work with rhythm. At times, it’s almost unnervingly off-kilter, but I love the bizarre way Bruno pulls it all together.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a rundown of my favorite tunes that came out during the past week. Click on the track titles to hear each song individually, or you can also just head over to this convenient Buy Music Club list to find them all in one place.
There are lots of great reissue labels out there, but few can match Finders Keepers when it comes to unearthing some truly oddball electronic and experimental gems. “Tema de la Lluno” comes from the soundtrack to Kiu I Els Seus Amics (“Kiu and His Friends”), a Catalan-language children’s television program from 1985. I’m actually dying to ask some of my friends here in Barcelona for more details, but the show apparently revolved around a friendly alien who comes to Earth and encounters a group of children; in essence, it was a budget knock-off of E.T. (If you’re curious, all 12 episodes are available online here.) As for the soundtrack, it was put together by José Manuel Pagán, an artist who was born in Switzerland but has spent most of his life in Spain. Over the years, he’s worked on numerous soundtracks for Spanish and Catalan film and television, but Kiu I Els Seus Amics seems to have been one of his first major projects. The music here will sound familiar to anyone who’s seen Stranger Things (or is old enough to remember all of the original stuff Stranger Things is referencing), and while the soundtrack occasionally veers into goofier vocoder electro-funk territory, “Tema de la Lluno” (“Moon Theme”) is a genuinely spooky modular synth tune. My wife actually made me turn it off the other day because it was giving her the creeps.
Last year, I was booked to open for Burago, and I honestly had no idea who he was. A little digging told me that he was based in Moscow and had ties to the Gost Zvuk crew, but that was pretty much all I had to go on. It’s too bad, because I inadvertently wound up playing too hard; I wasn’t prepared for him to take over the decks at peak time and start dropping deep house gems, but to Burago’s credit, he took the challenge in stride and played an excellent set. Now, he’s surprisingly popped up on Helpful Music, a label helmed by How to Dress Well. According to the press release, they also found proper information about Burago hard to come by, but still went ahead with his TAGEUK EP, which mostly finds the Russian producer moving through ambient and leftfield sounds, but also includes a couple of low-key groovers like “Quaresma,” a relaxed breakbeat tune whose subtle funk vibe is rather alluring.
As a producer, Erik Luebs has no problem keeping busy. Back in January of 2018, the California-born, Tokyo-based artist began something he calls Cycle, a ritual in which he releases one track per month., and that October, he began compiling the best of those into proper EPs. Last week saw the release of Cycle: Volume 3, a four-track effort that included “Wavering,” a hypnotic techno cut that offsets its barreling low end with a swirling, psychedelic melody that Luebs says was inspired by Terry Riley.
Up until a few months ago, I thought I had Mor Elian pegged. After years of dabbling in various flavors of house music, the Israeli-born, Berlin-based producer had seemingly found her lane, settling into an electro-techno aesthetic in which she quite honestly excelled. Beginning with last year’s Radical Spectacular EP, however, she’s been expanding her palette, an evolution that has noticeably accelerated on her latest release, Clairvoyant Frog, which also happens to be the first record on Cinnaman’s new Visible Spectrum label. Full of shambling rhythms and non-linear structures, the EP largely disregards established notions of genre. In the hands of an unskilled (or uninspired) producer, this sort of move would be terribly risky, but Elian holds it all together, her music becoming only more compelling as she heads further into uncharted stylistic territory. “Shoshana’s Roses” is especially good, its drum sounds simultaneously evoking the music of the Middle East and the rough-and-tumble spirit of vintage drum & bass while intermingling with an intense array of slithering synths, dramatic swells and (lightly) wobbling bass. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard anything quite like it, but I hope to hear more in the future.
The product of two Austrians who first connected at an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru, the self-titled debut from Yogtze is more than a decade in the making. Supposedly recorded in 2007 during a Jodorowsky-inspired trip to Morocco (I swear I’m not making this up), the music is a sort of charmingly lo-fi cosmic exotica, offering a series of synth-driven, psychedelic journeys that are equal parts Krautrock and sci-fi film soundtrack. With its clattering percussion and chunky bassline, “Proxima” is the most propulsive of the bunch, but it’s still something that’s better suited for zoning out than a night of dancefloor debauchery.
House music for the sunrise. “Meti” encapsulates the quintessential Permanent Vacation vibe, which makes sense given that this German producer has been in the label’s orbit for more than a decade. Powered by emotional swells, pastel pads, tearjerking melodies and a steady beat that keeps things moving but never gets too wild, the title track of Pesopeo’s latest EP admittedly follows a well-worn blueprint, but I find it hard to complain about the formula when it’s been executed in such exquisite fashion.
Six Songs for Invisible Gardens, the debut release from Los Angeles artist Green-House, looks and sounds like a relic of the past, the kind of record that a label like Freedom to Spend might be reissuing. Designed as “a communication with both plant life and the people who care for them,” its unpolished sound and vibrant melodies certainly harken back to the exploratory synth records of the 1970s, which conveyed a similar sense of wonder and naiveté. Bathed in tape hiss and what sounds like a canned recording of a bucolic meadow, “Perennial Bloom” is bursting with life, its rich melodies creeping skyward and blossoming like flowers on a sunny spring day.
Another pastoral synth excursion, this one from Pulse Emitter, a Portland artist who’s somehow managed to put out nearly 100 releases over the past 15 years. His latest, Swirlings, comes via Chicago label Hausu Mountain, an adventurous outpost that I have regretfully not been paying enough attention to in recent years. Admittedly, “Electron Central” is something of a throwback, but unlike the Green-House record, its psychedelic wanderings feel more indebted to the cosmos than the wonders of life on Earth. Yet even with its interplanetary outlook, the song is peaceful at its core—it’s like taking a long soak in a flotation tank.
Although most of Ron Morelli’s solo output has veered toward noise and other abstract sounds, “Laugh Taker”—a track from 2018’s Disappearer LP—was a gnarled dancefloor cut. Now, the L.I.E.S. boss has commissioned a full EP of “Laugh Taker” remixes, which includes versions from Parrish Smith and Mick Harris, along with this rework from UK artist Overlook, who slows down the tempo and ups the drama, moving into dark ambient territory as he casts the entire tune in a thick haze of distortion and ghostly vocal choirs. Who knew that Ron Morelli could sound this cinematic?
One could be forgiven for not being familiar with the entire Bergsonist catalog. Over the past few years, this Moroccan artist (who lives in NYC) has self-released more than 20 EPs while also dropping releases on labels like Where to Now?, Börft, Styles Upon Styles, Optimo and a few other outlets. While many young artists toil away in isolation, holding on to their music for years as they refine their artistic vision, Bergsonist has taking a different path, largely choosing to grow and experiment in the public arena. Others can debate whether that was unnecessarily risky or incredibly brave, but the effort has now culminated in Middle Ouest, an album she’s described as a “sonic autobiography.” Perhaps that’s why many writers have been quick to latch onto the record’s nods to her Arab roots (mostly via the use of Middle Eastern and North African drum sounds), but I’ve personally found the LP’s more techno-leaning tracks more compelling. (In fairness, this probably says more about me than Bergsonist.) “Otology” is one such effort, a lo-fi take on Detroit-style sci-fi that pits glowing synth blooms against a lively array of blown-out beats. It’s not polished, but it’s very much alive, which is perhaps what makes it so appealing.
MoMA Ready is another prolific young NYC producer; in the past year, he’s put a lot of music out into the world, both solo and alongside his friend and frequent collaborator AceMo. (Together they operate as AceMoMa.) Last week, he added to that pile by unveiling a new alias, Gallery S, along with a self-titled album that he’s billed as his “most honest” to date. With its lo-fi aesthetic, hardware-driven sound and refusal to adhere to established genre norms—despite the music’s frequent references to classic house, techno and jungle—the LP doesn’t exactly make it clear what exactly the dividing line is between Gallery S and MoMa Ready, but there’s still something intriguing about the artistic freedom on display. “We Could Have Been Better” is arguably one of the album’s less adventurous tunes, but it’s a loose and lively piece of house music with a chunky bassline and a simple melody that’s just a little melancholy.
A Ukrainian producer who makes her home in Hanover, Germany, Angelina Rose appears to have mastered the art of proper, American-style deep house. Taken from her Odin EP, “Midnight Talk” is a low-key track, but there’s a lot of soul in its relatively minimal composition, which leans heavily on a thick bassline and some classy R&B vocal snippets. It’s definitely something for the “grown and sexy” crowd, but I think even the wildest of ravers could get down to this during those late-night / early-morning hours when the party is winding down but the crowd isn’t quite ready to go home yet.
Is it just me, or has Marco Shuttle been on a roll over the past year or two? His latest EP is Ritmo Elegante, and while the record contains a number of headier tunes, “Arpex” is a real belter. The track does reflect Shuttle’s usual attention to detail, but with its driving kick and rapidly percolating synth line (probably from the titular ARP), it also feels like the Berlin-based Italian is letting his hair down. Still, Arpex” is not a mindless techno banger; it’s transportive, the sort of tune that just keeps going up and up and up, and while you may be unsure of the final destination, it’s thrilling to come along for the ride.
Perhaps I’m taking my cues from the New York Times (yes, that’s a political journalism joke, my apologies), but I just couldn’t settle on a single track from Tumbling Towards a Wall, the new album from Ulla Straus. Operating here under just her first name, she’s put together a gorgeous record, albeit one without the grandiosity that usually accompanies that word. There’s something humble about this music, which clearly hasn’t been designed to aggressively grab anyone’s attention; on the contrary, each track feels like a small, lovingly crafted corner for quiet meditation. It’s ambient, yes, but there’s a richness of emotion in these relatively sparse compositions. “Feeling Remembering” is a soupy, almost Balearic lullaby, with a gentle sway that feels like a breezy day on an isolated beach. “Stunned Suddenly” is more angelic, its choir of vocal clips blinking like stars in a clear night sky; it’s the kind of track that points to the wonders of the universe while reminding us just how small we are in the grand scheme of things. It’s beautiful stuff, and the whole record is full of these kinds of moments.
Alright, I imagine that’s more than enough for this week. Thank you so much for reading and, as always, I hope you enjoyed the tunes. (Don’t forget, you can find them all on this handy Buy Music Club list.)
Until next time,