First Floor #100 – Help Me Help You
a.k.a. Answer our reader survey, plus a round-up of the week in electronic music, including a huge batch of new track recommendations.
Hello there. I’m Shawn Reynaldo, and welcome to First Floor, a weekly electronic music digest that includes news, interviews, my favorite new tracks and some of my thoughts on the issues affecting the larger scene / industry that surrounds the music. This is the free edition of the newsletter; access to all First Floor content (including the complete archive) requires a paid subscription. If you haven’t done so already, please consider signing up for a subscription (paid or unpaid) by clicking the button below. Alternately, you can also support the newsletter by making a one-time donation here.
A QUICK SCHEDULING NOTE
Next week, I’ll be taking a brief respite from the newsletter, but First Floor will return to its regular publishing schedule the following week, with the next free edition going out on Wednesday, October 20.
TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT
You likely noticed this already, but you’re currently reading the 100th edition of First Floor. That number is admittedly somewhat arbitrary—a few newsletters have gone out over the past two years without an official numerical designation—but regardless, it still feels like something of a milestone.
I’ve written about this before, but when I first started the newsletter, I didn’t really know what to expect. Freshly unemployed, I had some time on my hands, and I liked the idea of building my own platform, one where I didn’t have to run my ideas by overburdened / uninterested editors or contend with the whims of corporate ownership. And with all of my experience in the music industry, I felt confident that if I started a newsletter, at least a handful of people would sign up and read it—even if they were primarily motivated by guilt (“I guess I’ll sign up for this new thing Shawn is doing, just to show my support) or some sort of morbid curiosity (“Oh man, now that RBMA went kaput, Shawn Reynaldo is doing a newsletter? That sure sounds like a potential car crash.”).
That handful of people did sign up, but within a few weeks (and much to my surprise), First Floor quickly started growing, and hasn’t really stopped since. The newsletter now boasts a readership that’s well into the thousands, and when I launched paid subscriptions last year, some people actually started signing up for them, to a point where I can now proudly say that what began as an unpaid passion project now firmly stands as… a low-paid passion project.
I kid, I kid. Progress is progress, and I’m eternally grateful for each and every bit of support. (That said, paid subscriptions really do make a difference; if you like the newsletter and are currently only signed up the free version, please consider leveling up. Remember—paid subscribers never have to deal with that pesky paywall.)
Anyways, with First Floor #100 about to drop, I’ve been thinking a lot about where the newsletter might be heading in the months (and hopefully years) to come. And though I’ve generally just followed my own instincts when it comes to First Floor, I figured that it might be useful to solicit some honest feedback from the folks who actually read the damn thing on a regular basis.
That’s why I’ve put together the first-ever First Floor reader survey, which I’m hoping you’ll take a few minutes to complete. (It’s open to everyone.)
Participation is (obviously) optional, but the survey is relatively short, most of the questions are multiple choice and you can surely finish the whole thing in a lot less time than you’d normally spend reading one of the usual First Floor essays or interviews. More importantly, the information you provide will genuinely help me to make the newsletter even better moving forward.
That’s it for my spiel. Thanks in advance to everyone who takes the time to answer the survey, but even if you don’t, I appreciate you stopping by.
ANOTHER THING I WROTE
How do you store music files? An external hard drive? Dropbox? Google Drive? A private server? Cloud storage? In the streaming era, do you even bother to maintain a digital music library anymore?
File storage is one of those issues that impacts almost everyone in the music realm, and yet the topic rarely generates much discussion. That’s why I made it the focus of the third and final installment of Digital Blues: The Day-to-Day Challenges of Music Sharing—a feature series commissioned earlier this year by Byta, itself a platform devoted to “fast and secure audio sharing.”
Aside from some of my own thoughts and analysis, the article also includes input from people across the music industry, including artists like Dre Skull, Nina Las Vegas and Parris, journalists Philip Sherburne and Isabela Raygoza, radio programmer Miles Anzaldo (the current Music Director at KROQ in Los Angeles), publicist Terra Lopez, sound engineer Sam John (of Precise Mastering) and music supervisor Alison Moses.
The entire Digital Blues series—which also includes articles devoted to metadata and file sending—can be found online here.
A round-up of of the last week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to interviews, mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Late last week, Resident Advisor broke the news that Boiler Room was being acquired by DICE, a UK-based online ticketing platform. Happening just days after DICE announced that it had secured $122 million in funding, the sale can potentially be seen as a move to build upon the company’s foray into ticketed livestreaming, which has expanded significantly during the pandemic.
Few additional details were included in an official statement from DICE and Boiler Room—although a mention of the latter’s continuing drive to “pay all artists for broadcasting” certainly warrants additional questions—but Boiler Room founder Blaise Bellville will remain on the company’s board, and RA reports that its London office and staff will be retained.
DJ Mag has kicked off a new three-part feature series (written by Declan McGlynn) exploring how artificial intelligence could potentially (and maybe even radically) reshape music in the years to come. The first article is here, and includes thoughts from Holly Herndon, Mat Dryhurst, Cherie Hu, Michelle Escoffery (President of the PRS Members’ Council) and other luminaries.
Speaking of Cherie Hu, her latest Extended Play piece for Water & Music is another must-read, as she examines the overcrowded music NFT landscape and sees a lot of platforms and behavior that look like scams.
With her highly anticipated debut album dropping next month, Eris Drew has landed on the cover of the new issue of Crack, and the inimitable Chal Ravens has penned the accompanying feature.
If you haven’t yet got your hands on a copy of Ben Cardew’s new book, Daft Punk's Discovery: The Future Unfurled, the Barcelona-based writer has shared another extract (this time via The Quietus), telling the tale of the French duo’s collaboration with Todd Edwards on “Face to Face.” (Fun fact: Daft Punk literally traveled to New Jersey and visited Edwards at his parents’ house.)
The story of Tresor has been told many times, but with the iconic Berlin club / label currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, DJ Mag enlisted Holly Dicker to put together a feature that both revisits the history and brings the narrative fully up to date.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Parris will be soon be releasing his debut album. The London native, whose slow-brewing rhythms have previously appeared on labels like Hemlock, The Trilogy Tapes, Idle Hands and Wisdom Teeth, has titled the new LP Soaked in Indigo Moonlight, and it’s slated to arrive on November 19 via Can You Feel the Sun, the label he runs alongside Call Super. Ahead of that, pop-tinged first single “Skater’s World” (which features the vocals of Eden Samara) has been shared, along with the song’s instrumental.
Catalan duo Tarta Relena have completed their first full-length album. Entitled Fiat Lux, it’s described as a combination of “mysticism, vocal textures and electronic beats,” and will be jointly released on December 17 by The Indian Runners and La Castanya labels. In the meantime, opening track “El Suïcidi i el Cant” has already been made available, along with “Las Alamedas,” which was first shared a few months back.
Holy Other, one of the defining acts of the witch house era, last released an album in 2012, but the British artist will soon be making his return with a new LP, Lieve, which he’ll be releasing himself on November 19. Ahead of that, he’s shared the record’s title track.
Perila is never shy about releasing new music, and the Berlin-based Russian experimenter will soon be appearing on the Vaagner label with a new EP. 7.37/2.11 is billed as “an auditory journal chronicling the fluctuating states of vague ambiguity” faced by artists last year, and though it’s due to arrive on October 15, all six of its songs can already be heard here.
Madteo quietly released a new album on Honest Jon’s last week. Entitled Head Gone Wrong by Noise and characterized by the label as a collection of “visceral, elemental, electronic funk,” the LP is out now and can be heard here.
Phantom Kino Ballett was a sort of audio-visual / performance art project from Lena Willikens and Sarah Szczesny, and now some of the duo’s mind-bending live performances—which included contributions from Viktoria Wehrmeister and Detlef Weinrich (a.k.a. Tolouse Low Trax) have been captured on an upcoming, limited-edition box set. Entitled Phantom Seance Ballett, it’s slated for a November 19 release on the Utter label, but all of the music can already be heard here.
Ibiza has been the subject of all sorts of mythologizing over the years, and while there’s no shortage of nostalgia (both real and imagined) for the White Island and its classic Balearic sound, it’s striking that very little Spanish dance music from the ’80s and ’90s gets much attention. Perhaps that will change when Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth-Pop, Boogie and House (1982-1992) is released on November 26 by the Soundway label. Assembled by Berlin-based Venezuelan collector Trujillo, the compilation highlights a diverse range of danceable gems, providing a more accurate snapshot of what actually got Spanish clubs moving back in the day.
Blueprint Records is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The UK techno outpost will be marking the occasion with a new compilation, Blueprint25, which was curated by label founder James Ruskin and brings together tracks from throughout the imprint’s history. Due to arrive on October 29, it includes tunes from Surgeon, Truncate, Sigha, Lakker, Oliver Ho and others, along with remixes by DVS1, Marcel Dettmann, Luke Slater and Robert Hood. The full tracklist is available (along with some audio previews) here.
After 10 years in business, Futureboogie Recordings is calling it quits, but not before the Bristol label releases one final compilation, 10². The 20-track collection features music from DJ Nature, Lauer, James Welsh and others, and is set to surface on November 5. (Audio previews can be found here in the meantime.) Once that’s done, Futureboogie co-founder Dave Harvey will continue prepping the launch of Small Victories, a new label he’ll be running alongside fellow Bristolian Ellie Stokes.
As much as I usually steer clear of “deluxe” and “special edition” reissues from major labels, the upcoming Popol Vuh box set, Acoustic & Ambient Spheres, does look like a pretty fantastic collection. Scheduled for release on November 26 through BMG, it contains four of the seminal German progressive rock / ambient group’s albums from the ’70s and ’80s: Seligpreisung, Agape-Agape, Coeur de Verre and Cobra Verde. (The latter two were of course soundtracks to Werner Herzog films.) As you might expect, the box set contains a few extra goodies, and ahead of its arrival next month, a brief video teaser has been shared.
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. 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.
Who is Iris? I have no idea. This new album Spea is described as “psychedelic folk compositions dedicated to a guitar from the Czech Republic,” whatever that means. The LP has 21 tracks on it, most of which are only a minute or two long, but I like this one—it sounds like a hypnotic desert chant.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes that came out during the past week or so. The ones in the ‘Big Three’ section are the songs I especially want to highlight (and therefore have longer write-ups), but the tracks in the ‘Best of the Rest’ section are also very much worth your time. In both sections, you can 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.
THE BIG THREE
One of Detroit’s brightest young talents, Huey Mnemonic has done something special on this swinging house flip of “Groove Thang,” a song first released in 1994 by Philadelphia R&B duo Zhané. The original was a soul-drenched, midtempo groover—and was actually co-written by Naughty by Nature—but in Mnemonic’s hands, the track becomes infectiously bouncy, whipping the vocals into a joyous froth while employing classic, New Jersey-style organ riffs. It’s a definite throwback (in more ways than one), but you’ll be hard pressed not to crack a smile when it comes on.
Space Ghost hails from Oakland, and his brilliant new Dance Planet LP is loaded with laid-back, West Coast grooves. Sparkling house music is at the core of his sound, but he also brings so much funk into the equation, dipping into genres like boogie, R&B and hip-hop. As the title implies, “Deep (Vibes Mix)” is one of the album’s more relaxed selections, its smooth piano and relaxed vibraphone melodies sounding like someone hired D Train to write a spa soundtrack back in 1985. “Emotional Healer (Back Room Mix)” has a bit more edge, and its beat definitely bares traces of early-’90s rap music, but the dreamy pianos and spaced-out, come-hither vocals also nod to the ethereal deep house productions of artists like Larry Heard.
Brett Naucke jokingly refers to his new Mirror Ensemble album as his “indie rock record,” mostly because the new LP departs (slightly) from the entirely synth-based compositions of his past outings, but also because it was made in collaboration with fellow Chicago musicians Natalie Chami (TALsounds) and Whitney Johnson (Matchess). In truth, the music never really approaches rock, but “Catch Your Breath” does revolve around Chami and Johnson’s beautifully intertwined vocals, which float skyward as Naucke slowly brings some droney synths into the fray, eventually allowing them to take over the track entirely. “Parallax” dials back the vocals, but it’s perhaps even more stunning, as its pristine melodies coalesce into a sort of shimmering sonic flotation tank. You’ll likely want to climb right in.
BEST OF THE REST
What if Jon Hopkins made happy music? It might sound something like “Ultraviolet,” the first new single from UK producer George FitzGerald since early 2018. Full of bright colors and surging melodies, this propulsive, IDM-meets-techno cut has also got enough heft and emotional drama to entrance the biggest of big rooms.
Grotty industrial noise meets bassy digital dancehall (with a hard-slapping drum & bass kicker) on “Metal Gear Chronicles,” a crunchy highlight of Xtreme Ratio, the latest EP from Italian artist Nothus.
This one could have been called “Bells Galore,” because this 11-minute marathon—which happens to be the B-side of Levon Vincent’s new We Will All Dance Together Again 12”—is a stripped-down affair with minimal drums, some thick, fuzzy bass and a whole lot of bells. Yes it’s simple, but it’s undoubtedly effective too.
The title of this track may not sound particularly appealing, but the song itself—a glistening bit of lo-fi, new age-flavored exploration off the new Sphere cassette from South Korean outfit Salamanda—is delightfully wondrous, giving rise to a playful, almost childlike atmosphere.
Filtering Gaelic, Irish and English folk samples through the prism of modern club music sounds like a potentially disastrous idea, but Scottish producer Proc Fiskal successfully squeezes new life out of these traditional genres on his new Siren Spine Sysex LP. “Leith Tornn Carnal” cooly bumps atop a stuttering, IDM-meets-reggaeton beat, but it’s the song’s twisted vocal melodies that steal the show, sounding like remnants of an Enya track that someone has sliced to pieces and haphazardly pieced back together again.
The continuation of a “deep space ambient” collaboration that began with the Dimensional Space album just a few months back, producers ASC and Inhmost—both of who sport deep ties to the world of drum & bass—are back with an even more epic follow-up, The Moons of Saturn. “Sunrise on Titan” is a slow-brewing, meditative track that unfurls over the course of nine-plus minutes, and while the music itself is deeply restrained, the song nonetheless inspires a towering sense of awe, the kind of feeling you’d likely get if you really were taking in the sights on the surface of another planet.
Have we now reached a point where “tech house” is no longer automatically assumed to be a pejorative? I’m not quite certain, but when I describe “These Are the Moments (For Zmini)”—a standout from German artist Damiano von Erckert’s Space, Diversity, No Limits EP—as quality tech house, it’s certainly not meant as an insult. Balancing dreamy pads and faded ’90s nostalgia (i.e. canned saxophone and a filtered diva vocal) against a robust low end, this driving number can reliably get a few fists pumping without entering the bro zone.
With only a handful of releases under his belt, Jakob Mäder is likely still finding his voice as a producer, but “Sun Will Rise,” the neon-streaked opening track from his new Some Time EP, wisely cribs a few notes from fellow German artist Lauer, infusing what’s effectively an ’80s synth-pop instrumental with a sturdy kick and just a hint of bubbling acid.
First released in 1992, Sublunar Oracles—the debut LP from Belgian duo Trans-4M—was largely an exercise in floaty psychedelic drift, but the record was quickly followed by the Dencity 12”, which transformed the dreamy album cut into something more suitable for the dancefloor. Those versions have now been revived on the Sublunar Oracles Remixes EP—a new reissue from Young Marco’s Safe Trip label, which also reissued the Sublunar Oracles album back in 2019—and while this “Club Mix” is very much of its time, its spacey grooves and ebullient piano stabs are joyous all the same.
LA-based Texan Wheez-ie has populated his genre-melding new Horizons EP with rampaging dancefloor smashers, but the techno-leaning “Anon,” with its snarling acid lines and comically ominous voiceover, is the only one that sounds like a long-lost selection from the Blade soundtrack.
Speaking of vintage soundtracks, UK artist Kit Grill must have been watching John Hughes films on a loop during lockdown, as he’s filled his new Fragile LP with elegant synth-pop that brings back memories of ’80s groups like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Book of Love. Granted, Kit Grill’s songs are instrumentals, which keeps the melodrama in check, but there’s still a lot of emotion in the twirling grandeur of a track like “Duet.”
Liminal Soul is Kedr Livanskiy’s most vocal-centric album to date, and on “Teardrop (Слеза),” the Moscow artist almost sounds like an updated take on Saint Etienne, her dreamy voice fluttering amongst the song’s swirling textures and sneakily danceable beat. The whole thing in drenched in profound melancholy—she’s Russian, after all—but being sad on the dancefloor rarely feels this good.
Although she’s by no means a pure pop act, Tirzah also doesn’t necessarily seem like the kind of artist who usually shows up in the newsletter. That said, given that the London artist’s new album Colourgrade was produced alongside folks like Mica Levi and Coby Sey, I knew it would be worth a listen, and even dance music diehards will have a hard time denying the allure of an evocative, stripped-down slow jam like “Hive Mind.”
The new albums from Palmbomen II and Princess Century technically have nothing to do with each other, but they do a share a certain filmic sensibility. (In the case of the former, that’s completely intentional, as Make a Film compiles work that Palmbomen II originally composed for various film projects.) “Positive Sketch 03” pulls from new age, its reverb-laden vibraphone (xylophone?) melodies delicately chiming amidst the song’s hazy atmosphere. “s u r r e n d e r,” the title track of Toronto artist Princess Century’s new LP, is a bit cleaner, but its dreamy aesthetic pulls from a similar sort of analog, ’80s-indebted sound palette, conjuring images of coiffed heartthrobs moodily cruising through the night behind the wheel of a sports car, pondering life’s twists and turns.
When Mosca first launched his Rent imprint last year, I interviewed him for First Floor, and he mentioned that he was in search of “wow” beats—a term he cooked up for club music that defies genre norms and generally “blows the top of your head off.” With “The Whole Place Was Crawling,” it seems like Mosca has made a “wow” beat of his own. The sharp-edged cut vaguely resembles grime, but it ultimately exists on its own planet, its synths and old-school video game sounds constantly ducking and weaving as Mosca fires off a procession of bass bombs.
Need some new techno slammers in your life? These should do the trick. “First Phase” is a new single celebrating 10 years of Truncate’s eponymous label, and the track’s barreling brawn has been turned up to 11 on this remix from Planetary Assault Systems (a.k.a. Luke Slater). “Pacman” has a bit more sci-fi bleep in its DNA, but the song—a highlight from Matrixxman and Setaoc Mass’ new collaborative EP, The Return—is no less of a bruiser, its kick drums hitting like a heavyweight boxer as the synths gradually ramp up towards ravey mayhem.
With tracks from Jamal Dixon, Kareem Ali, Soso Tharpa, Adam Pits, Nídia and others, there’s no shortage of talent on the new SHOUTS 2021 compilation, but Egyptian producer Hassan Abou Alam has definitely managed to stand out with “Hella Mega Drive,” an off-kilter breakbeat cut with a frisky synth melody and some notably lively—not to mention impressively organic-sounding—drums.
Tim Reaper is already one of the top talents in drum & bass, but the genius of his Meeting of the Minds EP series is that he gets to pair up with an array of similarly excellent artists, from grizzled veterans to fresh-faced newcomers. (Both of the tracks highlighted here were from Meeting of the Minds Vol. 7, and Vol. 8 also dropped last week.) Sully’s greatness has been touted countless times here in the newsletter, and “Windswept” infuses the song’s ferverish percussion with a jubilant, dubby bounce. The Eusebeia collab “Togetherness” is even more upfront, but it’s also a bit more pensive and soulful, its melodies gleaming like moonlight on the surface of a woodland pond.
There’s no “right” way to celebrate a 30-year legacy as one of techno’s most important institutions, but Tresor absolutely deserves some credit for not indulging in what could have easily been a strictly nostalgic exercise. The sprawling new Tresor 30 compilation does highlight many of the labels heroes of old (e.g. Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Blake Baxter, Surgeon and others too numerous to list), but it also looks to the future, pulling in tracks from a litany of up-and-coming producers, some of which only have a handful of tunes to their name. It’s a radical contrast, but Tresor 30 still works, and as thrilling as it is to hear Anthony Shakir’s “Madmen”—a paranoia-tinged drum workout from 1997—songs like “Splash,” a warbling, bass-heavy tune from fast-rising Zambian artist SHE Spells Doom, make it clear that techno is still in very good hands.
That’s it for today’s newsletter. As always, thank you so much for reading First Floor, and I do hope you enjoyed the tunes. (Don’t forget, you can find them all on this handy Buy Music Club list, and if you like them, please buy them.)
Back in two weeks,