First Floor #127 – Talking Shop with One of the Best
a.k.a. An interview with Philip Sherburne, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
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PHILIP SHERBURNE LOVES TO WRITE ABOUT RECORDS
Music journalism isn’t a field that lends itself to longevity (especially nowadays), which makes someone like Philip Sherburne an increasingly rare commodity. For more than two decades, he’s been one of electronic music’s most reliable voices, and while other journalists of his vintage often leave the trenches behind, filing infrequently and decamping to senior editorial positions (if they don’t leave the industry altogether), Sherburne keeps on writing—mostly for Pitchfork, where he’s a Contributing Editor.
Aside from being one of the few music journalists that I (and undoubtedly many others) specifically make a point to read, Philip has gotten to where he is without being a firebrand, sticking to the music and largely steering clear whatever hot-button topics are lighting up Twitter on any given day. That’s impressive, and after 20-plus years of navigating the ups and downs of the industry, few people are better positioned to offer some perspective on what life as an electronic music journalist is really like.
Over the course of a long call last week, we traced back his career (and how his approach has changed over the years), but Sherburne also shared his thoughts on the current state of electronic music and provided some insights about the economic realities of modern-day music journalism. It was an illuminating conversation, and the full interview is now available to read 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.
Dunking on EDM artists isn’t my usual m.o., but this video of Steve Aoki throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game earlier this week is pretty amusing (in an “epic fail” sort of way). To his credit, the DJ (who’s more accustomed to throwing cakes) had the good sense to poke fun at himself after it happened.
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, numerous people have called upon Nina Kraviz—arguably one of Russia’s largest musical exports—to speak out against the war, but prior to this week, the star DJ had essentially stayed quiet on the issue, save for a single February post advocating for peace (which included no contextual details). Although Ukrainian artist Nastia—who admits that personal issues exist between her and Kraviz—has perhaps been the loudest critic, last week Clone Records boss Serge posted a statement explaining that the company had stopped distributing Kraviz’s трип (Trip) label due to her refusal to choose sides and speak out, and writer Andrew R. Chow also penned an article for TIME magazine digging further into the issue. In response, Kraviz published a statement of her own, and though it says that “it’s appalling what [her] country’s relationship with Ukraine has become” and that she’s “against all forms of violence,” it’s unlikely to appease her detractors, as the word “war” is not mentioned and no blame is assigned.
Miles Bowe is one of those music writers whose byline I’d like to see more often—his monthly Acid Test column is excellent—and he’s just written a survey of the Matmos catalog for Bandcamp Daily, running through the experimental Baltimore duo’s various albums in advance of their latest LP, Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer, which drops tomorrow.
The Wire magazine turns 40 this year, and writer Daniel Dylan Wray has put together a little retrospective for the Guardian, speaking to the seminal publication’s publisher Tony Harrington (and others) and tracking how it developed from a small, jazz-focused title to the wide-ranging, experimentally minded outpost it is today.
Writing for DJ Mag, Ria Hylton has put together a feature examining one question: “Should a DJ ever play a festival for free?” (A straightforward “no” might seem like the obvious answer, but for many years in electronic music, that often hasn’t been the case.)
DVS1’s Aslice service—which enables DJ to easily share a portion of their fees with the artists whose music they play—has been up and running publicly for nearly two months, and Attack Mag recently caught up with the dance music veteran for a wide-ranging interview about his new venture. The conversation (once again) lays out his vision for Aslice, but it also directly addresses many of the practical and philosophical questions that have arisen around the platform since its initial launch.
Ghostly International has long been one of electronic music’s most reliable outposts, but last week the company announced an expansion of sorts: the formation of its own label group. The official press release is here (and goes much deeper into the details), but the newly launched All Flowers Group builds on the “strategic partnership” Ghostly forged with Secretly back in 2020, as the group will sit under the Secretly umbrella, with Ghostly Founder/CEO Sam Valenti IV staying aboard as All Flowers’ Co-Founder, Co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer. The group’s roster will also include a freshly minted NYC imprint, drink sum wtr, which is said to be focused on “hip-hop, R&B and adjacent sounds.”
When it comes to tech, Web3 enthusiasts seem to have the market on utopian promises cornered at the moment, but writer Jake Colvin (who also makes rather good music as NKC) has written an intriguing article for Insert about the Fediverse, a growing (and similarly idealistic) tech movement that’s also rooted in ideas of decentralization, but is pursuing that goal without the use of blockchain technology. The piece specifically focuses on a decentralized audio platform called Funkwhale, and while it’s a dense read, it’s interesting to see solutions being proposed that don’t rely on crypto and financialization.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Two Shell have just today released a new single, “Pods,” via their own Mainframe Audio label, along with a video for the hyperactive tune. The anonymous UK duo have also set up an official website, and though it’s previously been used to tease upcoming offerings, the homepage is currently requesting a passcode to access whatever is inside.
Although Pariah first emerged during the early 2010’s as one of the breakout talents of the UK’s post-dubstep scene, he’s largely been quiet as a solo artist during the past decade. Aside from 2018’s Here from Where We Are LP, he’s mostly been focused (at least publicly) on Karenn, his long-running collaboration with Blawan, and the Voam label they run together. All that said, he’s soon be releasing a new Pariah EP, Caterpillar, which is set to arrive (via Voam) on June 17. Ahead of that, he’s shared the record’s title track.
New music from Andrés is always cause for celebration, and the Detroit mainstay has completed a new EP, Sunday Kinda Love, that’s set to be released on May 31 through the MotorCity Wine label. Two cuts from the record—the title track and “Don’t Make Me Wait”—have already been shared here.
Daniel Avery has a new full-length on the way. Ultra Truth will be released on November 4 via Mute and Phantasy Sound, and includes production assists from Manni Dee and Ghost Culture, along with guest vocals from HAAi, HTRK’s Jonnine Standish, AK Paul, Marie Davidson, Kelly Lee Owens, Sherelle and James Massiah. The London artist says the album “is
about looking directly into the darkness, not running away from it,” and he’s already shared the strobe-filled video for the LP’s first single, “Chaos Energy.”
Otik has appeared on some pretty great labels over the years—a partial list includes 3024, Keysound, Shall Not Fade, Nous and Dext—but now the UK bass producer is starting an imprint of his own, Solar Body. Kicking off the new platform—which for the time being will be solely dedicated to Otik’s own music—is a new EP called Psyops. It won’t be released until June 22, but one track, “Skylines,” is already available.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes from releases 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 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
With music from 23 different women—including Sofie Birch, Nailah Hunter, Clarice Jensen, Penelope Trappes and many others—Healing Together: A Compilation for Mental Health Recovery is not just a stellar collection of ambient music; it’s an early frontrunner for 2022’s best compilation. Past Inside the Present employee Cynthia Bernard (a.k.a. marine eyes) curated the benefit record—all proceeds will go to non-profit organization Sounds of Saving—and tasked the artists involved with creating a new track designed to “help someone with mental health struggles know they’re not alone.”
That shared objective has given rise to a compilation that’s both remarkably cohesive and sonically stunning, and though the highlights of Healing Together are honestly too numerous to list in full, Hollie Kenniff’s “Embers” and Karen Vogt’s “I Know It’s Hard” both encapsulate the record’s abundance of beauty, empathy and calm. With its warm pads and richly layered vocals, the former sounds like a more devotional take on Enya, while Vogt displays a genuine sense of vulnerability by putting her angelic voice front and center. On “Liu,” Zoe Polanski follows a slightly more whimsical path—one aided by her use of “a magical Japanese Nobara Koto synth”—but the message conveyed is ultimately one of tranquility, and it’s undeniably potent.
It’s just a coincidence that Philip Sherburne was interviewed here in the newsletter the same week that his Balmat label released Patricia Wolf’s sensational new See-Through LP. Nevertheless, the sophomore full-length from the Portland ambient artist (and former Soft Metals member) is a perfect example of why, less than a year into its run, the young imprint—which is co-run by Lapsus Records’ Albert Salinas—is already being showered with accolades.
That said, Wolf is the true talent here, and while her I'll Look For You in Others album—which dropped just a few months ago on Past Inside the Present—was mired in grief, this new record charts a somewhat brighter course. The pitchy melodies and orchestral bellows of “The Flâneur” recall the hopeful wonder of the iconic tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and while synths arguably play the largest role across the LP, “The Grotto” is one of a handful of tracks where Wolf picks up the guitar, which she proceeds to slather in reverb as she crafts a spacious sort of underwater blues. Both tracks are excellent, and headline an LP that should secure its creator a position in ambient music’s top tier.
Back in February, Francesca Heart debuted on Leaving with the dazzling single “L'Inno delle Oceanine alla Bellezza e alla Fortuna,” and now she’s followed up on that promise with a new full-length, Eurybia. The album’s title track opens the record and immediately sets the tone, its melodic chimes gently tumbling across the song’s tranquil expanse. It’s suitable for the spa, yes, but “Eurybia” offers much more depth than an afternoon of luxury pampering. Inspired by various Italian landscapes, the enchanting nature of Heart’s homeland shines through, the song’s plinking tones and delicate arpeggios hinting at new age as they evoke thoughts of warm ocean mist, verdant rolling hills and the lingering ghosts of ancient civilizations.
BEST OF THE REST
Although Peggy Gou remains one of dance music’s most polarizing figures, the curation of her Gudu label continues to impress. Fellow South Korean Mogwaa is the latest artist to join the roster, and “Cloudride,” which closes out his new From Above EP, is a dreamy, chime-filled cruiser with a boogie bassline and enough pastels to rival a California sunset.
Running Back is one of the few labels that still regularly includes “bonus beats” on its 12”s, but despite the tool-ish nature of cheekily titled “Bonuz Me,” the track is the standout of Berlin veteran’s Redshape’s new Release Me EP, layering ravey synths atop a bevy of barreling, Chicago house-style drums.
Electro comes in all shapes and sizes—and over the course of his lengthy career, English producer Scape One has tried his hand at nearly all of them—and “Uniform Conformity (Lipschitz Function),” a highlight of his new Distant Skyline EP, has something of a split personality. Initially feeling almost seasick, the song lazily sways to and fro for several minutes, but then it suddenly straightens up, casting its gaze skyward and basking in its own melodic euphoria.
With its hypnotic procession of chimes, “Wavelength in Vacuum” brings to mind Aleksi Perälä’s more ambient-leaning work, but the song—a high point of Baltimore artist Tarotplane’s new Light Self All Others album—has a more openly psychedelic feel, its melodies drifting through a warm fog of hovering drones and trippily echoing vocal clips. As dissociative listening experiences go, this one is particularly inviting.
Equations Collective “The Helicon Sessions (Lena Platonos x Yiorgos Konstantoulakis Reconstruction)” (99CHANTS)
Few voices are more evocative than that of Lena Platonos, and the Greek artist goes full sorceress on this rework of “The Helicon Sessions.” The original was recorded by a multi-disciplinary group of artists at a temporary outdoor studio on Greece’s Mount Helicon, but Platonos—with the help of Yiorgos Konstantoulakis (a.k.a. Aphelion), a member of Equations Collective—infuses the music with new magic, her spoken-word poetry gliding above the song’s wafting textures and meditative percussion.
Pillow-soft funk meets the serenity of nature on “A Clearing,” the title track of Alex Albrecht’s latest full-length. The Australian producer—who also makes music as Melquíades and is one half of the group Albrecht La'Brooy—luxuriates in seaside calm and quasi-Balearic grooves, the song’s deeply chilled (albeit steady) pulse enhanced by chirping bits of birdsong.
Marie Davidson officially left club music behind a few years ago, but she makes a brief return to the dancefloor on “Jesus Was an Alien,” the title track of German artist Perel’s latest LP. A dreamy (yet forceful) electro-pop cut that at times sounds like a space-age update of ABBA, the song exudes a certain celestial glamour, and Davidson—who alternates between French and English—definitely adds to that, even as she alternates between sharp-tongued talk-singing and alluringly belting it out.
Derealization is the first full-length from Uun, and being an effort rooted in feelings of anxiety, dread and unease, it often eschews melody in favor of darker, more mangled sounds. On “Liminal Space (Reprise),” synths are present, but they menacingly sweep across the track like a scythe, clearing the field for the Detroit producer’s percussive techno assault. It’s an unrelenting tune, yet there’s something cathartic about the pounding it provides.
Livity Sound, Ilian Tape, Timedance… most First Floor readers are likely already familiar with the top labels bridging the bass-techno divide, but if RFR Records continues its current hot streak, the Munich imprint will need to be added to the list. The latest release comes from crouds, and while the Berlin duo’s entire Bionic Jelly EP is impressive, “Shifting Space” is its most dynamic tune, its relentless drum attack and moody synths offering something like a haunted trip through the spanking machine.
It’s unclear whether “F17th” is meant to be a nod to Aphex Twin’s classic “Avril 14th,” but the influence of Richard D. James looms large over the track—and frankly, Z.I.P.P.O’s entire new Sense EP. Openly melancholy, the tune may be subdued, but it’s full of big emotions, its washy melodies and skittering percussion prompting thoughts of cloudy afternoons and junior-high breakups.
Nostalgia in dance music often prioritizes form over feeling, with contemporary artists openly cribbing from the tunes of yesteryear. UK producer Seb Wildblood (who actually lives in LA), however, understands that nostalgia is all about emotion, which is why “dream nocturnal”—a highlight of his new do you feel it too? album—ultimately feels more like a faded Polaroid than a carbon copy. The track exudes warmth, and while there are hints of ’90s drum & bass at work, it’s the song’s pastel melodies, dreamy vocal riff and sneaky pop sensibility that truly make it memorable.
That brings us to the end of today’s newsletter. Thank you so much for reading First Floor, and as always, I do hope that 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.)
Until next time,
Shawn Reynaldo is a freelance writer, editor, presenter and project manager. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter, or you can just drop him an email to get in touch about projects, collaborations or potential work opportunities.