First Floor #132 – The Cover of What?
a.k.a. The unusual rise of digital cover stories, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a hefty batch of new track recommendations.
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THE INHERENT ODDITY OF THE DIGITAL COVER STORY
Last week, Resident Advisor published its first-ever cover story, and while the content wasn’t all that different than the artist features the site has been running for the past two decades, the piece was promoted as though it represented some kind of major paradigm shift in RA’s content offerings. (The article was literally given a catalog number and someone in the publication’s design department even mocked up a digital rendering of a magazine cover, which was then posted on RA’s Instagram and boosted via paid promotion into the feeds of presumably anyone who’d ever shown even the slightest interest in electronic music.)
Regardless of how one feels about Resident Advisor, there’s something weird about a publication that’s not only digital, but has always been digital, investing so much energy (not to mention money) into a “cover story.” The cover of what, exactly? A print magazine that never existed?
In fairness, RA isn’t alone in this. Pitchfork, Beatportal, Mixmag and a slew of other publications—many of them having nothing to do with music—have run digital cover stories in recent years, primarily in an effort to signal to potential readers that certain stories are “premium” pieces of content. However, given the dwindling footprint of physical media, particularly in more niche and youth-oriented cultural sectors, it does seem strange that the term “cover story”—which, at this point, is essentially an anachronism—is not just hanging around, but actually seems to be growing in prevalence.
What’s driving this phenomenon, and how much does it have to do with nostalgia? Furthermore, what does it say about the current state of media, especially within the world of electronic music? Earlier this week I put together some thoughts on the matter, and that article is now available for everyone to read.
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.
With both the new Drake album and the latest Beyoncé single borrowing from house music, the “discourse” (and I use that term very loosely) around these releases has been pretty dreadful, as has much of the press coverage. In a better world, anyone who had to google the words “amapiano” or “Jersey club” during the past week would be barred from reviewing these records (let alone writing a think piece about them), but alas, the internet is instead awash in pop, hip-hop and celebrity journalists suddenly pretending to have a deep knowledge of dance music. That said, writer Lawrence Burney—a Baltimore native who’s repeatedly worked to connect the dots between Black regional sounds on both sides of the Atlantic—did put together a helpful, knowledge-based guide for Vulture that breaks down many of the regional club sounds (and anthems) that likely influenced Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind LP.
Following a protracted legal dispute with his former label Domino, Four Tet announced this week that the company had agreed to recognize his claim and pay him a 50% royalty rate on streams and downloads of his music that remains in their catalog. (Domino was previously paying only 18%.) Though the label still refuses to sell him back his masters, the settlement noentheless represents a significant win for the UK producer, and could potentially set a legal precedent for other artists who’ve been locked into unfavorable contract terms—especially when said contracts are indefinite. (For what it’s worth, Domino has already said that it won’t be a precedent, stating that “neither the Courts, nor the settlement terms, have made any determination as to how streaming should be categorized or streaming income split.”)
Patrick Adams, a legendary disco, soul, funk and house producer, has passed away at the age of 72. Though the Harlem native never became a household name, his impact on ’70s and ’80s dancefloors is immeasurable, and this Red Bull Music Academy article from 2017 hits on many of the high points of his illustrious career.
Journalist Annabel Ross—who previously penned two investigative articles highlighting sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations against techno icon Derrick May—self-published a new piece stating that an ultimatum from Carl Craig had prevented her from reviewing this year’s Movement festival in Detroit. She attended anyways, and the article more disturbingly goes on to detail how both Craig and fellow Motor City artist Omar-S took to Instagram that weekend to belittle her in a show of solidarity with May.
In his Penny Fractions newsletter, David Turner has published the second chapter of his two-part dive into streaming. Focusing on the present (and recent past), the piece lays out a case for why, despite the emergence of some very loud pushback during the last few years, streaming is likely here to stay.
As reported in DJ Mag, Mixmag and a few other places, the vinyl market—which is already plagued with high costs and severe production delays—is about to get hit with another unexpected hardship: increased shipping costs, at least for records coming from Germany. DHL has announced that it will soon raise German rates for vinyl packages to as high as €19.98 for a single record, a huge jump from current prices, which sit around €5 for two pieces of vinyl. Considering the size of the German music industry—and its electronic music industry in particular—this increase could have a devastating global effect, which is why an online petition has been launched asking DHL to reconsider.
Ron Trent—who’s about to release the new What do the stars say to you LP under his WARM alias—is a legitimate Chicago house legend, and he’s also someone who hasn’t spoken to the press very often over the course of his 30-year career. As such, this new extended interview he’s done with Andrew Parks for Bandcamp Daily is something of a special event.
Scuba has a weekly podcast. The Hotflush founder kicked off the cleverly titled Not a Diving Podcast back in January, and the show has so far featured long-form conversations with Jacques Greene, A Guy Called Gerald, Surgeon, Machinedrum and a slew of other artists. Earlier this month, Scuba answered some questions about the podcast—and shared some thoughts about the current state of music journalism—in an interview conducted by boutique publisher Velocity Press.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Objekt self-released a surprise new EP yesterday. Entitled Objekt #5, it’s his first new offering since 2018, and the two-track outing, which tackles what he calls "the slow banger," is available now digitally via Bandcamp. A vinyl version will follow later in the year.
Continuing what’s been an exceedingly busy year, Lucrecia Dalt has announced the forthcoming release of a new album, ¡Ay!, which she says “channels sensory echoes of growing up in Colombia.” The LP is due to arrive via RVNG Intl. on October 14, but opening track “No tiempo” has already been shared, as has the song’s accompanying video.
I. Jordan dropped a new two-track release earlier this week. Always Been / First Time Back is out now on Ninja Tune, and both songs can be heard here.
A longtime affiliate of AD 93, Coby Sey has once again teamed up with the label to release his forthcoming debut full-length. Conduit is due to arrive on September 9, and LP cut “Permeated Secrets” is available now.
UK funky standard bearer Roska has completed a new album, Peace, which will surface via his own Roska Kicks & Snares imprint on August 9. Per Resident Advisor, the LP will feature guest vocals from Serocee, Flowdan, Jamie George and several other artists, and first single “Do Me Wrong”—which features Aleisha Lee and Jammz—is available now.
Taking a cue from the dancehall playbook, Scratcha DVA has assembled a riddim pack in which nearly 20 different vocalists—including Trim, Manga Saint Hilaire, Roses Gabor, Durrty Goodz and several others—hop on a single beat that he made. The full Crash Riddim package is out now through his own DRMTRK label.
Tirzah’s Colourgrade was one of 2021’s most celebrated LPs, and now the UK avant-pop artist has assembled a full-length remix collection called Highgrade. Out now via Domino, it includes reworks of her material by Actress, Loraine James, Arca, FAUZIA and several other producers.
Flying Lotus offered up a new double single last week. Both “The Room” and “You Don’t Know” are collaborations via vocalist Devin Tracy, and they’re available now on Warp Records.
Nils Frahm has completed a new LP, Music for Animals, which apparently clocks in at more than three hours long. It won’t be released until September 23, but the Berlin producer and pianist—who will be issuing the record via his newly minted LEITER label—has already shared the first single, “Right Right Right.”
dBridge unexpectedly offered up a new LP this week, and it finds the UK bass mainstay exploring dronier territory than usual. M|E, which is out now on his own Exit label, is described as “an album of live, one take recordings” that was written “using varying hardware synths, samples and guitar pedals.”
New music from Slikback is always worth checking, and like all of the Kenyan artist’s other recent releases, the INTERSECT EP is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
Idle Hands is one of Bristol’s most beloved record shops, but its long-running label arm is about to call it quits, at least “for the time being.” The upcoming IDLE065—a compilation EP with new cuts from Bruce, K-LONE, Rhythmic Theory and Glances—is the final planned release, and should surface during the next few months. Ahead of that, audio clips can be heard here.
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
Of all the artist names Brian Piñeyro has tried on over the years—DJ Python being the most widely recognized—Luis is perhaps the most obscure of the NYC producer’s various monikers, having only been used for a handful of tracks (including a single EP, Dreamt Takes, which came out in 2016). As such, his decision to now revive the project on the new 057 (Schwyn) EP is curious, but irrespective of his timing and motivations, the record—which has been billed as a “reflective ode to his best friend”—contains some of Piñeyro’s best music to date.
Setting aside the “deep reggaeton” that defines much of his output as DJ Python, the production on 057 (Schwyn) still trends toward the ethereal and melodic, and EP opener “timmy chalamet”—a collaboration with Montrealer Lis Dalton—indulges in a bit of Boards of Canada worship, its blissed-out (but still a little spooky) synths intermingling with clips of laughing children. With its steady breakbeat, “jack anderson” offers a tad more energy, but the song is still pillow soft, its sliken pads and soft sway feeling more like a lullaby than a proper rave-up.
With a name like Chrizpy Chriz, it’s easy to imagine some kind of nu-metal revivalist or wobble-bass warrior—and in fact, he is someone who came up through the Bass Coast school of gut-rumbling electronic music—but the new Suffuse album makes clear that there is more to this Canadian artist than a desire to rattle skulls. Yes, the bass is heavy and does have a notable growl to it, but the LP actually plays like a hip-hop-flavored beat tape, albeit a notably rowdy one.
With its serrated low-end, “Straight Beat” is about as friendly as a junkyard dog, yet there’s some funk in its distorted swagger, a quality that’s dialed up even further on “He Who Speaks,” which takes its freaky vocal loop and stadium-level bass to a surprisingly cinematic place—as long as one’s definition of “cinematic” includes FX-filled action blockbusters. LP closer “Her Eyes,” on the other hand, offers Chriz a chance to showcase a more meditative side, taking a few cues from the 2010s beat scene and ultimately sounding like a grottier take on old Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing productions.
At this point, West Mineral Ltd. has effectively become a buy-on-sight label—at least for fans of textured (and somewhat haunted) ambient excursions—and while the bulk of the accolades still tend to be thrown in the direction of founder Huerco S., the artists (many of them fellow Kansans) whose music he’s releasing are exceedingly talented in their own right. Pontiac Streator is one such artist, and following a couple of collaborative outings with Ulla Straus, his breakthrough 2020 solo LP Triz and a trio of Select Works collections, he’s returned with arguably his most refined work to date: a new-full length called Sone Glo.
The album includes collaborations with the likes of Perila, Ben Bondy and Nikolay Kozlov, but Pontiac Streator goes it alone on “Picture in the Woods,” a tune that combines plush atmospheres, chattering IDM and a late-night ballad into something truly sublime. Whether it’s meant to communicate romantic zeal or heartbroken longing—or perhaps some combination of the two—isn’t exactly clear, but there’s nonetheless something comforting about the song, which retains its cocoon-like warmth, even amongst the percussive clattering of its off-kilter rhythms.
BEST OF THE REST
The music of Azu Tiwaline often has something of a spacey, psychedelic character, but on “Into the Void”—a standout cut from her new Vesta EP—the Tunisian artist glides properly into the cosmos, offering up a stripped-down slice of dub techno that recalls the warmly cavernous sounds of Rhythm & Sound and Basic Channel.
Following releases on 3024, Keysound, Shall Not Fade, Intergraded and a slew of other labels, UK bass chameleon Otik has kicked off his own Solar Body imprint with the new Psyops EP, a record highlighted by the mutant drum & bass of “Presence Ultra,” which pairs a laid-back, Photek-reminiscent rumble with washy textures and sparkling synths.
Manchester producer Tom Sharkett grew up playing in bands—and is still part of the group W.H. Lung—but his new Futuro EP is meant to be his first proper foray into club-focused sounds, and it opens with “Haste,” a synth-pop strutter that overlays its insistent stomp with swirly melodies and the seductive whispers of a mysterious chanteuse.
In many ways, “Marz”—a cut from the new Vagabond EP—is a standard-issue house roller, but Australian producer Jordan Brando takes it to another level with his bassline, a sludgy, fuzzed-out tone that’s controlled enough to not step on the song’s skippy percussion, yet also bruising enough to bully people into either busting a move or getting the hell out of the way.
UK producers Roska and Scuba both make their second appearance in today’s newsletter, though the former appears here under his Bakongo alias, which just dropped the new Iceberg EP. The percussive release is highlighted by the sidewinding rhythms of “Over Again,” a collab track which sits somewhere between UK funky and techno and somehow also finds time for a couple of breathy, piano-flecked breakdowns that sound like something off a dream pop record.
Though she was raised in Kansas City and now calls Brooklyn home, Sister Zo seemingly worships at the altar of UK bass—and labels like Hessle Audio and Timedance in particular—at least if her new Freak Shift EP is any indication. “Afraid to Make a Move” is an obvious high point, its herky-jerk percussive clatter imbued with manipulated (albeit still rave-ready) fragments of R&B smoothness.
Born in Italy and based in Ireland, Lerosa just released a genre-hopping LP called Catena that creatively utilizes acid in a myriad of different ways, and while it’s absolutely worth checking, it’s been upstaged by the Catena Remixes EP, and especially Donato Dozzy’s rework of “Suite de Paris,” which delivers a patiently bubbling trek through hazy, psychedelic techno.
Fun isn’t a word that’s often applied to the music of Pariah, but the techno-ish “Frogspawn”—a track from the UK producer’s new Caterpillar EP, his first solo outing since 2018—is positively lighthearted, its pastel melodies happily chiming away as the song’s bouncy rhythm brims with the energy of a five year old who’s been kept inside too long.
The closing track on Time Wharp’s new Spiro World album, “Delay I” is weightless and effervescent, its fluttering procession of marimba melodies hinting at genres like gamelan. Yet despite its frenzied pace, the song itself never feels harried or out of breath; it’s more majestic than anything, and hearing its lush tones unfold is akin to watching a massive flock of birds take flight and soar off into the horizon.
The first chapter of a forthcoming album trilogy, Lamin Fofana’s Ballad Air & Fire is a deeply conceptual ambient work that focuses on the influence of time, and the idea of slowness in particular. As such, “Unfinished Elegy” moves at its own deliberate pace, its warbling array of melodies—and lingering sense of sadness—always bathed in a soft layer of gently crackling static.
That’s all for today’s edition of First Floor. Thank you so much for reading the newsletter, 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.)
Have a good week,
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.