First Floor #133 – House Music Isn't "Back"
a.k.a. Thoughts on Beyoncé and Drake's sudden interest in the genre, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a big batch of new track recommendations.
A QUICK SCHEDULING NOTE
During the months of July and August, I’ll be taking a few short breaks from my usual publishing schedule and (hopefully) spending some time away from my laptop. These breaks will always be announced in advance, and the first one is happening next week.
That said, First Floor will return in two weeks on Thursday, July 14.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
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BEYONCÉ AND DRAKE AREN’T REVIVING ANYTHING
Ever since Drake released his Honestly, Nevermind album and Beyoncé followed it up with new single “Break My Soul,” the internet has been alight with talk of house music. With two of the biggest pop artists in the world actively referencing one of dance music’s foundational styles, the music press—especially the sectors of it which usually ignore electronic music altogether—have been tripping over themselves to declare that house music was “back,” and that Drake and Beyoncé were “reviving” it.
Even worse, some folks within the dance music world (i.e. people who know that house music is alive and well, and certainly wasn’t in need of resurrection) have attempted to put a positive spin on things, claiming that mainstream attention might eventually lead to opportunities (and money) for “real” house music artists.
It’s a nice thought, albeit one that feels a lot more like wishful thinking than a scenario that lines up with what actually happens when major labels—and the pop mainstream in general—rub up against musical subcultures. In combination with all the ahistorical “house music is back” narratives floating around, the current discourse is in dire need of a course correction, which is why I dove into the topic in an article earlier this week.
That piece is now open to everyone, and can be read in full 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.
Deep Voices is a newsletter / playlist series from music writer (and former Pitchfork / FADER editor) Matthew Schnipper, and his latest edition, in which he talks about his relationship with Brian Piñeyro (a.k.a. DJ Python) and also expounds on the lingering grief he’s experiencing following the death of his infant son late last year, is an incredibly moving, heartfelt piece of writing.
Resident Advisor declared June to be “technology month,” and has spent the past several weeks publishing features examining the intersection of tech and electronic music. Two of the best pieces surfaced earlier this week: Nyshka Chandran’s survey of music-focused decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and their efforts to reform nightlife / festival curation, and Declan McGlynn’s look at the slow rise of cloud DJing, and how it could potentially reshape the entire dance music industry.
Product updates from tech platforms are rarely all that interesting, but earlier this week Mixcloud announced that users of its free tier will finally be able to seek backwards (i.e. rewind) while listening to mixes, radio shows or anything else that one might find in their interface. It’s a small change, but albeit one that will markedly improve the average user experience, especially for all the online trainspotters out there.
In other tech news, Nina—an independently run (and independently minded) protocol that enables artists to sell NFTs while steering clear of feverish speculation and many other cringe-inducing aspects of Web3—was profiled by writer Geeta Dayal in a new article for Outland. The piece capped a busy week for Nina, as they just formally launched hubs, which are described as “Nina-powered pages that allow anyone to make collections of releases, publish new releases, write about releases, and invite collaborators to do the same.”
Many interviews with Tresor founder Dimitri Hegemann are yawn-inducing affairs in which he’s asked to recount the legendary Berlin club’s origin story for the millionth time. This Michael Leuffen article, however, which was originally published in Carhartt’s WIP magazine and has now been re-published by The Face, refreshingly follows a different path, inquiring about Hegemann’s more recent efforts to cultivate and maintain subcultures outside of major city centers, along with his attempts (both past and ongoing) to support the techno community in Detroit.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Hudson Mohawke has a new album on the way. Cry Sugar, an LP billed as his “first work deeply informed by apocalyptic film scores and soundtracks by everyone from the late Vangelis to the goofy major-chord pomp of ’90s John Williams,” will be released on August 12 via Warp. In the meantime, he’s shared a first single, “Bicstan,” along with an eye-popping “Cry Sugar (Megamix)” video that splices clips of various tracks from the album.
To mark the 20th anniversary of James Stinson’s death, the Tresor label has announced a special reissue series of all the Drexciya (and Drexciya-related) material in its catalog. All of the releases will include new artwork by Detroit artist Mathew Angelo Harrison, and the series will kick off on September 2 with the Neptune’s Lair album. According to Resident Advisor, the subsequent releases will be:
the "Hydro Doorways" single, followed by the 2002 album, Harnessed the Storm, and 2001's Digital Tsunami EP. In February 2023, Tresor will re-release Stinson's solo LP as Transllusion, The Opening of the Cerebral Gate, as well as as the 12-inch, "Mind Over Positive and Negative Dimensional Matter." The series concludes in March 2023 with The Cosmic Memoirs of the Late Great Rupert J. Rosinthrope, an album made under Stinson's other alias, Shifted Phases.
Fresh off the release of his recent (and decidedly soundtracky) Silent Cities album, Levon Vincent has returned to the dancefloor with two new singles, “Concrete Jungle Tracks 1” and “Concrete Jungle 2.” Both songs are out now via his Novel Sound label.
MoMA Ready dropped a new full-length this week from his Gallery S alias. Entitled No Future for Cowardice, it’s available via the NYC producer’s own HAUS of ALTR label.
Throughout his career, Anthony Naples has almost always released music via his own labels, but he’s just announced a new EP, Swerve, that will be his debut on Gerd Janson’s esteemed Running Back imprint. The record is slated to arrive on July 22, but the title track has already been shared.
Months of touring have given Bicep the opportunity to rework some of the less overtly clubby material from their 2021 Isles album, prompting the UK duo to issue “Meli (II)”—a beefed-up version of the beatless “Meli (I)”—as a single this week. It’s available now via Ninja Tune.
Dance System (the UK producer formerly known as L-Vis 1990) kicked off the System Summer Series last week. Designed to showcase both new talent and friends of his System Records label, the project will unveil and release one single per week from now through September 1, at which time all of the tracks will be bundled into a System Summer Series compilation. The first single, Jamie Unknown’s “The Drumz,” is available now, and the second, Kristin Velvet’s “Beats on the Rocks,” just dropped today.
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
Written by the exceedingly eloquent Thea Ballard, the promotional text for Félicia Atkinson’s new Image Language album describes the LP far better (and more poetically) than I ever could, but one line in particular is worth repeating here: “Image Language is built from instruments recorded as if field recordings.”
It’s a simple descriptor, albeit one that perfectly captures the music’s inherent calm. A song like “La Brume” is ambient, yes, but it’s not a Balearic facsimile or an imagined spa soundtrack. It simply exists, its wandering saxophones—which have been bathed in pillowy (yet unobtrusive) reverb—cooly gliding along with all the urgency of clouds floating toward the horizon on windless afternoon. Perhaps a bit of melancholy is expelled along the way, but the overriding feeling is one of natural elegance and quiet beauty.
Even more meditative is “The Lake Is Speaking,” a more drawn-out composition that folds ASMR-like whispers into its lush organ drones. The effect is hypnotic, and much like the rest of the LP, the song never feels overworked, let alone overproduced, as Atkinson masterfully keeps things sparse without ever allowing the track to feel empty. The French avant-garde veteran has always done fantastic work, but Image Language is right up there with her best stuff.
There’s a certain rigidity to Fleeting Future, though the debut album from Akusmi never feels stuffy. If anything, there’s a kind of formality to the music, its orchestral pomp likely a byproduct of the London-based Frenchman’s scoring work for a variety of films and brands. The LP’s title track, which opens with a string of jaunty saxophone notes, strongly evokes minimal icon Steve Reich, but as the song blossoms into a more robust—and undeniably rousing—composition, it takes on a more ebullient character, its assortment of strings and woodwinds blasting good cheer to anyone within earshot. “Concrescence” has similarly bubbly spirit, though its sound palette is notably different, borrowing from gamelan music. One Akusmi’s passions, he’s sprinkled bits of the traditional Indonesian genre throughout the album, and on “Concrescence,” its distinctive chimes blend quite naturally with his percolating electronics and exuberant horns. What results is downright joyous, and prompts questions as to why classically trained artists don’t let loose a little more often.
Clocking in at 19 tracks, the new TARAXIA compilation might initially seem overwhelming, but its contents—the release was literally envisioned by the GODDEZZ label as a “project of tranquility”—will quickly calm even the most frayed of nerves. Moving trough various strains of downtempo and ambient, the record includes contributions from artists like Oliver Coates, Salamanda, SHE Spells Doom and Eluize, and while it’s difficult to select favorites, Stacie-Anne Churchman—a UK producer who also refers to herself as a “sleep recovery specialist”—hits paydirt with “Sarang,” an ethereal new age chugger with just enough softly glowing neon to give the song a mild Fern Gully aesthetic. “Pan Dreams”—a track from GODDEZZ co-founder portara0000—closes out the compilation by shifting into full lullaby mode, its pastel drift and pitch-shifted (albeit very childlike) vocal clips carving out a space that feels warm, welcoming and completely isolated from the insanity of the outside world.
BEST OF THE REST
It’s not often that Shed drops new music from his Wax alias these days, but whenever it does happen, the results are reliably sublime. As the title implies, “80008A” is the lead track on the latest Wax 12”, and it’s an ultra-chilled, deliciously dubby piece of piano-flecked house music.
Belgian prog maestro / new beat revivalist Locked Groove and bass / techno / ambient experimenter Gacha Bakradze aren’t the likeliest of collaborators, but after linking up online during the pandemic, they cooked up 3 Variations Sur Un Thème, an EP that reaches a sparkly high point on “Variation 3,” a bouncy retro-rave cut derived from Bakradze’s (slightly) more taut “Pretend.” The latter can be found on the excellent new Spit EP, on which the Georgian producer compiles three solo versions of the tracks from 3 Variations Sur Un Thème.
Bristol has long had a knack for connecting the dots between different branches of soundsystem culture, and “Console”—the title track of Pluralist’s new EP—beautifully bridges the gap between reggaeton and UK bass music, its clattering rhythms and seductive vocal hook sure to please fans of Livity Sound and Bad Bunny alike.
Neu! originally called its quits in 1975, but if the pioneering krautrock duo had pushed through to the 1980s—in fairness, they did reunite briefly in 1985—they might have come up with something like “Black Forest.” The track—a standout from Ametrom’s new Club Balkan album—is built atop a familiar motorik groove, but the Romanian producer freshens up the formula by adding in a hint of new-wave glamour.
The new Unlocked EP is billed as a collection of “UK-centric broken-beat club tools,” and while that speaks to the stripped-down nature of Herman’s percussion-driven productions, “Gevangen” makes clear that more often than not, a good track doesn’t need much more than some big drums and a little crunch to wreak havoc on the dancefloor.
If the heavy metal aesthetic of the Grim Reaper EP’s cover art doesn’t make it clear enough, Bredren aren’t interested in playing nice. With its tweaky synths and wobble-bass rumble, “Trench” is dripping with dread, but it’s no slog, as the Belgian trio have built the track atop a lively rhythm that’s reminiscent of jump-up jungle.
Kicking off a new collaboration series, Berlin’s Denise Rabe joins forces with Mexico City producer Ricardo Garduno on the Capricorn EP, a three-track offering of dark and driving hypnotic techno. The record’s high point is “Delicate Demeanor,” an unnerving and relentlessly barreling tune that nonetheless maintains an air of psychedelia, even as it tunnels into the unlit corners of the subconscious.
An English producer best known for his contributions to the Nyege Nyege-affiliated group Nihiloxica, pq impressively steps out on his own on the new proprioception cassette, his wiggly IDM sensibilities shining brightest on “miniluv,” a heady, not-quite-club track adorned with gleaming synths, smudgy melodies and busted (albeit bumping) rhythms.
Of all the cities in the world, it was Melbourne that spent the most time locked down during the pandemic, and Australian producer Sig Nu Gris spent that time making her new album Threshold. Occupying a hybrid space while incorporating bits of rave, IDM and ambient, the record has an undeniable “bouncing off the walls and going a little crazy” vibe, a quality best exemplified by the hyperactive breakbeats and whirling sound design of crazed LP standout “Chanced Overarch.”
In the overcrowded world of UK bass, originality can be hard to come by, but there’s honestly nothing that sounds quite like Wordcolour’s new The trees were buzzing, and the grass. album. With its bright synths, stop-and-start rhythms and often bizarre vocal clips, it’s closer to a vintage art film than a collection of club tunes, yet that weirdness does nothing to detract from the effervescent joy of a song like “Cloud Room.”
The spirit of ’90s trance and progressive house is alive and well in clubland, but mysterious duo The Palmer Initiative keep it tasteful on “Time Spiral,” the closing track of their new Glastonbury Grove EP. A driving cut armed with space-age synths and floaty melodic accoutrement, it’s clearly been made with big emotions in mind, and hits its target without resorting to goofy, hands-in-the-air breakdowns.
Although most of Wata Igarashi’s initial offerings on his WIP imprint have trended toward ambient, now that the Japanese artist is back on the road, he’s using the outpost to let loose some of his techno creations. The slow-burning “Voyage” can be found on the new WIP07 EP, and its whooshing sonics make clear that cinematic grandeur doesn’t require battering dancers with a hard-charging kick drum.
A product of Chicago, Aguila pays tribute to the city’s deep house traditions on “Morning Slide,” the groovy, low-slung opener of the new Loft Traxx EP. That said, the song’s bubbly vocal chops do lend the hazy tune a slightly more modern bent, giving rise to something that sounds like Mr. Fingers doing a record for Fade to Mind.
Plenty of electronic artists have taken cues from gamelan music over the years, but NYC producer Zemi17 has gone a step further with his gamelatron project, for which he creates automated, “sound-producing kinetic sculptures.” His new album, Gamelatron Bidadari, chronicles sounds created by a specific four-sculpture installation that was first exhibited at the Smithsonian, and the glistening chimes and gongs of LP highlight “The Ring Is Saturn” demonstrate just how entrancing his work can be.
Ilian Tape easily could have just kept churning out broken bass-techno hybrids, but the Munich outpost has admirably sought to continue breaking new ground, especially with its Ilian Beat Series. The latest installment is Fields of Mist’s Illuminated60, a record whose woozy, West Coast grooves are best encapsulated by the smeared melodies and dreamlike saunter of the perfectly titled “Ocean Wave.”
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.)
Back in two weeks,
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.