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First Floor #135 – Welcome to Miami
a.k.a. An interview with Nick León, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
A QUICK SCHEDULING NOTE
Next week, I’ll be taking another quick summer break from the newsletter, but the normal First Floor publishing schedule will resume during the first week of August.
Paid subscribers will receive their next mailout on Tuesday, August 2, while everyone can expect the free edition of First Floor to arrive on Thursday, August 4.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Every Tuesday, First Floor publishes a long-form piece that’s exclusively made available to paid newsletter subscribers. A brief overview of the latest one is below, and its paywall has now been temporarily removed for the next 24 hours. If you’d like exclusive first access to future long-form pieces (and unlimited views of all newsletter content), then please sign up for a paid subscription.
IS MIAMI’S ELECTRONIC MUSIC SCENE ACTUALLY GOOD NOW? NICK LEÓN THINKS SO.
Miami has a rich electronic music history, and has given rise to all sorts of amazing disco, electro, freestyle, Miami bass and more over the years. In recent decades, however, the city’s nightlife has often been dominated by EDM bombast and high-gloss tech-house, with clubs that cater more to VIP lists and the bottle-service set than innovative sounds and artists. Within “serious” music circles—which admittedly have their own biases and shortcomings—Miami is rarely given much respect, and even when it is celebrated, it tends to be for its excess and ridiculousness, not its contemporary musical offerings.
All that said, things may be changing, especially as a new crop of homegrown artists—many of them utterly bored with tech house and instead taking cues from various Latin sounds—have begun to assert themselves within the city’s electronic music landscape. One such artist is Nick León, who’s both produced for Rosalía and dropped records of his own on labels like N.A.A.F.I, Future Times and TraTraTrax. Alongside a slew of likeminded DJs and musicians, he’s working to rewrite the Miami rulebook, and while he’s generally optimistic about the city’s future prospects, he’s also happy to discuss the good, bad and the ugly of its music scene.
Earlier this week, I published a lengthy interview with León, diving into both his own history and his views on Miami’s current trajectory. That piece—which includes the bold claim that the city is “objectively better than New York”—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.
Objekt, who recently offered up the Objekt #5 EP (his first new record in four years), spoke at length with writer Michael Lawson for Beatportal’s latest Cover Story feature. (And yes, digital cover stories are still a bizarre anachronism, but given that Objekt doesn’t grant interviews too often, this one is well worth a read.)
Rhyw, who also runs the Fever AM label with Mor Elian, has been featured in DJ Mag’s Recognise series. The talented Berlin shapeshifter delivers a new hour-long mix, and also talks with Eoin Murray about his musical evolution and forthcoming EP for Blawan and Pariah’s Voam label.
Speaking of shapeshifting producers, Doctor Jeep was tasked with putting together the latest installment of Mixmag’s In Session mix series, and the site also recruited writer Arielle Lana LeJarde to interview the NYC producer.
Listicles are usually a way for publications to score some easy (and low-budget) web traffic, but Resident Advisor’s latest feature, “A History of Chopped and Screwed in Ten Tracks,” wins major points for enlisting the help of writer (and Texas rap encyclopedia) Lance Scott Walker to help trace the roots of the iconic sound pioneered by DJ Screw. (The article also calls upon Houston producer Rabit, who details how the sound eventually filtered through experimental club music.)
Emeka Ogboh, who made an impressive debut with last year’s Beyond the Yellow Haze on Ostgut Ton offshoot A-Ton, is about to release a new album, prompting the Nigerian experimental artist to speak with Christine Kakaire for a new feature in Crack magazine.
DJ Mag published encouraging news that a new pressing plant called Matter of Fact has not only opened up in Germany, but has also pledged to not work with the majors, and will instead focus on small and independent labels, hopefully helping to ease the massive backlogs they face when it comes to pressing up new releases.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Fresh off the release of her split EP with TSVI and her debut full-length as Whatever the Weather, UK producer Loraine James has announced another new album. An homage to the late NYC composer Julius Eastman, the Building Something Beautiful for Me LP features reinterpretations, reimaginations and responses to his work, and will be released on October 7 via the Phantom Limb label. Ahead of that, she’s already shared the lead track, “Maybe If I (Stay on It).”
Relaxer is best known as a techno artist, but the NYC producer has offered up a new ambient cassette, Force Field: A Guide for the Perplexed, which he describes as “a haunting and introspective piece of worldbuilding and linguistic experimentalism.” Consisting of two long-form compositions—both of which can be heard here—it’s available now through the Club Night Club imprint.
Eden Samara isn’t yet a household name, but her voice is likely familiar to many electronic music fans, as it appeared last year on Loraine James’ “Running Like That” and Parris’ “Skater’s World.” Now the UK artist has signed to the Local Action label, which will be releasing her debut album later this year. In the meantime, they’ve offered up a first single, “Madonna,” along with an accompanying music video.
Moiré, a veteran of labels like Werk Discs, Ghostly International and Hypercolour, has announced a new album. Entitled Circuits, it’s billed as something that “billows into a liminal, cinematic zone,” and is due to arrive on September 2 via the Acid Test label. Before that, LP cut “Circuit 8” has been shared.
Swedish techno mainstay Skudge has completed a new LP, Soundworks, that will surface on September 9 through his own eponymous label. In the meantime, album track “Floating” can be streamed 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
Again? Wasn’t Madeleine Cocolas in the newsletter last week? Yes, yes she was. Today is actually the third time she’s appeared here in the past few months, and for good reason: the Australian artist has just released her beautiful new Spectral album, which is easily one of the year’s finest ambient full-lengths. (At least so far.) Built using sounds she collected around her own home, there’s a quiet intimacy to much of the LP, though its relative restraint shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of emotional weight. “Resonance” consists of little more than slowly struck piano, some field recordings, the lightest of pitter-pat percussion and a few layers of Cocolas’ own voice—which at times sounds like someone softly singing to themselves within the confines of their own home (or perhaps their own garden)—yet the song exudes an almost devotional quality, as if its tranquil tones were urging listeners to look skyward and calmly marvel at the wondrous nature of simply existing. It’s enough to make even the biggest grumps set aside their cynicism and breathe easy for a few minutes, and in this day and age, that’s no easy task.
On paper, Original Soundtrack sounds like a terrible idea. The latest album from the hyper-prolific ASC (who also makes music as Comit), it’s a noted departure from his past work—which has primarily focused on drum & bass, moody techno and even moodier experimental outings—that centers on the piano. True to its title, the record is overtly cinematic in nature, and while following such a course would likely lead most artists toward self-indulgent doom, ASC flourishes in his newly sumptuous environs. There’s a certain chilliness to LP standout “Fourth Act,” but there’s nothing harsh about its lush string passages, gently strummed guitar and ever-present haze of soft static, which vibrantly come together to create an atmosphere that’s less “alone and terrified in a blizzard” and more “cozying up by the fireplace in a winter cabin.”
Even in today’s wildly oversaturated reissue market, the Freedom to Spend label continues to distinguish itself, routinely unearthing obscure gems that are often new to even the nerdiest of diggers. American Rituals compiles the early ’80s output of Cheri Knight, a DIY musician who recorded the work while attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington as a music composition student. Hearing tracks like “Prime Numbers” and “Tips on Filmmaking,” it quickly becomes clear that while Knight was a precursor to what would become a wildly fertile Pacific Northwest music scene during the late ’80s and much of the ’90s (the eventual output of labels like K Records and Kill Rock Stars comes to mind), she was also making music that echoed her contemporaries, including minimalist post-punk acts like Young Marble Giants, Liliput, The Raincoats and others too numerous to list.
“Prime Numbers” in particular reflects Knight’s interest in the human voice, its multi-tracked deadpans working in tandem with the song’s funk-infused bassline to create an almost hypnotic effect. “Tips on Filmmaking” is a bit fuller, bringing marimba and drums into the mix, but the music is no less spellbinding, its chorus of vocal chants—which appear to be sung in a made-up language—adding to the song’s fantastical vibe. Both songs are excellent—as is, frankly, the entire release—and Knight clearly deserves wider recognition as an impressive figure of early post-punk.
BEST OF THE REST
This is quite possibly the happiest thing Alessandro Adriani has ever recorded. Originally from Italy, the Mannequin label founder has always had synth-pop running through his veins, but while most most of his music has trended toward the murkier corners of the genre, the glittering “Ecstatic Feeling”—which leads off the new Rapid Eye EP—feels like his Giorgio Moroder moment.
Sounding like something that would have popped up in an old Nguzunguzu mix, Sines’ “Say Nothing Riddim” is a floaty bit of R&B-infused, semi-ambient dancehall. Foregoing percussive punch while allowing a bouncy (albeit low-key) bassline to lead the way, the song is a highlight of the Texas producer’s new All Things Heal EP, which also features a separate version of “Say Nothing” remixed by Florentino & DJ Python.
How big is Nigeria’s freebeat genre? I honestly have no idea. That said, the ongoing CRUISE! EP series from UK outpost MOVES has presented some pretty exciting sounds, most of them apparently made by teenage producers explicitly in hopes that people will start dancing to their tunes on TikTok. CRUISE! 2 dropped last week, and “Tunex Bee Beat” perfectly captures the music’s lively spirit, its bubbly synth tones—which sound like something that could have come out of an ancient cell phone—and repeated whistles creating a joyous, carnival-like atmosphere.
A high-energy tune taken from the spritely new MTY-TERRE “Contre tout, toutes et tous, la terre demeure” compilation, Tahl’s “Kuvira Kombat” is a candy-colored slice of fleet-footed techno, though its angelic vocal chops do make it sound (in a good way) a bit like Zora Jones trying her hand at Y2K-era Eurotrance. Add in some exceedingly wiggly synth squiggles, and this is one that’s destined to soundtrack a few journeys into the late-night rave abyss.
Like most Kode9 releases, the new Escapology LP is a dense, conceptual effort. Billed as the soundtrack to his larger “sonic fiction” Astro-Darien, it’s rooted in ideas of space colonization and the impending breakup of the UK, but it also weaves together (occasionally harsh) sound design with numerous strains of bass music. Album standout “Lagrange Point” is something like an abstract jungle tune, albeit a sneakily banging one populated by a cybernetic narrator, creaky synths that sound a bit like mewling cats and elastic basslines that vibrate like plucked rubber bands.
Psychedelic drift has long been M. Geddes Gengras’ bread and butter, but on the warmly inviting “A Rhythmic Stillness As Root Had I”—a highlight of his new Expressed, I Noticed Silence album—the skilled synthesist is essentially operating in new age territory, his shimmering melodies cozily swaddled in woozy cosmic swirls and blissful chimes.
Working with family can be a risky proposition, but it seems to work just fine for Thomas Ragsdale, who’s teamed up with his stepfather Richard Arnold for the second time on the new Chasing Waves EP. A follow-up to their Transformations I album from earlier this year, the new record once again plunges into slow-burning, guitar-flecked ambient, its expansive title track peacefully gliding through nine-and-a-half minutes of soft drones and simmering tranquility.
The fate of physical artifacts taken from colonized lands and peoples has been the source of endless debate, but what about immaterial artifacts? On Temporary Stored, a new work KMRU is currently offering as a name-your-price release on Bandcamp, the Kenyan producer openly ponders that question, pulling from the sound archive of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium to create meditative gems like “MR2.” A stirringly tense composition, it blends digital dirge with snippets of dramatic vocalizations and what sounds like the incessant scraping of a shovel plunging into the earth, unearthing (a frankly ugly) history in the process.
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.)
See you in August,
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.