First Floor #136 – Disco, House, Queerness and Double Entendre
a.k.a. An interview with The Soft Pink Truth, plus a round-up of recent electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
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THE SOFT PINK TRUTH FINDS HIS WAY BACK TO THE DANCEFLOOR
After taking last week off, there was a lot to catch up on while preparing today’s newsletter, but it’s hard for me to think of a better welcome back than a conversation with Drew Daniel. Over the past few decades, the Baltimore artist (whose musical career began in San Francisco) has zigzagged across the electronic and experimental map, most prominently as one half of Matmos, but also via his sidewinding solo project, The Soft Pink Truth.
With a catalog that includes glitched-out electro dialogues, irreverent cover albums (which quite literally repurpose tracks from the world of hardcore, black metal and crust punk) and the lush ambience of 2020’s widely celebrated Shall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase?, The Soft Pink Truth is one of those projects whose trajectory is all but impossible to predict. Nevertheless, new single “Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This? (Dark Room Mix)”—a soulful, eight-minute-long deep house cut—does seem to hint that Daniel has returned to perhaps the most unlikely of places: the dancefloor.
With Daniel set to drop both a new EP (Was It Ever Real?) and a new double album (Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This?) via Thrill Jockey in the next few months, I phoned him up to discuss his latest musical creations. Over the course of a long conversation, he talked about his relationship with house music and disco, his ever-evolving creative process and the role of queerness in his artistic vision.
That conversation first went live earlier this week for paid First Floor subscribers, but it’s now available (temporarily) for everyone to read in full here.
ANOTHER THING I DID
The new Beyoncé album dropped last week, and there’s been no shortage of media coverage. Publications, knowing that all things Bey are sure to generate plenty of clicks, having been rushing to dissect and heap praise on the record, and while some of that writing has been thoughtful and nuanced, reflecting on the music’s obvious nods to generations of Black and queer dance music, a troubling number of outlets are still pushing lazy (and inaccurate) “Beyoncé is back on the dancefloor and she’s resurrecting house music!” narratives.
This phenomenon is something I wrote about in a previous edition of First Floor, but last week I had a chance to speak on the matter again, this time as the subject of a lengthy interview with politics / culture website Vox. It’s unusual for me to be the one answering the questions, but journalist Alex Abad-Santos asked me to share some dance music knowledge that the average Beyoncé stan (and pop music fan) likely doesn’t know. He also allowed me the chance to break down Americans’ depressingly ahistorical (and frequently oppositional) relationship with dance music, despite the fact that many of its signature genres (e.g. house, techno, etc.) were literally invented in the US.
A round-up of of the last two weeks’ most interesting electronic music news, plus links to interviews, mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
More than a year after SoundCloud launched “Fan-Powered Royalties” in an effort to more fairly distribute streaming revenue to artists—to be clear, what they’ve implemented is what most in the industry refer to as a user-centric royalty system (as opposed to a pro rata system), and the program’s architect, Mike Pelczynski, discussed it at length with me in an First Floor interview last year—the company announced that Warner Music Group had become to first major label to sign on to the initiative. Unfortunately though, this development wasn’t enough to stop SoundCloud from laying off up to 20% of its global staff this week.
After a UK parliamentary committee investigated the economics of music streaming last year, the country’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was tasked with examining the relationships between major streaming platforms and the major labels. Now, the CMA has published a preliminary report that has frustrated advocates of streaming reform, as it acknowledged the streaming companies’ domination of the market, but also concluded that this reality was not “currently causing consumers harm.” As for artists, the report recognized that their economic situation “is just as tough as it has always been” and that many of them “feel that they are not getting a fair deal,” but ultimately determined that those struggles are not related to issues of competition. The report isn’t yet final—the deadline for that is in early 2023, and public responses are still being accepted until August 19—but it’s not encouraging news for those hoping that this long-brewing action by the UK government might reset the streaming landscape and its broken economics.
Over the in US, Congressional representative Rashida Tlaib, who’s been working together with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW), announced last week that she would soon be proposing a new resolution “that would create a new mandatory streaming royalty that would be paid directly to musicians.” A few additional details were provided in her interview with Rolling Stone, but right now she is seeking additional Congressional co-sponsors. To encourage that effort, the UMAW has set up an online form where Americans can easily send letters to their representatives asking them to sign on and support the resolution.
Writer Mark Bieschke is a joy to read on just about any topic, but the fact that he conversed with (similarly great) music scribe Lance Scott Walker about the latter’s new DJ Screw book—and the late Houston rap producer’s enduring legacy—for this new DJ Mag feature is almost too much good news to process.
Slikback is someone who releases a whole lot of music—most of which at least gets a mention here in the newsletter—but the shapeshifting Kenyan producer doesn’t speak to the press too often, which makes this Mixmag interview with writer Michael Lawson worth checking.
Italo is one of those genres that never really seems to go away, and Joe Roberts has done an admirable job dissecting its “eternal evolution” and continued popularity in this long-form piece for DJ Mag.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past two weeks.
Actress and Mount Kimbie’s Kai Campos may not seem like the most obvious of collaborators—although they have previously toured together—but the two UK producers have now come together on a new single, “AZD SURF,” which came out yesterday on Ninja Tune.
Koreless dropped a new single today. “Droids,” which arguably has a bit more teeth and tension than the UK producer’s previous releases, is out now via the Young label.
New Night Slugs releases have been few and far between in recent years, and while label co-founder Bok Bok did offer up new music under the name One Bok via his AP Life imprint last year, the recent appearance of “Ouais”—his first official release from his original moniker in quite some time—was a pleasant surprise. Out now, it comes backed with remixes from Hysterics (formerly known as Girl Unit), Zaida Zane and Helix.
Hardrive’s “Deep Inside” is one of those iconic dance tunes that probably doesn’t need a remix, but it’s hard to argue with the Strictly Rhythm label and its recent decision to invite house / garage legend Todd Edwards to rework the 1993 classic. His remix is out now, and can be streamed here.
After spending the past several years focused on their own projects, the members of all-star grime / bass music trio TQD (i.e. Royal-T, DJ Q and Flava D) have gotten back together and dropped a new single. Entitled “there 4 u,” it’s out now via the UK group’s own TQD label.
Bass-loving LA artist Bianca Oblivion, whose song “Selecta” has become one of 2022’s breakout tunes, yesterday dropped a new two-track release, Bad Gyal / EZ 4 Me, via the Future Bounce label.
Dawn to Dawn, a Montreal synth-pop trio fronted by Tess Roby, announced the forthcoming release of their debut album, Postcards from the Sun to the Moon. Although the LP won’t arrive until October 6 via Roby’s SSURROUNDSS label, several tracks are already available here, and a new video for dreamy lead single “Stereo” has also been shared.
Yann Tiersen recently released a (quite good) album called 11 5 18 2 5 18, and now the French composer is following it up with a remix EP, albeit one that focuses on material from last year’s Kerber LP. Kerber Remixes is due to arrive on August 26 through Mute Records, and will include reworks from a diverse cast of artists that includes Sote, Terence Fixmer, Beatrice Dillon and Laurel Halo. The latter two’s contributions have already been shared here.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes from releases that came out during the past two weeks 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
First Floor readers likely already spotted the recent interview with Nick León here in the newsletter, but during the past two weeks, the Miami producer’s latest single “Xstasis” has effectively been crowned one of the year’s top club tunes. The title track of his latest EP—a record which also includes top-notch remixes from Pearson Sound and Doctor Jeep—is a collaboration with Venezuelan raptor house innovator DJ Babtr, who helped León concoct something that combines elements of ’90s rave techno, galloping Latin drum patterns and enough Korg M1 presets to make Robin S. (or maybe even Beyoncé) blush. Hybrids like this one are likely the future of club music, and hopefully at least a fraction of what’s to come will be as fun as “Xtasis.”
Although Shanghai outpost SVBKVLT is best known for platforming futuristic club sounds from Asia, its latest release shines a light on Egypt, and specifically the talents of Cairo producer ABADIR. Mutate, his new full-length, was first inspired by his DJ sets, where he’d spent time trying to blend high-speed loops of maqsoum music with jungle, and that same dynamic plays out here on LP highlight “Another One.” As club tunes go, this one is pretty relentless, and while the track’s Middle Eastern drums will likely sound familiar to fans of artists like DJ Plead and Anunaku, ABADIR pushes things farther here, accentuating his percussive sledgehammers with small vocal clips that he’s sharpened into pointed exclamations. What results is a raucous update on the standard drum & bass formula, and a song that’s practically begging to be played—loudly—on a massive soundsystem.
Considering that both John Beltran and the AD 93 label have made numerous appearances here in the newsletter over the years, it’s not exactly a shock that something from the Michigan veteran’s new 056 (The Lotus) EP would be featured in today’s edition. It is, however, somewhat surprising that “Stormy Angel” would trade in the same kind of deliciously washed-out rave nostalgia that artists like Delorean and John Talabot were offering up back in 2010. That’s not a bad thing, and considering the referential nature of those artists’ work, which nodded the glory days of acid house and the second Summer of Love, a producer like Beltran—who quite literally was making tunes of his own in the ’90s—can’t exactly be classified as some sort of copycat. “Stormy Angel” may be shot through with nostalgia, but its loping breakbeats and psychedelic twirl are still perfectly enchanting in 2022.
BEST OF THE REST
Quite possibly one of the most widely imitated producers of the past decade—even if he doesn’t get namechecked as often as some of his contemporaries—Kuedo has returned with a new album, Infinite Window, following a lengthy absence from the spotlight. Full of luminescent synths and ultra-crisp, trap-indebted beats, it doesn’t represent a grand departure from his past work, but considering the quality of the man’s catalog, that’s not a bad thing, especially when the gleaming synths and chrome rhythms of LP opener “Sliding Through Our Fingers” are bright enough to be seen from hundreds of miles away.
As the head of deepblak, Oakland native Armon Bazile—who’s best known for his work as Aybee—has spent the past two decades connecting the cosmic dots between different strains of Black music, filtering elements of house, techno, hip-hop, jazz, soul and more through a decidedly futurist lens. That effort continues on KOSMOGONY, the Berlin producer’s debut from his new NOM-RA moniker, and sounds particularly vibrant on “APQ,” a hypnotically jittery tune that sounds like Flying Lotus teaming up with the Teklife crew to re-score a ’70s sci-fi classic.
After making the rounds for the past few months as a standalone single, “Hummingbird” dropped last week as part of Postcards, the debut EP from young UK producer Anish Kumar. With pop culture currently experiencing something of a Y2K revival, this colorful tune certainly mines both the unfettered joy and radio-ready bombast of classic big beat, sparkling its way across the dancefloor with the help of a ramshackle drum break and a gloriously pitch-shifted vocal proclaiming “I love you.”
Electro often seems better suited for sweaty basements (and alien spaceships) than the big room of a rave, but on this track, Pépe goes for the jugular, transforming the original “Balance”—a low-key synth-funk plonker off fellow Valencian producer Ginno Russo’s Rising EP—into something with a real sense of big-room panache. The snapping, sci-fi breakbeats and burly acid bassline are enough to get any dancefloor churning, but it’s all the floaty bits of misty-eyed melody that will make hearts soar.
Fresh off the release of the ambient-leaning TARAXIA compilation back in June, the GODDEZZ label has returned with the similarly excellent RE:DREAM, a 16-track effort to “present what a nu trance reality sounds like.” If Remotif’s “Komorebi” and Sakura’s “Helix” are any indication, that reality sounds pretty incredible, as the former is a plush, immersive tune that recalls the epic soundtrack work of Tangerine Dream, while the more strident (but undeniably bubbly) latter cut sounds like trance through the lens of someone raised on a steady diet of PlayStation and Enya records.
Right when you think that the UK hardcore continuum can’t possibly yield any more interesting new permutations, a killer track like “Digital Projection” comes along. The bone-rattling lead cut on Mani Festo’s new Sleepless in West Norwood EP, it’s very much rooted in jungle—particularly the more menacing stuff that began to sprout up during the late ’90s—but its ominous low-end wubs and deliberate pacing nod toward classic grime and dubstep, and while drums clearly lead the way here, the addition of some spooky synths in the song’s latter half do give the whole thing a delightfully unsettling feel.
The success of drum & bass tracks is often measured in terms of brute force, but Manchester outfit Response & Pliskin take a different approach, calmly settling in and taking listeners on epic (albeit frequently still banging) journeys that often fold in elements of techno. “Rave Victim,” which appears on the duo’s new two-tracker for RuptureLDN and clocks in at more than nine minutes in length, bathes its furious Amen breaks in swirly melodies and airy psychedelics, ultimately sounding a bit like something Underworld might have cooked up in the mid ’90s.
UK producer Leon Vynehall recently posted a kind of “it’s not me, it’s you” letter to club music, and while that’s bad news for fans of his more dancefloor-focused material, “Endless (I)” does make for a rather satisfying kiss-off. The lead track on the new Endless (I&II) EP—which he describes as a “full stop on the Rare, Forever chapter” of his career—it’s very much in the same rough-and-tumble spirit as his 2021 LP, and offsets its lively four-on-the-floor percussion with a sticky vocal loop and enough thick sheets of oozy, slightly distorted bass to appease any old-school dubstep heads who happen to be listening.
Standing out on a remix compilation is no easy task, especially when the tracklist also includes reworks from the likes of Meat Beat Manifesto, Coco Bryce, Forest Drive West, Djrum and Skee Mask. For the record, Skee Mask’s contribution to dgoHn’s Undesignated Remixes is excellent, but it’s Rephlex veteran Wisp who steals the show with his take on “Electryon,” a beautifully crafted piece of wiggly, melodic and almost orchestral IDM that starts off feeling pensive and stays that way, even after its creator eases off the brakes and allows the drums to run a bit wild.
In the context of Russia’s ongoing invasion, pretty much any art with concrete ties to the Ukraine carries extra emotional weight right now, though Oleksandr Demianenko’s In Memory Of…—which he recorded before the war began—would honestly feel powerful anytime. A sort of tribute to late Ukrainian folk artist Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva, the often spellbinding album manipulates tape-looped snippets of her voice, filling the lush (albeit grey) passages of songs like “Segment 1” with ghostly tendrils of warmth and human emotion.
Closing out the new chamomile album, “filler of hearts” is a gauzy bit of ambient bliss from marine eyes. The song itself contains only a handful of elements—the most prominent being some gentle guitar and ethereal layers of the LA artist’s own voice—but each one is drenched in pillow-soft distortion, which lends a notably dreamy, almost magical air to a track that already sounds a bit like Grouper riffing on The Cure’s “Lullaby” for a new version of the Lost in Translation soundtrack.
That’s all for 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.