First Floor #137 – The Stories Left Untold
a.k.a. Pretending EDM doesn't exist, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
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THE OTHER (BIGGER) DANCE MUSIC
If a dance music novice was to flip through the virtual pages of Resident Advisor, they might be left with the impression that Berghain is the most important club in the world, Dekmantel is the top festival and places like Ibiza exist only as a punchline, unless someone like DJ Harvey visits the island.
RA isn’t alone in this. Throughout the dance music industry (and especially amongst the press), there exists a bizarre refusal by many to properly engage with (or even consider) the genre’s more commercial sphere, a phenomenon made all the more strange in light of today’s often overwhelmingly poptimist atmosphere. In a time when Beyoncé discourse is omnipresent, even in the most niche corners of the culture, and an artist like Carly Rae Jepsen is literally on the cover of the latest issue of Crack magazine, why is it that so many journalists, tastemakers and other cultural commentators are so comfortable acting as though EDM and tech house don’t exist?
Regardless of how one feels about those genres (and the industry / scenes / culture around them)—for the record, I myself am not a fan—it’s odd that despite their status as wildly popular global sensations, they remain largely unexamined, even by professionals who are best positioned (at least theoretically) to do so. What’s driving that, and what stories aren’t being told in the meantime?
It’s a thorny issue—and one that often casts music journalists (myself included) in a less-than-optimal light—but I took a closer look at it earlier this week in an article that was first published for paid First Floor subscribers. That piece is now available (temporarily) for everyone to read in full here.
A round-up 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 her appearance on the new Beyoncé album, Honey Dijon—who was already a highly respected house veteran—has become even more of a celebrated figure. Amongst the many accolades currently being thrown her way, she’s been named Beatportal’s latest Artist of the Month, and the accompanying interview by Heiko Hoffmann focuses on her early days in house music, her love of vocals, her upcoming Black Girl Magic LP and more.
Dance System (a.k.a. the Night Slugs co-founder who previously went by L-Vis 1990) recently spoke with 5Mag’s Lauren Krieger, and over the course of the interview, he lays out the difference between his two monikers, shares some of his key influences and explains his present desire to tap into the playfulness that characterized the dance music of the late ’90s and early 2000s.
In a new column for Attack, writer Adam Douglas looks at how previous generations of electronic music were shaped by specific bits of hardware and software, and charts how the explosion of hardware options in recent years has given rise to a situation in which it’s difficult for any one machine to have a notable impact.
The harp is often confined to classical and orchestral settings, but in recent years, the instrument has increasingly made its way into the avant-garde. In a new feature for Pitchfork, April Clare Welsh highlights 10 artists—including the likes of Mary Lattimore, Nala Sinephro and Nailah Hunter—who are taking the harp in intriguing new directions.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Four Tet dropped a pair of new tracks yesterday. Both “Mango Feedback” and “Watersynth” are available now via his own Text label, and can be heard here.
Curated by Alessandro Cortini, Strega Musica is a new—and completely free—compilation from Make Noise that features contributions from Caterina Barbieri, Ben Frost, Julianna Barwick, Kali Malone, Daniel Avery and several other artists. As the title implies, everyone involved used the Strega, an instrument designed by Cortini in collaboration with Make Noise founder Tony Rolando, whose music also features on the release.
DJ Python has a new collaborative project on the way, an EP with Colombian artist Ela Minus called ♡. It’s slated for release on September 16 via the Smugglers Way label, but one track, “Pájaros en Verano,” has already been shared, along with its accompanying video.
Shackleton has quietly released a new EP. The Majestic Yes, which the Berlin-based Englishman recorded in Dakar back in February 2020, is out now on the Honest Jon’s label, and its three original tracks are accompanied by a remix from Hard Wax founder and dub maestro Mark Ernestus.
Originally released in 2011, Cuff Yo Chick is a Jersey club mixtape by DJ R3LL & DJ Kiff that was effectively “lost” when major-label takedown requests resulted in the deletion of those artists’ SoundCloud accounts. More than a decade later, it’s now been reissued by Finn’s 2 B REAL label, and while the music itself is a lot of fun, the accompanying website might be even better, as it provides extensive quotes from DJ R3LL and DJ Kiff that shine a light on their craft, the “golden era” of Jersey club and the artists that influenced them.
Following up on last year’s Sounds of the Unborn album—an LP credited to Luca Yupanqui but actually created by her parents (Psychic Ills bassist Elizabeth Hart and Iván Diaz Mathé) while she was still in the womb—the Sacred Bones label will soon be releasing a remix LP called Conversations. Featuring reworks from artists like Peaking Lights, Hiro Kone, Laraaji and Nailah Hunter, it’s due to surface on September 9, although Suzanne Ciani’s remix of “V2.2” has already been shared.
Few artists have had a better 2022 than Nikki Nair, and the breakbeat-loving, Atlanta-based producer is set to release another new EP next month. Renormalization Support Group will be issued by the Astrophonica label on September 9, but opening track “Plug” is available now.
Benoit & Sergio have been out of the spotlight for a while—it’s not an accident that their forthcoming new album is called Lost Decade—and the details surrounding the duo’s new LP have now been unveiled. It’s set for an August 26 release on FourFour, and while first single “Even Viridian” was shared back in June, another LP cut, “Minds & Drums,” was made available yesterday, along with an accompanying video.
Fresh off the release of her recent Holotropica album, ambient artist Sofie Birch has lined up a new collaborative full-length alongside Poland’s Antonina Nowacka. Entitled Languoria, it will be jointly issued by Unsound—who first brought Birch and Nowacka together for a pair of live performances—and the Mondoj label on October 7, although album track “Sudany” is available now.
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
After two years of lockdowns and club closures, perhaps it’s not surprising that much of dance music has swapped out dour industrial stomp for neon-streaked dance mayhem, but Broken English Club (a.k.a. UK techno veteran Oliver Ho) seems content to continue exploring the darkness. After closing out his excellent White Rats album trilogy for L.I.E.S. last year, he’s returned with The Artificial Animal, and while it’s full of serrated textures and metallic clangs, the familiarity of the LP’s industrial- and post-punk-indebted sound palette shouldn’t be confused for a lack of vitality.
“The Slow Bleed” is closer to Depeche Mode than full-on techno, its angular strut heightened by an array of jagged synths and a heavily reverbed vocal that simply says the word “down” at regular intervals. “Collapse” is another highlight, and while its Kraftwerkian melodies do add some color to the proceedings, the song retains a notably sinister underbelly; if Cybotron had been tapped to do the music for a horror flick back in 1984, it might have sounded something like this.
With releases from artists like Huerco S., DJ Python, Nene H, Call Super and Marco Shuttle, the Incienso label doesn’t really have a signature sound, but Shiken Hanzo’s new Eternity of Echoes EP does feel like something different from the NYC outpost, which has never before ventured this far into the sludgy, bass-filled abyss. “The Reaping (VIP)” is actually a rework of a track the Japanese producer first released in 2016, but while the original was more of a slow-brewing lurker, the VIP version has some rather imposing teeth, its pulsing bass tones practically growling as they channel the spirit of early dubstep. Add in the song’s spookily twisted melodies and its ever-present cloud of reverb, and “The Reaping (VIP)” is more than just a potent club tune; it’s also good for a high-quality scare.
The promo text for K-LONE’s latest 12” makes reference to “cheesy ’80s chords,” but “With Luv” takes things a step further, at times feeling like a full-on tribute to one of the decade’s most iconic tunes: The Art of Noise’s “Moments in Love.” (This is not a bad thing.) That said, it’s no carbon copy, as the UK producer and Wisdom Teeth co-founder adds a chilled beat to the mix, its skittery bounce satisfyingly smoothed out by the song’s new age-flavored, Ryuichi Sakamoto-style synth melodies. Those in search of bass-loaded bangers should probably look elsewhere, but when it comes to heads-down, nod-inducing headphone jams, “With Luv” is a top-shelf production.
BEST OF THE REST
One of the few tracks from the new Peace LP that Roska didn’t share ahead of the album’s official release date, “Count Me Out Fam” is a high-stepping (albeit somewhat laid-back) wiggler, its shuffling snares and bulbous bassline nodding to classic UK funky as the song’s buzzing melody—which sounds like a zurna or some other Middle Eastern horn / woodwind—lends the proceedings a welcome bit of additional flair.
Electronic music diehards will often say things like, “the quality of the music is all that matters,” but is that really true? Unknown Untitled has spent the past few years putting the idea to the test, releasing records from established producers (e.g. Cameo Blush, Ciel, Kilig) whose names are initially kept secret. The label’s latest offering is the new Entangled Beings EP, which was just revealed to be a joint effort from Tristan Arp and Kellen303. It’s the latter who shines brightest, as the moody “F’aith Healer” hypnotically blends dubstep-style murk with cooly clacking percussion.
The newest addition to the West Mineral roster, Yunzero frequently deals in the same sort of textured, off-kilter ambient as his labelmates, but on “Cupid Television”—the standout cut from his new Butterfly DNA album—the Australian artist adds some oomph to the formula, complimenting the song’s woozy atmosphere, scratchy strings and disembodied vocal fragments with percolating bits of percussion and something resembling a steady (yet still languid) beat.
Can ’90s-style prog be funky? “Alltogethernow,” the title track of Australian producer Fantastic Man’s latest EP, emphatically says “yes,” its celestial synths and floaty piano melodies underpinned by a bubbly, not-quite-acid bassline that joyously sashays its way across the dancefloor.
Sci-fi electro comes in all shapes and sizes, but “A Dispatching Role”—the opening number on French producer dynArec’s new Force in the Sum EP—is something unique, ultimately sounding like Egyptian Lover collaborating with Sasha & Digweed at a desert rave in 1998.
That brings us to the end of today’s 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.