First Floor #141 – Big Vibes and Short Memories
a.k.a. The current state of the dance music anthem, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
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LOTS OF BANGERS, NOT MANY ANTHEMS
2022 isn’t over yet, but with the summer festival season more or less wrapped up (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), it feels like a good time to take stock and ask, “What does dance music sound like right now?” And more specifically, “What are the year’s biggest tunes?”
Clearly, the answers to those questions are highly subjective, but after conducting a(n admittedly unscientific) poll of friends and colleagues, a couple of trends do seem clear:
Bangers (i.e. big, bright, fun and often somewhat goofy tunes) are both abundant and in very high demand.
Few of those tunes, however, seem to have much in the way of long-term staying power.
Is the era of the ubiquitous “anthem” over? And if so, how is that possible in a dance music ecosystem where so many people—artists and ravers alike—seem determined to not only go as hard as possible, but also have the time of their lives doing it? Earlier this week, I put together some thoughts on the matter, and the essay I wrote is now available (temporarily) for everyone to read in full here.
ANOTHER THING I’M DOING
Some readers may recall that long before First Floor took shape as a newsletter, it existed for several years as a weekly radio show, and while I’ve spent the past few years away from the (virtual) airwaves, I’m happy to report that I’ve now taken up a new monthly slot at online radio outpost Dublab BCN. (And yes, I’ll be broadcasting in English.)
As you might expect, the program will be devoted to new electronic music, and the first episode actually aired yesterday. For those who missed it, it can be streamed here—please excuse the technical issues during the opening mic break—and the full tracklist will be posted soon on the Dublab website.
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.
Although this isn’t specifically music-related news, it’s worth noting that the Ethereum blockchain completed its long-awaited “merge” earlier today, officially making the switch from a proof-of-work system to one based on proof of stake. Without getting into the particulars of what that means, the most important takeaway is that Ethereum’s energy usage—arguably the most controversial aspect of all things crypto—will supposedly drop by as much as 99%. In fairness, that’s based upon an assumption that things will go smoothly in the days / weeks / months ahead, but given that Ethereum is where many Web3 tools targeting artists, musicians and other creatives are being built, the merge could wind up being a breakthrough moment for the technology, particularly for those who are interested in participating but worried about crypto’s potentially devastating environmental impact.
At this point, Elijah’s Yellow Squares project is relatively well known within music industry circles—not to toot my own horn, but First Floor readers may remember that last year he was interviewed here in the newsletter, back when the whole thing was just getting off the ground—and the UK artist recently took his thoughts to the live arena, hosting a wide-ranging talk called “Close the App, Make the Thing” in front of a crowd in London. For those who weren’t able to attend, a video of the event is now available on YouTube, and in related news, Elijah’s post-event thank you message also stated that Butterz, the seminal grime label he co-founded alongside Skilliam, had officially come to an end.
Fresh off the release of 6°30’33.372”N 3°22’0.66”E—an album rooted in the bustling sounds of the Ojuelegba bus station in Lagos—Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh is the subject of an illuminating new feature that Christian Eede penned for Bandcamp Daily.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
After teasing her return with some cryptic tweets earlier this week, Kelela officially resurfaced on Tuesday with a new single, “Washed Away,” that’s available now via the Warp label. She also dropped a new video (which left much of the internet drooling over its visuals), and though not much else has been revealed in terms of what else Kelela has in store—she did promise that “bangers are on the way”—it’s perhaps worth reminding First Floor readers that Nguzunguzu dropped a few crumbs of relevant Kelela-related information when they were interviewed here in the newsletter a few months ago.
rRoxymore has completed a new album, and the Berlin-based French artist has teamed up with the Smalltown Supersound label to release it. Perpetual Now won’t hit the streets until November 4, but “Fragmented Dreams”—one of the four “extended soundscapes” that make up the LP—has already been shared.
Octo Octa has released a new DJ mixtape, Love Hypnosis Vol. 2, which is available now on cassette through the T4T LUV NRG label she runs with partner Eris Drew. An effort rooted in what she calls the “healing magic” of house music, it’s also available to stream in full on SoundCloud.
Shanti Celeste to set to join the ranks of the Hessle Audio label with a new 12”, Cutie / Shimmer, that will be released on October 14. In the meantime, the Chilean-born, London-based artist has already offered up two versions of the record’s bubbly A-side, both of which can be heard here.
Saxophonist and composer Colin Stetson is impressive in his own right, but the fact that he’s teamed up with experimental outpost Room40 for his next release makes for a genuinely intriguing prospect. Entitled Chimæra I and containing two long-form pieces that are said to have “an almost geological sensibility,” it’s set to arrive on November 11, but a “reduction” of the track “Orthrus” has already been shared.
John Carpenter is 74 years old, but the famed composer has remained mighty busy in recent years, and will soon be adding to his massive catalog. The Halloween Ends soundtrack, which created alongside Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, will be released on October 14 via Sacred Bones, though one of its songs, “The Procession,” is available now. Also contributing music to the film is synth-pop duo Boy Harsher, whose Burn It Down EP is also due to surface on October 14 through Sacred Bones. Ahead of that, however, they’ve shared the record’s title track.
Kode9’s Escapology album from earlier this year was billed as a soundtrack to the Hyperdub founder’s Astro-Darien project, and now that project will be receiving a release of its own. Described as “a 26-minute sonic fiction about the break-up of Britain narrated by synthetic Scottish voices and framed as an eponymous video game,” it will be issued by Hyperdub imprint Flatlines on November 11, and more details can be found here.
Over the past few years, Jimmy Edgar has spent a lot of time producing for other artists, but the ever-morphing Detroit native will soon release a new full-length of his own, Liquids Heaven. It’s slated to arrive via Innovative Leisure on November 11, but two tracks from the LP can already be heard here.
Experimental artist claire rousay, who relocated to LA from Texas earlier this year, dropped a surprise new benefit album this week. Entitled wouldn’t have to hurt and spotlighting her own struggles with mental health, it’s available now on the Mended Dreams label—though only the title track is available to stream—and all proceeds from the release will go to the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
Italian producer Stenny—who will make another appearance later in today’s newsletter—has popped back up on the Ilian Tape label today, releasing a new 12” called Wipe Out / Permission. It’s 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
English producer Swimful calls Shanghai home, but the shuffling “Translation to Heaven”—one of the clear standouts on his killer new Rushlight EP—owes a clear debt to South Africa, and the gqom sounds of Durban in particular. That said, he brings his own distinctive brand of low-end pressure to the equation, his thrumming bass hits—which intermittently swell in intensity over the course of the track—nimbly complimenting the song’s high-stepping beat. The harder-hitting “Backwards” is another one for the bass fiends, and while its spooky vocal snippets—which veer between what sound like religious choirs and creepy old folk records—lend the a song a uniquely creepy vibe, its serpentine slither is a clear (and very welcome) nod to the early days of grime.
On the first listen, it would be easy to hear “Start Again” and “Feedback”—two highlights of Radboud Mens’ new double album Continuous Movement—and think, “not much is happening here.” The music is undeniably minimal, but it’s also rewardingly deep, as the Dutch sound artist and composer weaves together a sumptuously dubby mix of ambient, techno, drone and glitch, frequently verging upon the famed Clicks & Cuts sound of the early 2000s. Aimed more towards the head than the hips, “Start Again” meditatively floats through the air, its plinky percussion comfortably swaddled in plush (albeit still modest) textures and quietly hovering atmospheres. “Feedback” is similarly even-keeled, but it swaps out serenity for low-boiling tension, with basslines that slink along like an unseen prowler and buzzing synths that sit somewhere between a toy Casio keyboard and an old fax machine.
There’s a good chance that Xiuxiuejar is the most daunting album title many First Floor readers will come across this week, but those who’ve spent time in Barcelona might recognize it as the Catalan verb “to whisper.” Icelandic artist Hekla—who specializes in the theremin—actually grew up in Barcelona, and though she’s been based back in her home country for quite some time, her love of the Catalan language apparently helped fuel her stunning new full-length, which offers moments of both spooky introspection and harrowing destruction. The chilly “Í Kyrrð” falls into the former category, delicately placing ethereal vocal snippets atop its gleaming melodies, the whole thing exuding an almost crystalline level of precision. “Ris og Rof,” on the other hand, has a more unhinged, almost savage quality, largely thanks to its heavily distorted cello line, which menacingly rumbles like a lawnmover engine as Hekla’s angelic vocal choirs steadily glide toward the heavens.
BEST OF THE REST
It’s possible that the gloriously zooming speedboat on the cover of Slackk’s new Nice One album is shaping my judgement here, but the washy hues, wonky bassline and skittery, grime-inflected beat of LP highlight “Float Glass” sound like something “Purple City”-era Joker would have cooked up if he’d left Bristol behind and instead set up shop in the tropics.
Building on the bouncy success of his Teardrops on My Garage EP from earlier this year, NYC’s Physical Therapy—who was interviewed here in the newsletter last year— has now assembled a Teardrops on My Remix package headlined by new reworks from aya, Escaflowne and Introspekt. Still, it’s the Allergy Season boss himself who slyly steals the show, as his new “Club Mix” of “Chain Reaction” recalls the silky sounds of early 2-step garage, its playfully soulful bounce sounding like a collaboration between Wookie and legendary ’90s R&B producer Dallas Austin.
Kicking off his new Lurch imprint with a compilation EP called Scattered Answers, Manchester-based artist Avernian has tapped Ilian Tape regular Stenny to deliver the record’s opening statement. “Kembow” might be the toughest thing the Italian producer has ever released, its dubstep-style bassline ominously swooping back and forth as the song’s jagged synths and feverish percussive bursts give rise to a frantic, tension-strewn atmosphere.
A deceptively chill standout from Ficilio’s debut EP Dangerous Goods, “Fluid Form” is ostensibly a late-night techno cut, but the Toronto producer bathes it in a dubby, late-night haze, verging on dub-techno but keenly avoiding that genre’s snoozier tendencies. It’s not meant to be a banger, but it’s more than lively enough to keep the club moving, and with its assorted tendrils of reverb, it’s also perfect for zoning out and slowly melting into the floor.
Proper dubstep has spent some time in the wilderness in recent years, but songs like “Eyes Open” seem to indicate that the genre—or at least its penchant for low-end acrobatics—is seeping back into the wider rave ether. The spirited title track of UK producer Mani Festo’s EP, its brawny wubs and oozy sheets of bass can be traced back to any number of dark rooms in South London, and while the prevailing vibe is dark and tinged with menace, this one isn’t made for guys who hit the club with their hoods up and heads down; it’s for folks who want to let loose and get a little rowdy.
Manchester mainstay Walton inched away from the dancefloor on his Maisie by the Sea album earlier this year, and he’s now doubled down with the new Dark Silk EP, an effort which only vaguely alludes to the club and instead pursues a grander, more cinematic path. Opening track “Oracle” doesn’t even have drums, but it’s spellbinding all the same, laying out ponderous, Caterina Barbieri-style synths and then interrupting their celestial ascent with harsh bolts of static and distortion that crackle like lightning.
Is there anyone else who does “more with less” as enchantingly as Sarah Davachi? On new album Two Sisters, the LA-based Canadian composer once again offers a collection of what are essentially long-form, organ-centric, minimal drones that slowly evolve over extended runtimes. This isn’t music that lends itself to easily digestible social media clips, but for those willing to immerse themselves, a track like “Harmonies in Bronze” makes for a life-affirming listening experience, its hovering tones and orchestral majesty offering an almost devotional sense of calm.
A member of Japanese ambient outfit UNKNOWN ME, Taro Nohara (a.k.a. Yakenohara) operates solo on the new Poly-Time Soundscapes / Forest of the Shrine album, which offers his take on kankyō ongaku (translation: environmental music). LP opener “Shishi Odishi” immediately sets the record’s magical tone, its glowing melodies and swirling, underwater textures conjuring an almost otherworldly atmosphere that, despite its strangeness, feels intensely warm and inviting.
Throughout his debut album Conduit, Coby Sey primarily centers his own voice, offering up poignant bits of spoken word and potent post-grime flows, but on LP closer “Eve (Anwummerɛ),” the London artist elegantly recedes into the background, his vocals only appearing as gentle—and essentially wordless—textures amidst the sounds of rainfall, the song’s emotive (and relatively downtrodden) chords and its persistent fog of soft static.
“Norway,” the grand closing number from Floating Shrine’s debut full-length Growth and Decay, could be classified as space rock—there are obvious similarities to the heart-stirring, IMAX-ready work of groups like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky—but while the song does have a certain soaring quality, the breathtaking images it evokes (e.g. glowing sunsets, wind-swept vistas, gloriously billowing clouds), though epic, speak more to the majesty of life on earth than the potential wonders of a trip the cosmos.
That brings us to the end of today’s newsletter. As always, thank you so much for reading First Floor, and 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.