First Floor #149 – Techno? More Like Tech-NO!
a.k.a. The shifting tides of techno, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
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DOWN WITH TECHNO
Techno is in a funny place. In purely commercial terms, the genre is bigger than it’s ever been, and has arguably become the default sound for clubs and festivals throughout Europe—and increasingly, around the world.
At the same time, techno’s cultural stock seems to have dipped. The term “business techno” has become a widely used insult, and even at Berghain, a club often held up as the genre’s most sacred temple, a growing number of DJs are filling their requisite post-gig social media posts with defiant boasts about how they played basically anything but techno during their sets. The genre may be everywhere, but at least within certain corners of the culture, it’s also come to represent creative staleness and overt commercialism, prompting a vocal crop of artists to actively define themselves in opposition to it.
How did this happen? And what does it mean for the future of techno, both in terms of the music and the global culture that’s sprung up around it? I put together some thoughts on the matter in an essay published earlier this week, and it’s now available (temporarily) for everyone to read in full here.
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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 mass layoffs hitting the tech industry in recent weeks, David Turner picked the perfect time for the latest edition of his Penny Fractions newsletter. The article is actually the second half of a two-part series examining the potential effects of the recession looming in the music industry, and it both summarizes some of the damage that’s already been done and forecasts what kinds of developments we’re bound to see, especially if investor capital continues to dry up.
Fresh off the release of her excellent Ground Groove album, Maral is the subject of a new long-form profile (written by Ammar Kalia) in Crack magazine. The publication also enlisted the LA-based Iranian-American artist to put together an exclusive DJ mix, which runs more than 100 minutes in length.
Exclusivity clauses have become one of dance music’s most contentious issues in recent years, prompting writer Kiana Mickles to take a closer look and speak to a variety of artists, promoters and bookers in a new investigative report for Resident Advisor.
Hudsdon Mohawke has been the subject of numerous interviews this year, but in a new conversation with Andrew Ryce for the latest edition of Resident Advisor’s Art of Production series, the Scottish artist goes deep into gear talk and his music-making methodology, and also touches on how sobriety has affected his creative process.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
After releasing a couple of teaser singles in recent months, Kelela has unveiled the details of her next album. Entitled Raven, the LP was co-executive produced by Kelela and Asmara—a fact the latter mentioned when she was interviewed here in the newsletter earlier this year—and was mainly produced by LSDXOXO and OCA (a.k.a. Yo Van Lenz and Florian T M Zeisig). It’s due to be released on February 10 via Warp, although several tracks from the record, including new single “On the Run,” can already be heard here.
Joy Orbison has released a new single. The London producer describes “2M3 2U” as “a UK take on hyperpop, but with a bit of bassweight.” The song is available now though XL.
Fever Ray has completed a new album, Radical Romantics, that’s slated for a March 10 release on the Mute label. The LP is co-produced by Vessel, and also includes contributions from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Nídia, Johannes Berglund, Aasthma and Olof Dreijer, Fever Ray’s brother and former bandmate in The Knife. Two tracks from the album, including new single “Carbon Dioxide,” can currently be heard here.
Yesterday I. Jordan released “Give It 2 Me / Reclaimed,” the UK producer’s third and final double single of 2022. It’s available now via Ninja Tune.
Kali Malone has spent the past couple of months on the festival circuit alongside Stephen O’Malley and Lucy Railton, and their drone-centric collaboration is now set to be released as a proper album. Does Spring Hide Its Joy will arrive on January 20 via the Ideologic Organ label, and the physical edition will be available as both a two-hour triple LP and a three-hour triple CD. Ahead of that, the track “Does Spring Hide Its Joy v2.3” has already been made available.
Overmono dropped a new single today. “Walk Thru Water,” which features St. Panther and is out now via XL, isn’t really a club tune, and just might be the most “pop” thing in the brotherly UK duo’s catalog.
Moombahton is one of those dance music genres that most people either loved or hated, but there’s no question that Munchi was one of its most celebrated figures. Though he’s been out of the spotlight recently, the Nyege Nyege label will soon be releasing The Mambo Detanao EP, a collection of previously unreleased tunes the Dutch producer created between 2008 and 2010, all of them inspired by the bustling rhythms of Dominican mambo. Opening track “Damu Mambo” has already been shared, and the full record is due to arrive on December 2.
Maelstrom—who was interviewed here in the newsletter earlier this year about his experiments with blockchain technology—has put together a new collaborative album with partner Louisahhh. Sustained Influence, which is said to move through “industrial jungle, breakneck, breakbeat techno poetry, cinderblock drum-less drone stutters and roaring, seething near-gabber,” will surface on February 10 through their RAAR label, but gritty first single “If I Could Hold” is already available, as is the song’s accompanying music video.
Oceanic, a mainstay of Amsterdam’s electronic music scene, has put the finishing touches on his debut album. True to its title, Choral Feeling features the voices of more than 30 of the Dutch producer’s friends, and the LP will be released on January 27 by the Nous’klaer label. In the meantime, two tracks from the record have been shared here.
UK ambient / experimental artist Dylan Henner, whose music has appeared numerous times here in the newsletter, will soon return to the AD 93 label with a new full-length. You Always Will Be is scheduled to arrive on December 9, but LP cut “We’re So Young That We’ll Never Grow Old” 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 if you prefer to listen to them all in one place.
THE BIG THREE
More than a dozen different musicians appear on Christina Vantzou’s new album, but No. 5 rarely sounds like a group effort. An ambient LP grounded in what the Brussels-based composer describes as the “reductive process,” the record never feels overcrowded; most of the time, it’s difficult to imagine that more than one person was involved, and even things like field recordings are often barely perceptible. (No. 5 is an album that very much rewards deep listening.)
Minimalist without feeling academic, closing number “Surreal Presence (for SH and FM)” exudes a palatable emotional warmth, its ghostly vocal layers elegantly intermingling as they drift across an open expanse populated by little more than a slowly struck piano. “Kimona 1”—another standout on an album that’s honestly full of them—follows a similar path, though Vantzou takes its operatic vocal parts out of the shadows, adding a hint of drama to the proceedings as their melodies gracefully take flight.
Mood Hut made its name on chilled house grooves and low-key, new age-adjacent sounds, but the label’s latest offering takes a sharp left turn towards the rave. The Prayer Bass EP comes from Big Zen, a staple of Vancouver’s underground party circuit, and its title track is a space-age techno cut that owes more to Detroit than the languid sounds of the Canadian Riviera. It’s still funky, tapping into the sonic legacy of labels like Metroplex and Underground Resistance, and while the song’s insistent kick is sure to keep any dancefloor moving, it’s the twinkling synths that do the heavy lifting, their feverishly zipping flightpaths akin to that of a rogue UFO.
On his new album Kaibou Zukan, 99Letters has kept his sound palette local, sampling and processing native Japanese instruments while creating music that he describes as “gagaku techno.” Moving beyond the usual “regional sounds with standard house / techno / etc. beats” approach that often colors these kinds of projects, the Osaka native has created something which has no real parallel, an LP that’s clearly informed by Japanese musical sensibilities, yet isn’t constrained by tradition—or the usual needs of the dancefloor.
Opening cut “Owaranai Osaka” is built around the undulations of a buzzing bass drone, one that teeters on the edge of distortion as the song’s woodwind melodies serve as a moody countermeasure. “Tamakagiru,” another highlight, brings drums (and a few lazer zaps) into the mix, hypnotically floating along and ultimately sounding like an updated (and distinctly Japanese) take on ’90s trip-hop.
BEST OF THE REST
A tripped-out slice of acid-laced breakbeat, “Secret Entrance”—the opening track off Adam Pits’ new Cosmic Confession EP—largely foregoes hands-in-the-air acrobatics, luxuriating instead in its slinky, psychedelic groove as the song’s siren-like female vocal lures unsuspecting ravers onto the dancefloor.
More than six years removed from his last album, Gold Panda still sounds very much like himself on new LP The Work, his assorted beat constructions infused with remnants of his longtime love affair with Japan (and the country’s unique sound palette). “I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now)” is essentially a bopping bit of cut-up filter disco, while the glitchy, static-dusted “I Spiral” occasionally brings to mind Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker,” and while both tunes were created in London, their sparkling Japanese strings reference the magic of a place halfway around the globe.
Daniel Martin-McCormick appears to be falling in love with punk again. Not only did he just announce that he’ll be reuniting with his Black Eyes bandmates for a brief tour in 2023—the group will also be reissuing their 2003 self-titled debut album—but the NYC artist also released the Candy EP, which continues his Relaxer project’s recent move into more joyously chaotic territory. “Glidb,” a shuffling bass-techno hybrid, captures the record’s playful spirit, its shuffling rhythms adorned with chirping sonics and a gloriously rolling bassline.
The original “Pillar 43,” which surfaced last month as part of Gobekli’s Clovis EP, was a bubbling bit of feverishly skippy, pastel-hued dance music, and while this Foans rework—taken from the new Clovis Remixes collection—operates in a similar space, it also brings a little more focus to the table, pairing the track’s anime-ready melodic glitter with some sturdy breakbeats and a healthy dollop of gut-tickling bass.
Over the past year, Delsin has been steadily reissuing tunes from Dutch techno veteran Steve Rachmad (best known as Sterac, although he’s used more than a dozen different aliases over the years), and the latest offering—the Q EP from his Parallel 9 project—reaches all the way back to 1996. Collectors will likely flock to the record for a new extended version of the track “Quanah,” but “Quantico” is the real gem, a sleek and soulful techno cut whose taut grooves are on par with anything coming out of Detroit during that era.
After more than a decade of making music as Erdbeerschnitzel, German producer Tim Keiling has now adopted the Hevlaran moniker, and based on the Templates 1 EP, he seems to have landed on a high-stepping techno sound that recalls the swinging rhythms and boomy drums of early Blawan productions. “Know” feels particularly carefree, its swinging stomp underpinning a series of smooth, almost Sade-like vocal clips.
Dua, the beautiful debut LP from Injazero founder Sine Buyuka’s new Sinemis project, is (very) loosely rooted in techno, but it’s much closer to ambient, marrying cinematic sprawl with elements of traditional Sufi music. (The ney flute plays a prominent role.) Album closer “In the End”— one of the album’s few beat-oriented tunes—features a stop-and-start rhythm that wouldn’t be out of place on a Livity Sound record, but it’s the song’s plush drones and breathy textures that make it a truly spellbinding listen.
Although Gigi Masin’s new Vahiné album is inspired by the death of his wife last year, the record isn’t a somber one. It’s a celebration of life, and moved the Italian artist—best known for his elegantly stripped-down, Mediterranean-flavored ambient compositions—to take his music in colorful new directions. With its fluttering synth arpeggios, “Barumini” is ready to take flight, and given the surprising presence of a steady kick drum, the 10-minute epic appears to be headed for the nearest dancefloor.
The title track of J.WLSN’s new 1993 LP—a largely ambient album built partially out of tape loops the Australian artist created with his young son—is a humbly immersive tune, one in which snippets of birdsong, string fragments, synthesis shards and crackly almost-melodies come together and gently shudder beneath a persistent veil of analog hiss.
On Plasma, the sophomore album from Lucy and Rrose’s collaborative Lotus Eater project, the Berlin-based duo’s brooding, industrial-tinged compositions frequently cast aside all notions of dancefloor functionality. “Tunnel,” however, maintains a steady techno pulse, plowing deep into the abyss as its swirling textures gradually snuff out all signs of life.
There are hints of Boards of Canada in ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, the massive, 26-track new album from veteran French duo Principles of Geometry, but LP standout “Emquvist” dials up the energy level, following the track’s opening volley of wistful, nostalgia-tinged melodies with cracking, IDM-style breakbeats and tossing in some crunchy bass for good measure.
Succinctly describing Actress is no easy task, but earlier this week, Philip Sherburne did just that when he wrote (in his review of Mount Kimbie’s latest album) that the idiosyncratic UK producer “has fashioned an entire language out of static.” That language feels newly energized on the new Dummy Corporation EP, a techno-leaning effort that hits a poignant high point on “Futur Spher Techno Version,” its delicate haze marked by softly plinking piano and a semi-intelligible series of warm whispers.
Terrain, the latest album from German ambient producer Joachim Speith, is said to reflect “on the human relationship with nature,” which perhaps explains why its contents feel simultaneously both breathtaking and haunting. “Terrain 3” evokes images of wide-open skies and stunning landscapes, but even with its majestically shimmering melodies, the track’s looming drones and disembodied vocal fragments serve as unsettling little reminders that nature’s power is infinite, and is fully capable of smiting us all at any moment.
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.)
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.