First Floor #150 – Dance Music Isn't THAT Popular
a.k.a. Thoughts on where the genre sits in the wider culture, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
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GETTING OUTSIDE THE BUBBLE
“Dance music is a global, multibillion-dollar industry.”
Here in the newsletter, I’ve written that phrase (or some version of it) more times than I can count. And it’s true! On a purely economic level, the genre is bigger now than ever before, and even on a cultural level, much of the culture’s basic vocabulary (e.g. DJs, clubs, raves, etc.) has seeped into the mainstream consciousness.
That growth has prompted all sorts of hand-wringing, especially as the effects of commercialization are increasingly being felt, even within the genre’s supposedly independent and “underground” corners. Intra-scene conflict, much of it focused on questions of the “right” way to do things, has become a fixture of the culture—particularly on social media—and watching the discourse unfold, it can be easy to let pessimism take root and wonder if the world of dance music has simply gone off the rails.
I’ve certainly been prone to those feelings on occasion, but during the past few days, my perspective has drifted in the other direction. Why? Because I’m currently spending an extended period of time in a small town in Western Australia, a place with no clubs, no raves, no record stores and basically no independent music culture whatsoever. Dance music on the whole might be bigger than ever, but here, it’s little more than an abstract concept.
Like most subcultures, dance music is a bubble, one in which many diehard fans are having fierce debates and lamenting the current state of the culture. Outside that bubble, however, the average person has absolutely no idea what those folks are talking about.
That got me thinking. If dance music is still a relative unknown, how does that affect its output and culture? Moreover, what opportunities does it afford those most invested in the genre? 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.
Music journalist Gabriel Szatan—who was interviewed here in the newsletter last year about his upcoming book, After Daft—has now launched a newsletter of his own, The AD Files. According to his introductory post, he’ll be using it as a kind of clearing house for a lot of the excess material (i.e. “private testimonies, photos, videos and behind-the-scenes assets”) that he’s collected (and continues to collect) for the book. That sharing has already begun, as yesterday Billboard ran Szatan’s exclusive interview with French disco pioneer Daniel Vangarde, who also happens to be the press-shy father of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter.
The consistently intriguing experimental outpost Peak Oil is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, which prompted writer Andy Beta to chat with founders Brian Foote and Brion Brionson, trace back the LA label’s history and highlight some of its key releases in a new feature for Bandcamp Daily.
Fred P. (a.k.a. Black Jazz Consortium) is one of the most celebrated figures in deep house, but given that he usually lets his music do the talking, this new artist profile that Bruce Tantum put together for DJ Mag is a real treat, and dives deep into the Berlin-based New Yorker’s past, present and future.
Fresh off the release of a brilliant new EP—more on that later—Malibu is the subject of a new feature (written by Günseli Yalcinkaya) in Dazed, and while it’s not as expansive as her First Floor interview from earlier this year, it does provide specific insights into her latest work.
The Ransom Note organized a thoughtful conversation between Berlin-based sound artists KMRU and Emeka Ogboh, who originally hail from Kenya and Nigeria respectively. The two discuss silence, relative noise levels, the realities of migration and more.
Ikonika doesn’t chat with the press too often, but with her new Bubble Up EP arriving tomorrow, the London artist spoke to The Quietus’ Jaša Bužinel for a new profile, touching on the new record, the influence of South African sounds, coming out as queer and her admiration of the younger generation.
kranky has long been one of independent and experimental music’s most celebrated labels, and co-founder Bruce Adams—who recently published a book about his experiences and the ’90s Chicago music scene—is the subject of a new Bandcamp Daily feature in which he talks to writer Erin Margaret Day, recounting a few stories from his past and recommending a few of his recent favorites.
Anyone familiar with his Create Digital Music site knows that Peter Kirn is one of electronic music’s best tech / gear writers, which is likely why Resident Advisor tapped him to put together an in-depth review of the new Ableton Note app.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Grand River will be releasing a new album next year. Billed as an effort that “asks what guiding forces might be driving, enticing and affecting us,” All Above is the third full-length from the Berlin-based Dutch-Italian ambient / experimental composer and sound designer. The LP won’t arrive until February 19 via Editions Mego, but one of its tracks (“Human”) is already available, and for these seeking more Grand River, a different new song (“Blade”) surfaced earlier today as part of Common Ground Vol. 2, a benefit compilation from the Safe Ground label that also features music from Abul Mogard, Li Yilei, LB Marszalek and several others.
Ryuichi Sakamoto has completed a new full-length, 12, which he wrote in the aftermath of a major surgery. (The Japanese legend is currently battling rectal cancer.) The Milan label is scheduled to release the album on January 17—Sakamato’s 71st birthday—and though no audio has been shared yet, he will be debuting some of the material next month during a ticketed livestream performance.
Building on its recent busy streak, Hessle Audio has announced a new addition to its roster: Toumba, an artist based in Amman, Jordan. The Petals EP will be his Hessle debut, and ahead of its release on February 3, lead track “Istibtan”—which is described as “a twist on a typical Jordanian wedding song”—has been made available.
Continuing an EP series that began with 1994’s Growth and 2004’s Expanded, techno icon Jeff Mills has completed Extension, a new three-track release that will surface via his own Axis imprint on November 25 (i.e. tomorrow). Preview clips can be heard here.
Ben Frost, who recently announced the forthcoming December 5 release of Broken Spectre—a new studio LP inspired by his travels to Brazil and built using field recordings of what the Iceland-based Australian describes as the “ultra-high frequency, invisible sounds” of endangered Amazoninan fauna—has just today dropped another album-length collection of music through the Invada label. More specifically, it’s the score for 1899, a new Netflix series from Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese (a.k.a. the creators of Dark, which also featured a Frost soundtrack).
The Transcendence Orchestra—an ongoing, ambient-leaning collaboration between Surgeon and Daniel Bean—has dropped a new album. Entitled Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents, it’s available now via the duo’s Old Technology label.
Salamanda’s ashbalkum album was met with acclaim when it dropped earlier this year, and now the Human Pitch label has enlisted a trio of producers to remix tracks from the South Korean ambient duo. ashbalkum remixes is out now, and includes reworks from soso tharpa, Tristan Arp and Yushh.
Floating Points and Marta Salogni teamed up on a remix of Tomaga’s “Intimate Intensity” that first surfaced digitally last year, and now that effort is set to appear on an upcoming vinyl release for Phonica Special Editions. The record, which can be previewed here, is due to arrive on December 2, and will also include “A Call From The Eaves,” a new original collaboration from the two artists.
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
There are five songs on Malibu’s new Palaces of Pity EP, and it’s honestly tempting to post them all here. Like seemingly everything the reclusive French artist makes, her latest release is stunningly gorgeous, a collection of impossibly plush ambient pop tunes whose celestial glow is nonetheless tinged with a kind of quiet sadness. The billowing legacy of acts like Enya and Cocteau Twins comes to mind, but Malibu is a fully modern being, an artist who—as her DJ Lostboi alias proves—is shaped as by the sounds of Charli XCX and Playboi Carti as she is any ’80s ambient or new age heroes.
Irrespective of its component parts and influences, the music itself is beautiful, and “The Things That Fade” opens the EP with glistening trance melodies, elegant cello moans (courtesy of Oliver Coates) and, of course, Malibu’s own voice, which has been stretched across the horizon and set free to float amongst the clouds. “So Far out of Love” moves down to the beach, its ethereal siren call gliding atop sounds of sea birds and crashing ocean waves. Like most of her output, it’s transportive, and considering the quality of the work on offer, listeners will likely be more than happy to travel wherever Malibu wants to go.
As a general rule, most albums don’t need to be 20 tracks long—and that goes double when it’s a techno album. Kon Janson, however, doesn’t seem much concerned with that rule on the Memory Motion LP, and has populated his sprawling debut LP with an impressive variety of sturdy, somewhat spaced-out techno tunes. It’s not a flashy record, and the Berlin producer tends to shy away from full-throttle rippers, but “Bit Shift” is arguably the toughest selection on the album, its pounding gait accentuated by a recurring, sledgehammer-like synth riff that’s brawny enough to get anyone’s fist pumping. “Chip,” on the other hand, leans harder into the sci-fi sound palette of ’90s Detroit, its intergalactic melodies made all the more lively by the song’s percolating percussive strut.
Less than a year removed from his electro-oriented (and honestly quite good) Omura album with Sam Binga, Astrophonica boss Fracture has gone back to his roots on the new 0860 LP. A celebration of London’s pirate radio era, it’s more than just a collection of nostalgia-laden tunes; the full project includes a mixtape, various merch items and an online radio station that features a wide range of historical interviews, a complimentary ambient album called Signal Test and “lost recordings of original ’90s & ’00s London pirate station broadcasts from the likes of Kool, Rinse, Pulse and more.”
There’s a lot to explore, but Fracture’s music alone is worth the price of admission, as he opens the record with Eastman collaboration “0860,” a softly crackling drum & bass tune whose soft pianos and laid-back rhythm gradually give way to zapping lazers and a bit of low-end ruckus. “Telepathy” is another particularly bright spot, its warbling static—an element which, in a nod to the spotty on-air signals of most pirate broadcasters, remains present throughout much of the LP—nicely coats the track’s soulful strings and rolling groove.
BEST OF THE REST
Though he hails from Mexico City and often makes dubby bass-techno hybrids that sound more like Bristol, Nico explores a more Caribbean flavor on “THE SOUND,” the dancehall-leaning opening cut from his new Si EP. Calling it “THE SOUNDSYSTEM” might have been a more accurate title, because this booming high-stepper—which is littered with zooming synths and blown-out bass hits—was clearly made to rattle a speaker stack or two.
The lead track on Wata Igarashi’s new WIP08 EP, “Tunnelling” is a buzzing slice of techno. Consisting of little more than some pert drums and a satisfying array of crunchy synth sounds, it’s something the Japanese producer designed specifically to “create energy on the dancefloor,” and while it’s not a complicated tune, its untamed (and almost punk) spirit is akin to that of a downed power line, wildly twitching on the ground as a growing crowd of neighborhood kids look on in wonder.
When a dance producer suddenly picks up the mic and lays down some vocals, things can—and often do—go awry, but Olive T suavely bridges the pop-house divide on “We’ll Maintain,” the cheery opener of her new Maintaining EP. True to the NY native’s roots, there’s a definite ’90s house vibe at work, especially once the swooning strings come in, but with its pastel bounce and hypnotic talk-singing, the song also isn’t too far from the hooky jams that Peggy Gou has offered up in recent years.
Scuzzy acid house meets fabulous glitter disco on “Look Like a Man,” the delirious lead single off Decius Vol. 1, the debut full-length from UK group Decius. A sleazy tune constructed atop a feverishly pulsing bassline, its funk-filled strut conjures images of dark corners and relentless strobe lights, the scene made all the more surreal by the androgynous, Bee Gees-reminiscent vocals of Lias Saoudi, who some may recognize from rock outfit Fat White Family.
After spending much of the past two-plus years releasing music from her more experimental Alloy Sea alias—full disclosure: the project’s most recent offering, Xoomin, came out on my wife’s Paralaxe Editions label—Mor Elian has returned, both to her own name and the dancefloor, with the new Diva Test EP. The record’s title track, which has been intriguingly billed as a “Cicada Mix,” is a twirly club tune, its whimsical, almost new age melodies offset by the song’s slightly wobbly (albeit still hard-hitting) percussive shuffle.
One of three Japanese ambient / experimental releases simultaneously issued by the Vaagner label last week, Yuto Ohashi’s Loka:Immanence - 空白－世界のうちの, 再生として- ends on a poignant note with the delicate lullaby “Hologramm in dem Schlaf,” swaddling its twinkling tones and tender vocal clips in a warm blanket of crackling static.
With a runtime that creeps past 20 minutes, “New Cut”—a highlight of Nick Klein’s new Slippin Out release—isn’t a casual listen, but it is an immersive one. Bathed in soft static, the piece’s opening half offers a kind of orchestral tumult, its flashes of strings constantly speeding up and slowing down like a worn-out cassette tape. The eventual addition of vocals initially adds to the (not unpleasant) chaos, but during the final five minutes, the excess noise melts away, leaving behind only a hypnotic swirl of Enya-meets-R&B vocal fragments.
Max McFerren is a man of many monikers, but he returns to Complete Walkthru—which he refers to as his “flagship alias”—on new album Time Will Tell. An LP more concerned with drifting textures than club functionality, many of its percussive bursts border on the spastic, but standout track “Think You’re in Heaven (RIP Cory B)” settles into a celestial breakbeat groove, its clicking rhythms hinting at the dreamier end of IDM as the song’s sparkling melodies evoke images of wide-open skies and far-off worlds.
The promotional blurb for Egg Meat’s self-titled new EP boldly states that it’s “NOT A SPOKEN WORD TAPE,” but irrespective of its genre, the London duo’s debut—which leans heavily on electronic skronk and bassy shudders—has been built around the utterings of UK poet Danny Hayward. Granted, his words have been endlessly tweaked, twisted and pitch shifted, and on EP highlight “Climate and Resilience,” they’ve skillfully been paired with an insistent techno pulse that recalls Minimal Nation-era Robert Hood.
Schooled in the genre-blurring tradition of Washington DC’s Future Times crew, Jackson Ryland is one of those artists who’s seemingly dabbled in just about everything, and while he’s tried his hand at techno previously—most explicitly as part of the collaborative Rush Plus and Superabundance projects—JR2k is his specifically “technoid” solo alias. He’s clearly comfortable in the role, as “Call Back”—a barreling standout from the project’s debut EP, Walking Backward—is an upfront slice of rippling acid techno with clear nods to the big-room sonics of the Y2K era.
An all-star collaboration between techno veterans DJ Hell and John Selway, the original “Save the Robots” is a stadium-sized, synth-heavy disco / techno romp that seems to borrow equally from Daft Punk, classic Nintendo and the Xanadu film soundtrack. On his remix, however, Selway moves to the proceedings to the streets of 1980s New York City, offering up a breakdance-ready tune that’s said to “channel Kraftwerk,” but ultimately sounds a lot more like Afrika Bambaataa.
That’s all for this 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.)
Have a good weekend,
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.