First Floor #152 – This Is What We're Dancing to?
a.k.a. 2022 in review, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Every Tuesday, First Floor publishes a long-form piece that’s exclusively made available to paid newsletter subscribers only. A brief overview of the latest one is below, and its paywall has now been temporarily removed for the next 24 hours.
THE YEAR OF EMPTY CALORIES
“Dance music is back!”
If there was one narrative that dominated dance music in 2022, that was it. Of course it was. After two-plus years of lockdowns, postponements and cancellations, people were ready to get together and dance again. And while the return of nightlife didn’t always go smoothly, it was fairly remarkable that the industry managed to get up and running again.
The pandemic was a life-changing, global event, and decades from now, there’s a good chance that today’s dance music fans—who by then will likely be long-retired from the dancefloor—will still remember what it felt like when clubs came back and people were allowed to (legally) party again. That said, what (if anything) will they remember about the music that was playing?
If 2022 had a sound, it was big, bright, fast and jubilant. Heads-down seriousness was out and giddy irreverence was in, to a point where the year’s biggest dance anthems were arguably a TikTok-fueled ’90s house flashback and a Four Tet festival smasher. A new, post-pandemic generation stormed onto the dancefloor, and much to the chagrin of the genre’s old guard, they also brought a whole lot of ultra-mainstream pop music (e.g. Britney Spears, Vengaboys, Spice Girls, etc.) with them. Moreover, they often seemed to delight in the fact that their dance music elders weren’t happy about it.
What motivated these changes, and what do they say about the current state of dance music? Is hearing pop music at the rave a temporary phenomenon, or will it remain a staple of the culture in the years to come? Thinking back on the past 12 months, 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.
If you’d like exclusive first access to future long-form pieces (and unlimited access to the First Floor archives), then please sign up for a paid subscription.
SOME OTHER THINGS I WROTE
With 2022 coming to a close, list season is upon us, and this week seemingly every music media outlet on the planet has been scrambling to name the year’s best tracks and albums. A full rundown of my own personal favorites will be published here in the newsletter next week, but in the meantime, I did contribute to a couple of other outlets’ lists:
As part of Pitchfork’s “100 Best Songs of 2022,” I wrote about DJ Python’s “Angel,” which landed at number 54.
Beatportal didn’t rank its “50 Best Tracks of 2022” list, but inside are my writeups of Pariah’s “Caterpillar,” Shanti Celeste’s “Cutie,” Rhyw’s “Honey Badger” and DJ Hank’s “Lift Gate.”
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.
Chal Ravens’ latest article for DJ Mag is mentioned (several times) in this week’s First Floor essay, but it’s honestly one of this year’s most insightful pieces of dance music writing. Taking a closer look at the explosion of pop music within supposedly “underground” dance music, the piece thoughtfully places the trend in a larger historical context, but also digs much deeper, examining the root causes of the current trend and even breaking down the complicated dynamics of what actually constitutes “pop” in contemporary music culture.
Do artists need social media to survive? The answer may seem like an obvious “yes,” but in a new feature for Attack, writer Harold Heath speaks to three prominent electronic music acts (Helena Hauff, Shackleton and Crooked Man) about how and why they’ve forged ahead without it.
Featuring tracks from Aphex Twin, Richie Hawtin, Autechre and several other now-iconic artists (many of them operating under aliases), Warp Records’ 1992 compilation Artificial Intelligence was a massively influential release, and undoubtedly (albeit inadvertently) contributed to the rise of the term IDM (a.k.a. intelligent dance music). With a special 30th anniversary reissue arriving tomorrow, Daniel Dylan Wray has put together a sprawling oral history of the compilation for The Quietus, speaking to the likes of Mike Paradinas, Simon Reynolds, B12, Alex Paterson of The Orb and several others about the compilation’s genesis and legacy.
Loraine James has been interviewed quite a lot during the past few years, but it’s fair to say that nothing written about the UK artist has been as comprehensive as this new DJ Mag cover story written by Eoin Murray. The piece dives deep into her history (both personal and musical), touches on several of her releases—including the two albums she released in 2022—and also examines her recent live collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra.
Crack magazine’s Kez Cochrane recently moderated a conversation between artists Azu Tiwaline and DJ Plead, who discussed their working processes but primarily focused on how their respective Tunisian and Lebanese heritages have influenced their work.
Ben Cardew’s Solid Gold features for DJ Mag—in which he re-examines influential albums from dance music’s past—continue to serve as fantastic primers for those looking to catch up on (or get reacquainted with) a bit of rave history. His latest piece looks at Frequencies, the 1991 debut album from LFO, and examines its role in the growth of UK’s bleep techno sound.
UK media outlet Dummy, which has always included a fair bit of electronic music in its coverage, has officially rebranded itself as DMY, which also happens to be the name of its affiliated artist services company that launched in 2020. It’s unclear how (or if) the change will affect the site’s editorial, but they have already launched a new DMY mix series, with a first installment by Dance System.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
At this point, LuckyMe’s annual Advent Calendar compilation has become a time-honored tradition, and the 2022 edition began rolling out this week. The label has already unveiled tunes from On One, Cameron Morse (remixed by Mor Elian) and Nathan Micay, and will continue to share one track per day through December 16. The whole thing is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
Following a prolonged absence from the music scene, Mumdance has gradually returned to the public eye this year, and earlier this week the UK producer offered up his first new music since 2019. Issued via his own MD Dubs imprint, MD001 is available now, and is said to be the first in a series of two-track releases that will be released throughout 2023.
Jonnine, also known as one half of HTRK, has completed a new solo EP for the Idle Press label. Entitled Maritz—her mother’s maiden name—it’s set for a February 16 release, but two tracks are already available here, and a video for LP opener “I Put a Little Thing in Your Pocket” went live earlier this week.
Keeping tabs on all of Perila’s output can be a daunting task, and last week the prolific Russian ambient artist dropped a new single, “wanting is a substance derived from unexpressed,” as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp. That same day, she also dropped the self-titled debut EP from baby bong, her new collaborative project with naemi (a.k.a. exael).
Speaking of new collaborative endeavors from the weirdo corner of ambient, last week saw the debut of crimeboys, a new project from Pontiac Streator and Special Guest DJ. Their Deja Entendu / Sunset 2 release, which features guest appearances by James K and Jake Muir, is available now on the 3XL label.
Berlin-based modular synthesist JakoJako has teamed up with Mute Records for her next release, the four-track Verve EP. More details are here, but before the record arrives on January 27, she’s already shared one of its tracks, the techno-leaning “Auris.”
The ever-prolific Slikback has dropped a new album. Entitled K E K K A N, it’s available now on the Kenyan producer’s Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download.
Created “after a year and a half writing and recording rock music” with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, . I : (pronounced “one”) is the latest album from John Frusciante. Rooted in synthesis and recorded live with no overdubs, the album will be released by Avenue 66 on February 3. No audio has been shared yet, but the label will be issuing two different versions of the album, . I : (on vinyl) and : I I (pronounced “two,” on digital/CD). The latter is apparently longer, as some of its tracks apaprently “have sounds that can not be pressed on vinyl.”
Avant-pop auteur Kate NV has finished a new full-length for RVNG Intl. It’s called WOW, and is said to explore “a parallel dimension in which the mundane becomes funny, unfamiliar and altogether sensational.” Though it won’t arrive until March 3, several tracks from the LP can already be heard here, and the wildly colorful video for lead single “oni (they)” dropped earlier this week.
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
Like most artforms, electronic music tends to rely on younger generations for innovation, but Mosca—who is now more than a decade into his career—doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy. Pushing boundaries has always been key to the English producer’s process, and as he explained in a First Floor interview in 2020, he’s particularly interested in what he describes as “wow beats”—songs that are functional enough to work on the dancefloor, but are also strange / different enough to “blow the top of your head off.” Finding that sweet spot is no easy task, but “Foot Clan” triumphantly ticks all the right boxes, combining zero-gravity grime with creepy-crawly sonics and an urgent techno-not-techno rhythm. There’s a lot of drama here, but the track will absolutely bang the box, and aside from a few previous Mosca productions, there’s honestly nothing else out there that sounds quite like it.
Discussions of Topdown Dialectic invariably seem to mention dub techno, despite the fact that across the anonymous artist’s catalog—and particularly the three albums previously released by Peak Oil—the connection to the genre often seems tenuous at best. That’s not a bad thing; while Topdown Dialectic productions do share dub techno’s predilection for fuzzy textures, gloopy basslines and submerging entire compositions in a haze of static, the music itself is generally much weirder, folding in warped elements of boogie, R&B and other decidedly non-linear rhythms.
All that said, now that Peak Oil has reissued Topdown Dialectic’s elusive debut—which originally surfaced on a limited-edition cassette in 2013—the project’s dub-techno roots are more readily apparent. “A4”—a churning highlight from a release stuffed with great tunes—doesn’t necessarily sound like a Deepchord record, but its ghostly flourishes do unfold atop a steady techno groove. Nearly a decade after it first surfaced, it’s still unclear exactly who Topdown Dialectic is, but tracks like this one do lend credence to the idea that it’s someone who’s spent a fair amount of time on the dancefloor.
Quietly released on cassette last week, Ovigd jord most likely arrived too late to appear on many year-end lists, and that’s a real shame because it’s a stunning album. Although Evigt Mörker is primarily known as a techno artist—albeit one whose work often has a blissfully psychedelic bent—his new album largely steers clear of the dancefloor, its billowing melodies and sparkling tones maintaining a sense of forward momentum without the need for a pounding kick drum. “Intetheten” is technically ambient, but while it’s certainly easy to get lost in its celestial vocals and gurgling atmospheres, the track never feels static, gliding through the air with an almost angelic grace. “Från en värld till en annan,” another highlight, is somewhat more modest, yet its glistening textures are similarly spellbinding, evoking images of wide-open skies and pastoral afternoons spent traipsing through the countryside.
BEST OF THE REST
A standout from Henzo’s new Stretford Blues EP, “Writhing” offers a sludgy—and distinctly Mancunian—take on dancehall, surrounding the song’s confident Caribbean strut with brooding bass tones and a post-industrial sound palette. There’s misery baked into its muscular riddim, but let loose on a proper soundsystem, this tune is still going to do some damage.
On the original “Senta Senta,” LA producers Amadeo & Oxóssi pay tribute to Brazilian club sounds—and the country’s insurgent grime scene in particular—but NYC’s Doctor Jeep (who also has Brazilian heritage) has transformed the track into a thundering drum & bass roller, maintaining the lively spirit of the source material while introducing some sci-fi sonics into the mix.
A compilation of Orion Agassi tunes that initially surfaced on Bandcamp during the past few years, the Hot Jams Straight out the 330XX EP is essentially a showcase of the Asturian producer’s talent for retro-flavored dancefloor jams, many of them accentuated with vocals lifted from reggaeton records. “En Mis Sueños” is the best of the bunch, its melodic machine funk sitting somewhere between classic Chicago house and Spanish-language synth-pop.
Although Jozef K and Tin Man have joined forces several times over the years, this might be the most rewarding combination of their talents to date. “Loveparade 2096” is the title track of Jozef K’s latest EP—which also happens to be the inaugural release for the UK producer’s new Dreaming Forever imprint—and while the original takes a thrilling, hoover-filled trip through ’90s-era trancey techno, Tin Man’s rework dials down the mayhem and satisfyingly settles into a bubbling, acid-laced groove.
Lisbon’s Principe label has long been home to some of the most creative sounds in dance music, but even by those lofty standards, the RS Produções crew—which consists of DJ Narciso, Farucox and Nuno Beats—still feels like something special. Their new Saúde Em 1º Lugar LP tours through a variety of off-kilter, batida-infused beats, but Nuno Beats’ “Tribal” surprisingly echoes the shuffling cadence of Mexican tribal guarachero. The similarity may be coincidental, but either way, the song’s honking synths and insistent stomp make for a drum-heavy good time.
Montreal artist RAMZi has always had a playful streak, and “megafauna”—a standout from her new hyphea album—takes her whimsical fourth-world experiments to the Indian subcontinent, layering dreamy atmospherics and fluttering flutes atop a lively tabla beat. In less skilled hands, this kind of multi-culti hybrid could sound like pastiche (or worse), but with RAMZi at the helm, it’s more like a fantastical journey through the clouds.
How does Tim Reaper do it? The London junglist has been an absolute machine in 2022, appearing on something like 10 different releases—and that’s not even counting all of the remixes he did. His two most recent offerings are The Future Retro Sound of London and AMENFR001. “A1” leads off the former, and though its rattling percussion is positively booming, the track’s soulful vocal and warbling melodies give it a nicely cooled-out vibe. “Give Me Some More,” on the other hand, is a bass-loaded, sci-fi rave-up that first dropped in 2017, and though the AMENFR001 reissue includes tantalizing new remixes from Sully and Ricky Force, neither one can top the original.
Plenty of artists are operating at 160+ bpm these days, but Itoa is one of the few who can do it without sounding cartoonish, or like he’s simply trying to pummel listeners into submission. “Fonda U”—a standout from his new Oh No EP—has a real lightness to it, as the UK producer overlays his feverishly percolating (albeit still bouncy) rhythms with playfully wobbly basslines and joyously tweaked vocal clips. In short, this tune is a whole lot of fun.
The original “Medal Headz”—which appeared on Brainwaltzera’s ITSAME album earlier this year—was a heady, IDM-tinged (and occasionally banging) nod to the golden era of ’90s jungle. This rework from UK drum & bass veteran Peshay transforms the song into a proper club smasher, its brawny bassline aggressively vibrating atop frantic percussion that sounds like the work of a hyperactive jazz drummer who’s gulped down five cups of espresso.
So… nearly a decade after the 100% Galcher DJ mix first hit the internet, it’s now being released as a proper (and completely unmixed) album? Yes, and it’s glorious. That mix didn’t just put Galcher Lustwerk on the map; it opened up an entire new lane of house music, infusing blurry, late-night rhythms with world-weary raps and tales of youthful bravado. It’s hard to properly capture the timeless appeal of these tunes—although Philip Sherburne did a fantastic job in his Pitchfork review of the album—and while vocal numbers like “Parlay” and “Put On” still have the biggest “wow” factor, the lesser-known instrumental “Enterprise” makes a compelling case for Galcher’s lighter side, its moody melodies perfect for a bout of introspection after a long night at the club.
The Fifth Season, the latest full-length from Frunk29, is billed as a collection of “bedroom Balearica,” and while that’s not inaccurate, it does fail to capture the utterly immersive nature of the music on offer. Full of pastel textures and plinky synth tones, opening track “Bez Nazvanya” exudes warmth and new agey bliss, and thanks to the gently strummed guitar, the song ultimately sounds like a cross between The Durutti Column and something from a ’90s-era Pure Moods compilation.
With contributions from KMRU, Yu Su, Kareem Lofty, Aria Rostami and several others, there’s no shortage of quality on the new Imaginary Landscapes charity compilation. However, it’s Naples producer Dave Saved who delivers the record’s quietly anthemic highlight, bathing “Present Tense” in soft static as its nervously quavering (albeit still poignant) melodies elegantly echo across the horizon.
Broken Spectre, the new LP from experimental veteran Ben Frost, is not a comforting listen. Assembled using sounds he recorded in the Amazon over several years, the album is dripping with existential dread, as Frost repeatedly witnessed the wholesale destruction and degradation of one the planet’s most vital ecosystems. That tumult flows through the record, and LP highlight “The Index” amplifies the menace of both nature and humanity alike, its assorted field recordings gradually blotted out by an unnerving hum and his piercing synth jabs.
That’s all for today’s edition of the 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.)
Have a great 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.