First Floor #154 – Navigating the Strange State of Techno
a.k.a. An interview with Matrixxman, plus a round-up of electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
After a few weeks off, I know I’m supposed to be feeling refreshed, but as it turns out, electronic music didn’t take much of a break during the holidays. There’s a whole lot to catch up on, so let’s just dive right in.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Every Tuesday, First Floor publishes a long-form piece that’s exclusively made available to paid newsletter subscribers only. The latest one is an interview with Matrixxman, a veteran techno artist who discusses his relationship with the genre at a time when the music is arguably more popular (and lucrative) than ever before, but also feels somewhat creatively stagnant—unless you enjoy endless ’90s retreads or 150-bpm bootleg remixes of already-ubiquitous chart pop, that is. The conversation also touches on his own work, including Dust World, a new, 17-track release he’s dropping this week.
The paywall on the above interview has now been temporarily removed for the next 24 hours. 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.
ANOTHER THING I WROTE
Now that the calendar has flipped to 2023, the editors of The Face asked a number of their favorite Substack writers—a group that apparently includes me—to make some predictions about what we can expect to see during the year ahead. I was specifically asked for my thoughts on music, and as regular First Floor readers might expect, my response wasn’t exactly brimming with optimism.
A round-up of the last month’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to interviews, mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Maxi Jazz, frontman of seminal UK outfit Faithless, passed away late last month. The iconic voice behind “Insomnia” and a slew of other classics, his death prompted an outpouring of tributes and remembrances in both social media and the press, including this heartfelt piece Gabriel Szatan wrote for The Guardian and an obituary in Mixmag by Annabel Ross, which included numerous quotes from Faithless member Sister Bliss.
Matmos have long been some of electronic music’s best interview subjects, and the Baltimore experimental duo recently linked up with writer Ted Davis for a lengthy production-focused conversation for Reverb.
Rolling Stone recently published a shocking investigative piece by Sophia Jones, Nidžara Ahmetašević and Milivoje Pantović, for which they meticulously tracked down the identity of a Serbian paramilitary soldier-turned-trance DJ named Srđan Golubović, who was infamously photographed kicking a Bosnian civilian in 1992. The article details some of the war crimes committed by Golubović (and the group he was part of), but also describes how in the years that followed, he returned to Belgrade, adopted the name DJ Max and launched a successful, decades-long career in dance music.
Although it pretty much ignores electronic music, this year-end article that Nate Rogers put together for The Ringer does an admirable job summarizing the many ways that the live music industry is currently broken for artists and fans alike.
Peach was the subject of Mixmag’s December cover story, in which the London-based Canadian traced back her dizzying ascent and talked about her love of astrology with writer Megan Townsend. To mark the occasion, she also put together an accompanying new DJ mix.
Celebrating Warp Records’ recent reissue of the foundational 1992 compilation Artificial Intelligence, Autechre wrapped up December with a five-and-a-half-hour mix of music that was “floating around” during the early ’90s.
Last month Gabriel Szatan sent out another blast of his After Daft newsletter, with the latest edition taking an insightful look back at 2manydjs’ seminal 2002 mix As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt.2—and outsized influence it had in the years that followed.
First established in 1999 by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, archival outlet DJHistory—and its deep library of interviews chronicling decades of nightlife—has been officially relaunched with a new website, new podcast series and other bits of new content.
Shumor Basar, the Curator-in-Residence for ZINE (the editorial arm of NFT protocol ZORA), has authored a thought-provoking essay about “lorecore,” something he describes as “an era, belonging to digital capitalism, characterized by people’s existential need to storify themselves at the very moment global narratives collapse in an unprecedented manner.” (My guess is that anyone who’s spent time on techno Twitter will likely recognize the behavioral patterns he’s talking about.)
DJ Plead is the subject a new Crack magazine feature, in which the Australian-born artist speaks with writer Safi Bugel about his efforts to connect with his Lebanese heritage through music.
On January 27, Saffron—an organization devoted to advancing gender equality in the music tech sector—will be kicking off the 2023 edition of 7 Days of Sound, a week-long digital event that includes workshops, interviews and learning sessions with artists such as rRoxymore, Heba Kadry, Elena Colombi and many others. The full schedule (and a link to purchase tickets) is here, and the event, which runs through February 2, will be open to women, non-binary and trans folks worldwide.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past month.
Jacktone label co-owner and Room 4 Resistance resident Doc Sleep has completed her debut album, Birds (in my mind anyway), which is slated for a March 17 release on Tartelet Records. Ahead of that, she’s shared the LP’s bewitching first single, a collaboration with Glenn Astro called “Tomorrow Is Beautiful!”
Twenty-four years have passed since Everything but the Girl last released an album, but the UK outfit has a new full-length, Fuse, that’s due to arrive on April 21 via Buzzin’ Fly. In the meantime, they’ve shared a video for the record’s first single, “Nothing Left to Lose.”
James Holden has a new LP on the way, his first in five years. Imagine This Is a High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities will surface on March 31 via Border Community, and is described by the UK producer as “my most open record, uncynical, naive, unguarded, the record teenage me wanted to make.” First single “Contains Multitudes” has already been made available.
Buzzy TV drama Industry provided Nathan Micay with his first major scoring gig—which he discussed in detail in First Floor interview back in 2020—and now that the show’s second season has finished, his Season 2 soundtrack has been officially released via LuckyMe.
Cardopusher had himself a big 2022, and now the Barcelona-based Venezuelan looks to continue his hot streak with Immaculate Poison, a new mini-LP for the Evar label. Promising an “overclocked sound redlining into the future,” the record will surface on February 3, but two tracks, “X-tended Reality” and “Haunted,” can already be heard here.
Electro veteran Anthony Rother unexpectedly dropped a new double album a few weeks ago. Entitled AI Space, the 21-track effort is available now on the German producer’s own Psi49net imprint.
Space Dimension Controller will soon make his debut on the Running Back label with a new EP called Neuclidea. The record, which is scheduled for a January 27 release, contains a remix of the title track by Hodge, and another track, “Life Window,” has already been shared.
Chicago hardware wizard Beau Wanzer has linked up with the iDEAL label for a new, eight-track release called A Dead Person’s Monologue. It’s available now.
John Roberts has re-emerged with a new record, a stripped-down, piano-centric offering called Like Death a Banquet. It’s out now on his own Brunette Editions imprint.
Prolific NYC artist AceMo decided to clear out his archives, and just yesterday self-released two album-length collections of music, Unreleased Trax Vol. 2 and Unreleased Trax Vol. 3.
Pavel Milyakov, who is perhaps better known by his buttechno moniker, will soon be releasing a new album. Described as “a collection of loops recorded between 2016-2021,” it’s called project Mirrors, and is slated to arrive via AD 93 on February 3. Before that, the song “last dolphin” has already been shared.
Daniel Avery shared a new track, “Hyper Euphoria,” which was apparently created during the sessions for his recent Ultra Truth album. It’s available as a free download, but only for those who sign up to his Discord server.
The holiday season often puts people in giving mood, and the following artists and labels all offered up music as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp during the past few weeks.
Skee Mask unveiled B, a collection of “tracks that were made between 2017 and 2020.” (More on this later.) A few days later, he also delivered an exclusive mix for Resident Advisor’s podcast series.
Myor, the label headed up by Coco Bryce, dropped Break Beats, a collection of 50 breakbeats at 160 bpm.
NYC techno artist Relaxer shared a new track called “I’ll Let You Know.”
Om Unit gave away “I’m the Queen (Bristol Edit),” a bootleg rework of Rhythm and Sound’s “Queen in My Empire.”
Machine Woman released a new single called “Next Summer We Will Be Dancing.”
Latvian bass outpost Hyperboloid kicked off the year with Hyperboloid 2023, a sprawling 23-track compilation that features A.Fruit, Pixelord and many others.
GRAND RIVER HAS BETTER TASTE THAN I DO
First Floor is effectively a one-person operation, but starting this week, every edition of the newsletter will cede a small portion of the spotlight to an artist, writer or other figure from the music world, inviting them to recommend a piece of music. This first installment comes from Grand River, a Berlin-based Dutch-Italian composer, sound designer and ambient / experimental artist who co-runs the One Instrument label and whose latest album, All Above, will be released on February 24 via Editions Mego.
Giulio Aldinucci “Aphasic Semiotics” (Karlrecords)
“The Eternal Transition” is the Giulio Aldinucci piece that made me want to discover more about the music of the Italian composer. It is the opening track on his beautiful 2018 album Disappearing in a Mirror. After listening to the full LP though, I realized that "Aphasic Semiotics" was the piece that gave me a new perspective about his work. Melancholic and powerful, subtle, fascinating and incredibly well crafted, its ethereal, angelic and processed choirs made me feel extremely close to Aldinucci and his music, almost as if I was composing it myself or with him. There's a lot to absorb in his music and I always find something majestic in his work; for me it’s an extraordinary translation of his inner world.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes from releases that came out during the past month or so. ‘The Big Three’ 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. 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
Skee Mask “Steamer (Early Mix)” (Self-released)
Skee Mask is great. That’s not news. Nevertheless, even by his lofty standards, it’s impressive that B, a fairly random collection of unmastered and previously unreleased odds and ends that the German producer effectively gave away on Christmas Day, is of such high quality. The laid-back “Steamer (Early Mix)”—just FYI, the release also contains a slightly brawnier “AD Mix” of the song—is on par with his best tunes, its dreamily wavering piano chords and scuttling breakbeats sounding downright wholesome as they recall the more melodic end of ’90s IDM. Stripped-down and tinged with just a hint of sadness, it makes for a poignant listen, and though Skee Mask is often (rightly) hailed for his genre-bending production skills, this track makes clear that he brings both songwriting chops and studio wizardry to the table.
Xqui “Hymn 218379” (Subexotic)
Xqui “Hymn 532292” (Subexotic)
Inspired by the death of his best friend, Xqui—a self-described atheist—wrote Hymns for Terry Francis, an album with a decidedly spiritual bent. Francis was a devout Catholic and a vicar, and the record is essentially a collection of otherworldly choir performances that Xqui presumably manipulated and / or synthesized completely in his studio. LP highlight “Hymn 218379” leads its sonorous vocal tones through a myriad of unnatural twists and turns, at times sounding more like a haunted house than a grand cathedral. Yet the music retains a palpable sense of humanity, its majestic harmonies exuding grief and glory in equal measure. “Hymn 532292” ups the emotional ante even further, fashioning what sounds like the voices of children into an elegantly fluttering (and subtly spooky) sonic spectacle.
Phil Tomsett & Aaron Martin “The Surface of Our Dreams” (Fluid Audio)
Phil Tomsett & Aaron Martin “The Distant Noise” (Fluid Audio)
At Sea, the stirring new album from UK artists Phil Tomsett and Aaron Martin, presents a distinctly English vision of life along the shore. Built primarily around loops of accordion, the LP is a pensive, moody affair, evoking not images of sunshine and good cheer, but grey skies and tumultuous waters. That said, it’s often quite beautiful, particularly on the expansive “The Surface of Our Dreams,” where lilting melodies spellbindingly drift back and forth, the song’s somber undulations gradually ascending toward the clouds. Bordering on devotional but also a little haunting, “The Distant Noise” is another standout, one which cranks the reverb and brings an assemblage of wordless vocal layers into the mix. It doesn’t line up with stereotypical notions of a day at the beach, but much like the rest of the album, it’s well suited for pondering questions that go deeper than soft drinks and sunscreen.
BEST OF THE REST
Bot1500 “Chartreuse 8” (Lith Dolina)
Bot1500 “Crimson 9” (Lith Dolina)
Operating in introspective space that resides somewhere between electro, IDM and ambient techno, Japanese artist Bot1500 ostensibly makes club music, but his Surreal EP is honestly better suited for an evening of longingly staring out the window than a wild night out. The melancholy (but not mopey) “Chartreuse 8” channels the more pensive corners of the Aphex Twin catalog, while EP closer “Crimson 9” is a bit more carefree, its jaunty skip and pert (albeit still heavily filtered) melodies adding some welcome color to the proceedings.
Quartz & Tim Reaper “Demolition” (Future Retro London)
The Meeting of the Minds compilation EP series is Tim Reaper’s primarily outlet for his collaborative work, and the expert junglist dropped two new installments (Vol. 9 and Vol. 10) last week. “Demolition” appears on the former, and while the track’s opening moments offer up what sounds like a relatively restrained rumble, Reaper and fellow UK artist Quartz quickly swerve toward darkness, cranking the intensity (and the bass) before unleashing a sinister, horror flick-style synth riff.
Zara “Azure” (Pure Space)
Just seeing the word “deconstructed” is likely enough to send many ravers running for the hills at this point, but “Azure”—a highlight of Australian producer Zara’s new Reverie EP—is a wonderfully disassembled slice of leftfield bass music, one that charts a trippy path through mind-bending melodies and broken drum & bass rhythms.
Slam “Obsidian” (Soma)
With more than three decades of music under their belt, Slam aren’t really breaking the mold these days, but the Scottish duo is still very much capable of delivering a quality techno sheller. “Obsidian” is a barreling standout from the new Mover EP, and though its relentless kick will nicely bludgeon just about any dancefloor, the track’s ominously groaning underbelly and spaced-out synth flourishes are what make it feel like a trip into the underworld.
Settle Down “Sub Bias” (E-Beamz)
The new-ish solo endeavor from UK artist and former Ulterior Motive member Greg Hepworth, Settle Down offers up some drum & bass with a capital BASS on “Sub Bias.” The ragga-flavored tune features dubbed-out vocal clips and a somewhat retro feel, but its true power undeniably lies in the steady procession of chest-rattling low end. A soundystem cut through and through, the one was made to be played loud and vibrate every window in the neighborhood.
Nathan Micay “The Rite Time” (LuckyMe)
Scoring work has taken up much of Nathan Micay’s time during the past few years, and while that’s slowed the Canadian producer’s club-focused output to a trickle, he did manage to contribute what’s arguably the best track on LuckyMe’s name-your-price Advent Calendar 22 compilation. (Given that the release also features the likes of Jacques Greene, Nosaj Thing, S-Type and many other talented artists, that’s saying something.) “The Rite Time” is essentially a bouncy slice of playful UK garage, though its light haze of reverb and slightly grunge-y guitars explain why Micay tweeted that the song is “future garage if I had been wearing more flannel in 2010.”
Merino “Those Days (Verraco Remix)” (Herrensauna)
Herrensauna is one of Berlin’s hottest techno parties, but this Verraco remix of Merino’s “Those Days”—which appears on the new Herrensauna Vol. 2 compilation—has a bit of a Fade to Mind vibe. Combining classic house diva vocal snippets with serpentine drum patterns and hovering bass tones, the track basically refuses to follow straight lines, yet it feels genuinely euphoric all the same.
Joachim Spieth “Hyle (Simone Giudice Reshape)” (Affin)
Fresh off the release of his Terrain LP, German composer Joachim Spieth has dropped Reshape, a remix album on which his work is reinterpreted by ambient / experimental heavyweights like Alva Noto, ASC and bvdub, amongst others. This rework of “Hyle”—a song that first appeared on Spieth’s 2021 Ousia LP—takes the vaporous drone of the original to cinematic new heights, its quietly triumphant tones evoking images of wide-open skies and endless horizons.
Heather Stebbins “You are almost” (SUPERPANG)
Hailing from Washington DC, composer and synthesist Heather Stebbins delves into choir-like weirdness on “You are almost,” a highlight of her new At the end of the sky release. A beautiful (if somewhat seasick) composition, its twisted and processed vocals nod toward both the alien grandeur of Sigur Rós and the hynpotic solemnity of more traditional devotional music. There’s a (holy) ghost in the machine, and Stebbins has it making some incredible sounds.
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.)
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.