First Floor #155 – That Story Is Full of Holes
a.k.a. An interview with music writer (and bleep expert) Matt Anniss, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh slate of new track recommendations.
January is always a funny time for those of us in the music business. The month is already more than half over, and technically everything is more or less up and running, but it feels like a significant chunk of the industry is still hitting the snooze button on 2023. I’m not complaining—the extended holiday hangover means that my inbox is currently a bit less insane than usual—but it does mean that earth-shattering announcements tend to be few and far between this time of year. (Then again, with Overmono unveiling their long-awaited debut album yesterday—more on that later—I’m afraid that the present calm in the PR waters won’t last much longer.)
There’s still a lot going on though—the length of today’s newsletter is a testament to that—and it’s actually kind of refreshing that so much of what’s unfolding right now is both A) interesting and B) not backed by some big-budget hype cycle.
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 Matt Anniss, a veteran music writer who discusses the newly expanded edition of his book Join the Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music, ponders the role of the modern music journalist and talks extensively about the shortcomings that plague some of UK dance music’s most frequently repeated historical narratives.
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.
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.
It’s been a good week for widening the scope of UK dance music history. On the same day that my above interview with Matt Anniss went live, the Guardian coincidentally published an informative piece by Daniel Dylan Wray that chronicled the history of Jive Turkey, a Sheffield club night that began in 1985 and was one of the first parties in the country to champion the then-nascent sounds of house music.
Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag’s North American editor (and one of the publication’s most experienced scribes), and during the past week his byline appeared on two new artist profiles. His FaltyDL feature dug into the Brooklyn artist’s collaborations with Mykki Blanco and his decidedly not-club-oriented recent album A Nurse to My Patience, while his thoughtful look at Waajeed traced the winding path and grand aspirations of one of Detroit’s unsung musical heroes.
J. Albert is someone whose work has been championed many times here in the newsletter, but yesterday the NYC artist announced that he would be taking a break from releasing music. Further details weren’t really provided—a brief message to his Bandcamp followers did say that the break would be “for a little while”—but in the meantime, he’s made all four volumes of last year’s Good Music Mixtape series available as name-your-price downloads on his Bandcamp page.
In the latest edition of his Hyperspecific column for The Quietus, Jaša Bužinel discusses how artists hailing from former Yugoslavian countries routinely fail to garner much attention outside of their own scenes, and then does a little something to combat that by highlighting some of his favorite recent electronic releases from his home country of Slovenia.
Tomorrow Kali Malone will be releasing Does Spring Hide Its Joy?, an epic, drone-based effort she created alongside Lucy Railton and Stephen O’Malley. Ahead of its arrival, she spoke to writer Vanessa Ague for a new Bandcamp Daily feature that dives into the project’s genesis.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Overmono have been responsible for nearly a dozen EPs and singles over the years, but now the much-loved UK duo have put the finishing touches on their debut album. Entitled Good Lies, the LP features club tracks like 2021 single “So U Kno,” but is also said to contain “music that propels them beyond the dancefloor.” The record is due to surface on May 12 via XL, but this week Overmono have shared a new single from the record, the Tirzah-sampling “Is U.”
This should have been included in last week’s newsletter, but over the holidays NYC artist MoMA Ready dropped Body 22, a 17-track “collection of works from 2013 - 2022.” It’s available now as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
patten has completed a new full-length, but the forthcoming Mirage FM isn’t the average LP. Slated for release on April 14 through the London artist’s own 555-5555 imprint, it’s billed as “the first album fully made from text-to-audio AI samples,” as its songs’ constituent parts were literally created by an AI tool called Riffusion that translates written prompts into lo-fi sound recordings. First single “Fly” has already been shared.
Phran, a Venezuelan artist and mainstay of the Barcelona music scene, is launching two new labels. The first is Vimana—a name under which he’s been throwing parties and publishing zines for several years—and it will officially debut on February 10 with Aprieta, “a collection of polyrhythmic dance tracks” from Phran himself. One song from the EP, “Sons” (a collaboration with Catalan producer and Hivern Discs affiliate oma totem), is already available.
The second label, ACA, is something Phran will be running alongside NAP, and the new imprint is set to kick off with The Tribe (Baila), an EP from DJ Babatr. Readers will likely recognize that name from his contribution to Nick León’s breakout 2022 smash “Xtasis,” and while León does contribute a remix to the record, the new EP mostly consists of tunes that Babatr—a pioneer of Venezuela’s raptor house sound—made during 2001 and 2005, when the Caracas-based scene was at its height. Before it arrives on March 3, opening track “More My Love… Water Dog” has been shared.
Tomu DJ’s Half Moon Bay was one of 2022’s low-key delights, and now the West Coast producer has followed it up with If You're So Cool, How Come No One Likes You?, a new album she’s offering as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
Sasu Ripatti (a.k.a. Vladislav Delay) has already mapped out much of his 2023, as the Finnish experimental veteran has put together two separate five-part series of 10” releases for his own Rajaton label. The first, Dancefloor Classics, is from his Ripatti alias and is said to be devoted to “sample-based tracks for imaginary dancefloors,” while the second, Hide Behind the Silence, is credited to Vladislav Delay and is based upon “improvisations to question inaction vs. action” in the artist’s own life. Both Dancefloor Classics Vol. 1 and Hide Behind the Silence EP 1 are available now.
Celebrated French producer I:Cube has a new LP on the way. Described as a “hands on” effort rooted in improvisation and largely recorded in real time, Eye Cube is scheduled for a March 3 release on the Versatile label, but album cut “0_0_01_48” has already been shared.
A full decade has passed since Erika last released a solo LP, but the Detroit artist and Ectomorph member (who’s currently splitting time between the Motor City and Berlin) will soon be sharing her sophomore album with the world. Entitled Anevite Void, it’s due to arrive on February 17 via Interdimensional Transmissions, and preview clips of its contents have been shared here.
The BITE label has developed into a reliable outpost for industrial- and EBM-flavored techno over the past five years, but label co-founder Phase Fatale has never had a solo release on the imprint. That, however, will change on March 3 when the Berlin-based New Yorker drops the new Nailed to the Net EP, which will also include a remix from Rrose. Ahead of its arrival, he’s already shared one track, “Desecrating Vows.”
Most of Facta’s recent released have come via Wisdom Teeth, the label he runs alongside fellow UK producer K-Lone, but the London artist has intriguingly linked up with NYC imprint Incienso for his latest EP. It’s called Emeline, and before it surfaces on January 27, the record’s title track has already been made available.
A label effort jointly curated by Test Pressing and Love International, LIXTP debuted back in 2021 with a record from Fantastic Man, and following a rather lengthy breather, the imprint has lined up its second offering, a new EP from Apiento. Escape Reality won’t officially arrive until February 10, but preview clips of its six tracks can be heard here.
MARAL HAS BETTER TASTE THAN I DO
First Floor is effectively a one-person operation, but every edition of the newsletter cedes 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 week’s installment comes from Maral, an LA-based Iranian-American artist whose avant-garde beats and electronic compositions notably reference Iranian folk, classical and pop sounds, but also fold in bits of punk, dub and a flair for sonic abstraction. Her most recent album, the excellent Ground Groove, came out on Leaving Records last year.
Recently a track I’ve been building my DJ sets around is DMZ’s “Enter Dimensions” (technically it’s Mala on production duties for this one). It encompasses this special realm where a track can have a banging brutal bass, but at the same time hold this layer of emotion that builds slowly. I love the second half of the track, where the ethereal synths come in and slowly unwrap the emotions of the track to create this romantic feeling to me. It might not seem like it, but a lot of my music is based around the feeling of past longing and growing love and I seek out tracks that hold that same feeling to me, even though it might not be outright.
If you're interested, I made an edit of “Enter Dimensions” for my recent Crack Magazine mix. You can check it out 20min in, but I played off the track’s mysterious romance by including little samples from Ashanti & Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv,” morphing the lyrics into something sweet.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes from releases that came out during the past week 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
As Matrixxman said in his First Floor interview last week, his new Dust World release is not an album. That said, the 17-track offering contains more than an album’s worth of new material, and most of it falls into the category of undeniable techno heat. Loopy without falling into monotony, Matrixxman productions have a bewitching muscularity, and the brawny “1312” is a veritable 18 wheeler, its blaring, horn-like synths giving every impression that the track is keen to run you down and drive right over you. More playful is “Butterfly Knife,” a mind-bending cut whose jaunty string riffs sound like something lifted from an old Twilight Zone episode, while “Beacon Recovery” takes a more bubbly approach, its percolating percussion bopping along as the track’s sludgy bass growls convey a real sense of menace.
The artists in the West Mineral Ltd. / Motion Ward / Experiences Ltd. cohort all seem determined to collaborate with one another, and a crimeboys (a.k.a. the duo of Special Guest DJ and Pontiac Streator) is easily one of that world’s most promising new permutations. Their debut album very dark past is technically an ambient record, but it’s not some new age soundtrack or zoned-out meditative trip. This is a lively effort, and LP standout “sex and drugs” is a low-key, reverb-smudged drum & bass roller, one that takes cues from LTJ Bukem and Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin alike. “trippin’” is a touch more sedate, but while the song’s dubby digital trip-hop provides an agreeably blunted groove, a closer listen also reveals a twitchy undercurrent. Album closer “days go by”—which features a helping hand from fellow weirdo ambient traveler Ben Bondy—is another highlight, and while its kinetic drums never stop moving, the prevailing vibe is a chill one, the song’s washy textures and disembodied siren calls providing a kind of dreamy, shoegaze-indebted sheen.
Continuing what’s now a years-long run of quietly phenomenal music, Istanbul artist Ekin Fil dials back her vocals on Rosewood Untitled, a new full-length largely inspired by massive forest fires that swept through Turkey in the summer of 2021. Still operating in the realm of melancholy ambient and moody avant-pop, she manages to sound both humble and majestic, and on the rare moments when ghostly fragments of her voice do appear (as they do on “Who Else”) their relative scarcity and fleeting nature makes them all the more affecting. “Meyen” is perhaps the LP’s only venture into celestial grandeur, its symphonic gestures and swirling textures bordering on devotional, but also well suited for a transmission into the cosmos.
BEST OF THE REST
The proverbial “kids” like their techno hard and fast these days, and while that’s ruffled the feathers of dance music’s older heads, “RRR+1”—a barreling highlight of Giant Swan’s new Fantasy Food EP—makes clear that it’s possible to turn up the tempo (and the intensity) without sounding like a hyperactive cartoon. Oddly enough, the track is actually rather refined in comparison to the UK duo’s past outings, but they’ve smartly left enough grit in the mix to keep things feeling a bit dangerous.
Does “Barking” sound like Detroit techno, and specifically the melodic, sci-fi flavored tunes that Underground Resistance was turning out in the latter half of the ’90s? Absolutely, but the track (and the entire Eager to Learn on which it appears) feels more like homage than flat-out mimicry, and French artist 23.4 does put a subtly dubby spin on things, his predilection for boomy reverb lending the tune an agreeably subterranean vibe.
UK synth manipulator Luke Sanger first released “Deleting Your Presence” in 2018, but with the fuzzily warbling track slated to appear on a limited-edition 7”, he was forced to edit it down to a four-minute runtime. This here is the original extended version of the track, and its ambient (or perhaps ambient-adjacent) largesse has now been made available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
A staple of the Amsterdam scene during the past decade, Interstellar Funk has gradually crept away from the dancefloor in recent years, and his music has wholly benefitted from his willingness to embrace the weird. “Lurking Orange,” which is taken from the collaborative Never Been EP he created alongside Turkish artist Loradeniz, technically still has a danceable beat, but its fluttering synths and ethereal melodic tendrils make for a colorfully contemplative listen.
An intercontinental collaboration between LA’s marine eyes and Melbourne’s IKSRE, Nurture is a deeply chilled album, its gold-flecked ambient and softly billowing drone evoking ideas of healing both physical and spiritual. The LP’s blissful drift is perhaps most potent on “Bones Knowing,” a song that sparkles like rays of sunlight glinting off the ocean as its cooing vocal melodies and elegantly jangling guitar calmly glide toward the horizon.
Rarely do more than a few weeks go by without Thomas Ragsdale’s name appearing here in the newsletter, as the English ambient / experimental artist is both very prolific and very good. The chilly “A Fragment in Time” is taken from Elements, a new “part live album and part studio album” he created during a day of improvisation with guitarist Richard Arnold (who also happens to be his stepfather). Steeped in reverb and dusted in static, the song conjures images of wind-swept tundra and total isolation, its brooding bass tones seemingly indicating that the weather is about to turn and no help is on the way.
And with that, we’ve arrived at 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.)
Enjoy the rest of your 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.