First Floor #156 – Latin Electronic Music Isn't a Trend... or a Diversity Prop
a.k.a. Thoughts on the current hype around Latin sounds, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
It’s been a little while since I penned something feisty for the newsletter, but after two of electronic music’s most prominent publications casually pretended last week that they’d all along been on board with a niche style of Venezuelan dance music, it felt like a good time to speak up.
There’s more on that just below, but for those who prefer breaking news and new tunes to cultural critique and dissections of media behavior, First Floor still has you covered. Oddly enough, it’s been a very good week for Italian ambient, but if you read on, you’ll find quality music of all shapes and sizes.
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 takes a closer look at the current wave of excitement—some might call it hype—around Latin sounds and rhythms within the wider electronic music world. More specifically, it examines how these flare-ups of interest have historically been not only fleeting, but shallow, playing into stereotypes and misinformed notions of what constitutes “authentic” Latin culture while also doing little to concretely benefit artists and scenes located in Latin America.
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.
The Art of DJing is arguably Resident Advisor’s best feature series at this point, and the latest installment highlights the talents of Bristol artist and Timedance founder Batu, who was interviewed by Christian Eede about how he approaches his craft, both technically and philosophically.
The recent emergence of ChatGPT has left all kinds of professionals wondering if they’ll soon be replaced by A.I. robots. That includes famed electronic music scribe Simon Reynolds, who penned an article for Tidal in which he puts the technology to the test and evaluates just how much music journalists ought to be worried about their future employment prospects.
I meant to include this in last week’s newsletter, but techno icon Richie Hawtin recently announced that he’d established a PhD scholarship at the University of Huddersfield in the UK. It’s called the Richie Hawtin PhD Scholarship in Electronic Music, Cultures and Production, and it includes both tuition fees and tutorial support from Hawtin himself. All the details (and a link to apply) can be found here, and applications are being accepted through February 27.
The value of mastering has previously been something of a hot topic here at First Floor, but for those who still prescribe to the practice, mastering engineer Conor Dalton—who’s previously worked with the likes of Daft Punk, Jeff Mills, Amelie Lens and Kobosil, amongst many others—has published an advice-filled, 7000-word document addressing many of the recurring mixdown issues he comes across in his work.
UK garage has been around for more than two decades at this point, but even as dance music has exploded into a global enterprise, the genre’s signature shuffling rhythms have rarely gained serious traction outside the borders of its home country. That said, an interesting new feature that writer Henry Ivry put together for DJ Mag spotlights a garage-centric scene that’s emerged in Copenhagen. In truth, what’s described is more of a bass music scene than a purely garage-oriented concern, but the article does show that there’s more to dance music in the Danish capital than the fast techno its best known for.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Yesterday Avalon Emerson unveiled not just a new project, but a whole new musical direction. “Sandrail Silhouette” is the first single from Avalon Emerson & The Charm, a “vehicle for expression and connection” with “no fixed roster and no fixed rules.” That said, the song—which was co-produced by Bullion and is available now via Another Dove, a new label Emerson has set up alongside AD 93’s Nic Tasker—has a decidedly indie bent, recalling acts like Cocteau Twins, The Magnetic Fields and (thanks to the prominent use of cello) Arthur Russell. There’s more to come, but in the meantime she’s also released a music video for the track. (Full disclosure: Emerson is a friend of mine, we work together on Buy Music Club and I was also hired to write much of the promotional text for this project.)
Surgeon has a new album on the way for Tresor. Entitled Crash Recoil, it’s the UK veteran’s first techno full-length since 2018’s Luminosity Device, and its eight tracks are said to be be born out of his recent live sets. One of those tracks, “Oak Bank,” is available now, and the complete LP is due to arrive on March 17.
Oval will forever be associated with glitch, but the German experimenter has broadened his palette considerably over the years, and is set to continue that effort with a new LP, Romantiq, that Thrill Jockey will be releasing on May 12. As the title suggests, it’s an exploration of romance, and one of its tracks, “Touha,” has already been shared.
Thomas Bangalter announced his first official post-Daft Punk release, a 90-minute orchestral work called Mythologies. Described as something that draws upon “the large-scale traditional force of a symphony,” it was originally commissioned for a ballet that premiered last year, and though no audio has yet been shared, the full record will be issued by Erato/Warner Classics on April 7.
Following up on their MORE D4TA album from last year, Moderat have now assembled a companion LP of remixes called EVEN MORE D4TA. Scheduled for a March 17 release on Monkeytown, it features reworks from The Bug, Sherelle, Batu, DJ Lag, ZULI and several other artists, including Marie Davidson, whose rework of “FAST LAND” is available now. (Another disclosure: I was hired to write the promotional text for this release.)
UK producer Clark has been making music for more than two decades, but for his forthcoming album Sus Dog—his first release centered on his own singing—he reached out to Thom Yorke for help. The longtime Radiohead frontman agreed to come on as the record’s executive producer (and also both sings and plays bass on LP cut “Medicine”), and though the full album is due to arrive on May 26 via Clark’s own Throttle label, first single “Town Crank” has already been shared.
Katie Gately, whose dramatic, grief-filled Loom was one of 2020’s best LPs, has completed a new album. An effort that’s said to explore “the light and dark of childhood energy following the birth of her first daughter,” the record is called Fawn / Brute, and will be released by Houndstooth on March 31. Ahead of that, the album’s two title tracks can be heard here.
Imaginary Softwoods (a.k.a. former Emeralds member John Elliott) will soon be releasing a new LP. The Cleveland synthesist describes The Notional Pastures of Imaginary Softwoods as “a document of the universe as we comprehend it, designed to vanish as soon as it is felt,” and will be releasing the record on February 17 via Field Records. One track, “The Chalked Outlines of a Polybius Square,” has already been shared.
During its initial run throughout the 2010s, Swedish label Aniara became a cult favorite, and was responsible for fine records from Genius of Time, Dorisburg, Henrik Bergqvist and a slew of other quality acts. The imprint has been dormant in recent years, but it’s now poised to relaunch with a trio of new releases, kicking things off next month with a new Dorisburg EP called Voices. The record will drop on February 14, with a digital release scheduled for March 3, but its title track is available now. Arkajo’s Finally I'm In Orbit will follow on March 20, and though the digital release won’t arrive until April 14, its title track has also already been shared. A third EP, Mattias El Mansouri’s Tja Hej Salam, is set to appear on April 24, with the digital version dropping on May 12.
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
Pluhm “Dentro (Modal Argon8)” (One Instrument)
Pluhm “Rincorrere (Polyend & Dreadbox Medusa Hybrid Synthesizer)” (One Instrument)
True to the One Instrument label’s ethos—and its official guidelines—every track on the fabulous new Distanze e Solitudini full-length was essentially made using a single piece of gear. For many artists, that wouldn’t be enough, and might lead to thin, demo-like compositions, but it only takes a few seconds of majestic album opener “Dentro” to make clear that Italian producer Pluhm knows how to get the most out of his machines. A brawny, quasi-orchestral piece of ambient drone that flexes both power and beauty in equal measure, the track elegantly glimmers with a frosty sheen, and while LP standout “Rincorrere” feels similarly refined, it’s also more tumultuous, its staccato synths firing in rapid succession amidst an orchestral fog of moody reverb.
Drum & Lace “Frost” (Self-released)
Drum & Lace “Plantae (Ambient Mix)” (Self-released)
“Frost”—the title track of Drum & Lace’s new odds-and-ends EP—is a wintery lullaby, and while its delicate chimes and sumptuous textures do showcase the London-based Italian’s talent for ambient soundscapes, it’s also a vehicle for her (frequently multitracked) voice, which borders on angelic. Her impressive pipes are even more prominent on “Plantae (Ambient Mix),” a tune which isn’t terribly far off from what someone like Julianna Barwick is doing. However, while Barwick often exudes a kind of devotional grandeur, Drum & Lace’s voice here retains a sense of quiet intimacy, even as it takes flight amidst a resplendent sea of lush strings and luminous textures.
Martina Bertoni “Inversion” (Karlrecords)
Hypnagogia is defined as the transition between wakefulness and sleep. It’s also the title of Martina Bertoni’s latest album, and it perfectly fits the somnambulant feel of the Berlin-based Italian’s ambient compositions. A cellist by trade, Bertoni frequently warps the instrument beyond recognition, crafting ethereal (and slightly spooky) soundscapes that vividly capture the sensation of a waking dream. This is particularly true on slow-brewing LP opener “Inversion,” a song whose looming tones, ghostly textures and gently whirring oscillations all seem to linger right at the limit of human perception. It’s as though there’s no there there, but then again, that hyperreality is likely what makes the track such a compelling listen.
BEST OF THE REST
Bonobo & Jacques Greene “Fold” (Outlier / Ninja Tune)
A collaborative one-off born out of a “coffee and studio hang” that took place when Jacques Greene paid Bonobo a visit in Los Angeles, “Fold” just might be the most big-room-ready tune the Canadian producer has ever had a hand in creating. It’s tastefully done—think Orbital, not EDM—but the track, with its proggy undertones, alluring (albeit wordless) vocal clips, big melodies and bigger emotions, is sure to inspire its fair share of rapturous hands-in-the-air moments in the months ahead.
tape_hiss “Code 6” (Darker Than Wax)
On last year’s excellent Fever Dream EP, tape_hiss borrowed heavily from Italian dream house of the late ’80s / early ’90s, and while the NYC producer employs a similarly sparkling sound palette on new EP A Linear Progression, his use of breakbeats—which he tapped out on an MPC 1000 during weekend visits to see his family outside the city—lends the music a decidedly different (and subtly funkier) feel. That said, the record still has a charming late-night glow, and standout cut “Code 6” ultimately sounds like a charmingly twee strain of IDM-style electro.
Kali Malone (feat. Stephen O’Malley & Lucy Railton) “Does Spring Hide Its Joy v3” (Ideologic Organ)
With its three-hour runtime, Kali Malone’s new Does Spring Hide Its Joy album isn’t a casual listen; it’s a commitment. This here is the third of the LP’s three takes on a single long-form drone composition, and while the music could be described as minimal—it consists solely of Malone on sine-wave oscillators, Stephen O’Malley on guitar and Lucy Railton on cello—it’s anything but small, as the trio’s slow-moving (but undeniably powerful) groans, tones and textures demand not just deep listening, but total surrender.
Max Würden “Stereo B” (A Strangely Isolated Place)
Landmark, the latest album from ambient veteran Max Würden, is said to be inspired by landscape paintings he found in thrift stores around his hometown of Cologne, and there’s certainly something epic about LP highlight “Stereo B.” Just shy of 10 minutes in length and built in a collage-like fashion, the stirring track moves through scuttling static, soaring melodies, scattered birdsong, lush string passages and more, occasionally courting chaos but never plunging fully into the abyss.
Ladytron “City of Angels” (Cooking Vinyl)
More than 20 years have passed since Ladytron released their landmark Light & Magic album (i.e. the one with songs like “Seventeen” and “Blue Jeans” on it). Since then, the Liverpool quartet has never quite managed to ascend to those same heights, but they have successfully conjured a bit of the old magic on “City of Angels,” a swirly, fuzz-filled number that opens their new Time’s Arrow LP with something that sounds like Silver Apples making a synth-pop record.
James Bangura “Witness Dub” (!K7)
Few things are more satisfying than a good deep house cut, and “Witness Dub” just might be the most laid-back groove that James Bangura has released to date. To his credit though, “Witness Dub”—the B-side of the Washington DC producer’s new two-tracker for !K7—doesn’t completely follow the typical deep house template. Yes, it’s smokey, soulful and optimized for late-night dancefloors, but it’s also a little bit weird (in a good way), periodically offsetting its chunky rhythm with synths that sound like something lifted from a ’60s sci-fi TV show about flying saucers and visitors from another planet.
Nicolas Aftalion “A Soulful Morning” (Wax Classic)
Though he hails from Paris, Nicolas Aftalion makes music that’s firmly rooted in the house music sounds of ’90s New York. As such, his new Spirit of House album is a decidedly retro affair, but the familiarity of the aesthetic does little to detract from the quality of the music, which was clearly made with love and reverence. LP highlight “A Soulful Morning” even recycles one of house music’s most iconic vocal samples, but it’s a high-quality slab of piano-fueled joy all the same.
That’s it for today’s 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.