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First Floor #161 – What Are You Paying For?
a.k.a. A case study in electronic music PR, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
“How do you keep track of all this music stuff?”
Most music journalists have likely been asked this question at some point in their lives, and if they responded honestly, their answer most likely included some version of “PR agencies send me stuff.”
That’s not something many folks in music—professionals and fans alike—like to hear. Publicists are never going to win any popularity contests, and their mere presence tends to taint whatever perceived credibility the music industry has left. Yet even as complaints about the role and influence of PR have grown louder, the day-to-day particulars of the job remain largely unknown. What do publicists actually do? How much do they charge? What influence do they really have?
In an effort to shed some light on the situation, I interviewed one of electronic music’s most in-demand publicists (more on that below), but there’s a lot more to today’s newsletter, including a guest recommendation by fast-rising New York DJ Yumi, a full rundown of the latest news and release announcements and a round-up of my favorite new tunes that surfaced during the past week.
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 an in-depth look at PR in electronic music via an interview with Chanel Kadir of Dawn., one of the genre’s most prominent agencies. Over the course of a long conversation, she outlines the particulars of her day-to-day workflow and what publicity techniques she finds most effective, but she also discusses current trends in electronic music media, including the systemic difficulties faced by press outlets and whether or not coverage can truly be bought.
The paywall on the above article 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.
SOME OTHER THINGS I DID
The latest episode of my First Floor radio show on dublab BCN aired yesterday. Much like the newsletter, it’s focused on new electronic music, and yesterday’s program featured tracks from artists like Khotin, Toumba, Hollie Kenniff, Ehua, and Imaginary Softwoods. For those who missed the original broadcast, the episode has now been archived (with a full playlist) here.
This hasn’t happened yet, but just yesterday it was announced that I’ll be appearing at this year’s International Music Summit in Ibiza. The event is taking place from April 26-28, and while I must admit that the idea of me going to Ibiza for any reason is pretty funny, I’ve been invited to speak about “The Contemporary Challenges of Electronic Music Journalism.” More details will be revealed in the weeks ahead, but IMS has already announced its first 10 speakers (including SHERELLE, Elijah and Tokimonsta) along with 10 discussion topics that will be addressed at the conference.
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.
Christina Vantzou—whose No. 5 album for kranky was one of 2022’s overlooked gems—chatted with writer Andy Beta for a new Bandcamp Daily feature that traces the course of her career and highlights her most important releases.
Resident Advisor’s Michael Lawson put together a news report examining how UK labels have been negatively impacted by Brexit, which has made the shipping of items to the EU significantly more difficult—and financially risky.
Although the term Afro house has traditionally referred to a particular brand of deep, soulful and slow-brewing dancefloor sounds, a new Mixmag feature by writer, artist and Even the Strong label founder NKC outlines how numerous strains of African-influenced house music have taken root in the UK. A proper long read, the piece both provides a bit of historical context and spotlights the key DJs, labels, parties and venues operating today.
Speaking of African house music, journalist Martin Guttridge-Hewitt has penned an article for DJ Mag based upon his recent travels to South Africa’s Guateng region (which is home to cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria), where he tracked down many of the artists who fostered the genre’s initial growth during the ’90s.
King Britt’s Blacktronika class at UC San Diego has spent the past few years educating students about the history of electronic music through the lens of its Black and brown innovators. Writing for Resident Advisor, Jessica Kariisa has put together an article based upon both her experience of auditing the class for a few weeks and her conversations with Britt himself, which touched upon his intentions for the class and plans for the future.
Although he rarely gets the same accolades as his Midwestern contemporaries, Dutch artist Orlando Voorn—who will make another appearance later in the newsletter—has been making house and techno since the late ’80s, and he’s the subject of a new Beatportal profile by Cameron Holbrook.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
After unveiling her new collaboration- and avant-pop-focused Avalon Emerson & The Charm project back in January, the American artist this week announced the forthcoming release of a full-length album. Executive produced by Bullion, the LP is due to arrive on April 28 via Another Dove, a new label headed up by Emerson and AD 93’s Nic Tasker. Ahead of that, the LP’s first two singles—including the freshly revealed “Hot Evening”—can be heard here. (Full disclosure: Emerson is a friend of mine, we work together on Buy Music Club and I helped write the press materials for this album.)
Ilian Tape mainstay Andrea will soon be returning to the label with a new full-length, Due in Color, that’s scheduled to arrive on March 23. It’s said to be inspired by the Italian producer’s explorations of “hazy and experimental jazz,” and a 12-minute preview of the record can be heard here.
UK techno veteran Shifted has inaugurated a new moniker, Carrier, with a tape for The Trilogy Tapes. Out now, it’s called Lazy Mechanics, and the artist told Resident Advisor that the project “sits between IDM, techno, drum & bass and experimental,” and represents “an effort to step away from purism.”
Matthewdavid recently hinted at the forthcoming release of a new album called Mycelium Music, but now the Leaving Records has officially revealed the details surrounding the LP. Billed as an “alchemical marriage of sorts,” it’s scheduled to arrive on April 28, but one of its tracks, “Liquidity,” has already been shared.
Drummer Valentina Magaletti—who was interviewed here in the newsletter last year when I spoke to Moin (one of many projects she’s involved in)—has teamed up with ambient / experimental artist Laila Sakini on a new long-form and largely improvisational collaboration called Cupo. Self-released by the two London residents, it’s available now.
Experimental / noise / ambient / shoegaze alchemist KAGAMI Smile has long been a highly prolific artist, but even by his own standards, it was surprising to see him drop three separate releases last week. An Image of You Below, A Glass World and A Memory Dissolves into Bright Light are said to be inspired by his move to the Chinese city of Shenzhen, and all three are available as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp.
Post-Whatstep? is the latest mix compilation that Scuba has put together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Hotflush label, and it includes “Expression,” a new track he made with Nikki Nair. (There are lots of Hotflush classics in there as well.) The mix can be heard here, while all of the unmixed individual tracks have been made available here.
2020 was tough for just about everyone, but aside from the pandemic, Nabihah Iqbal had to contend with her London studio being robbed (and the resulting loss of an album she’d been working on) and an unexpected trip to Pakistan when her grandfather suffered a brain hemorrhage. Starting anew with just an acoustic guitar and a harmonium, she began writing, and over the past few years, those songs blossomed into a new LP, DREAMER, which will be released by Ninja Tune on April 28. Ahead of that, she’s shared the record’s first single, “This World Couldn’t See Us,” which has some definite early The Cure / New Order vibes.
After teaming up on “B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)”—one of 2022’s biggest dance singles—both Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal have re-emerged with new projects. The former this week dropped “Better Love,” a playful new garage-pop single produced by Mura Masa, while the latter has curated All Thru the Night, a new compilation for the Locked On label that includes contributions from Todd Edwards, Main Phase, Soul Mass Transit System and others. It’s scheduled for a March 25 release, but several tracks from the compilation have been shared in recent months, the latest being “Don’t Hurt Me,” a collaboration between Interplanetary Criminal and Porij.
YUMI 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 Yumi, an NYC native who in the past year has quickly ascended the city’s DJ ranks, capturing people’s attention with her love of leftfield dub, mutant bass creations and the Minions. Alongside fellow New York DJ Amelia Holt, she’s currently a resident at The Lot Radio, and the two also intermittently join forces with friend Sara Casella to share music recommendations via their In Your Dirty Ears newsletter.
I didn't know how I was going to choose just one track, but then the daily urge to listen to “Stasis” made the choice for me. I wasn't previously familiar with georg-i, the Bristol-based producer, but the recently released Tools (to escape holes with) EP made its way to me via Perko, an awesome DJ, talented producer and FELT label founder based in Copenhagen. Listening to “Stasis” is like winning one of those speed boosts in Mario Kart—the track is accelerating, fast and punchy. But what I love the most is the energy looming in the half-time, a charging and kind of hypnotic groove that keeps you locked in and swaying along like a fish swimming with the current.
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
All Above is a beautiful record. Coming from Grand River, that’s not terribly surprising, as the Berlin-based Dutch-Italian artist has seemingly spent her whole career crafting gorgeous sounds, both on her albums and for a variety of sound art installations. On her latest full-length, however, her sound design talents have reached a striking new level, infusing her avant-garde compositions with a newfound potency—particularly for anyone who’s willing to slip on a pair of headphones and get lost in the impeccable details and textures she’s woven into each track.
“Human” opens with little more than softly struck piano and tiny bursts of ghostly choirs, but it quickly swells into something cinematic as Grand River folds in scratchy bits of sonic minutiae and the insistent chug of her brightly glowing synths. Demanding listeners’ attention, the track spirals towards the heavens, a space that’s later occupied by LP highlight “In the Present as the Future,” a dreamier offering in which warbling tones and clouds of hypnotically shuffling static eventually give way to a soft barrage of ethereal, trance-adjacent synths.
Polish producer Bartosz Kruczyński has never been afraid to experiment with new sounds and styles, but his work as Earth Trax has always hovered near the dancefloor—until now. His new Closer Now album is a decidedly deconstructed affair, albeit thankfully not to a point where it’s entirely devoid of groove. LP standout “Understand” still has drums, but its crunchy rhythms are closer to contemporary hip-hop than anything resembling house and techno, and working in combination with the song’s moody tones and disembodied vocal laments, they lead Earth Trax into territory that brings to mind artists like Holy Other and even Sinjin Hawke, if the latter ever decided to step away from club sounds himself.
After last year’s Anahata EP—a record whose title track was one of 2022’s best techno rippers—Ignez appeared to be destined for big things, and his latest effort, the collaborative VERMILLION EP with veteran producer (and fellow Berliner) Rødhåd, should only bolster his growing pedigree. Together, the two have cooked up a decidedly robust strain of techno, and opening track “VERMILLION 01 [220207.1]” is perhaps the EP’s most blatantly muscular affair, with sinewy rhythms that ripple like a bodybuilder’s biceps as the drums barrel forward and harrowing string passages swoop in from overhead. “VERMILLION 04 [220208.1]” is built atop the same sort of heavyweight foundation, but the track applies a lighter touch, folding in fluttering synth melodies that playfully evoke the sounds of Eastern European folk music.
BEST OF THE REST
A new standalone single that surfaced earlier this week, “Stale Perfume” is easily the most techno thing John Roberts has released in years, but it’s also deliciously weird, as the LA-based artist has adorned its booming underbelly with flittering bursts of percussive static (or is it staticky percussion?) and searching, melancholy-tinged bits of what sounds like a flute.
Built around extensive clips of Chicago house OG Boo Williams lovingly reminiscing about one of his favorite drum machines, “909” might initially seem like a pure nostalgia exercise, but even with its distinct “back in the day” energy, the tune—which of course was made with a Roland TR-909—truly bangs. A collaborative effort between Orlando Voorn, Emil and Williams—all three of them veteran artists—is a proper drum workout, one whose joyously shimmying and slapping rhythms become more intense (but no less groovy) with each passing minute.
Of all the different strains of bass music, few are more consistently enjoyable than mutant dancehall creations in the vein of “King.” Taken from London producer Kouslin’s new Patterns EP, the tweaky, sci-fi flavored track—which is perhaps better described as a riddim—has a slippery, high-stepping energy, but it’s also tough as nails, as every one of its drum strikes hits with a satisfying crunch.
One of bass music’s most consistent and quietly effective producers, Pugilist offers up another dose of genre-melding magic on his new Negative Space EP, and sounds particularly lively on opening track “Circuit Breaker.” At its core a shuffling, drum-heavy techno cut, the song also rolls out thick, prowling basslines that not only sound closer to Roll Deep than Richie Hawtin, but also lend the proceedings a notably gully vibe.
Based on his most recent efforts, Jacques Greene appears to be in a very good mood. Only a month removed from “Fold,” his soaring, big-room-friendly collaboration with Bonobo, the Montreal producer has returned with a new solo single, “Believe,” a track which he says is purposely full of “fresh energy, “bright colors” and “fun for the sake of it.” Those descriptors certainly fit the upbeat spirit of the track, which skips through the most melodic quadrant of the techno realm, its sense of elation buoyed by subtly epic synths and some delectably tweaked vocal clips.
A highlight of INSHA—a new compilation of Kenyan electronic music curated in part by KMRU—“Calm, Chaos” is a reflective, slow-brewing number that leans heavily on field recordings. The sounds of chirping birds, passing vehicles and impassioned conversations—all presumably captured by Barno on the streets of Nairobi—have a transportive effect, and when juxtaposed against her gentle tones, pitter-pat percussion and notably inorganic (albeit still sweetly reverbed) vocal snippets, the resulting tune is undeniably compelling.
Coastal erosion doesn’t usually make for the most compelling subject, but it becomes a kind of pre-apocalyptic theater on All Hands Bury the Cliffs at Sea, the latest climate-focused album by Amsterdam collective Wanderwelle. Featuring (amongst other instruments) a broken Scottish church organ that was quite literally damaged when a nearby cliff collapsed into the sea, the record has a sense of catastrophic mourning baked in, and while that will surely weigh heavy on listeners’ souls, it does nothing to detract from the chilly, arresting beauty of LP opener “Water Hymn,” which conjures visions of sprawling coastlines and the endless crashing of waves against the shore.
Although the album is rooted in voice recordings of fleeting piano improvisations that Megan Alice Clune captured over the course of a decade, Furtive Glances isn’t some throwaway collection of experiments. Perhaps because the music wasn’t originally meant to be heard by anyone, it takes on a kind of honest vulnerability, most notably on the feverishly glistening “Mountaineer,” where the harried rumble of the Sydney-based muscian’s key strikes contrast the song’s sparkling, ephemeral glow.
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 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.