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First Floor #162 – Who Are These People?
a.k.a. The relationship between accessibility and accountability, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh crop of new track recommendations.
Who has the power in the music industry? Labels? Publicists? Streaming companies? Booking agents? Journalists? There’s no single correct answer, but while influence resides in many different pockets of the music ecosystem, many of the individuals who hold that influence somehow manage to largely operate outside of public view. How is it that pretty much every single music journalist is easily accessible on Twitter, but we don’t even know the names of the folks making programming decisions at Spotify?
That question was essentially the jumping off point for the essay I published earlier this week (more on that below), but there’s lots more in today’s newsletter, including a guest appearance from patten and the usual compliment of news, new release announcements and 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. The latest one considers the idea of accountability in the music industry, and more specifically looks at how the scrutiny that’s fallen on music journalists in the social media era rarely extends to less public-facing industry professionals, including figures (e.g. publicists, booking agents, playlist curators, festival bookers, etc.) whose actions hold enormous sway over artists’ career trajectories and earning potential.
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.
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 early days of Chicago house music have been chronicled many times, but with so many people still unaware of the genre’s origins, there’s no problem with telling the story again. NPR’s Throughline recently did just that, devoting an entire episode to the topic while featuring the voices and perspectives of numerous Windy City house DJs, dancers and historians.
Speaking of Chicago house music history, writer Harold Heath has taken a fresh look at one of the city’s more iconic (and infamous) labels, Trax Records, in a new feature for DJ Mag. The piece not only includes quotes from artists Marshall Jefferson, DJ Pierre and Vince Lawrence, but also the oft-maligned Rachael Cain (who’s both the current Trax president and the widow of label founder Larry Sherman).
Moving from Chicago to Detroit, Ben Cardew’s latest historical piece for DJ Mag tackles Drexciya’s 1997 compilation The Quest, examining how the duo forever changed the trajectory of electronic music and how their influence continues to be felt today.
David Turner’s essential Penny Fractions newsletter has so far spent 2023 taking detailed looks at the current state of the different major streaming platforms (e.g. Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify), but his latest edition focuses on three of the smaller (albeit still significant) streaming players: Pandora, SiriusXM and Tidal. As one might expect, none of them appear to be in particularly great shape.
Yesterday Spotify announced an expansion of its Discovery Mode program, which gives artists an algorithmic boost on the platform in exchange for accepting even lower royalty rates than usual. The company also unveiled a new TikTok-style vertical discovery interface, which will further prioritize algorithmically selected music.
Pitchfork’s Philip Sherburne has profiled Buh Records, a Peruvian label dedicated largely (but not entirely) to highlighting both the past and present of avant-garde sounds from Latin America.
Although First Floor rarely devotes much attention to specific festivals and events, it is notable that Richie Hawtin has partnered with Aslice on his upcoming From Our Minds tour through North America. It’s been announced that every artist on every date of the tour will be using the service, which aims to boost sustainability in electronic music by enabling DJs to easily share a portion of their fee with all of the artists whose music they’ve played in their sets.
Peach Discs has been named Beatportal’s latest Label of the Month, and the accompanying feature finds co-founders Shanti Celeste and Gramrcy talking to journalist Ben Jolley about how they got started, their approach to curation and where they hope to take the imprint in the future.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Five years removed from his latest solo outing, Livity Sound founder Peverelist has just announced a new EP. Pulse is slated for an April 7 release, but one of its tracks, “Pulse III,” was shared earlier today.
Dutch artist upsammy has linked up with the PAN label to release her second album, Germ in a Population of Buildings. Inspired by her passion for “ambiguous environments” and “discovering strange patterns in different ecosystems,” the LP is due to arrive on May 5, although one of its tracks, “Being Is a Stone,” is already available.
Martyn Bootyspoon—who recently made a guest appearance here in the newsletter—will soon be releasing a new record via Future Classic. The Jester EP is scheduled to drop on March 31, but the Montreal producer has already shared one of its songs, “Ye Track.”
Slikback never goes too long between releases, and earlier this week the hyper-prolific Kenyan offered up a new EP called H I K A R I as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
Róisín Murphy has one of dance music’s iconic voices, and the Irish artist has now signed with Ninja Tune, kicking off the relationship with a new single called “CooCool.” Produced by none other than DJ Koze, it’s available now.
When the time came to commission remixes of his contributions to last year’s Mount Kimbie album MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning, Kai Campos pulled out the big guns, enlisting Detroit OGs Robert Hood and DJ Stingray to rework “City Limits” and “Quartz,” respectively. Both can be found on the new City Limits EP, which dropped yesterday on Warp.
Speaking of Motor City icons, deep house specialist Marcellus Pittman has completed a new record for the Acid Test label called Facid Trunktion. The title track is available now, but the rest of the EP won’t arrive until April 7.
UK techno veteran Oliver Ho, who’s been most active in recent years under the name Broken English Club, has this week returned to another moniker, Slow White Fall, which he bills as a “post-metal ambient project.” Teaming up with Justin K Broadrick’s Avalanche label, he just yesterday released a new full-length entitled FLOOD.
During the past three years, Doctor Jeep tunes have been featured here in the newsletter more times than I can count, but the NYC bass alchemist has now announced what’s arguably his biggest release to date. Influenced by his Brazilian heritage, the Push the Body EP is due to arrive on March 31 via TraTraTrax, and features remixes from Hodge, Aquarian and Sam Binga. Several tracks from the record have already been shared, and can be heard here.
Aside from his work with Simian Mobile Disco, UK artist James Ellis Ford has spent much of the past decade-plus producing huge pop, indie and rock records, but he’ll soon be releasing his debut solo album. Made with “no sequencing, no soft synths and no DAW,” The Hum will surface on May 12 via Warp, but one of its tracks, “I Never Wanted Anything,” has already been shared.
PATTEN 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 patten (a.k.a. Damien Roach), a London-based musician, visual artist, designer and lecturer who’s also the founder of the multi-faceted 555-5555 platform. Back in 2021, he was actually interviewed here in the newsletter, but he’s stayed plenty busy since then, and next month will be releasing Mirage FM, a fascinating new album he created entirely from text-to-audio AI-generated sound sources. Roach is someone who’s long been interested in pushing the limits—of sound, of technology, of just about anything—and yet his experiments convey a palpable sense of wonder and emotional warmth that moves his work beyond the realm of the academic.
This record from 2001 came as a total surprise to me when I first heard it really early on in my journey into The Jim O’Rourke Multiverse. I knew and loved Eureka, and had a repeat-all-scuffed Napster rip of The Magic Sound of Fenn O’Berg (both from 1999), but was still floored by this. It’s funny now to recall a moment when words like “Powerbook” or “laptop” were widely used as genre descriptors, and quite specific and accurate ones at that. Fennesz, Pita, Oval… these were all on heavy rotation for me at the time, but there was something about this O’Rourke record that, like Oval’s Dok (1998) and Fennesz’s Endless Summer (also 2001), somehow reached through the laptop screen and pulled something into reality from the circuits and patches that belied its digital origin. Timeless music. The CD “only” had the first three tracks—which already felt like a complete universe in itself—and it wasn’t until many years later that I heard about the other three. I’d actually love to interview Jim about this specific album, because to this day I have no idea how he would have made it at the time.
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
Although many dance music fans likely only know DJ Babatr as “that guy who featured on Nick León’s ‘Xtasis’ last year,” the Venezuelan artist’s fascinating story actually dates back to the 1990s, when he came of age amongst the minitecas (mobile soundystems) of his native Caracas. In the years that followed, he developed his own unique style—which he playfully called “raptor house”—and while it set the streets of his hometown on fire during the early 2000s, it’s taken nearly two decades for folks in Europe and North America to properly take notice.
While it remains to be seen whether this wider interest in DJ Babatr will persist—at the moment, it often feels like a tokenistic gesture fueled by the current hype around Latin sounds within electronic music—the new The Tribe (Baila) EP, which compiles some of his best tracks from 2001-2005, should at least help latecomers to fill in gaps in their knowledge. That said, the record is more than just a historical curio. Babatr makes fun, upbeat and distinctly Latin dance music, casting aside the soulful bent and orchestral flourishes that often accompany what’s traditionally been labeled as been Latin house and landing instead in a zone that’s closer to Dance Mania than Nuyorican Soul. EP highlight “More My Love… Water Dog” still sways like it was made by someone who grew up with salsa music, but its brash strut, horn-like bassline and rave-ready percussion are joyous enough to get anyone moving.
In news that will shock exactly no one, Skee Mask is still really good. ISS009 is the latest installment of his Skee Series, and EP closer “Bandprobe Dub” showcases the German producer in particularly fine form, excavating the spacious expanse and dubby undulations of early dubstep. It’s definitely one for the “hoodies at the club” crew, but there’s no wobble to be found, just a reverb-soaked, not-quite-techno roller that impressively juxtaposes crisp, cracking percussion with moody underwater sonics and spectral flashes of piano. More lively is “Reviver,” a gleefully bashy tune with a serious cinematic streak. While its booming drums will give any bassbin a serious workout, the song itself has a few “casually smoking while watching an epic sunset” moments that showcase its creator’s tasteful (and rarely used) flair for the dramatic.
There’s been no shortage of praise thrown KMRU’s way during the past few years, and much of it has focused on the Kenyan artist’s ability to strip his ambient creations down to the bare essentials. Populated with finely tuned microdetails and unassuming field recordings, KMRU’s compositions often have a quiet grace, their meditative beauty determined as much by what he puts in as what he chooses to leave out. That’s still the case on much of his new album-length release glim, but “room” offers a slight deviation, its lithe drones and orchestral swells displaying a kind of sonic stridency that feels like a new addition to his toolkit. It’s not quite as bold as Limen, his volcanic collaboration with Aho Ssan, but given that project’s raw power, perhaps it’s not surprising to see KMRU bringing a bit more muscle to his solo work. “room” is still an exquisite creation, but it’s not something that will unobtrusively loom in the background.
BEST OF THE REST
When SusTrapperazzi appeared on Ilian Tape back in 2021, I wrote “imagine Ruff Sqwad making a beat tape for Stones Throw,” and that’s pretty much still the vibe on “Gold Rain,” a standout cut from the UK artist’s new Rationale EP. The track’s darting elastic basslines provide the obvious “wow” factor here, but it’s the pensive piano loops and flittering hi-hats that make it sound so satisfyingly funky.
With so much of techno careening into harder and faster territory, it’s refreshing to come across a track that understands the value of groove. “You Spelled Corn Wrong” leads off Lisbon producer Temudo’s new Moraliste EP, and it practically glides across the dancefloor, its smoothly shuffling rhythms nodding to the spirit of ’90s Detroit.
There’s something inherently celebratory about ragga jungle, and Janaway turns up the dubby euphoria on “24/7 Soundclash,” the electric opening track from his new Inna the Dance EP. The song’s subby bassline leads the way, but over the course of more than five minutes, the Bristol producer also tosses rumbling breakbeats, brassy horns, hyperactive synth runs and even a starry-eyed breakdown into the pot, cooking up a tune that should light up just about anyone’s rave tastebuds.
The title track of Halogenix’s lastest EP, “Lost Friends” is a heads-down slice of drum & bass, its crackling rhythms tempered by the song’s wistful atmosphere and tear-stained melodies. That said, it’s not an overtly maudlin number; there’s longing in its jazzy tones and scratchy reverb, but the track ultimately feels more like a fond remembrance than a full-blown, pounding-the-coffin-lid-style lament.
More than 25 years since he first broke out with “Disco Cubizm,” I:Cube—one of French dance music’s quietly iconic figures—keeps finding ways to push himself, and new album Eye Cube is a largely improvised affair. On “0_0_01_48,” he heads into a swirly, somewhat psychedelic zone, the track’s insistent machine chug sounding like something Salon des Amateurs regulars like Vladimir Ivkovic and Lena Willikens might reach for in the wee hours of the morning.
Fresh off last month’s excellent 32 Balas EP, NYC-based Chilean Tomás Urquieta returns with Calatea, a take-no-prisoners effort inspired in part by the emotional anguish he felt when his father was hospitalized with a serious illness. “Taro” is one of the record’s hard-charging delights, a track whose sledgehammer-like drums don’t just bang, but rampage across the dancefloor, their inelegant stomp flanked by blaring sirens and distorted vocal bits that sound like dispatches from military HQ. (Full disclosure: I was hired by the label to write the official promotional text for the EP.)
A defiantly weird club tune, “Lashes” is said to be rooted in Brazilian funk carioca, but while most artists inspired by that sound will experiment with its trademark tamborzão rhythms, the always adventurous Mosca has created something that doesn’t “actually use any normal drums at all.” There’s still some heavy bass on offer, but the song’s loping gait was constructed using the sounds of “car doors, bed springs, a dialtone, lots of balloon rubs, wrenches, champagne corks” and a litany of other audio curiosities. There’s perhaps nothing normal about “Lashes,” but it bangs all the same.
Closing out Samurai Outliers 001—a release that, as the tile implies, kicks off the new Outliers EP series—“C20” initially seems like a moody drum workout, its jungle rhythms thundering their way through a persistent (and scratchy) grey haze. That alone would make for a potent tune, but Italian producer Last life ups the stakes about halfway through, unleashing a grotty series of divebombing basslines that menacingly buzzsaw their way across the horizon.
There’s a persistent pulse at the beginning of “Pena Ao Mar”—the title track of Brazilian experimental artist Carla Boregas’ new album—that almost sounds like a slow-motion version of an emergency alert. Yet the song itself never conveys any sense of looming danger, blossoming instead into a bouquet of glistening arpeggios and lush drones, its kosmische glow seemingly capable of lighting up both the night sky and the outer reaches of the subconscious.
Inspired by what he calls an “audio excursion” along the coast of the Black Sea, Georgian ambient / experimental artist Rezo Glonti has assembled the meditative new Subtropics album. Standout cut “Mosaic” personifies his hypnotically patient approach, its uncluttered (albeit not sparse) expanse filled with warm tones, scuttling detritus, beeping bits of sci-fi sonics and even a small foray into heavily Vocodered singing.
First appearing on the 1996 album Atmospheric Healing, “Stars” now highlights the expansive new Gaia: Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works (1996-2003) collection from Japanese artist Dream Dolphin. The dreamlike tune elegantly drifts through seven-plus minutes of ghostly chimes, delicately struck notes and warm synth passages, and though its path takes obvious cues from classic new age, it also relishes in a kind of melodic grandeur, exuding a tenderness that should tug on even the hardest of hearts.
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.)
Until next time,
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.