First Floor #163 – A Problem without an Obvious Solution
a.k.a. Revisiting the streaming question, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
Everyone is talking about streaming again.
Just a few years ago, it felt like Spotify was public enemy #1, at least within the context of online music discourse. Maybe that was just a byproduct of lockdown and people’s pent-up frustrations, but as the pandemic has faded, so has the intensity of the streaming conversation. Spotify remains a popular (and deserving) punching bag of course, but aside from the occasional flare-up, the prevailing attitude toward streaming has often felt more like resignation than rebellion.
Last week, however, Spotify’s Stream On event—and specifically the expansion of its Discovery Mode program—seemed to reignite the streaming debate. And though I’ve largely veered away from the topic in recent months (after all, I’ve previously said my piece—rather loudly—in multiple editions of the newsletter), the shifting conversational tides prompted me to take a fresh look at the streaming status quo, and think about how artists might constructively engage with it moving forward.
I put those thoughts into an essay earlier this week (more on that below), but there’s lots more to check out in today’s newsletter. Artist Katie Gately makes a guest appearance, and there are also plenty of news items, articles, release announcements and track recommendations to keep you busy.
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 look a streaming, one of the music world’s thorniest ongoing issues. More specifically, it questions how to proceed when it’s widely known that streaming doesn’t compensate most artists fairly, yet consumers by and large don’t seem to care, at least not enough to pay more, let alone abandon platforms like Spotify altogether.
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.
If this week’s First Floor essay wasn’t enough to satiate your appetite for streaming-related critique and discourse, this news story from Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan highlights a new study by Public Knowledge in which the consumer advocacy nonprofit advocates for the US government’s Federal Trade Commission to investigate the music industry’s streaming practices.
Music Business Worldwide’s Tim Ingham also took a hard look at the numbers in Spotify’s latest Loud and Clear report, and came to conclusion that its business is “slowing – not growing,” prompting him to declare that the company’s mission statement is “preposterous.”
Following a seemingly endless series of crypto scams and crashes, excitement around Web3 is seemingly at a low in the music world, but with the industry still financially broken and a handful of believers continuing to tout the potential benefits of NFTs and other blockchain-based applications, strategist Marc Moglen (who’s also done a lot of research for Water & Music) has penned an in-depth new essay for Friends with Benefits that asks the question, “Should musicians keep believing in Web3?”
You’ve likely already seen Resident Advisor’s Breaking Through feature with Nick León—it was seemingly everywhere during the past week—but the piece (written by Zach Schlein) digs deep into the Florida artist’s background and tracks how his ascent fits into Miami’s current moment in the dance music spotlight. (Of course First Floor readers probably remember that León was previously interviewed here in the newsletter last year, back when his track “Xtasis” was first blowing up.)
Speaking of Miami, Danny Daze yesterday posted a truly incredible clip from when he briefly served as the “house DJ” on American morning talk show Live! with Regis and Kelly during the program’s visit to South Florida in 2009.
Avalon Emerson—who will soon be releasing the debut album from her indie / pop-leaning new Avalon Emerson & the Charm project—spoke to writer Selim Bulut for a new profile in Dazed, detailing what prompted her current musical direction and how she’s feeling about dance music these days. (Disclosure: Emerson is a friend of mine, we work together on Buy Music Club and I was hired to write the promotional text for her upcoming LP.)
Multiple releases from the 3XL label have been featured here in the newsletter during the past year, and though the Berlin-based ambient / experimental outpost has largely maintained a low profile, a new feature that journalist Christian Eede has put together for Bandcamp Daily puts a proper spotlight on the imprint’s origins and creative vision. In the piece, 3XL founder Shy (a.k.a. Special Guest DJ and a variety of other names) traces back the label’s history and highlights several of its key releases.
UK radio icon Mary Anne Hobbs took part in Electronic Sound’s Under the Influence series, telling writer Vel Ilic about her love of motorcycles, her youthful adventures in dumpster diving and the early days of dubstep.
More details have emerged today about writer Gabriel Szatan’s upcoming Daft Punk book. Now titled After Daft: The Rewiring of 21st Century Culture, it’s grown in scope since the now-NY-based English writer was first interviewed about the project here in the newsletter back in 2021. Currently slated for an early 2024 release—preorder links are here—After Daft is said to be based on more than 250 hours of conversations, and the first batch of participants Szatan has revealed includes Oneohtrix Point Never, Air, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, Optimo, Peaches, The Rapture, Jubilee, Vivian Host (a.k.a. Star Eyes), Miss Kittin, The Hacker, Arthur Baker, Panda Bear, Todd Edwards, the late Paul Johnson (whose final interview was for the book) and others too numerous to list. (That said, if you’re curious, the full roster of contributors can be found here.)
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Shackleton, who already has a collaborative album with Scotch Rolex dropping at the end of March, has unveiled a new alias, The Purge of Tomorrow, which will officially debut with the release of a new record called The Other Side of Devastation. It’s due to arrive on May 5 via Modern Obscure Music, but opening track “Time Moving”—which clocks in at more than 14 minutes—is available now.
Although the bulk of his previous output has been more oriented toward noise and experimental sounds, Ron Morelli has completed a new double LP, Heart Stopper, which is described as “the ‘dance’ record that reaches back to the early days of his L.I.E.S. Records label.” The house-focused album will be released on April 28, but its title track is already streaming here.
This week Sofia Kourtesis offered up a new standalone single, “Madres,” which the Peruvian artist says is about her own mother and mothers everywhere. It’s available now via Ninja Tune.
Peder Mannerfelt has lined up a new record, Town Crier, which will be surfacing on March 24 through the Swedish producer’s own Peder Mannerfelt Produktion imprint. The full release includes remixes from Kai Campos (of Mount Kimbie) and Nikki Nair, and its title track is currently streaming here.
Rachika Nayar’s 2022 LP Heaven Come Crashing garnered the Brooklyn artist quite a bit of attention, but back in 2021, she released a stripped-down (but equally good, if not better) effort called fragments as a limited-edition cassette on the Commend imprint. On April 7, more people will get a chance to hear it, as RVNG Intl. has put together a new expanded edition of fragments that will be available on vinyl and include nine additional tracks. Several songs from the release have already been shared here.
UK artist Kai Whiston has also gotten into the “expanded edition” game, offering up an Extended Cut of last year’s superb Quiet As Kept, F.O.G. album. Out today on his own Lux imprint, it includes seven additional tracks.
Following up on last year’s self-titled album from On Man, the Houndstooth label has curated an all-star remix collection called High Crystal. Slated to drop on April 14, it includes reworks from the likes of Hodge, The Bug, Salamanda, Katie Gately, Wordcolour, Lotic, Mogwai, Throwing Snow and others. One track from the record, a remix of “United (Why Can't We Say Enough)” by Joe Rainey & Andrew Broder, is available now.
KATIE GATELY 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 Katie Gately, an LA-based musician and sound designer who’s never let her penchant for experimentation (both conceptual and technological) detract from the emotional potency of her work. On March 31 the Houndstooth label will be releasing her latest album, Fawn / Brute, an effort inspired by the birth of her daughter that explores both the innocence of childhood and the creeping angst that inevitably comes with the passage of time.
Paul Lanksy “Notjustmoreidlechatter” (Bridge)
At times the realm of computer music can feel dead from the waist down; a healthy blood flow constricted by a string of inscrutable footnotes. Luckily, Paul Lansky defies the “serious” associations of academic music by prioritizing having fun. “Notjustmoreidlechatter” uses the process of linear predictive coding to bring our attention towards the “music in speech,” yet it’s something even a newborn baby can understand. It sounds like a choir of aliens being born, or a steeplechase of cherubims. It’s destabilizing yet utterly euphoric, and listening to it, I feel uplifted into a wondrous stupor of play that I never want to end.
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
Joanne Robertson “Blue Car” (AD 93)
Joanne Robertson “If It Feels” (AD 93)
Is this electronic music? No. Is Joanne Robertson the kind of artist I would normally make a point to check out if her music wasn’t coming out on a label like AD 93? Probably not. That said, this UK singer-songwriter’s new Blue Car album is brilliant, despite being a collection of previously unreleased tunes that she recorded over the course of roughly a decade. The LP’s stripped-down and often melancholy-tinged folk does bring to mind the work of Grouper, but Robertson’s music isn’t quite as hazy; even with its dusting of reverb, “Blue Car” lets its creator’s vulnerability take the lead, her voice dripping with longing as she softly strums her acoustic guitar. “If It Feels” is a slightly more deliberate tune, but its more measured pace does nothing to dull the music’s impact, as Robertson allows a bit of daydreaming wonder to creep into her emotive wrangling. Processing regret and pondering what might have been has rarely sounded so sweet.
LR Groove “Clap Back” (Rank Groove)
LR Groove “Middle Finger” (Rank Groove)
One half of long-running duo Tribal Brothers, LR Groove has probably forgotten more about UK funky than even ardent fans of the genre will ever know, and the London producer continues to use that knowledge to push the music into bold new territories. In recent years, that’s meant folding in elements of amapiano and gqom, and that South African influence is readily apparent on the new Cantankerous EP. “Clap Back” opens the record with the same slow-motion swagger that’s powered amapiano’s global explosion, but LR Groove also keeps things grimy, balancing wonky bass blooms against the track’s rolling, clap-heavy gait. “Middle Finger” dials back the drums a bit, but it steps up the drama, marinating in the tension of its breakdowns before unveiling a sludgy bassline that periodically sweeps across the track like a wrecking ball. Is this the future of UK club music? Let’s hope so.
Coeden “Smokehole” (Entangled Visions)
Yosuke Tokunaga “Lengt hs” (Entangled Visions)
Keen-eyed readers will likely notice that these tracks come from two different EPs, but given that Coeden’s Erewhon and Yosuke Tokunaga’s 6 Lengths both dropped during the same week on the same label, it made sense to lump them together here. Over the past few years, Italian imprint Entangled Visions has quietly built itself into one of the most reliable outposts for contemporary ambient / experimental sounds, and if these two EPs are any indication, the label’s curatorial prowess has carried over into 2023. Coeden actually teamed up with fellow Italian artist Holy Similaun on “Smokehole,” a pastel-hued meditation whose shimmering melodies are streaked with jittery bits of crunch and distortion. Less colorful (but equally graceful) are the fluttering sounds of “Lengt hs,” on which Japanese sound artist Yosuke Tokunaga has created a sort of undulating orchestra, its warbling woodwinds and gaseous textures coming together in gravity-defying harmony.
BEST OF THE REST
GRRL “Viewpoint” (Magic City)
It’s quite possible that GRRL isn’t even old enough to have played games on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, but the North Carolina producer’s new Operator EP has some serious 8-bit rave energy. “Viewpoint” in particular flashes back to the hectic sounds of Mega Man boss battles, its technicolor synths brightly squelching as the track’s booming electro underbelly wreaks joyous havoc across the dancefloor.
Fever Ray “What They Call Us” (Rabid / Mute)
It’s hard to believe that eight years went by without Karin and Olaf Dreijer making music together, but after hearing the Swedish siblings’ collaborative efforts on Radical Romantics (Karin’s latest album as Fever Ray), it’s clear that the two should never again repeat that kind of hiatus. Opening track “What They Call Us” is one of four songs on the LP that the Dreijers made in tandem, and it strongly recalls the alien charm of the the pair’s best moments as The Knife, its spindly melodies and looming groans combining with Karin’s breathy, anger-tipped laments to form a remarkably potent strain of darkly playful electronic pop.
Mantra “Victory Dance” (Sneaker Social Club)
Launched in 2006, Rupture long ago established itself as one of London’s most respected jungle nights and labels, and though Mantra—who heads things up alongside partner Double O—has dropped a few productions of her own over the years, she’s only just now released her debut solo EP, Damaged. “Victory Dance” is the record’s clear highlight, and though its furious breakbeats are more than capable of abusing a bassbin or two, the track itself is more of a patient roller, one whose swirly sonics and dub-tinged strut are better suited to expanding minds than splitting heads.
Dual Monitor “Fractal Submission” (N-Face)
Sputnik One’s N-Face label is only a few months old, which makes the new By Hook or By Crook compilation something like a mission statement. Its 11 tracks tour through a variety of beats and bass, but it’s opening number “Fractal Submission” that leaves the strongest impression. Created by UK duo Dual Monitor, the song is a buzzing, dancehall-influenced stepper, its punchy riddim flanked by serrated basslines and topped with a confident vocal refrain that says, “You don’t even know me.” That may be true, but after hearing this tune, everyone will definitely want to.
Tim Reaper “Solar Flare” (Unknown to the Unknown)
Knowing Tim Reaper’s entire catalog is just about impossible—especially when the prolific London junglist continues to drop new music every few weeks—but “Solar Flare” (which opens his new Cosmik Connection Vol. 3 EP) still feels like one of the lushest tunes he’s ever created. Though it’s powered by feverish breakbeats and pert basslines, the track is swaddled in pillow-soft pads and tinkling melodies, offering a sense of childlike wonder that’s only enhanced by its dreamily pitched-up vocal clips.
Maroki “&i” (Ano Ano)
A standout on the new Plastic Brain EP, “&i” cribs a few notes from the ’90s hosue playbook—specifically the vibraphone melodies that MK once made his calling card—but Amsterdam producer Maroki pairs them with hazy atmospherics, blippy video game melodies, a charmingly broken rhythm and an alluring vocal hook that could have been lifted from a sultry R&B cut or an old Eurodance anthem. In short, this bouncy tune doesn’t neatly fit into any one category, but it’s warm, welcoming and just weird enough to be interesting.
Agnes Haus “Mi Immolation” (Opal Tapes)
Having worked extensively with Penelope Trappes, The Golden Filter and a litany of other artists / labels / entities, Agnes Haus is best known for their striking work as a visual artist, but the new Sequel tape makes clear that their talents also extend to the musical realm. Composed with “old analog gear,” the release reaches a high point with the flickering drama of “Mi Immolation,” in which spiraling synth tendrils take flight amidst a cloud of celestial drones.
Fred P. “Quantum Leap” (Private Society)
“Dance music producer makes an ambient album” is often a dicey proposition, but given that Fred P. is someone who’s always been comfortable keeping things low and slow, few are going to balk when he intermittently sets aside the house portion of his deep house expertise. Message to the Universe is his latest ambient long-player, and “Quantum Leap” is one of the record’s plush standouts, an exercise in ethereal drift whose cooly tumbling tones evoke both majestic views and a soothing sense of calm.
Lia Kohl “when glass is there, and water,” (American Dreams)
It’s not often that the word “adventurous” is applied to the work of a cellist, but Lia Kohl’s The Ceiling Reposes album, which weaves together fragments of her playing with scratchy snippets of radio broadcasts and other sonic minutiae, is something that exists far outside the usual confines of the symphony hall. “when glass is there, and water,” somehow folds bits of banjo, bells and birdsong into the mix, following a wandering path that’s totally unorthodox, but its bellowing cello groans are utterly captivating all the same.
Mor Air & Luke Elliott “Still Pond” (Frosti)
An exquisite highlight of Mor Air & Luke Elliott’s collaborative new The Beautiful Late album, “Still Pond” is a delicate ambient beauty, one whose crystalline tones and unhurried pace perfectly fit the song’s title, but also evoke the grace and elegance of a Japanese tea ceremony. The prevailing vibe is one of tanquility, but the song exudes connection—with nature, with friends and loved ones and with the inner reaches of the self.
That’s all for today. 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.