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First Floor #170 – This Is What Happens When I Go on Vacation
a.k.a. A round-up of the week's electronic music news and a supersized batch of new track recommendations.
I very much enjoyed my a vacation last week. What I did not enjoy, however, was the dire state of my inbox once I got home. The world of electronic music has been busy! Simply in terms of new releases, today’s “New This Week” section (i.e. the part of the newsletter where I recommend my favorite tracks from records that just came out) was pulled from a pool of more than 230 releases… and those were just the ones in my “I should check this out” pile.
There’s a whole lot of music out there folks, and while I obviously can’t cover it all—not even all the good stuff—I do feel confident that everything in today’s First Floor is high-quality material. Of course, there’s more than just new music below. Scroll down and you’ll find news, release announcements, links to articles and all the usual stuff I put in the newsletter, not to mention a special guest appearance by one of the best culture journalists in the game, Emilie Friedlander.
ANOTHER THING I’M DOING
Next week I’ll be heading to Lyon, France for the 2023 edition of Nuits Sonores, as the festival’s conference / workshop arm (Nuits Sonores Lab) has invited me to moderate a panel called “Impact(s) and Future of Independent Music Journalism.” More details are here (scroll down to “Talks”), but I’ll be joined by Rachel Grace Almeida, Joel Penney, Kwame Safo and Tanya Voytko, and together we’ll discuss the changing role of independent music journalism while examining its real-world impact in today’s electronic music sphere.
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.
After a recent crowdfunding effort fell short, online radio outlet dublab BCN—which has been the home of the First Floor radio show for the past eight months—announced that it was shutting down after eight years of operation, though it promised to return (in a yet-to-be-determined form) at some point in the future.
The International Music Summit released the 2023 edition of its annual IMS Business Report, breaking down a number of financial trends throughout the electronic music industry. Copies of the report can be accessed here, and while a full breakdown could easily fill an entire newsletter, the topline takeaway is that the industry is now valued at $11.3 billion, a figure that surpasses its previous pre-pandemic high.
SoundCloud has been busy. Last week the company announced that it had struck a deal with digital licensing giant Merlin to expand its Fan-Powered Royalties program (i.e. SoundCloud’s name for user-centric royalties) to all Merlin members. This week, it unveiled Fans, a new product that lets users (more specifically, the ones signed up to its Next Pro tier) discover and message their “most valuable” fans on the platform.
In a new interview with Billboard, Beatport CEO spoke to journalist Rachel Narozniak about the company’s continued success selling digital downloads, a development that runs counter to the format’s rapidly declining fortunes outside of the DJ market. He also highlights the growth of the company’s streaming-based DJ services—and how they’re currently paying out royalty rates that are significantly higher than platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.
UK producer / mixer / recording engineer Marta Salgoni was interviewed by Kat Lister for The Quietus, and spoke about Music for Open Spaces, the new album which she created alongside her late partner Tom Relleen (who was also one half of the duo Tomaga).
Written by Niamh O’Connor, the latest edition of DJ Mag’s The Sound of feature series puts a spotlight on the BITE label. The piece includes an interview with founder Phase Fatale, who also delivers an exclusive mix showcasing the imprint’s catalog.
Spencer Doran (a.k.a. one half of Visible Cloaks) is the subject of a new Bandcamp Daily profile in which he speaks to writer Lewis Gordon about his work on the music for the game Season: A Letter to the Future. (His soundtrack was released last week by the RVNG Intl. label.)
Half of Simian Mobile Disco and also a renowned producer who’s worked with bands like Arctic Monkeys and Depeche Mode, James Ellis Ford is releasing his debut solo album, The Hum, tomorrow via Warp Records, which prompted journalist Jeremy Allen to visit the London-based artist in his home studio for a new feature in The Quietus.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
DJ Python and Ana Roxanne have started a band. It’s called Natural Wonder Beauty Concept, and while no specific details about music have been shared, the duo does already have accounts on Instagram and Bandcamp. (The latter describes the project as “the sound of two artists learning to be alone, together.”)
Just a few months removed from his excellent Petals EP on Hessle Audio, Toumba has lined up another record for the Nervous Horizon label. The Janoob EP represents something of a full-circle moment for the Jordanian artist, as he first started producing in 2019 after hearing a track by Nervous Horizon co-founder TSVI. Before the EP arrives on June 2, its title track has already been shared.
Mor Elian announced her first release of 2023, a club-focused two-tracker called Double Dip. The official release date was supposed to be May 12 (i.e. tomorrow), but the whole thing is already available on Bandcamp.
Slikback has offered up a new album-length collection of noisy bass excursions. Out now, it’s called T A P E S T R Y and is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
Patrick Holland has spent much of the past year focusing on pop-oriented sounds, but last week the Canadian artist made a surprise return to the dancefloor with a new EP called Fog Wall. It’s available now via his own Verdicchio Music Publishing imprint.
Sleep D, whose last LP came out on Incienso back in 2019, have completed a new full-length. Electronic Arts is due to surface on June 9 through their own Butter Sessions imprint, but ahead of that, opening track “Planet Waves” has already been shared.
Although it’s not the Oni Ayhun revival many electronic music fans are hoping for, Olaf Dreijer (a.k.a. one half of The Knife) has completed a new EP, a collaboration with electroclash survivor Mount Sims called Souvenir that’s focused on “the rich harmonics of the steel drum.” A track called “Hybrid Fruit” is available now, and the rest of the EP is scheduled to arrive on June 9 via Dreijer’s Rabid label.
Less than a month after Rezzett offered up their sophomore album Meant Like This, the shapeshifting UK duo returned with another record for The Trilogy Tapes, a new EP called Boshly. It’s out now.
In an effort to connect the sounds of South Florida and the UK, INVT have put together a new EP, MIAMI 2 LONDON : SOUND CLASH, that’s slated for a May 26 release. Before that, however, lead track “We Inside (Culebra VIP)”—a collaboration with London MC Logan—has already been shared.
Founded in 2009, Berlin’s Dystopian label / crew officially disbanded over the weekend, although Rødhåd (its most public-facing figure) will continue on with his own WSNWG imprint. In fact, his previous Dystopian releases are now available via WSNWG, and to mark the transition, he also commissioned a new remix compilation, REVISITED, that contains new edits and reworks of his older material, including efforts by Ignez, Rene Wise, Lady Starlight and others.
Jessy Lanza has a new album on the way. Featuring production from Jeremy Greenspan, Tensnake, Pearson Sound and others, the LP is called Love Hallucination, and will be released on July 28 via Hyperdub. In the meantime, “Midnight Ontario,” a new single she produced with the help of Jacques Greene, has been shared along with an accompanying music video.
Gqom don DJ Lag plans to spend 2023 touring the globe, and will be releasing a monthly series of collaborative singles with artists from around the world. The first one, a collaboration with London MC Novelist called “Bulldozer,” dropped last week via the Black Major and Ice Drop labels.
EMILIE FRIEDLANDER 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 Emilie Friedlander, a veteran music and culture journalist who’s based in Philadelphia and has previously logged time at places like VICE, The FADER and Pitchfork’s Altered Zones. One of the sharpest minds when it comes to the economics of independent culture—and how difficult it’s become to maintain said culture in the face of systemic changes in music, media and society at large—some of her best work these days is happening via The Culture Journalist, a podcast she co-hosts with Andrea Domanick.
These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the post-2008 recession climate in which my peers and I came of age artistically and how so much of the work we created was inspired by the belief that the internet was going to usher in a brave new era of economic possibility for independent music and culture. It did, and then it didn’t—and I can’t think of a better symbol of that trajectory than the hulking brick warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront that is currently home to VICE Media, which, last I saw, was reportedly in the process of either filing for bankruptcy or selling to George Soros or doing some combination of the two.
My relationship to the building runs deep: I worked as an editor at VICE for over six years, but prior to that, when the place was still home to early 2010s DIY venues like Death by Audio, Glasslands, and 285 Kent, I actually ended up living there for a spell, in a grimey, unfinished loft space that my old friend Laurel Halo shared with a handful of other electronic musician friends. Which is how this slow, spacious, beatless, addictively melancholy track—from her 2012 album Quarantine, which she was working on in the room directly below mine—became forever lodged in my head, at once emblematic of that period of techno-optimism and the fact that we all knew it was probably going to come to an end. The rocking, seasick piano chords, never quite hitting on the same downbeat each time; the grainy, indeterminate textures and celestial flutes; the almost uncomfortably wide-eyed vocal melody, with its ominous references to “hive mind[s]” and “machine silhouettes”—they remind me that the early 2010s, in addition to being a time of wild experimentation at the intersection of experimental electronic music and pop, were just a really big mood.
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
Regular First Floor readers know that Avalon Emerson is an old friend of mine (and are probably sick of me mentioning it), but now that the self-titled debut album from her pop-oriented Avalon Emerson & The Charm project has been released, I too would like to join the throng of critics fawning over the record. But instead of writing something wholly new, I thought I’d share some words I actually sent to Avalon exactly one year ago today, back when she’d passed me the not-yet-finished LP asking for some feedback. True to my own long-winded form, I sent her a sprawling, overly detailed email, but here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:
The good news is that I actually liked this way more than I expected to. Obviously I like your music, but as you already know, the track record of electronic music people venturing into pop territory is pretty bad, and even when something is well received, I often find myself not liking it.
The songs as a whole have a cohesive vibe. This doesn't feel like some “I'm just going to try everything and see what works” crossover attempt. Your love of Magnetic Fields definitely shows (both sonically and in your lyrical style), but there’s also this laid-back vibe that reminded me of mid-’80s major label pop records (Paul Simon's Graceland came to mind, but in a good way), along with more cutesy indietronica stuff (Post Service, Figurine, various bands on Morr Music, etc.) from the late ’90s and early 2000s. There are also hints of John Hughes-movie-style ’80s synth-pop and those Scando electro-disco acts that were really big in the early 2010s (Annie, Kleerup, Robyn, etc.). I don't know if these descriptors sound horrible to you (or are even 100% accurate), but this is what popped up in my head when I was listening.
My favorite songs are “Sandrail Silhouette” (the dreamy guitars and Arthur Russell strings are a nice touch), “Astrology Poisoning” and “Entombed in Ice.” Oddly enough these are some of the most “pop” songs on the record.
Contemporary pop isn’t something that tends to interest me much, but Avalon Emerson & The Charm was—and still is—a very pleasant surprise. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I was hired to help write the official promo text for the album, which I’d like to think was more artfully worded than my initial email to Avalon.)
Soft Reactions in the Sun is the debut release from Orchid Dealer, and while little is known about the artist—other than that they currently reside in North Carolina and that the album was inspired by their former life in South Florida—it’s a phenomenal collection of music, easily one of 2023’s strongest ambient / experimental efforts to date. (For what it’s worth, the digital version is also currently available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.)
The word ambient is actually misleading, as Orchid Dealer’s music, even in its seemingly bucolic moments, is dripping with static and reverb, its beauty purposely marred by jagged shards of sound, seasick tape loops and a persistent sense that something sinister lies just below the surface. “Orchid” is a gloopy drifter, while the more epic “Sunset Eternal” sounds like Mogwai being accompanied by a loudly sputtering powerboat engine. “Stereo Runner” goes even bigger, but its sparkling wall of sound might as well be running through an old laptop speaker, as its crunching waves of distortion threaten to blot out the entire composition.
Back in March, I interviewed Ron Morelli, and I’m still receiving multiple emails per week from people telling me how much they enjoyed reading it. Perhaps that’s not surprising; in a dance music industry that often feels overly polished and polite, the words of someone who’s not afraid to call bullshit on some of the genre’s more ridiculous excesses are going to ring out and resonate with people. That said, while the L.I.E.S. founder is undoubtedly an eminently quotable figure, his seemingly grumpy demeanor and natural ability to deliver a sharp critique shouldn’t obscure another, arguably more important fact: his new Heart Stopper LP is a killer house album.
Morelli’s first full-length foray into dance music, the record is something of a love letter to the sleazy and sludgy sounds of ’80s-era house, and while “Ron’s Torture” and “Gun Smoke” (both of which appeared on a 12” last year) are perhaps the most obvious club smashers, album opener “House Music Revenge” feels like a proper mission statement, its gothy synths and spooky vocal whoops exuding a genuine sense of menace—and doing so without spoiling the groove. That dark and dirty aesthetic colors much of the album, but it doesn’t stop Morelli from indulging in his own brand of piano house on LP standout “Time Stands Still,” a confidently sultry number that’s still hard as nails.
BEST OF THE REST
On Martyna Basta’s new Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering album, the beauty is in the details—and there are just so many little details to enjoy. Softly strummed guitar, crinkling static, fragmented whispers, tweaked shards of ASMR… the Polish ambient / experimental artist is seemingly drawn to the smallest of sounds, and while she deftly piles them into her compositions, her music somehow retains a featherlight sensibility, floating in an ethereal space at the very edge of human perception (i.e. the zone where everything starts to go a bit fuzzy). Alternately weird, unsettling, beautiful and ceremonial—and frequently several of those things simultaneously—it’s a gripping record, and even when Basta pares down the freaky bluster (as she does on the LP’s tender title track), her music is utterly captivating.
Although upsammy’s production has never really fit into the confines of “normal” dance music, the Dutch artist’s new album, Germ in a Population of Buildings, is a joyously odd effort. Casting aside all notions of genre orthodoxy, the record whimsically trots off into the forest, its scuttling, post-IDM rhythms and glistening melodies evoking images not of dancefloors and drum machines, but woodland creatures and fantastical landscapes. LP highlight “Pattering” feels especially magical, particularly once its bubbly percussion is joined by playfully tweaked snippets of upsammy’s own voice.
With tracks from Roza Terenzi, Adam Pits, Maara, D. Tiffany, SW. and a host of other acts, The Chants of the Holy Oyster—a compilation assembled to celebrate the Kalahari Oyster Cult label’s six years of existence—isn’t hurting for talent, but it’s Sohrab who steals the show with “Silk Road,” a wiggly bit of melodic techno with just enough sparkle and proggy excess to conjure memories of moonlit raves in the late ’90s.
Over the past year, there have been rumbles that “post-dubstep” (a term that was admittedly nebulous to begin with) is making a comeback, but regardless of whether or not that’s true, “For Real”—a standout from Lithuanian producer Cport Cistema’s new Say It cassette—certainly taps into the spirit of 2010, its airy textures, housey boom-bap and weightless R&B vocal loop sounding like a long-lost gem from the Hotflush archives.
The lead single off Nabihah Iqbal’s new DREAMER album, “This World Couldn’t See Us” has already been circulating for a couple of months, but the soft-focus slice of post-punk pop is still the LP’s brightest moment. With glistening guitars and a thrumming bassline, the track warmly recalls the radio-ready bits of the New Order and Cure catalogs, and Iqbal’s introspective talk-singing ups the dreaminess quotient even further, her words exuding both melancholic regret and quiet confidence in equal measure.
Imagine that Molly Ringwald had agreed to do a Sixteen Candles sequel—let’s call it Eighteen Candles—in which she and Ducky travel to Europe and at some point end up in a Roman nightclub. “No No No”—the latest single from Lauer and Fabrizio Mammarella’s Black Spuma project—is absolutely the kind of tune that would have (or at least should have) soundtracked their adventures across the dancefloor. It’s Italo, it’s house, it’s over the top and it’s blatantly nostalgic… but it’s also gloriously fun.
It’s not often that a record’s title tells you all you need to know, but Soul Mass Transit System’s latest offering is called The Big Speed G One. Populated with four certifiable speed garage bangers, the record is a skippy riot, and the piano-fueled “Gonna Be Alright” contains some of the EP’s most blatantly euphoric moments, its elastic bassline darting to and fro as the UK producer gleefully tosses chopped-up diva and ragga vocals into the mix.
Over the course of the past decade, the music of Minor Science has been many things: intellectual, challenging, unconventional, experimental… but it’s never really been all that fun. (For what it’s worth, I say this as an unabashed fan. Back in 2020, I penned a whole essay lamenting how the pandemic had likely derailed the excitement around his excellent debut album Second Language.) His new 064 EP, however, is FUN. That doesn’t mean the Berlin-based Brit has dumbed anything down, but he’s definitely shaken off some of his prior restraint; lead track “Workahul” merrily dives into the annals of hardcore, electro and booty bass, delivering a crunchy, siren-filled and chipmunk-voiced whirlwind that relishes in the power of a wild night out.
Tim Reaper is easily one of the most thrilling figures in modern drum & bass, so when the London junglist releases something he describes as “one of my most played tunes ever,” there’s a very good chance that it’s a special track. Like most of the Future Retro catalog, Harmony’s “Dream” is steeped in old-school sounds—which, considering that its creator has been active since the mid ’90s, isn’t terribly surprising—and it’s a proper drum workout, one that keeps the adornments to a minimum and simply lets its percussive rumble lead the way.
Closing out Pulvil’s new Asura cassette on a high note, “Palinopsia” is a compelling exercise in ambient drift. Grand in scope but modest in its execution, the song—which, like the rest of the release, largely consists of the Canadian artist’s heavily processed guitar sounds—calmly stretches out across a great expanse, at times taking on an almost devotional character, yet its billowing textures retain a kind of cozy warmth, ensuring that even the meekest of listeners is sure to feel welcomed by its warbling embrace.
Having previously dabbled in the sounds of (not kidding) Celine Dion and vintage daytime soap operas, the anonymous Romance project has never shied away from emotional largesse, and that predilection continues on debut album Fade into You. Though the record was apparently inspired (loosely) by a melodramatic 1970s West German film, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, it’s not clear how much of the actual movie wound up on the record, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. The LP leans heavily on symphonic strings and vintage smaltz, and standout cut “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Obey)” unashamedly lives up to its title, actively yanking heartstrings as it bathes its source material in dreamy reverb. Is it manipulative? Maybe a little, but it’s gorgeous all the same.
That brings us to the end of today’s 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 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.