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First Floor #171 – They Have to Do Better Than That
a.k.a. Breaking down an act of journalistic malpractice, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh slate of new track recommendations.
Right now I’m on a train to Lyon, where tomorrow I’ll be moderating a talk at the Nuits Sonores festival called “Impact(s) and Future of Independent Music Journalism.” (Considering how much I’ve fretted about this topic here in the newsletter, I suppose it’s not terribly surprising that I was asked to participate.)
It’s no secret that music journalism—and cultural journalism in general—is in a tough spot these days. Outlets are closing, layoffs are commonplace and those journalists who do still have a job are usually overworked, underpaid and underresourced. None of this is conducive to doing good work, and with each passing year, it often feels like journalism’s foundations erode a little bit further.
Last week, I spotted an egregiously bad news story on Resident Advisor, and was so appalled that I wound up writing a long-form article about it. (More on that below, but let’s just say that aside from my critique, it included a lot of the reporting that RA neglected to do.) That being said, today’s newsletter offers more than consternation. Good things are happening in the world of electronic music, and I’ve assembled the usual assortment of news stories, release announcements, interesting articles and new tracks I think you ought to hear. I also made some room for one of Barcelona’s most promising talents, oma totem, who pop in with a guest recommendation of his own,
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 looks at the latest goings-on of much-hyped crypto social club Friends with Benefits (which now seems determined to play down its crypto affiliations as much as possible). Moreover, it highlights how Resident Advisor, when given the opportunity to interview FWB, completely punted on its journalistic responsibility, asking softball questions and providing zero pushback as the organization’s leadership spun a refashioned (and at times grossly misleading) narrative.
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.
Talk of AI is suddenly everywhere, and while much of the coverage so far has been filled with wild guesses about the future (and bouts of full-blown panic), more nuanced takes are beginning to emerge. Writing for Pitchfork, Marc Hogan penned a feature highlighting just how much AI is already being used in the music world, while the latest edition of Jaime Brooks’ The Seat of Loss newsletter offers a very deep dive into that AI Drake song that recently caused a commotion. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t really an AI creation.) The latter piece gets especially interesting as it gradually segues into analysis of what the current AI push says about the music industry’s attitudes towards artists (and artistry).
Having written a lot during the past year about the post-pandemic generational shift in electronic music, I very much enjoyed “The Strange Devirtualization of Techno,” a recent article by Berlin-based writer / artist Attila on his Haywirez platform. An accounting of a recent night out, he observes firsthand how Zoomers behave in an IRL clubbing environment, and notes how the culture increasingly feels like a kind of pantomime in which new arrivals play out their fantasies of what they imagine techno to be.
News broke over the weekend that Kali Malone’s Saturday night performance at Stephen O’Malley’s drone-oriented You Origin festival in France was cancelled after a small group of far-right protestors occupied and blocked the church where she was slated to play. O’Malley released a statement about what went down, and much more detail—about both the incident and You Origin in general, which otherwise seemed like a rather intriguing and unique event—can be found in Philip Sherburne’s review for Pitchfork.
David Turner’s industry-focused Penny Fractions newsletter gets mentioned quite a lot in First Floor—and is absolutely worth reading—but he recently penned an article for Music Business Worldwide that breaks down how ad-supported streaming (e.g. the free tier on Spotify and other platforms) is bringing back diminishing returns—and in a few key cases, is being abandoned altogether.
Carmen Villain is the subject of Resident Advisor’s latest The Art of Production feature, in which the Norwegian / Mexican artist talks to Conor McTernan about her workflow, how she found her way into experimental electronic music and the process behind last year’s acclaimed Only Love from Now On album.
Bandcamp Daily is often at its best when it shines a light on underappreciated and unacknowledged historical figures, and this profile by Matthew Blackwell tells the story of Doug McKechnie, who by chance got his hands on an early Moog synthesizer in 1968 when he was living in San Francisco. Someone who was ensconced in the psychedelia movement, McKechnie wasn’t the average synth pioneer (he even wound up playing at Altamont), but the path he followed was truly fascinating.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Last week’s newsletter mentioned that DJ Python and Ana Roxanne had started a new project called Natural Wonder Beauty Concept, and literally hours after I hit “send,” the duo revealed that they would soon be releasing a self-titled debut album. Said to showcase “a moody, novel sound encompassing trip-hop, synth-pop, brittle IDM drums, and samples of classical music,” the LP is slated to arrive on July 14 via Mexican Summer, but lead single “Sword” is available now.
Wisdom Teeth co-founder K-LONE quietly blew people away with his 2020 debut album Cape Cira, and now he’s prepped a new LP, Swells, that is set for a July 7 release. In the meantime, the song “Love Me a Little” has already been shared.
Call Super and Julia Holter have unexpectedly teamed up on a new collaborative single called “Illumina,” which dropped earlier this week on the can you feel the sun imprint.
Hessle Audio co-founder Pangaea may have inadvertently kicked off the summer banger season this week, releasing a surprise new single called “Installation.”
It’s hard to believe that more than seven years have passed since ANOHNI released the brilliant HOPELESSNESS LP, but the NYC artist has completed a new full-length. Entitled My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross, the forthcoming album is credited to ANOHNI and the Johnsons, and will be issued by Rough Trade on July 7. Ahead of that, lead track “It Must Change” has already been shared.
DJ Babatr, the Venezuelan artist credited with creating the raptor house sound more than two decades ago, is about to have two more of his vintage productions given a wider release. Las Lomas / Fuma Con Los Panas + Remixes, scheduled to surface on June 16 through Mexican imprint Terminal, features two Babatr originals—which can both be heard here—alongside 19(!!!) remixes, including reworks from Kode9, Florentino, Logos, Safety Trance, Lao and many others.
Bristol producer Bruce has readied a new EP, Not, which is described as “a new venture into future-sounding-electronic vocal pop.” Before it drops on June 9 via Timedance, lead track “In the Pines” has already been shared.
Valentina Magaletti continues to be experimental music’s coolest collaborator, as she’s now joined voices with UK-based Japanese artist Zongamin on a new LP. Influenced by dub and post-punk and featuring appearances by Vanishing Twin's Cathy Lucas, Coby Sey and Venus Ex Machina, Suono Assente is credited to V/Z and will be issued on June 23 by AD 93. Until then, two tracks from the LP can be heard here.
An addendum to last year’s excellent Ultra Truth album, More Truth is a collection of “b-sides, bonus tracks and unheard noise” from Daniel Avery, and it’s available now via the Mute and Phantasy Sound labels.
Róisín Murphy has enlisted DJ Koze to produce her latest full-length. Entitled Hit Parade and signed to Ninja Tune, it won’t arrive until September 8, but two tracks from the record have already been shared here.
In a busy week for collaborations, Manchester artists Finn and Private Joy linked up on a housey new single called “What’s Coming Over You?” It’s available now on Finn’s 2 B REAL imprint.
Back in 2018, Florian T M Zeisig created a stir with his debut album You Look So Serious, a full-length constructed out of 426 tape loops from Enya’s Watermark. Now the German ambient artist has revisited those same loops and created a second volume, which he’s combined with the first in a double-vinyl package called You Look So Serious I + II. It’s scheduled for a June 18 release via the enmossed label, but closing track “x” is already available.
OMA TOTEM 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 oma totem, a Catalan DJ and producer whose debut solo EP, exercicis rítmics, surfaced earlier this month. An artist with a taste for hazy atmospheres and tripped-out rhythms, he’s also the label manager of John Talabot’s Hivern Discs, and previously appeared on the imprint as part of the collaborative (and more overtly avant-garde) res_és_nostre and drames rurals projects. Oddly enough, his pick is something I featured in the newsletter last year—perhaps the segment should instead be titled “oma totem Has the Same Taste as I Do”—but the record he’s selected is so good that I’m happy to give it another go-round.
Although I don’t know much about the artist who made it, Tonto’s Cong Burn 07 has been stuck in both my mind and playlists for a while now. I find it so pure and the fact that the music goes into different places while always showcasing its dub roots makes it so special. I appreciate both the delicate textures and the percussion’s tight sound design, which is something I tend to get enticed by very easily. This is leftfield music that works both pitched up and pitched down, and talking about it also gives me a good excuse to mention Strokes, a very interesting synth / drum machine / sequencer / VST that was designed by John Howes, who also runs the Cong Burn label. Everything he does is highly recommended!
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
Legacy 2 is a footwork time machine. A sequel to 2013’s essential Legacy album, the new-full length dives back into RP Boo’s vault, showcasing tracks the Chicago producer—who set the original footwork template during the ’90s—created between 2002 and 2007. That said, the LP is more than a historical curio; it’s a window to a time when the genre’s breakneck rhythms barely existed outside of the Windy City, and tracks were primarily made to soundtrack underground dance battles.
“Eraser” was specifically created for one of those battles, and while its liberal use of a Guns N’ Roses sample immediately stands out (and might even elicit a chuckle or two), it’s the song’s menacing synths and mean-mugging vocal snippets (sample lyric: “fuck that, burn ’em all”) that make it truly memorable. Bolstered by RP Boo’s whip crack drum hits, the track quickly establishes that the time for fucking around is over. Less intimidating is “Flo-Control,” but that track is a veritable whirlwind, its head-spinning flurry of vocal chops exhibiting a kind of controlled chaos—and doing so while maintaining a soulful (albeit unorthodox) groove. This is utterly original music, and although footwork may be ubiquitous now, Legacy 2 makes clear that in its infancy, the genre was freer, wilder… and much more likely to prompt a jaw-dropping, “what the hell was that?” reaction.
As the head of the fantastic FELT label, Perko has made his curatorial prowess exceedingly clear, but the Copenhagen-based Scotsman also has some serious production chops, and after a few years of relative quiet, he’s returned with a new pair of collaborative tracks. “Prang” opens the record, and while the inclusion of Huerco S. might lead some to expect some kind of ambient creation, the track—which the two created while taking part in an artist residency in Iceland last year—is a wiggly dancefloor cut, one that impressively borrows from the shuffle of UK garage and the bassy wobble of dubstep, but is ultimately a floaty, not-quite-techno tune. “Sisu,” on the other hand, abandons drums altogether, offering up ethereal textures, sumptuously fuzzy reverb and the angelic vocals of Cucina Povera, whose delicate crooning warmly recalls Enya at her mysterious best.
stay inside is the first batch of tracks from Ben Bondy under the k2dj moniker, and while the music still resides within the ambient realm, its dreamy digital textures are drenched in melancholy, the New York artist’s disembodied (and heavily Vocoded) laments and soft confessions seemingly channeling both Young Thug and ASMR whisper videos. Bondy has flirted with pop before, and while he’s still playing at its edges here, there’s an unexpected immediacy to stay inside, as though he’s grown tired of boundless abstraction and is determined to bare his sadboi soul instead. The deliciously woozy “keys in bin” is the musical equivalent of taking a hot air balloon ride while whacked out on cough syrup, and “remember” sounds like a boy-band ballad produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
BEST OF THE REST
Techno is often best when it’s offered up with no frills and no bullshit, and Kerrie consistently does just that. It’s no coincidence that the Manchester-based Irish artist named her own label Dark Machine Funk, and while the new Transient Belief EP arrives via James Ruskin’s storied Blueprint, the record is still populated with marauding machine music, reaching a high point with the gurgling crunch and surging underbelly of “Theta State.”
For a while there, Mor Elian’s productions appeared to be gradually drifting away from the dancefloor—her more experimental Alloy Sea project abandoned the club altogether—but “Double Dip” is a proper rave-up. The title track of her latest EP, it taps into the same sort of playfully manic energy that her Fever AM partner Rhyw harnessed with last year’s “Honey Badger,” but “Double Dip” delivers a more concentrated punch, its assorted zips, zaps and vocal snippets bolstered by the song’s smacking drums and an onslaught of undulating bass.
Whatever your thoughts about Peggy Gou, her Gudu label is undeniably a well-curated operation. This week it offered up Gudu & Friends Vol. 1—the first installment of a new annual compilation series—and while the record includes tunes from artists like Salamanda, DMX Krew, Lady Blacktronika and Mogwaa, it’s Italian duo Hiver that steals the show. “Lunar” is a gleaming slice of sci-fi electro that nods to Detroit, but it’s clearly aimed at the stratosphere and beyond.
The Aquarium Nightclub LP didn’t necessarily get the love it deserved when it first dropped in 2019—at least not from the press—but with Space Ghost’s ultra-smooth, boogie-inflected house jams having caught fire in recent years, the Oakland producer has smartly assembled Aquarium Nightclub Reworks, putting a fresh spin on three tracks from the album. Powered by a sultry saxophone groove, “Sim City (Classic Mix)” is the best of the bunch, and sounds something like Omar-S cutting a record for Mood Hut.
Considering how much the term “IDM” has popped up in promo texts and press coverage during the past few years, the time is arguably right for Oval to cash in and revisit the glitch template he pioneered back in the ’90s, but the German veteran instead prefers to continue pushing his sound outwards, dedicating his new album Romantiq to an exploration of the traditional romantic canon. Perhaps that sounds like a stuffy exercise, but LP itself is nothing of the sort, its orchestral-flavored ambient sounding particularly warm and vibrant on the jaunty, piano-powered standout “Rytmy.”
Though it’s billed as a response to “sobriety, chaos and environmental disaster,” Aria Rostami’s new Allegory album is actually a rather serene listen. Perhaps the Brooklyn-based ambient artist has made peace with the apocalypse, or simply sees beauty in the idea of destruction, but whatever his motivations, LP highlight “Heat from a Painted Fence” is a sprawling number in which tranquil nature sounds, dramatic synth swells and crackling fogs of distortion intermingle and coexist, often in breathtaking fashion.
Brock Van Wey doesn’t do small. Having released dozens of albums, the American artist has a knack for creating the most opulent of ambient sounds, eagerly mining big feels and stretching them out across a 10-plus-minute runtime. His new Days of Gold full-length at times sounds like Michael Bay hired someone to do a Burial impression—in a good way—and opening track “Days of Love” is a brazen heartstring puller, its Auto-Tuned vocals cinematically emoting amongst the kind of melodic grandeur that would make Sigur Rós seem like a modest pop band in comparison.
That’s all 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.)
Enjoy the rest of your 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.