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First Floor #173 - It's Weird That Music Journalists Aren't Covering This
a.k.a. Talking EDM with Katie Bain, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh crop of new track recommendations.
It’s festival season here in Barcelona. Primavera Sound is happening this week, and once it wraps up, the madness of Sónar will begin less than two weeks later. For those of us that live here, it’s a rather intense time of year, and even though my days of hanging at festivals until the sun comes up are (mostly) behind me, things are going to be busy for the next few weeks.
Given that, let’s just jump right in to today’s newsletter, which not only features the usual assortment of electronic music news, links and track recommendations, but also a guest appearance from Jack McKenzie, whose Fixed Rhythms imprint is probably the coolest label in Oklahoma City.
And for those who like a long read, don’t miss my interview with music journalist Katie Bain. All the details are below, but let’s just say that we dove deep into the good, the bad and the ugly of EDM and commercial electronic music—and the way that the press does (and often doesn’t) cover it.
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, which is now (temporarily) open to everyone, features an interview with Katie Bain, a veteran writer / editor who’s currently the director of Billboard Dance. When it comes to EDM and commercial dance music, she’s arguably the most prominent journalist there is, partially because most publications don’t even bother to cover that stuff. I figured she might have some thoughts as to why that is, and also took the opportunity to ask a verifiable EDM expert about what the genre is really like—and whether its (generally not great) reputation is truly deserved.
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 latest edition of the Herb Sundays newsletter / playlist series features selections curated by French artist Malibu, along with Sam Valenti’s expert breakdown of what makes her music so compelling. (Valenti was also kind enough to reference Malibu’s First Floor interview, which took place last year.)
Valesuchi stepped into the Mixmag spotlight earlier this week, taking part in the publication’s In Session series. The resulting piece includes both an exclusive DJ mix from the Rio de Janeiro-based Chilean artist and her interview with writer Megan Townsend.
Seemingly inspired by the recent release of the Tzusing-curated FINAL Taipei Compilation, music journalist Joe Muggs took a closer look at Taipei’s club scene in a new feature for Bandcamp Daily, speaking to many of the city’s key figures and highlighting some of its most promising artists.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Blawan and Pariah—who last year were interviewed here in First Floor about their Persher project—have returned to their other collaborative endeavor, Karenn. The duo will be releasing a new EP, Everything Is Curly, through their Voam imprint on June 23. In the meantime, they’ve already shared opening track “Feeling Horizontal.”
After reissuing his landmark 2013 mixtape 100% Galcher last year, Galcher Lustwerk has once again returned to that era, assembling a new collection of rare and previously unreleased tunes called LUSTWERK II. (It also includes two new edits.) It’s set for release on June 28 via Ghostly International, but one track, a remix of “I Neva Seen” by Willow, is available now.
Marcel Dettmann has completed a new EP, Electric Drive, for the Fabric Originals imprint. It’s the German techno icon’s first offering since last year’s Fear of Programming LP, and the vinyl version will be available on June 16. The digital version will drop that same day on Beatport, and go wide two weeks later on June 30. Ahead of that, the record’s title track can be heard here.
Jonny Nash, who heads up the Melody of Truth label and is also part of ambient trio Gaussian Curve alongside Young Marco and Gigi Masin, has a new album on the way. Slated to arrive on July 19, the LP is called Point of Entry, and several tracks from the record can already be heard here.
Deena Abdelwahed has finished a new full-length, Jbal Rrsas, for the InFiné label. Although no tracks have yet been made available, the Tunisian artist this week shared some details about the record and its genesis in an interview with Christina Hazboun for Bandcamp Daily. Otherwise, the album’s tracklist and credits are here, and the LP is due to surface on September 8.
Tristan Arp has joined the 3024 label roster, and will soon be releasing a new EP called End of a Line or Part of a Circle? Set to drop on June 30, it’s billed as a “club-not-club hybrid of dancefloor freakouts and downtempo zones,” and one of its tracks, “Panspecies Rights,” has already been shared.
D. Tiffany and Maara have unveiled a new collaborative moniker. It’s called Mortar & Pestle, and the Canadian duo’s self-titled debut EP is out now via Delicate Records.
hinako omori, who turned heads with last year’s a journey… album, resurfaced this week with a vocal-driven new single, “in full bloom.” Available now on Houndstooth, it’s said to be a precursor to a(n as yet unannounced) larger body of work.
Ylia is the latest addition to the Balmat label, and the versatile Spanish artist (whose productions often tend towards ambient, but whose DJ sets are full of breakbeats and rave-ready sounds) will soon be releasing a new LP entitled Ame Agaru. Described as a response to grief, the album will arrive on July 7, but two of its tracks have already been shared here.
JACK McKENZIE 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 Jack McKenzie, whose Fixed Rhythms label has spent the past five years flying the flag for electronic music in Oklahoma City—a place that’s never really been known as a hotbed of the culture. Despite his distance from the genre’s traditional power centers, McKenzie has developed an excellent curatorial ear, dropping releases from Russell E.L. Butler, Escaflowne, Eamon Harkin, Cratan, JR2k (a.k.a. Jackson Ryland) and other talents too numerous to list, and knowing that, I figured he’d come up with something excellent to share with the First Floor audience.
On Rei Harakami's 1999 album Opa*q, everything is tooled in an almost stubborn way, as though its creator was thinking, “How far can this melody or sequence or effect (the L/R panning!) really go?” The artist is a vessel for sound here. I hear no creator ego, but rather a love for style, both effect and affect. Genre-wise the album goes all over the place, from windy borderline IDM and big bass explorations to minimal ambient meditations, experimental breaks territory, jazz, house and more. What’s most important to me, however, is that whenever I put this record on, I’m instantly somewhere different. I don’t know exactly where it is, or how I got there… but I rather like being there.
The track that brings me to that space instantaneously is the first one off the album. With its minimal instrumentation, “Glimglim” is a solid representation of how many of the songs on the album are arranged, and its four or five elements riff together like a jazz capella, vamping and giving room for solos and isolation. The percussion rises and falls like a ship at sea during a gentle storm, offering all of the transportive qualities of a maritime voyage without the nausea. The phrasing is long. The piano ditty weaves its way in and around the drums and bass, to a point where I can almost see it slithering up and down throughout the track. What a mind-opening introduction to a stunning, balmy, stimulating album!
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
Is this jazz? Avant-garde funk? Something else altogether? “Wicked City” defies simple categorization—“Arthur Russell soundtracking a vintage Michael Mann flick” perhaps comes close—but it’s an obvious highlight of The Sport of Love, a new album from the unorthodox trio of Asma Maroof (a.k.a. one half of Nguzunguzu, who I interviewed last year), cellist Patrick Belaga and saxophonist Tapiwa Svosve. Considering that these three previously collaborated on scoring work for Louis Vuitton and a variety of films, it’s not surprising that their work has a cinematic bent, but don’t mistake them for the second coming of Hans Zimmer. “Wicked City” is a powerful tune, but it doesn’t deal in bombast; low-key tension and late-night cool is the vibe, and the song’s groaning cello and bleating saxophone drift through the air like steam wafting out of a sidewalk grate.
Although Wata Igarashi is primarily known as a techno artist, anyone who’s followed the Japanese producer in recent years knows that he doesn’t need a kick drum to make magic happen. (His ambient compositions in particular are often rather stunning.) On his debut album Agartha, he largely sets aside all notions of the club, indulging instead in the idea of soundtracking an imaginary film. The subject of that film? The mythical underground kingdom with which the LP shares its name, which explains the fantastical, almost psychedelic feel of the music on offer. With its percolating arpeggios and spaced-out synthesis, “Floating Against Time” nods to the wide-eyed explorations of groups like Tangerine Dream and Cluster, and cosmic LP closer “Eternally” follows a similar (albeit woozier) path, slowing down the tempo while calmly cruising towards the farthest reaches of the solar system.
Like seemingly everyone connected to the extended West Mineral Ltd. universe, Pontiac Streator has proven to be an unrelentingly prolific artist, and though his new Select Works . vol IIII is “just” an odds-and-ends collection, its tracks are no less essential than anything on last year’s celebrated Sone Glo album. The sound palette is familiar—hazy textures, digital melodies, narcotic bliss, etc.—but despite the music’s deeply inorganic nature, the emotion it conveys is very real; the smoothed-out vocals of “edo disc” sound like manipulated fragments of a late-night ’80s slow jam, actively tugging at heartstrings despite the fact that no actual words are ever spoken. “american love skank” treads even further into the abyss, conjuring memories of “Born Slippy” and Pure Moods compilations but ultimately sounding much weirder (in a good way) than either of those things. In some ways, Pontiac Streator has never sounded less human—it’s probably not a coincidence that he thanks AI tool Riffusion in the record’s accompanying text—but if this what kind of music our future robot overlords will be making, maybe the apocalypse won’t be so bad.
BEST OF THE REST
Big tune alert! “Set the Roof” is the unceasingly joyous title track of a new collaborative EP from Hudson Mohawke and Nikki Nair. Neither producer has ever been shy about their love of big beats and bright colors, and this tune offers plenty of both, somehow folding in bits of classic video game music, shuffling UK garage, anthemic R&B and sassy hip-house along the way. And when the song’s rude bassline drops? Forget about it. This one feels like the club equivalent of lightning in a bottle.
Building off the UK gqom hybrids that Scratcha DVA has touted in recent years, “Lab Rat”—the swaggering title track of a new collaborative EP from DJ Polo & NKC—is an industrial-strength bruiser, one whose distorted basslines hit with the force of a runaway semi truck. That said, there’s more to the song than its raw power, as the Bristol duo’s swung percussion gives the tune an undeniable bounce, ensuring that even the toughest rudeboys will be moving their feet.
I’m not a big pop music guy, but pop jungle? I love the stuff, and “Here 4 U”—a standout from PA’s new Life Live EP—is the kind of hooky drum & bass tune I’d like to imagine would have been in heavy rotation at BBC Radio 1 during the late ’90s. Combining the feverish energy of jump-up and the snarling basslines of tech-step, the track runs for more than five minutes, but it feels compact—and might just prompt you to start singing, “Heeeeeere for you” when you least expect it.
Marcus Intalex will forever be a drum & bass legend, but in the years before his untimely death in 2017, the UK artist released a lot more music as Trevino, his house- and techno-oriented moniker. The new Back album is said to be final Trevino LP, and its tracks comfortably sit amongst the project’s best; “Gateway” is especially good, its heads-down groove laying the foundation for the song’s cosmic pads and sci-fi squiggles.
Signing up KiNK to do a record is never a bad idea, but Hypercolour tapped the virtuosic Bulgarian producer for a special occasion: the label’s 100th release. As such, it’s no surprise that his new For the People EP has a notably celebratory vibe, and its revelry is particularly potent on “Ta,” a slamming house cut powered by burly drums and anthemic melodies, but made truly special by its gleeful array of cheeky vocal chops.
Can a techno track be both sleek and bubbly? With “Sinistrorso,” Distant Echoes seems to indicate that it’s not only possible, but desirable. A standout from the Italian producer’s new Passerella I EP (as the title indicates, it’s the first of a two-part release), the track recalls some of Underworld’s more techno-leaning classics, its insistent pulse and hypnotic synth flutters—which become increasingly crunchy with each passing minute—leading folks to the most tripped-out corners of the dancefloor.
A new collaboration between UK veterans Wedge and Appleblim, Wrecked Lightship is a project that’s said to be rooted in the “dancefloor abstractions where techno, electro and dubstep once stood,” which explains the genre-blending nature of debut album Oceans and Seas. Although much of the LP pays only passing attention the needs of the dancefloor, “Take It Back” is a cracking post-dubstep swinger, one whose sturdy rhythms have been expertly augmented by buzzing sonics and underwater melodies.
One of the brightest (and most prolific) talents in contemporary drum & bass, Eusebeia spends much of new album X serving up rollicking percussion and booming bassweight, but “Hindsight” is one of the LP’s more meditative—and best—cuts. Though its drums are still capable of cracking skulls, the song’s restraint is what stands out, as the UK producer builds tension with his moody melodies and haunted textures before dropping the hammer in the track’s latter half.
Clocking in at more than nine minutes, “‘Untitled (5)’ Trauma” is an ethereal grinder, its celestial (and quasi-devotional) melodies offset by the swelling presence of the track’s jagged, static-hewn underbelly. A highlight of SY/N’s new Where Nothingness Is Bliss album, the songs feels like something that might soundtrack the climax of a Christopher Nolan flick, its towering sonics blotting out the sun as they simultaneously hurtle towards both salvation and damnation alike.
Most labels send out promos with multi-paragraph screeds extolling the music’s many virtues—and as someone who occasionally gets hired to write those screeds, I’m fine with that—but Ilian Tape keeps it simple, cooking up quirky descriptions that are literally only four words long. For Picture in Picture, the debut from nimu (a.k.a. Nick Malkin and Mu Tate), the four words were “Mushroom Tea Garden Ceremony,” which perfectly captures the vibe of standout track “Ultramarine,” a cloudy slice of new age-inflected ambient whose gauzy tranquility is enough to set anyone’s mind at ease.
Pulling from a trove of more than 100 miniature recordings that Nate Scheible made back in 2021, plume deals in weightless textures and waterlogged ambient, its contents frequently quavering like the audio from a worn-out old cassette tape. Seemingly held together by the most tenuous of bonds, the music has a certain fragility, but that doesn’t stifle the low-key drama of a song like “plume04,” which bathes its (admittedly subdued and occasionally distorted) melodic grandeur in the sounds of quiet rainfall.
The lush Remember Rain Bridge LP was one of 2022’s slept-on gems, and now Croatian Amor has put together a companion release, A Part of You in Everything, which the Danish artist says is inspired by a younger brother who died at birth. Perhaps that explains why “Dancer” is marked by both tender warmth and lingering melancholy; sitting somewhere between ambient and synth-pop, its angelic vocals and pastel melodies are perfect for a modern-day elegy, one in which Croatian Amor wistfully longs not just for the sibling he lost, but the fact that he never got to know them in the first place.
And with that, we’ve arrived at 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.)
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.