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First Floor #183 – Be Careful What You Wish For
a.k.a. A detailed new look at user-centric streaming payments, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh slate of new track recommendations.
As the discourse around streaming has evolved in recent years, so many different “fixes” have been proposed. Pay artists more! Change this! Add that! Stop doing this other thing! There’s really no shortage of ideas out there, and when they’re discussed online, it’s easy for folks—especially casual observers who don’t have a full grasp on how the (admittedly complex) mechanisms of streaming actually work—to get excited about them. In a face of a system that looks irrevocably broken, the prospect of almost any change can look awfully enticing, regardless of whether or not implementing that change is actually feasible, or if it would even lead to a positive result.
Is that what’s happened with the conversation around user-centric payment models? Switching to that payment scheme is something that streaming critics (myself included) have repeatedly advocated for during the past few years, but after coming across a new study—one based upon a sizable pool of real-world data in which a user-centric system was actually applied—I unexpectedly found myself thinking that people’s outsized enthusiasm for the model, while not without merit, was perhaps premature.
I got deeper into that study—and what it says about whether or not user-centric payments represent even a partial “solution” to streaming inequalities—in an article I published earlier this week. (More on that below.) However, if you’re someone who’s not terribly interested in the streaming issue, or is simply exhausted with the discourse—believe me, I understand that feeling—today’s edition First Floor still has plenty of things to keep you entertained. Aside from taking a look at this week’s electronic music news, I’ve assembled the usual assortment of release announcements, links to interesting articles and new track recommendations. Even better, I’ve also enlisted Miami native SEL.6 to pop in with a special guest recommendation. Let’s get into 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, closely examines a new study examining the potential impact of user-centric streaming payment models. The results of that study likely won’t please Spotify and the other major platforms, but it also calls into question whether user-centric payments would really be the “fix” that streaming critics have made them out to be.
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.
OBLIGATORY BOOK MENTION
My first book is out now. It’s called First Floor Vol. 1: Reflections on Electronic Music Culture, and folks can either order it from my publisher Velocity Press, or if they’re in the UK or Europe, find it in a local bookshop. (And yes, it’s also available on Amazon.) I’ve been told the book will arrive at the US distributor this week, and will start showing up in stores within the next week or so, but in the meantime, folks there are encouraged to preorder it from their favorite shop or via one of the links here.
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.
Obviously I’m hoping that First Floor readers will check out the streaming article I wrote this week (see above), but when I last wrote about the topic back in March, I wound up stressing the importance of pushing for government intervention / reform. But where exactly do various governments currently stand on the streaming issue? In the latest dispatch of David Turner’s Penny Fractions newsletter, he’s provided a very helpful round-up of what’s happening in France, Canada, the UK and the US.
Ed Gillett’s Party Lines: Dance Music and the Making of Modern Britain, a book which re-examines the history of UK dance music (and how police / government / society have responded to it over the years) through a distinctly sociopolitical lens, has been garnering rave reviews since it hit shelves last week. Snagging a copy is likely the best way to see what the fuss is about, but the English writer has also been doing the press rounds, and gave some insights into his motivations and thought processes in an interview with James Greig for Dazed.
Speaking of rave reviews, Nathan Micay’s new To the God Named Dream album has been greeted with all sorts of enthusiasm since it dropped last week. My own excited response to the record can be found below, but the Copenhagen-based Canadian was also the subject of two long-form features during the past week, speaking to Ivna Franic for a Resident Advisor piece and Andrew Moore for a Mixmag profile.
Music journalist Philip Sherburne—who I interviewed last year—popped up in the consistently excellent Why Is This Interesting? newsletter this week, talking about his media consumption habits and sharing a few choice recommendations for the latest installment of WITI’s Monday Media Diet series.
DJ Mag offered up a compelling bit of dance music history this week, enlisting writer Ben Murphy to piece together (with the help of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt) a feature explaining how the Todd Terry remix of Everything but the Girl’s “Missing”—which is now widely recognized as an all-time classic—became an unexpected global smash back in 1994.
When it comes to experimental and avant-garde music, there’s quite possibly no better venue on the planet than London’s Cafe OTO. In a new piece for Bandcamp Daily, writer Matthew Blackwell talks to OTO employees past and present while recounting the place’s unique history and highlighting some releases from its in-house OTOROKU label.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
The extended universe around the West Mineral Ltd. label continues to come up with new permutations of its various crew members. The latest one is shinetiac, a collaboration between Pontiac Streator, Ben Bondy and Shiner. Last week the trio dropped its debut release, Not All Who Wander Are Lost, which is out now and includes (not joking) what might be described as a reimagining of the Foo Fighters’ inescapable 1997 anthem “Everlong.”
Speaking of West Mineral Ltd. affiliates, exael (a.k.a. naemi) has completed a new album, Vanishing Act, which is scheduled to surface as a joint release from the enmossed and Psychedelic Liberation labels on August 27. Ahead of that, the song “Something out of It” has already been shared.
Sign Libra’s 2020 album Sea to Sea probably didn’t get all the attention it deserved—the pandemic had something to do with that, although I did enthusiastically review the record for Pitchfork just weeks before the whole world was turned upside down—but chances are slim that a similar fate will befall the Latvian artist’s latest full-length. Entitled Hidden Beauty, it’s slated to drop via RVNG Intl. on November 3, but opening cut “Le Chat” is available now, as is the song’s official video.
With the release of her DJ Koze-produced Hit Parade album now less than a month away, Róisín Murphy is pulling out the big guns, and just yesterday shared a remix of LP cut “What Not to Do” by none other than Detroit legend Moodymann. It’s out now on Ninja Tune.
Martyn Bootyspoon isn’t someone who shies away from the party, and the Montreal producer has gone for the dancefloor jugular with “Malware Trance,” a surprise new single for Local Action that dropped last week.
Superabundance, an ongoing collaborative endeavor between Max D and Jackson Ryland, has a new album on the way. It’s called Extrasolar, and it’s been billed by the Washington DC pair as a “hyperfunk techno gallop.” Before its release on October 6 by Future Times, LP cut “Tempopalace” has already been shared.
Further settling into his role as one of Miami dance music’s elder statesmen, Danny Daze this week unveiled a forthcoming new EP for Schematic, one of the city’s most storied imprints. Broenecia will arrive on August 11 (i.e. tomorrow), but EP cut “110 Dudes” can be heard now.
VC-118A is an artist who’s long appreciated the more obscure corners of electro (along with what he describes as “crooked machine rhythms”), and the Dutch producer will soon be displaying that love with a new full-length, Waves of Change, for the Delsin label. The LP will surface on September 22, but one track, “Stream,” has already been shared.
Everything Falls Apart is a collaboration between UK artist Ross Tones (a.k.a. Throwing Snow) and Brussels-based double bass player Otto Lindholm. The duo debuted earlier this year with a track called “Wonderfully Desolate,” which will also appear on their just-announced debut album. The self-titled LP will arrive via the Totalism label on September 22, but this week a new single, “somn 7,” has been made available.
London-based Japanese artist hinako omori has quietly slipped out a series of singles in recent months, and as it turns out, those singles will all appear on a forthcoming new LP. stillness, softness... is said to be born out of the idea of reconciling with what omori describes as our “shadow shelves,” and it will arrive on September 22 via Houndstooth. In the meantime, the record’s previous singles can be heard here alongside another new cut, “cynotype memories.”
Given her intensely prolific nature, it’s quite difficult to keep up with everything Sarah Davachi does, but the LA-based experimental composer has prepped a new release that ought to help anyone who’s looking to get caught up on her catalog. Selected Works I & II brings together tracks Davachi previously issued over the course of 10 years, pulling from “various CDs, cassettes, and EPs; singles and original film scores; as well as miscellaneous live and studio recordings.” It’s slated for a September 8 release on Disciples, but two tracks are already available here.
Every once in a while, a release comes along that challenges—or at least expands upon—the notion that electronic music was wholly pioneered in North America and Europe, and the forthcoming compilation The NID Tapes: Electronic Music from India 1969-1972 definitely falls into that category. Assembled by Paul Purgas (a.k.a. one half of Emptyset) and scheduled for an October 6 release via The state51 Conspiracy, it collects early Indian electronic music from 27 reels of archival tape that he came across at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. Two tracks have already been shared here, and aside from the actual music, Purgas has also put together a companion book, Subcontinental Synthesis: Electronic Music at the National Institute of Design, India 1969-1972, which will be issued by Strange Attractor Press on November 7.
SEL.6 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. Today’s recommendation comes from SEL.6, a Miami native whose genre-hopping, breakbeat-loving approach perfectly encapsulates not only the free-flowing vibrancy of the city’s dance music present, but the speaker-thumping glory of its electro, freestyle and hip-hop past. City of Amnesia, which dropped last month on South Florida outpost Undisciplined Body, is SEL.6’s most recent release, and today she’s dropped by First Floor to share a track that set up shop in her subconscious several years back—and seems content to stay there.
I’ve always gravitated towards dissonant-sounding chords and frequencies, which is the main reason I love this remix so much. (It’s also why I love Actress’ many other works.) When I first heard this track some years ago, it had some serious replay value for me, and after hearing it again recently for the first time in a while, it’s had the same effect. So many elements stand out: the instrument choice, the warm pads, the vocal chops, the unusual contrast between the vocals and chords—they sound somewhat off, but work so well together—and the overall heavy and somewhat sinister sound of it all. I love the way that the first kick comes in and punches you in the face! All these things together put me into a hypnotic state whenever the song comes on, which is a feeling like no other in my book.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes from releases that came out during the past week or so. 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.
Following an extended detour into breezy pop sounds that culminated in last year’s You’re the Boss album, Patrick Holland has spent a good chunk of 2023 reasserting his love for the dancefloor. He hasn’t abandoned pop songwriting completely though; new single “Take It” apparently started out as a “power pop rock demo,” but the Montreal artist then decided it might actually work better as a sample. That intuition was right, because “Take It” might be the most joyously pumping tune he’s ever created. This isn’t one of the laid-back house groovers he built his reputation on during the mid-to-late 2010s; the song’s loopy glee is a clear nod to French touch, and while its sleazy guitar licks are right on the edge of the cheese zone, they walk that line with the help of a loping funk bassline that makes everything feel alright.
Considering that Nathan Micay largely spent the past few years immersed in the scoring of films and television—a major career pivot I interviewed him about back in 2020—one might expect his new full-length to be a kind of creative release valve, an outlet for all of the Canadian artist’s euphoric club jams that have no place in a prestige drama. To the God Named Dream, however, is not exactly that, nor is it a purely cinematic effort. While it’s frequently bright, fun and bursting with ideas, it also retains a certain polish, and is clearly the work of someone who’s grown accustomed to trimming the fat and getting to the point.
That’s not a bad thing, and what results is a sort of controlled chaos, one which allows the lush melodies and rattling breakbeats of LP standout “Fangs” to find a happy place between The Future Sound of London, Two Shell and the Super Mario World soundtrack. More relaxed (albeit no less rewarding) is “The Death of FOMO,” which offers a quick dose of sparkling serenity, and then there’s the floaty “Hexagon of Death,” another gorgeous album highlight that sounds like Subiza-era Delorean riffing on old Ryuichi Sakamoto tunes. It’s fantastic stuff, and makes one hope that no matter how successful Micay becomes in the scoring realm, he’ll always find time to occasionally get a little weird and squeeze out an album of his own.
The name Close Up Over likely won’t ring familiar to anyone who’s not an IDM obsessive, but it was one of the aliases briefly used by Ed Handley (a.k.a. one half of Plaid and formerly one third of The Black Dog) for his solo material during the early 1990s. “Olivine” first surfaced on 1993’s Bytes, a compilation album of sorts that was credited to The Black Dog Productions and was also the third release in Warp’s iconic Artificial Intelligence series. To mark the record’s 30th anniversary, Bytes has now been reissued—so has The Black Dog’s 1995 LP Spanners—and its contents still sound remarkably fresh. The nervous technoid rhythms and crystalline chimes of “Olivine” are particularly potent, and provide a window into a thrilling era when notions of genre were far less concrete than they are today.
The original version of “Windswept”—which appeared on 2021’s collaboration-centric Meeting of the Minds Vol. 7 EP—was a furious jungle tune, one which I hailed here in the newsletter for its “feverish percussion” and “jubilant, dubby bounce.” Although that track was apparently started by Sully and finished by fellow UK producer Tim Reaper, it seems that the former didn’t stop tinkering after sending over his files to the latter. This “Fader Mix” is the end result of his efforts, and it’s not just a wildly different take on the song; it’s a high-octane rave-up, one that cranks the drums to 11, fully battering listeners as it also folds in what sound like Middle Eastern string melodies. Even in a crowded drum & bass field, this tune stands out as unique, and is yet another example of Sully’s masterful talents.
“CHIRAL” is only 90 seconds long, but those 90 seconds are spellbinding. Taken from the new I S O L A T I O N EP—a release which, like all of Slikback’s offerings in recent years, is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp—is perhaps the closest the Kenyan artist has ever come to the ethereal textures and astral glide of acts like Tangerine Dream. There’s still some rapid-fire percussion in the mix, and no Slikback tune would be complete without a quaking bass tone or two, but the overriding vibe is a meditative one. It may be an unexpected turn, but the style suits him well.
When an artist takes their music out of the studio and into the live arena, even the most considered compositions can sometimes take on a life of their own. Apparently that’s what happened in the months following the release of OKRAA’s 2022 album 1994, as the Colombian musician reportedly “found himself making new additions, edits, and textures” for a series of performances across Europe and in his home country. Although the reconstituted versions he created are still defined by a kind of widescreen melodic grandeur, they’ve nonetheless veered significantly from the source material, to the point where OKRAA has now elected to share them as 1994 (Versions). Currently available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp, the release is highlighted by “Ola de Luz (Distante),” a track which openly motions to the heavens as it explores an alluring strain of what’s essentially beatless trance.
It’s hard to fathom that Carl Stone—or frankly any electronic musician—has been active for more than 50 years, but the new Electronic Music from 1972-2022 collection offers a whirlwind tour through the American composer’s singular career. “Vim” isn’t necessarily indicative of what the rest of the release sounds like—the man has covered a lot of stylistic ground over the past five decades—but the song, which dates back to 1987, showcases him at his most mischievous. More specifically, it finds him making prodigious use of a Beach Boys classic, which has been chopped up, rearranged and refashioned into a sort of playfully avant-garde, long-form collage.
On a purely sonic level, there’s not much to “star.” Subtly rumbling basslines. Occasional bursts of feedback. Rippling synths that sound like a helicopter in the distance. And of course, the stark, half-whispered talk-singing of Italian artist she spread sorrow, whose orchid seeds was first released in 2019 as part of a 10-tape anthology that instantly went out of print. Its songs have now been given new life via a dedicated vinyl release, and “star” remains a deeply unsettling listen, its raw minimalism only enhancing the song’s inherent sense of looming catastrophe.
“Ritualistic, tribal industrial from the mountains of Greece.” That’s the opening line of the promo blurb that accompanied the new STRUGA album, and even if no other information had been provided, I would have been intrigued. Luckily, the music wastes no time building on the promise of those words, delving headlong into oozy textures, metallic snarls and aggressive static while conjuring an atmosphere that’s somehow both genuinely unhinged and weirdly hypnotic.
At times the LP sounds like a collaboration between Shackleton and Stephen O’Malley, its brooding sonics and scorched mysticism shot through with the persistent cracks and clangs of the Athens duo’s eerily organic drums. With its slow-brewing, reverb-drenched melody, album standout “Harppy End” also adds a bit of John Carpenter to the mix, while closing number “Gidia to Kyma” significantly steps up the drama; the traditional vocal bellows of the Vougioukli Sisters have a lot to do with that, and though the track swims in similar waters as groups like Tarta Relena, what GIDIA are doing is ultimately far more haunted—in a good way.
That’s all I have 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.)
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.