First Floor #184 – What Are You Really Mad About?
a.k.a. The battle over pop edits, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
Much of the time, the dance music “discourse”—and yes, the scare quotes are intentional—on social media isn’t worth acknowledging, let alone engaging with, and thankfully, whatever topic people are arguing about usually fades into the background within a day or two.
During the last week or so, however, the debate around the rising use of pop edits in dance music, particularly in spaces and at events thought to be “underground,” has been practically inescapable. Like many people, I got sucked into reading the various spicy tweets, and the more I read, the more I found myself thinking, “These people are arguing about something much bigger than edits.”
Sure, these discussions might be framed in the context of whether or not it’s okay to play a gabber remix of “Toxic” at Dekmantel, but as the debates devolved into what’s “appropriate” and what should or should not be “allowed” in certain spaces, it seemed to me that this rhetorical battle was about the changing nature of dance music on the whole, particularly in the aftermath of Covid, and what the culture is going to look like going forward. Having written a lot about these concerns here into the newsletter, it seemed like an opportune time to dive back in, so earlier this week I put some of my thoughts into a pretty lengthy essay. (More on that below.)
Of course, there’s a lot more happening in electronic music than just the edits debate, and today’s newsletter rounds up what I think are the most interesting bits. Read on for a digest of the latest news and release announcements, plus links to interesting articles and slew of track recommendations too. Most of those recommendations were written by me, but one comes from a very special guest: Zora Jones.
Let’s get started.
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, takes a closer look at the recent uptick of pop edits in dance music, examining their history in the genre and why audiences (and artists) have so thoroughly embraced them in the post-pandemic era. Moreover, it looks at why these edits are now triggering such an intense backlash, and considers what arguments about their use indicate about the current state of the culture.
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 has arrived in the US, and will start showing up in stores soon, 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.
For anyone involved in the San Francisco techno scene during the 2000s and early 2010s, [KONTROL] was the city’s defining party, and Alland Byallo was one of the driving forces behind it. Late last week, the unfortunate news broke that Byallo, who’d been living in Berlin for the past decade, had unexpectedly died of natural causes. 5Mag, which had published a production-oriented interview with Byallo just last month, posted an obituary by Terry Matthew, and additional details about his life and passing can be found in news stories by Resident Advisor and Mixmag.
“Why the hell is Four Tet running around with Fred again.. and Skrillex?” This year I’ve heard versions of that question more times than I can count in casual conversations, and given Four Tet’s generally press-shy nature, nobody really had a concrete answer. That said, the motivations behind his latest career turn are perhaps a bit clearer now, as the English artist granted a rare interview to journalist Jazz Monroe for a new feature in the Guardian. Although many dance music tastemakers likely won’t find his explanations satisfactory, Four Tet does seem to be having an exceedingly good time, and even talks lovingly of making a Taylor Swift remix for his daughter.
It seems that every music publication on the planet is determined to run a story about the creative resurgence of Miami’s electronic music scene. The latest one—which is actually quite good—was assembled by writer Henry Ivry for Bandcamp Daily, and includes both some key releases and quotes from artists like Nick León, INVT, SEL.6, Coffintexts and Jonny from Space.
One of dance music’s most lovable (and talented) oddballs, DJ Koze is the subject of Beatportal’s latest cover story, in which writer Harold Heath gets the German artist talking about his shapeshifting ways and exactly what he means by phrases like “the goosebump palette” and “the matrix of deepness.”
The self-titled debut album from Natural Wonder Beauty Concept (a.k.a. the collaborative project of Ana Roxanne and DJ Python) got a fair bit of attention when it dropped last month, and a new feature that Tony Inglis penned for DJ Mag finds the two diving into the record’s genesis and explaining how their music grew out of late-night drives and a new friendship forged during lockdown.
Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly common, and that growth has prompted a question: “What will they sound like?” Given that EVs are largely silent, the answer isn’t so simple, which is likely why Adam Douglas decided to explores the issue in a new article for Attack, looking at different car companies’ approaches and talking to veteran artist Richard Devine, who’s been working specifically with Jaguar.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
New music from Actress is always welcome, and the UK artist this week offered up a new song called “Push Power ( a 1 ).” I’ll have more to say about it—scroll down for that—but it’s out now as a standalone single on Ninja Tune, who say that it “hints at a bigger project on the horizon.”
Pauline Anna Strom passed away in 2020, but even before her death, the RVNG Intl. label had begun piecing together an expansive collection of the West Coast synthesist’s early work. That collection, Echoes, Spaces, Lines, has now been finalized, and will include not only remastered versions of Strom’s first three albums (1982’s Trans-Millenia Consort, 1983’s Plot Zero and 1984’s Spectre), but also a previously unreleased album called Oceans of Tears. The complete box set with all four full-lengths will arrive on November 10, as will individual reissues of Strom’s first three LPs, but in the meantime, two tracks from Oceans of Tears have been made available here.
KMRU rarely waits long between releases, but his forthcoming record Dissolution Grip is both the first offering from the Kenyan sound artist’s new OFNOT imprint and something that emerged directly from his studies at Berlin’s Universität der Künste, better known as UDK. Although it’s still rooted in his trademark field recordings, the recordings themselves do not appear on the record, as KMRU apparently used their waveforms to then compose and create raw synth sounds. The LP is due to surface on September 29, but ahead of that, a digital bonus cut called “Along a Wall” has been shared.
Purelink are bringing their blissed-out ambient excursions to the Peak Oil label, which will be issuing the Chicago trio’s latest long-player, Signs, on September 15. One track from the record, “4k Mumurs (feat. J),” is already available.
Speaking of Chicago, house eccentric Hieroglyphic Being has spent much of the past few years releasing music via Bandcamp and his own Mathematics label, but he’s now reconnected with Madrid outpost Apnea, which will be issuing his latest album. Entitled The Moon Dance, it’s slated to appear on October 9, but the LP’s title track has already been shared.
ABADIR’s Mutate was one of 2022’s best bass music albums, and he’s now prepared a follow-up, Ison, that is said to be “clearly different.” More specifically, the Egyptian artist says that the new full-length “is not representational. This is not a cultural relic for the exoticizing gaze. This is purely personal; a fictional sound rooted in the present.” LP cut “Angios O Theos” can be heard now, and the rest of the album will drop on September 28 via the SVBKVLT label.
More than two years removed from her last EP, Octo Octa has prepared something new for the T4T LUV NRG imprint she runs alongside Eris Drew. The three tracks on Dreams of a Dancefloor are billed as “sensual, beautiful and enveloping,” and while only preview clips have been shared so far, the full record will arrive on September 15.
After resurfacing earlier this year with new single “Bubblin,” Julio Bashmore has popped up once again, this time alongside fellow UK house producer T. Williams. Together they’ve made ZP Dub / Porta Time, a new double single that’s available now via Local Action.
Following up on last year’s alluring Postcards from the Sun to the Moon LP, Montreal synth-pop trio Dawn to Dawn—which is fronted by Tess Roby—is set to make its live debut next week at the MUTEK festival. Ahead of that, the group has released a new single, “Seventh Floor.”
ZORA JONES 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 Zora Jones, the Austrian artist who heads up the boundary-pushing Fractal Fantasy label / platform / universe alongside partner Sinjin Hawke. The two are currently in the midst of an artist residency in Japan, and Jones’ most recent single, “Miau,” featured the Japanese-language vocals of Golin, so it’s no surprise that her recommendation here also comes from the Land of the Rising Sun. (And for those wanting more of Zora’s selections, she started a running playlist earlier this year called Club Love, which she periodically updates with her favorite club tracks.)
The Japanese electronic music genre GORGE has been on the rise. I love how wild, eclectic, unruly, abstract and creative it is, ranging from a cappella and noise music to more dancefloor-oriented tracks. Anything goes, as long as it follows the famous “GORGE Public License”:
Use Toms (タムを使うこと)
Call it “Gorge” (Gorgeと呼ぶこと)
Don’t call it “Art” (Artと呼ばないこと)
“Waves & Mountains” is from the latest GORGE compilation, I hear a new mountain, and it’s an intense banger by Hanali, the genre’s godfather.
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.
Recommending a new single from Actress admittedly isn’t a bold editorial move on my part, but “Push Power ( a 1 )” is truly excellent, even by the UK artist’s already lofty standards. It’s also relatively a straightforward number, built atop a deep house groove whose subtly confident strut anchors the song’s gently tinkling keys and disembodied vocal chops. Both somber and funky, it’s said to “mirror an intricate game of chess,” and is described by Actress as “the first move.” The first move of what? He hasn’t said yet, but I imagine many of us are eager to find out.
Guttural groans and trippy bliss live side by side on “arrebol,” a hypnotic standout from Mexican producer murales’ new Reflejo EP. With its twisted-up vocal fragments and bellowing string snippets fluttering to and fro, the track at times seems like a freaky Enya cut, as though its creator had tapped into some sort of Druidic dark magic. As it happens, the EP is said to be inspired by the process of adding music to a theatrical work based on tarot cards, so perhaps there is an element of the occult at work.
Plenty of artists aim to make their music sound big, but on Chthonic, the first collaborative album from experimental artists Lawrence English and Lea Bertucci, big alone wasn’t going to cut it. The two are operating at an almost tectonic scale, as the thundering reverb and pitchy squeals of LP opener “Amorphic Foothills” evoke thoughts of bubbling magma, pyroclastic eruptions and the prospect of a hole suddenly opening up in the earth and swallowing you whole. Harrowing, dramatic and powerful, it’s the kind of composition whose cinematic sprawl, while spellbinding, also hammers home that we’re all subject to ancient, untamable forces that remain completely out of our control.
With Longform Editions simultaneously dropping four long-form pieces every two months, it can be hard to give each one its proper due, and that’s unfortunate, because the curation is truly top-notch, and routinely gives some of the best ambient / experimental artists not just a platform, but ample room to stretch their creative legs. The latest Longform batch included a composition from Stephen Vitiello, Brendan Canty (of Fugazi fame) and Hahn Rowe, plus another from Third Space, and those are both worth checking, but it’s these new pieces from Body/Head (a.k.a. Kim Gordon and Bill Nace) and Celia Hollander that shine brightest.
The word “shine” is relative though; “Come On” is more of a floaty psychedelic dirge, stretching the the track—which first appeared earlier this year on the duo’s EP of the same name—past the 20-minute mark. Much of that journey involves little more than echoing loops of Gordon’s unmistakable voice, but even at its most minimal, the song retains a charming post-punk edge. “To All Trains,” on the other hand, is a showcase for Celia Hollander’s melodic wizardry, as the LA artist, inspired by the city’s Union Station (the largest railroad hub in the Western US), spins an intricate lattice of plinking tones, darting arpeggios and weightless synth textures, landing in a zone that might best be described as “whimsical grandeur.”
Consisting of little more than a gentle synth melody and perila’s softly sung (and seemingly wordless) vocals, there’s technically not much to “green,” but the Berlin-based artist certainly understands the power of mood, which is what makes the track—which, by the way, is available as a name-your-price-download on Bandcamp—so compelling. Anyone who follows perila on social media likely knows that she’s partial to the outdoors, and there’s definitely something pastoral about “green,” a song whose sauntering gait is akin to a relaxed stroll beneath the canopy of a verdant forest.
As someone who spent an inordinate amount of time listening to the emo offerings of the Saddle Creek label during the late ’90s and early 2000s, I’m both surprised and delighted to highlight something new from the Omaha-based imprint here in the newsletter. The fact that that something is from claire rousay may seem strange, but Bright Eyes—one of Saddle Creek’s defining acts—has long been one of her favorites, which makes the LA-based artist’s new Sigh in My Ear 7” something of a full-circle moment. After all, rousay has spent years half-jokingly describing her music as “emo ambient,” and her new record’s title track fully leans into the former half of that term, its melancholy guitar strums, weepy string samples and sweetly sung vocals (courtesy of Helena Deland) coalescing into something that sounds more like vintage Rainer Maria or Death Cab for Cutie than anything on the Shelter Press catalog.
With compositions from Martyna Basta, Lucy Liyou and Ekaterina Bazhenova-Yamasaki, the new Doyenne 003 compilation is something of an ambient all-star affair, and Felisha Ledesma’s “Guiding You” is the cassette’s quietly epic highlight. With radiant melodies that exude serenity and rumbling drones that hint at some sort of looming disaster, it runs the emotional gamut, yet it does so in a decidedly elegant fashion, its dramatic swells conjuring images of ancient deities galavanting through the heavens and casually lobbing thunderbolts at the earth.
It’s strange to think that anything from Dekmantel, one of the most recognizable brands in electronic music, would arrive quietly, but there’s been remarkably little fanfare around Vanta, the superb debut full-length from Amsterdam artist BSS. Listening to his beatless (albeit undeniably propulsive) creations, it’s easy to draw comparisons to the work of Barker, but this is no copycat effort, as BSS casts a wider sonic net while frequently infusing his music with a notably introspective sensibility. With its vocal loops, background choirs, fizzy builds and brassy synth lead, LP standout “Midnight Vanta” pulls from Enya and HudMo alike, and while its epic trajectory might leave some listeners waiting for a drop that never comes, the song is so good that they’re unlikely to put up much of a fuss. Less emotional is “Jet Vanta,” though there’s still plenty of drama in the track’s glittering array of trance-adjacent riffs, which effortlessly take flight without leaving anyone wondering where the kick drums are.
It’s frankly baffling that Murlo isn’t one of the most celebrated artists in dance music, at least amongst those with an appetite for adventurous club tracks. The UK producer has been turning out top-shelf material for more than a decade, and while his early output leaned heavily on his favorite dancehall and grime sounds, he’s notably broadened not just his musical range over the years, but the underlying concepts that shape his releases. His latest album, Puckle, is built around the idea of a “cult that receives transformative gifts from a synthetic deity in the forest,” and it’s also his most openly playful effort to date.
“Two Distant Lands” is loaded with new agey flutes and strings, but as soon as its hyperactive drums kick in, the song’s pastel palette feels like something out of an old Sonic the Hedgehog game. The video game vibes are also present on “High Heaven”—its tropical chimes are straight out of Donkey Kong Country—but the track also takes a decidedly funky turn, exploring a wobbly space that’s somewhere between speed garage and ’80s boogie. Similarly fun is “Human Pulp,” and while its garage-indebted beat provides the song’s irresistible shuffle, it’s the way that Murlo arranges chopped vocal bits into a bouncy lead melody that ultimately steals the show. It’s an obvious highlight, but in all honestly, Puckle is full of them.
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.