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First Floor #187 – The Limitations of Latin Hype
a.k.a. An interview with TraTraTrax co-founder Verraco, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
The people at Substack put First Floor in their “Featured” section this week, and while I of course appreciated that, I initially didn’t think much of it, figuring, “How many people even look at those recommendations?”
Well… I was wrong.
More than 400 new people have signed up for the newsletter during the past few days (that’s waaaaay more than usual), and if you’re one of those people, welcome! I have no idea how interested you are in relatively niche electronic music, let alone my assorted deep dives into the culture and industry that surrounds said music, but you’re here now and hopefully you’ll find something you like.
Today’s newsletter is another jam-packed edition, one headlined by my interview with Colombian artist and TraTraTrax co-founder Verraco. (For the uninitiated, TraTraxTrax is currently one of the most hyped labels in all of dance music.) You’ll find our conversation below, but know that it went way beyond the usual journalistic routine of talking about his origin story and latest record; we dove into the guts of dance music’s current fascination with Latin rhythms while touching on issues of tokenization, representation and flawed media / industry narratives.
Elsewhere, I’ve put together a digest that includes electronic music news items, new release announcements and links to interesting articles / podcasts, along with a bunch of new track recommendations. I’ve also recruited NYC artist Ayesha to share a guest recommendation of her own, so look out for that.
There’s a lot to get through, so 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, is an in-depth interview with TraTraTrax co-founder Verraco, who will soon be releasing an EP on Blawan and Pariah’s Voam label. Our conversation touches on that, but it mostly focuses on the many complexities and challenges of being a Latin artist—even a successful one—in a Eurocentric dance music industry.
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.
NORTH AMERICAN BOOK TOUR
In two weeks, I’ll be heading to the US (and Montreal) for a series of talks / Q&A sessions focused on my recently released book, First Floor Vol. 1: Reflections on Electronic Music Culture.
If you haven’t yet picked up a copy, it can be ordered directly from my publisher Velocity Press, but if you’re outside the UK, I’d actually suggest inquiring at your favorite local bookshop or trying one of the online sales links I’ve compiled here. Copies of the book will be available for sale at every stop of the tour.
More details (and all of the individual event flyers) are here, but the complete list of dates is below.
(Click the links to either purchase a ticket or RSVP, and please act quickly, as space may be limited at some events.)
September 21 - New York, Dripping at Nowadays (moderated by Avalon Emerson)
September 22 - Montreal, OSMO X MARUSAN (moderated by Patrick Holland)
September 23 - Miami, Paradis Books & Bread (moderated by Nick León)
September 25 - Washington DC, Eaton House (moderated by Joyce Lim)
September 28 - Seattle, Vermillion (moderated by Doc Sleep)
September 30 - San Francisco, Public Works (moderated by Mozhgan)
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.
First Floor readers may remember that I recently revisited the potential impacts of user-centric payment models on the streaming landscape—the word “potential” is very important, as it’s far from certain that these models will ever be widely adopted—and in that piece, I mentioned that Universal Music Group and Deezer had joined forces earlier this year with an intention to develop what they called an “artist-centric” streaming model.
This week, they finally announced what that plan will look like, and while the initial rollout (currently scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2023) will be limited to France only, it seems that additional territories will eventually follow. It’s too soon to tell exactly what this new model will entail or what its ultimate impact will be—some initial analysis / guesswork has been done by Music Business Worldwide’s Tim Ingham—but the new scheme does notably provide “boosts” (i.e. higher payouts) to “professional artists” (musicians who get at least 1000 monthly streams from at least 500 unique listeners) and streams that come via active listener engagement (i.e. not via playlists). The new model will also be supplemented by Deezer taking a tougher line on fraud, both in the form of fake artists and “non-artist noise content.”
The history of electronic music in Latin America is woefully underdocumented, and that included the story of Venezuelan minitecas, mobile soundsystems that first sprung up during the ’60s and ’70s and eventually became widespread throughout the country. (The minitecas circuit is also where DJ Babatr, the father of raptor house, got his start.) To celebrate this piece of music history, Phran—a Venezuelan artist based in Barcelona—has teamed up with Juan Pablo Huizi Clavier and the Klasse Wrecks label to put together a zine called Logos of the Venezuelan Minitecas, which showcases the logos from hundreds of different soundsystems. It’s available now.
Scuba’s Not a Diving Podcast has been going for almost two years now, and while it initially focused almost exclusively on conversations with artists, the Hotflush founder has broadened his booking approach in recent months, inviting other kinds of industry figures onto the program. Full disclosure: I myself was one such figure (that episode is here), but I mention the podcast today because last week’s episode featured Mat Dryhurst, who talked in a refreshingly nuanced fashion about AI, Web3, and the evolution of independent music culture.
Elijah is someone most First Floor readers are likely familiar with already—I interviewed the Butterz co-founder back in 2021, before his Yellow Squares project even had an official name—but anyone looking to catch up on his backstory would be well served to check out DMY’s latest cover feature (penned by Billy Ward), in which the UK artist / manager / advisor talks about his many endeavors over the years, his current efforts to cut through the noise of social media and why it’s okay to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers.
With her new album Jbal Rrsas dropping tomorrow, Deena Abdelwahed popped up in a new DJ Mag piece, talking to writer Martin Guttridge-Hewitt about her years-long effort to bring Arabic music into the electronic sphere, and do it in a way that feels organic.
Ghostly International has been named Beatportal’s latest Label of the Month, and the accompanying article finds founder Sam Valenti IV talking to journalist Marcus Barnes about the label’s history, how he’s adapted to a changing music industry and why he’s a “chaotic neutral.”
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Tirzah dropped a surprise new album earlier this week. I have a lot more to say about its contents (scroll down for that), but the LP is called trip9love...??? and the digital version is out now via Domino. A vinyl version will follow on November 17.
Nick León and Jonny from Space are launching their own label. It’s called Impacto, and will officially kick off on September 15 with Saka La Bolsita, an EP from Miami-based Mexican artist El Gusano. One track from the record, “Arrebato (feat. El Descarao),” has already been shared.
Forest Swords unveiled plans for a forthcoming new full-length, Bolted, that Ninja Tune will be releasing on October 20. In the meantime, several songs from the LP are already available here.
Following up on her 2022 breakthrough album Pripyat, Marina Herlop will soon be returning to the PAN label with a new LP, Nekkuja. Described as her “brightest, poppiest statement to date,” it’s due to arrive on October 27, but first single “La Alhambra” is out now.
Evian Christ isn’t exactly a newcomer, but the UK artist had never put together a full-length album—until now. Years in the making, it’s called Revanchist and will be issued via Warp on October 20. Ahead of that, lead track “On Embers” has already been shared.
Just months after the Myuthafoo album made clear that Caterina Barbieri has no qualms about revisiting her older compositions, the Italian synthesist has now offered up the “Perennial Fantas” single, a “transcendent evolution” of “Fantas” from her 2019 LP Ecstatic Computation. It’s out now on her own light-years imprint.
Overmono, who released their debut album Good Lies earlier this year, today dropped a surprise new single, “Blow Out,” via XL Recordings.
Back in February, Guy Brewer—the currently Antwerp-based UK producer best known as Shifted—unveiled a new alias, Carrier, with a release on The Trilogy Tapes label. He’ll soon be following that up with a series of self-released Carrier efforts, beginning with the Neither Curve Nor Edge EP. Though it’s scheduled to arrive on September 22, the song “Shading” has already been shared.
Floorplan (a.k.a. techno legend Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric) has announced a new two-track release for Classic, The Curse Breaker / What You Need. The record drops on September 15, but preview clips of both songs have been shared.
Four years removed from their last album, UK duo Emptyset have completed a new release, ash, which is said to evoke “the transformative and sculptural properties of sound.” The Subtext label will be releasing the record on October 20, but the track “flame” is available now.
While it’s not a release in the traditional sense, the annual “dubs” mix from Anz—which always consists entirely of her own unreleased material—is something many dance music fans greatly look forward to every year. Spring / Summer Dubs 2023 finally dropped earlier this week, and the UK artist says that it’s meant to share “a lil cross section of what’s been going on in my brain.”
AYESHA 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 Ayesha, an NYC artist—and Nowadays resident—who’s made waves during the past few years with her distinct brand of techno-infused bass music. Or is it bass-infused techno music? Her love of both soundworlds is on display in her selection below, and that love has also colored her just-announced debut album, Rhythm Is Memory, which is slated to arrive on November 3 via the Kindergarten label.
Lately during DJ sets I’ve been feeling a very specific tension: on the one hand, a desire to play fast polyrhythmic techno, footwork and jungle, and on the other, this yearning to slow down and play woozy half-time drum & bass and dancehall. It’s possible to cover both of these moods in a set by doing what I call the “double time to half time switch up,” but this can be tricky to execute—it’s a serious shift in dancefloor energy.
I’ve been a fan of Mike Parker’s techno for a while now; his squishy sound design is so distinct, consistent and cohesive, and for these reasons is very inspiring to me. During one of my recent digs I was excited to come across his June 2023 release Sabre-Tooth, an EP that to me feels like a successful transposition of his experimental techno palette onto a half-time project. And because this record exists in both techno and drum & hass territories, it feels accessible to DJs like me who want to play both genres in a single set. “Neural Spines” is my favorite track, and I’m eagerly awaiting the right half-time moment to drop it—and the rest of the tunes on the EP—in the near future.
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.
Flowery arrangements and sonic maximalism have never been hallmarks of Tirzah’s sound, but even the UK artist’s biggest devotees likely didn’t expect her to roll out a dramatically stripped-down record like trip9love...???. Made alongside longtime collaborator Mica Levi, the album takes an unapologetically “more with less” approach, its 11 songs all consisting of little more than blown-out trap drums, haunted (and heavily reverbed) piano and Tirzah’s beautifully melancholy voice.
It’s tempting to reach for comparisons—something like “lo-fi Sade making digital trip-hop” comes to mind—but the LP ultimately defies easy classification, no matter how familiar its constituent parts may seem. More importantly, it’s a brilliant record, and despite—or perhaps because of—its jagged sonics and generally unpolished nature, trip9love...??? contains some of Tirzah’s most affecting work to date. The lovesick “u all the time” is a stompy trap lament, while the wailing guitar tones on “Stars” bring Tirzah’s dreamy sadness into legitimate grunge territory. Those are just two highlights on an album that’s full of them; if you listen to one new record this week, make it this one.
Honest question: is there any kind of electronic music that Ilian Tape doesn’t do well? Once known primarily as an outpost for broken, UK-influenced techno, the Munich imprint has steadily expanded its sonic palette in recent years, dipping into ambient, psychedelia, instrumental hip-hop and more. (And yes, it also continues to be the primary home for Skee Mask’s music, which doesn’t hurt the label’s hit rate.) At this point, it’s no longer accurate to say there’s any one Ilian Tape “sound,” especially when MPU420’s new BPM1 EP is essentially a collection of stripped-down, late-night electro.
Although not much is known about the record’s creator—the EP appears to be their debut, at least under this moniker—the music on offers clearly nods to Detroit, with standout cut “OSC” riding atop a distinctly Drexcyian wiggle. “WantU” displays a similar sense of Motor City funk, though its uncluttered composition and soft, afterparty-ready melodies contribute to a vibe that’s more “cosmic cruise” than “neck-snapping electro.” MPU420 may be charting a course into outer space, but whoever’s piloting the ship definitely has a pair of dark sunglasses on.
Speaking of cosmic journeys, “A New Loving (Gentle Mix)”—the opening cut from Muckers’ new Hell Lane EP—evokes visions of a merry jaunt through the solar system. With its metronomic pulse and wide-eyed gaze, the song owes a clear debt to the kosmische explorers of 1970s Germany, but there’s also a distinctly English sort of psychedelia at work, one that Muckers claims inspired by the landscapes of the West Dorset region where he grew up. What results is a uniquely playful gem—there’s even a bit of brass towards the end—that sounds a bit like Neu! inviting Andrew Weatherall to come over and jam.
Does anyone pack more sunshine into their tunes than Shanti Celeste? After last year’s “Cutie” immediately increased Hessle Audio’s smile quotient by a factor of 100, the London-based Chilean has tapped into a similar spirit on Bounce, her new joint EP with Bristol mainstay Hodge. Featuring an original from each artist and two versions of the collaborative “Whispers,” the record kicks off with Celeste’s title track, a vibrant house cut powered by darting, brightly colored melodies and a shimmying drum pattern that wouldn’t be out of place at your local salsa club. Even livelier is “Whispers (Rave Mix),” a track whose pastel glow and bubbly undercurrent—not to mention its pitch-shifted vocals, which repeat the phrase “tell me something nice” again and again—have the infectious energy of a Saturday morning cartoon.
No offense to Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, but somebody ought to hire Augustus Muller to score the next season of Stranger Things. The Massachusetts musician, best known as one half of the spiky synth-pop duo Boy Harsher, does tend to gravitate towards projects that are a bit edgier than the average Netflix fare—his new Cellulosed Bodies release compiles scores for two films by experimental pornographer Four Chambers—but he’s clearly fluent in the sounds of 1980s cinema, and the iconic palettes of masters like John Carpenter, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream in particular. LP opener “Fur and Metal” is especially potent, and though its neon-and-chrome palette is certainly familiar, Muller infuses the proceedings with just enough tension to imply that something monstrous may be lurking right around the corner.
Electronic music production has come a long way in the past 50 years, and while it’s always nice to be wowed by the latest iteration of in-the-box technical wizardry, it’s also true that some of the genre’s purest pleasures are rooted in the simplest of sounds. “Crystallized”—a retro standout from Shine Grooves’ new Watching the Breeze album—could be described as new age, but it’s essentially a showcase for a plinky little synth riff, one that gently twinkles atop the song’s pillow-soft pads and scuttling percussive fragments. Moving with all the urgency of a toy boat that’s been tossed into a slow-moving stream, it’s not the most dynamic tune, but its patient glide is immensely satisfying all the same.
Mood Hut has released a lot of great records over the years, but Kwong might be the first one that feels a little bit mischievous. A genre-blurring effort from Knopha—who hails from Xiamen, China—the EP dabbles in syrupy downtempo, avant-garde soul, weirdo pop junglisms and choppy house grooves, but it’s the record’s most effervescent tune, “Mizu Le Goût,” that leaves the most lasting impression. Though it’s rooted in a sort of soft-focus boogie, the song employs the same sort of jittery rhythms one might find in classic IDM, or even a Hudson Mohawke production. It’s restless, to be sure, but somehow that never seems to detract from the music’s silky, free-flowing groove.
The original “BBS” doesn’t seem to reside anywhere online, and while that makes it tough to judge exactly what Park End has brought to this refix, the end product is a high-quality slice of sticky, R&B-infused UK garage. That said, while the song’s sweetly sung hooks were likely crafted with mainstream radio airplay in mind, this particular version adds a welcome touch of murk to the proceedings, laying its various vocal chops atop a foundation of steadily vibrating bass. That bass smartly never spoils the track’s otherwise breezy vibe, but it is heavy enough to make things feel just a bit ominous.
If you ever hear someone complaining about the current state of drum & bass, or claiming that today’s tunes can’t hold a candle to the anthems of yore, please point them in the direction of Tim Reaper. The UK artist at times seems to be single-handedly keeping the spirit of classic jungle alive, and his Future Retro London label—which reliably drops a new batch of releases pretty much every month—continues to be a paragon of quality and curation, platforming ace material from familiar faces and up-and-comers alike.
Comfort Zone falls into the latter category, but the Canadian producer’s new FR020 EP is a fantastic collection of tunes, one that finds the oft-ignored sweet spot between jazzy wankery and braindead percussive mayhem. Lead track “Tunnel Vision” is particularly good, and while it’s not necessarily designed to smash up the dance, its lean frame has still got more than enough low-end might to workout a bassbin or two.
In a time of rising tempos and seizure-inducing sonic assaults, it often feels like the power of the deliberate chugger has been forgotten, but “10-11”—the burly title track of Tano’s latest EP—bucks current trends, surrounding its thundering drums and weightless wobble with plenty of breathing room. While it’s far from minimal—and clocking in at 130 bpm, it’s not even all that slow—it does exude a sinister sense of patience, foregoing melody and musical excess as its rumbling underbelly slowly scrambles the guts of anyone in earshot.
That’s all I’ve got 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.)
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.