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First Floor #188 – An Unexpected Turn
a.k.a. An interview with Minor Science, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a fresh slate of new track recommendations.
This really snuck up on me, but my North American book tour kicks off next week! All the details are below, but if you live in New York, Montreal, Miami, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland or San Francisco, please come and see me—and make sure to secure your spot by grabbing a ticket and / or RSVPing.
In the meantime though, I’ve got a newsletter to deliver, and this week’s edition is headlined by my interview with Minor Science. He’s got a new album out, and of course we talked about that, but the real meat of the conversation focused on the current state of electronic music. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that anyone who’s been following the recent debate about pop edits will be very interested in what he has to say.
Elsewhere, I’ve assembled the usual assortment of electronic music news items, new release announcements and links to interesting articles, and I’ve also scoured the past week’s crop of new releases to come up with a fresh list of track recommendations. Supplementing that effort is a guest appearance by Olive Ardizoni of ambient outfit Green-House, who’s delivered an additional recommendation you won’t want to miss.
Let’s do this thing.
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 interview with Minor Science. Long a favorite of those who prefer a headier approach to electronic music, he’s intriguingly expanded his sonic palette in recent years, embracing both boisterous club sounds and ostentatious edits, the latter via his STRIPE N CO alias. Our conversation digs into how example this evolution took place, and also gives Minor Science—who previously spent many years working as an electronic music journalist—space to share his thoughts on the current state of the culture, his old profession, social media and the “underground” / mainstream divide.
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
As stated above, I’ll be heading to the US (and Montreal) next week 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.
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.
Anyone who’s even passively followed the news this year has likely noticed the worrying uptick in extreme weather events around the world, and this new Pitchfork feature (written by Philip Sherburne) examines how this is already affecting the international festival landscape. (Oddly enough, both insurance representatives and shaman are involved.)
With his Again album due to arrive later this month, Oneohtrix Point Never has landed on the cover of Crack magazine’s latest issue, and the accompanying feature by Sasha Geffen details the new record, his backstory and how those two things are intimately intertwined.
Is AI music a good or bad thing? That’s probably an overly simplistic question for what’s shaping up to be a very complex situation, but it’s useful as a jumping off point for this new Mixmag piece by Thomas Hobbs, who talks to Holly Herndon and a handful of other industry figures about how AI technology is already reshaping the music world.
Most producers who work “in the box” are likely familiar with software emulators, which digitally recreate the sounds of famed synthesizers, drum machines and other music-making devices. In a new article for Attack, Adam Douglas puts the legality of these emulators under the microscope, examining how patents and trademarks apply, and also looking at what rights the original creators of whatever is being emulated have when someone seeks to mimic their work.
Summarizing the career of experimental composer Carl Stone is no easy task—he’s been active for more than 50 years—but this new Bandcamp Daily piece isn’t a bad place to start, as writer Ruairi McCann highlights several key releases from the pioneering artist’s extensive catalog.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Actress has a new album on the way. That’s not a big surprise, as Ninja Tune hinted at a bigger project on the horizon when the “Push Power ( a 1 )” single surfaced last month, but now all the details of the UK artist’s latest LP have been revealed. Entitled LXXXVIII, it’s said to be rooted in ideas related to game theory, and before its scheduled arrival on November 3, another new single, “Game Over ( e 1 ),” has been made available.
Back in April, patten released Mirage FM, an album made entirely of text-to-audio AI samples. Now the London producer has completed another full-length using the same methodology. The objective, however, is notably different, as the new LP—which is called Deep Blue—has been made with the aim of creating an “uncannily human and naturalistic vision.” It’s due to surface on October 20 via 555-5555, but opening cut “Tarrasch” has already been shared.
Having dropped a pair of singles in recent months, Call Super has now unveiled that those tracks will be part of a new full-length called Eulo Cramps. The LP is set for release on October 6 through can you feel the sun, the imprint they run alongside Parris, although several tracks from the record—including the aforementioned singles and new track “Goldwood,” which features Elke Wardlaw—can already be heard here. More insights into the album’s creation can be found in DJ Mag’s latest cover story, which finds the Berlin-based English artist discussing their personal and creative evolution with writer Eoin Murray.
Does anyone in electronic music do concept albums better than Matmos? Return to Archive is the Baltimore duo’s newest adventure, and was created by manipulating sounds from Folkways Records’ extensive archive of non-musical recordings. The LP’s first track alone includes bits of “dolphins, beetles, telephones, humans stretching the limits of their vocal cords, a shortwave radio, and metal balers,” and while the full album—which includes guest appearances by Evicshen and Aaron Dilloway—will be issued by Smithsonian Folkways on November 3, the song “Mud-Dauber Wasp” is already available, along with its accompanying (and very wasp-centric) video.
Long one of the Príncipe label’s most reliable artists, Nídia will soon be returning to the imprint with a new LP. Slated to arrive on October 6, the album is called 95 MINDJERES, and it’s said to be “framed by the decisive role of women freedom fighters in PAIGC's struggle for the independence of Guinea-Bissau from Portuguese colonial domination during the 1960s and 1970s.” Opening track “É COMO?” has already been shared.
After years of running in similar circles, UK experimental acts Rainy Miller and Space Afrika have teamed up on an upcoming new album. Entitled A Grisaille Wedding and reportedly “based in the personification of the semi-fictitious world that Space Afrika have come to build over the years,” the LP will be issued by the Fixed Abode label on November 16, but the video for first single “Maybe It's Time to Lay Down the Arms”—a song which features Mica Levi—is out now.
Imaginary Softwoods (a.k.a. the solo project of Emeralds member John Elliott) unveiled a new standalone piece this week, the 10-minute-long “Enkō-ji Loop.” It’s available now via Bandcamp.
Footwork veteran DJ Manny has completed a new album, Hypnotized, that Planet Mu will be releasing on November 17. The LP is described as something that expands the boundaries of the genre by adding “new moods and musical color,” and its first single “Ooh Baby,” which features the late legend DJ Rashad, can be heard now.
A couple of years have passed since Hemlock Recordings’ last release, but the beloved UK outpost—which is headed up by Untold—is returning later this month with a new record from Airhead. First single “Salt” has already been shared, and the rest of the Lightness EP will follow on September 29. After that, Untold himself will be dropping a new record, a joint effort with Parris called Lip Locked that’s due to surface on November 3 via Hemlock sub-label ORO. No audio from that release has been shared yet, but more details are here.
MoMA Ready dropped a new album last week. Described as a dedication to his life in New York City, it’s called Turn and Look, and it’s available through his HAUS of ALTR imprint.
GREEN-HOUSE 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 Olive Ardizoni, the LA-based ambient artist who started the Green-House project a few years back. Following several acclaimed releases as a solo operator, however, Ardizoni has now joined forces with Michael Flanagan, officially expanding Green-House into a duo. Their new album A Host for All Kinds of Life is slated to arrive next month via Leaving Records, but ahead of that Ardizoni has shared a vintage slice of deeply chilled avant-pop music.
I’ve been really into this song from Finis Africae, a 1980s project from Spain. “Luna” is off their 1984 self-titled album, and it’s hauntingly beautiful. With its dreamy floating vocals and fluttering saxophone combined with nature sounds, it makes me feel like I’m sitting in a warm bath in the middle of a forest. There’s a beam of sunlight darting through the canopy and reflecting off the surface of my bath water as I watch the steam rise up into the trees at sunset.
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.
Despite being a new collaboration between avant-pop explorer Bianca Scout and power-noise practitioner Martyn Reid, the Marina Zispin project honestly doesn’t sound quite like either one of them. The UK duo’s elaborately titled debut, Life and Death: The Five Chandeliers of the Funereal Exorcisms, is essentially a low-key synth-pop record, one in which bare-bones rhythms and gleaming synths keep things moving as Scout’s vocal melancholy leisurely glides above the fray. Opening cut “Flowers in the Sea” is particularly good, its dreamy sadness perfect for an afternoon of endless scrolling while you wait for your crush to text you back.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but despite the fact that the current trance and progressive house revival has now been going on for years, “serious” electronic music fans still often feel the need to attach qualifiers to almost any positive framing of these sounds. It’s understandable why people do this—there’s a whole lot of trance (and trance-adjacent) garbage out there—but it undercuts the potency of a song like “Varial” when people like myself trot out some version of “I know what you’re thinking, but this is the good trance” in their descriptions. That said, the track—which leads off Vancouver artist Thurlow Joyce’s new Lemon Citrus EP—really is an example of the good stuff, a gauzy prog roller whose pillow-soft pads recall the most narcotic moments of Sasha & Digweed’s Northern Exposure mixes.
There’s a dark strain of folk magic running through Azabache, the debut solo full-length from Ana Quiroga. With its brooding textures and loping rhythms, the LP at times feels like a collection of ancient incantations, and considering that its creator has cited both witchcraft and the Celtic traditions of her native Asturias as part of the record’s underlying conceptual brew, it’s fair to say that the album is more interested in the occult than the dancefloor. Yet Azabache isn’t an exercise in spooky camp; it’s a patient, beguiling effort, and is at its best on “Wallada,” a song which nods to the mystical history of Muslim Spain—the title is a reference to Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, a 11th-century female Andalusian poet whose work and behavior provocatively challenged the strict social and religious norms of her day—while weaving together sullen drones, tweaked vocal fragments and a bassline that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Joy Division record.
As expansive as the term “bass music” has become during the past decade, it somehow no longer seems sufficient to contain the music-making efforts of Simo Cell. Both as a producer and as the head of the TEMƎT label, the French artist has consistently moved beyond the confines of the hardcore continuum in recent years, and his long-awaited debut album, Cuspide des Sirènes, doubles down on that effort, intentionally folding bits of melody-rich emo, pop and video game music into the mix. (His commitment to the latter is especially intense, as he’s cooked up alternate 8-bit versions of several album tracks, which are being released on a limited-edition Game Boy cartridge.)
Will everything on Cuspide des Sirènes work in a traditional DJ set? Definitely not, but it’s unlikely that Simo Cell is all that concerned. The record is bright, colorful, inventive and a more than a little manic, as interested in perplexing the average punter as it is in compelling them to brandish their gun fingers. And yes, there are some definite bangers here—and in the end, their weirdness only enhances their potency. With its horn riffs, “blow the conch” sounds like a souped-up Just Blaze production, albeit one with a profoundly jittery percussive backbone and a litany of gremlin-like vocal snippets. Whatever the hell it is—one might need a diagram to hash out all the references—it’s a whole lot of fun.
Inaugurated by Identified Patient and Gamma Intel earlier this year, the Nerve Collect label has already gotten off to a very promising start, and following solo EPs from each of its two founders, the young imprint has now offered up what might be its strongest efforts yet. End of Line is a joint EP from Bastian Benjamin and French II, and while the whole thing—which includes two solo cuts from each artist, along with three collaborative tracks—is worth checking, “Manuscript” is the undeniable showstopper, a brawny, bass-loaded track that lands somewhere between classic Mala and a particularly menacing strain of grime. Heavy with a capital H, it’s destined to rattle windows and scare the neighbors, but is also marked by shouty vocal bursts, feverishly clacking drums and a keen ability to combine brute force with just a hint of road-ready swagger.
Reviews of Speaker Music always seem to emphasize how much his productions stray from the prevailing dynamics of contemporary club sounds, and while it’s true that nothing from the Alabama native’s new Techxodus album—which employs fragments of techno, but also references trap, free jazz, noise, gospel, marching bands and more—is likely to wind up in the average Boiler Room session (or even the average Nowadays set), there’s no denying that a standout cut like “Techno-Vernacular Phreak” has its own undeniable sense of groove. Built atop thundering drum patterns that bring to mind the restless rhythms of artists like RP Boo and Jlin, the track, despite its electronic bent, retains a notably organic feel, as though its shuddering beats had been tapped out by a veteran jazz drummer. Add in the song’s eerie, sci-fi atmosphere—which feels like a clear nod to the imaginative world building of Drexciya and other Detroit techno Afrofuturists—and a heavenly vocal choir, and “Techno-Vernacular Freak” stands as a compellingly unorthodox creation, one that defiantly bucks easy categorization—and is all the better for it.
Regardless of whether or not hardgroove is legitimately experiencing a comeback—in my estimation, a lot more contemporary techno artists still seem to be borrowing from trance and gabber instead—it’s nonetheless encouraging to hear a record like Modus Operandi, on which Los Angeles artist 1morning not only pounds the dancefloor with loopy, hard-charging rhythms, but does so without sacrificing every bit of the music’s innate funkiness. The work of Ben Sims makes for an obvious comparison, but EP highlight “Signal Flow” recalls some of Robert Hood’s housier efforts (both under his own name and as Floorplan), the track’s swaying rumble adorned by dashing string flourishes.
What if Kate NV tried her hand at footwork? It’s impossible to know how it would turn out, but something like “Zeru Freq.” might be the end result. The irrepressibly bubbly title track of Basque artist RRUCCULLA’s genre-busting new full-length, the song bounds along like a toddler hopped on birthday cake, its punchy claps and driving kicks barely staying upright as they excitedly motor across the room. Yet it’s the song’s spritely melodies that leave the strongest impression; bursting and blossoming with an almost cartoonish glee, they hint at old anime soundtracks and the quirky pop stylings of groups like Yellow Magic Orchestra, but their breakneck pace and candy-coated sparkle ultimately feel like something that might have escaped from the PC Music universe.
With literally dozens of releases under his belt, anthéne is one of those artists whose expansive catalog might seem overly daunting to newcomers, but his new balance album wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Slow-moving and pillow-soft, its languid compositions combine plush synths and poignant guitars, operating in a contemplative space not terribly far from that of acts like Stars of the Lid, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Fennesz. LP highlight “confirmation” is slowcore taken to a luxurious extreme, its weightless twang serenely floating through the air as the song’s underlying textures drift back and forth like an ocean tide.
That brings us to 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.)
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.