First Floor #194 – Editorial for Sale
a.k.a. The concerning rise of branded content in dance music journalism, plus a round-up of the latest electronic music news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
After I published my latest First Floor essay earlier this week, a friend forwarded me the following quote:
The devil’s greatest trick is making people believe that there is no such thing as selling out. There IS such a fucking thing as selling out. Everyone knows what it is: it’s when you do something insincere for a lot of money and you’re by default conning people. That’s a sellout. It’s not, “Oh, I did a commercial,” it’s, “Oh, I did a commercial for the worst, most toxic product and I told you it was good for you.” There is a difference between a sell-out and a glow-up. People need to understand that difference.
Those words were said—in 2018, no less—by music journalist Jeff Weiss (of Passion of the Weiss fame) during a conversation with Julian Brimmers for the Creative Independent. Five years later, the sentiment he expressed feels more relevant than ever, and while the phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to electronic music journalism, it’s disappointing to see how much the genre’s leading media outlets, in a desperate bid to keep the lights on, have sunk deeper and deeper into brand partnerships and advertorial.
That’s the subject of my aforementioned essay (more on that below), but of course today’s newsletter has plenty of other stuff too: news items, new release announcements, links to interesting articles and plenty of new track recommendations. There’s also a special guest appearance by artist Celia Hollander, who offers up a recommendation of her own.
Let’s get started, but before we do, I’d just like to mention that First Floor has no advertisements, no sponsors and no brand partnerships. The entire endeavor is kept afloat by reader subscriptions, so if you’re one of the people who’s ponied up some cash during the past four years, thank you. This thing wouldn’t be possible with you.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Every Tuesday, First Floor publishes a long-form piece that’s usually made available to paid newsletter subscribers only. The latest one, which is now (temporarily) open to everyone, points out the sharp increase in branded content offerings by electronic music’s leading publications, and considers what that increase means for the future of these outlets—and music journalism itself.
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 order it from my publisher Velocity Press. However, if you’re outside of the UK, I’d actually recommend either inquiring at your favorite local bookshop or trying one of the online sales links I’ve compiled here.
ANOTHER THING I DID
Although most people know me as an electronic music person, my younger years were filled with not just raving, but also a lot of time spent in hardcore, emo and indie scenes, all of which played in integral role in shaping my taste and worldview. Given that, I was genuinely delighted that Pitchfork agreed to let me interview Norman Brannon, who’s best known as the guitarist of Texas Is the Reason, but has also logged time in bands like Shelter and New End Original, along with Thursday, who he’s been touring with in recent years.
As it happens, our conversation was focused not on his music, but instead on Anti-Matter, the highly influential, hardcore-focused zine that he founded and operated for a few years during the 1990s. A few months back, he unexpectedly relaunched Anti-Matter on Substack, and the writing—which includes both artist interviews and a series of beautifully written, incredibly incisive essays by Brannon himself about the past, present and future of hardcore—has consistently blown me away. For the Pitchfork piece, I talked to him about the history of Anti-Matter, his own multi-decade journey through hardcore, his decision to restart the zine and why what he’s doing is anything but a nostalgia exercise. Even for those who’ve never described themselves as “hardcore kids,” I think the perspectives he shared and stories he told will prove interesting.
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.
Omar-S and former collaborator Supercoolwicked have publicly accused one another of assault following an incident at Detroit’s Paramita Sound last weekend. The news first surfaced when Supercoolwicked posted on Twitter and Instagram, claiming that Omar S had become violent after she approached him about unpaid royalties. (The two worked together on “What's Good For The Goose,” which came out in 2021 via Omar S’ FXHE label.) Paramita Sound then issued a statement of its own, backing Supercoolwicked’s account and saying and that Omar S had been permanently banned from the venue. In response, Omar S also chose to turn to Instagram, where he refuted the accusations, claimed that he was the one who was attacked and said that the stories circulating about that night constitute a “pure and utter fabrication.” More details, including additional statements from Omar S’ lawyer, can be found in this article by Randiah Camille Green that was published yesterday in the Detroit Metro Times.
Berlin-based livestreaming outpost HÖR has been subject to a torrent of criticism during the past week following two incidents in which DJs were asked to remove clothing that the platform’s content moderation staff felt “could be perceived as offensive and calling for the eradication of Israel.” The items in question were “a scarf with the phrase ‘this land is ours’ written in Arabic” and a “shirt featuring the Palestinian flag superimposed over the map of Israel.” (Just FYI, the quoted material is from a mass email that HÖR, according to this news story by Resident Advisor, sent out to all of the artists in its database. The full contents of said email were not included in the story, but they have circulated widely online.) Although HÖR, which is owned by two Israelis (Ori Itshaki and Doron Mastey, who have also made music under the name TV.OUT), stated that it “wholeheartedly support[s] the right of the Palestinian people to freedom and self-determination,” and that they “believe in freedom of expression” and “have not, and will not, censor flags or peaceful slogans,” a number of artists (including some who have previously performed on the platform) have publicly denounced and / or cut ties with the outlet, with many requesting that their archived sets be taken down. In the meantime, HÖR’s daily broadcasts have continued, but looking at its calendar, it seems that certain DJs have either cancelled or not shown up for their sets during the past few days.
Anyone who enjoyed my September interview with Verraco will likely enjoy Crack magazine’s latest cover story, in which he’s joined by fellow TraTraTrax co-founders Nyksan and DJ Lomalinda for a wide-ranging conversation with writer / editor Rachel Grace Almeida. The three Colombian artists trace back the origins of their label, but also discuss the complexities of Latin identity, particularly as it relates to the Euro-centric electronic music world. They also discuss their plans for taking TraTraTrax into the future, even after the current wave of hype around the label inevitably subsides.
Inspired by the new Matmos album Return to Archive, on which the Baltimore duo used the Smithsonian Folkways catalog as source material, Philip Sherburne has authored an article for Pitchfork highlighting some of the storied label’s best science and nature recordings.
Hakuna Kulala is the club-focused offshoot of Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes, and it’s also the subject of Beatportal’s latest Label of the Month feature, in which founders Derek Debru and Arlen Dilsizian talk to writer Niamh O’Connor about the imprint’s origins and the unique challenges of maintaining an operation in Africa.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Given the ongoing crisis in Gaza, a number of charity compilations have surfaced in recent weeks, but none match the scale of Paralaxe Editions’ For Palestine, which dropped last week and collects tracks from 64 different artists, including claire rousay, Azu Tiwaline, Nick León, Verraco, Bored Lord, Doc Sleep, Felisha Ledesma, Flora Yin Wong, Maral, Relaxer, Not Waving, Romance, KMRU, Patricia Wolf, Nueen and many, many others. All proceeds go to Médecins Sans Frontières, and the compilation was put together by Paralaxe Editions founder Dania, who also contributed a song and (full disclosure) is my wife.
Speaking of claire rousay, she also released a separate charity single benefitting Anera, an organization “dedicated to providing food and hygiene kits to displaced families in Gaza.” Entitled “i no longer have that glowing thing inside of me,” it’s available now via Thrill Jockey.
After several years out of the spotlight, French artist Canblaster—who during the first half of the 2010s was a hugely influential presence in the bass music world—has suddenly returned with a new single. Announced via Instagram, “Aerian Dance” is his first solo track in six years, and it will be followed by GENESIS, a full mixtape of new material that’s due to arrive November 10 (i.e. tomorrow) via the Animal63 imprint.
Galcher Lustwerk offered up a surprise two-tracker last Friday. It’s called No Trip, and it’s available now via Bandcamp.
Kassem Mosse and Mix Mup are both elusive figures, so it’s not exactly a shock that their new collaborative album, Ich sehe Vasen, surfaced last week with no advance warning. Released by The Trilogy Tapes under the name MM/KM, it’s out now.
Following up on his Agartha album for Kompakt, Japanese artist Wata Igarashi has released a companion piece, Lost Journey, through his own WIP imprint. Its three tracks “were not part of the album, but intimately connected to the process of making it,” and another companion effort, Forgotten Tales, is apparently in the works as well. The release date for that has not been revealed, but Lost Journey is available now.
Berlin-based composer and synthesist Maya Shenfield has completed her second full-length. Described as “a series of pieces exploring change and repetition, deep time and the ephemeral moment, equilibrium and imminent threat,” it’s called Under the Sun, and will be issued via Thrill Jockey on February 23. Ahead of that, she’s shared LP cut “Interstellar,” along with an accompanying video directed by Pedro Maia.
CELIA HOLLANDER 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 Celia Hollander, a Los Angeles-based composer and artist who’s been a staple of the Leaving Records roster in recent years, often filling her free-floating creations with a playful sense of buoyancy. Her latest full-length, 2nd Draft, was recorded during an artist residency in Nebraska, and was partially born out of her improvisations on an upright practice piano. The LP will be officially released tomorrow, but ahead of that, Hollander has shared a vintage selection that’s very much in line with the sound palette—and the whimsical spirit—of her own music.
“Raffles in Rio” holds a special place in my psyche as I used it as a morning alarm for about a year! I have a real soft spot for the record label Windham Hill and Mark Isham’s Vapor Drawings (1983) was their first electronic release. I find this track to be naturally uplifting and forward facing, with beautiful chord changes, a satisfying bouquet of synth timbres and just the right amount of restraint to keep it simple.
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.
He’s done it again. After more than a decade of consistently pushing the sonic boundaries of club music—and doing it a way that doesn’t feel like some obtuse academic exercise—it’s difficult to continue finding new ways to sing Mosca’s praises, but “Laminar Flow” is an impressive display of his talents. Though it apparently began as an effort to “make some music like Autechre,” it wound up sounding a lot more like DJ Stingray, combining razor-sharp electro with gurgling acid fragments and a series of synth melodies that sound like air-raid sirens from another planet. Even by its creator’s lofty standards, this very strong stuff.
Although 2020’s Karma & Desire album arguably presented Actress at his most focused and cohesive, new LP LXXXVIII is a more fractured effort, one in which the singular UK artist actively explores both ambient abstraction and the more adventurous corners of the dancefloor. Closing number “Pluto ( a 2 )” falls into the latter category, sounding like an old Mr. Fingers cut that’s been run through endless wash cycles and then digitally scanned for posterity. The song’s innate sense of funk remains intact, but its blurry exterior, not to mention its abrupt stop before the track even reaches the three-minute mark, are classic maneuvers from the Actress playbook. “Its me ( g 8 ),” on the other hand, is closer in spirit to vintage R&B, its soft chords and sweetly chopped vocal loops coalescing into something remarkably tender. It often seems like Actress can do just about anything, but this tune, even with its gently crackling accoutrement, feels like an actual love song, one where he pulls back the curtains and bit and offers something truly heartfelt.
Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering—an album that will likely end up on plenty of “best of 2023” lists—is tough act to follow, but Martyna Basta’s new Diaries Beneath Fragile Glass EP is a gorgeous listen all the same. “Fragile” is especially good, as the Polish ambient / experimental artist lays out a soft bed of gently strummed guitar and lazily fluttering chimes, and then adds multiple layers of her own vocals atop the composition, her wordless vocalizations recalling the work of Enya but also exuding their own sense of heart-tugging melancholy.
Is it just me, or is Salamanda’s new In Parallel LP strangely flying beneath the radar? The South Korean ambient duo has (deservedly) received all sorts of accolades during the past few years, and the new full-length—their first for UK outpost Wisdom Teeth—offers another high-quality dose of weightless whimsy and new age-indebted sonics. The album’s title track is likely the best place to start, and while the women of Salamanda are likely too young to have experienced the 8-bit era of video games themselves, the song’s plinky arpeggiations do sound like something one might have heard in an old Zelda title. Combined with their breathy vocal snippets and the track’s spa-like sense of serenity, “In Parallel” is akin to a five-minute vacation from the noise and insanity of the outside world.
Fading farther from me carries a palpable sense of emotional weight—the fact that it’s Felisha Ledesma’s first release since undergoing surgery for cancer treatment probably has something to do with that—yet it’s an undeniably patient outing, one whose rippling tones stretch out across the horizon, gradually morphing and changing but never detracting from the music’s quiet grandiosity. “Part 3” is the most potent composition, opening with moody piano, whispered vocal fragments and rustling field recordings before gracefully taking flight atop waves of shuddering strings and fuzz-laden drones.
Harnessing the foreboding majesty that only cello, double bass and other string instruments can provide, Acts of Light is the haunting new album from Irish artist Hilary Woods, who some may remember from her time as the bass player of JJ72 during the late ’90s and early 2000s. As a solo artist, she’s much more interested in droning dirges, and her new LP reaches its high point on “Where the Bough Has Broken,” where Woods’ creaky string melodies butt up against disembodied vocal choirs and mounds of reverb to create something that’s both hypnotic and wonderfully spooky.
So much of today’s ambient music has a pristine quality, as though it was digitally rendered in a hermetically sealed lab. Somewhere Else, on the other hand, has a genuinely organic feel, even as Saapato employs quietly zooming synths and liberally drenches his songs in reverb. It’s music for the outdoors, a feeling only enhanced by his use of twangy guitar melodies and buzzing field recordings, and while the title track of his new album does reflect the multitude of life one finds in the forest—he himself lives in upstate New York—it also echoes the beauty and tranquility of nature.
Plastic surgery, washing machines, queer icons, medieval folk music, plastic… Matmos have traversed a lot of conceptual ground during their decades of musical activity, but no matter what they’re working on, the Baltimore-based couple’s uniquely prankstery energy always seems to come through. On paper, their new Return to Archive LP, which pulls all sorts of nature and scientific sounds out of the Smithsonian Folkways archives, seems like a stuffy proposition, but it’s quite possibly the liveliest thing the duo have created in quite some time. Album highlight “Injection Basic Sound” is essentially an effervescent IDM cut, one that recalls the group’s origins in San Francisco’s experimental scene during the late ’90s, and effortlessly weaves endless details—including an opera vocal—into the multitude of clicks, pops and bangs that kinetically populate the song’s all-too-brief runtime.
There’s no shortage of jungle and drum & bass revivalism happening at the moment, but Fracture is someone who’s doing it right, using his 0860 project—which originally included an album of the same name, a radio station and an interview series—to celebrate the genre’s rich cultural and sonic legacy. The new All of the Massive EP continues that effort, and its title track is a proper stormer, one that purposely nods to the bleep & bass sound that inspired many early hardcore and jungle producers. Built atop rapid-fire breakbeats, it’s got more than enough low-end weight to rumble ravers’ insides, but Fracture also employs some relentlessly pulsing synths and later pulls out a bit of a piano throwback, making sure stir a bit of euphoria into what’s otherwise a satisfyingly skull-rattling stew.
Though his song “Honey Badger” wound up being one of 2022’s defining club tunes, Rhyw’s “Engine Track”—the lead cut off his new Mister Melt EP—might be even better. In truth, the whole record is brilliant, showcasing the Greek / Welsh artist’s knack for inventively delivering the biggest bass sounds—and seemingly doing it with a permanent smirk on his face—but squelchy techno hybrid “Engine Track” is especially bonkers, somehow filling its breakdown with what sounds like the zooming mayhem of a motorcross rally. Is it a little silly? Absolutely, but the song is a riot, and even veteran ravers who think they’ve heard every possible drop over the years—and quite possibly roll their eyes at the prospect of hearing another one—will likely find themselves bowing down to Rhyw’s formidable talents.
After blowing up somewhat unexpectedly during the past few years, becoming a resident at NYC nightspot Nowadays while also dropping tunes on hotly tipped bass outposts like Fever AM and Scuffed, Ayesha inadvertently set some pretty high expectations for her debut full-length Rhythm Is a Memory. To her credit, she meets those expectations, crafting a slate of bass-heavy tunes that comfortably balance her impressive sound design with a clear ability to mash up the dance. Though the album is stuffed with quality offerings, “V7” is an obvious standout, its drum patterns borrowing from the rhythmic sensibility of Southern Asia as its various melodies conjure thoughts of both cinematic grandeur and the loopy sound effects one might hear when a character dies in their favorite 1980s video game.
Taken from his new Bronx Boy Rhythm 2 EP, “BBR08 (SLIGHT NUANCES)” feels like something new from Kush Jones, delving into a sort of late-night techno that sounds more like ’90s Detroit (think Anthony Shakir and Underground Resistance) than contemporary NYC. That’s not a bad thing, as there’s a kind of polished minimalism at work, the song’s moody pads conjuring visions of polished chrome gleaming beneath glowing streetlights. There’s a general coolness to the proceedings, though the track is by no means slow; confidently cruising along at 140+ bpm, it’s a testament to the fact that moving fast doesn’t require bashing people over the head.
When a veteran producer like Robert Dietz is riffing on trance in his productions, it’s a clear sign that the once-reviled genre has been fully rehabilitated. (Either that, or its seemingly permanent revival is about to die.) To his credit, “Should I Get a Dog”—a standout from the new RIP to My Idea of You EP—isn’t an attempt at Tiesto-esque largesse. If anything it’s more of a bouncy techno cut, one with a subtle pop streak and a willingness to (thankfully sparingly) employ some of the same epic synth lines that were once restricted to the trance realm. If only more techno producers could be this playful… the genre might feel like less of a snooze.
That’s it 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.