First Floor #195 – Only in Miami
a.k.a. An interview with Danny Daze, plus a round-up of the latest electronic music news and a fresh crop of new track recommendations.
Dozens (hundreds?) of electronic music albums are released every week, and in many ways, the vast majority of them are pretty similar. Sure, the music they contain will vary from one record to the next—even then, most artists hew pretty closely to established genre parameters—but there’s so much about them that’s the same. The formats. The number of songs. The overall running time. The artwork. The narratives used to promote the work. These similarities don’t always register with the average listener, but for anyone who’s logged time in the music industry, it’s readily apparent the most artists and labels are sticking to methods that are downright formulaic.
That’s not a knock against the music these albums contain. There’s no concrete correlation between the quality of work and how that work is presented, and most of the time, sticking to proven methodologies is simply good business. Listeners are accustomed to albums looking and sounding a certain way, and most importantly, they expect those same albums to be available in a format that conforms to their established consumption patterns. While breaking away from those patterns can in and of itself be a kind of creative act, doing so also comes with a certain amount of risk—risk that increases exponentially the more an artist deviates from the norm.
Deviating from the norm, however, is something that Danny Daze has fully embraced with his debut album ::BLUE::, which drops tomorrow and clocks in at 92 minutes in length. A continuous listen that the Miami artist says works best when the listener is blindfolded, it’s miles away from the average new long-player, and that’s the main reason I wanted to interview him. A link to our conversation is below, but before we move on, did I mention that he’s also developed a ::BLUE:: live show that’s literally been designed for planetariums? That definitely feels like a first.
Elsewhere in today’s newsletter, I’ve assembled the usual round-up of news items and new release announcements, along with links to some great articles and a fresh batch of new track recommendations. OttO Kent also drops in with this week’s guest recommendation, and ends his contribution with a rather bold proclamation, so look out for that.
As always, there’s a lot going on in the world of electronic music, so let’s jump in and get started.
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, is an in-depth interview with Danny Daze, a Miami artist who’s thrown caution to the wind, pouring years of effort into a sprawling debut album (the first of his 24-year career) and a corresponding live show that’s immersive, to say the least. We talked about the motivations behind these creative decisions, but also touched upon the current hype around his hometown and how he fits into the local landscape.
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’M DOING
Regular First Floor readers may remember that I’ve occasionally written about Nina, an online platform where artists and labels can publish, present, store and (most importantly) sell their work. (And unlike other sites, it was designed and built by genuine independent music lifers with a deep understanding of and appreciation for how music communities outside the mainstream actually work, both online and IRL.) Earlier this week, Nina officially launched its V2.0, adding all sorts of new features to the platform—more details on that here—and one of those additions is a new editorial arm. That’s where I come in, as they’ve tabbed me, along with writers from outlets like Passion of the Weiss, No Bells, Madjestic Kasual and pi pi pi, to put together monthly columns highlighting our respective corners of the music sphere. My first piece for Nina will appear soon, but in the meantime, check out this feature that Juiceboxx (a.k.a. John Chiaverina) put together on the post-pandemic return of happy hardcore and other high-octane rave sounds.
p.s. Obviously I’m biased, but everyone who’s been talking about the need for a Bandcamp alternative should really take at look at Nina, which currently lets artists keep 100% of profits from sales and offers them far more control over how their work is presented and distributed.
p.p.s. Just FYI, Nina does rely upon blockchain technology—an admittedly eye-raising proposition during a time when all things crypto are (rightly) viewed with suspicion—but the platform has intentionally been built in a way that repels speculators. Crypto skeptics will also be happy to know that neither artists or consumers are required to own or use crypto in order to use Nina.
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.
Holly Herndon is the focus of a new feature in the New Yorker, in which writer Anna Wiener speaks extensively to the Berlin-based artist (and her husband / creative partner Mat Dryhurst) about music, technology, artificial intelligence and what the future of creativity might look like.
Geoffrey Mak has written a deeply intimate, life-spanning profile of Daniel Martin-McCormick (a.k.a. Relaxer, formerly known as Ital, formerly a member of Mi Ami and currently a member of the newly rejuvenated Black Eyes) for Pioneer Works. The piece soberly looks at what happens when “a punk grows up,” and also points out that the NYC artist might be the only person on the planet who’s both played at Berghain and been signed to Dischord Records.
The latest edition of Resident Advisor’s The Art of Production series travels to the Lower East Side home of Galcher Lustwerk, who speaks to Kiana Mickles about his music-making techniques, the influence of film and his constantly shifting studio set-up.
With Moritz von Oswald’s new Silencio album having dropped last week, the Tresor label has published a new mini-documentary that provides a small window into the making of the choir-based record. The Berlin icon also shared a lot more details about the LP in a new interview with Philip Sherburne for the latter’s Futurism Restated newsletter.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
The debut album from Persher—the hardcore- and metal-focused project of Blawan and Pariah (who also jointly run the Voam label and make techno together as Karenn)—has been completed. Entitled Sleep Well, it’s slated to arrive on February 23 via Thrill Jockey, but two tracks from the LP can already be heard here. (And for anyone wanting more information about Persher, I did interview the duo last year.)
Speaking of Voam, the label will soon be releasing a new EP from Peder Mannerfelt, who’s cheekily titled the record The Benefits of Living in a Hole. Before it arrives on December 1, the Swedish producer has shared the opening cut, “Pumping Plastics.”
Earlier this year, hyperpop darlings 100 gecs dropped a rework of Basement Jaxx’s 2001 smash “Where’s Your Head At” on Boiler Room, and the tune apparently created such a fervor that it’s now been given an official release on the XL label. I wouldn’t describe it as an improvement on the original—then again, I’m not really the target audience—but the track did instantly bolster an argument I made in an essay more than two years ago: that Basement Jaxx ought to be credited as one of the progenitors of hyperpop.
Although he’s mostly operating as Dance System these days, Night Slugs co-founder James Connolly unexpectedly reached into his archives and dropped something from his old L-Vis 1990 moniker today. “Harder Drive” is out now, and it appears to be an alternate version of “Hard Drive,” a track from his 2012 EP Club Constructions Vol. 1.
Mister Saturday Night has long been one of NYC’s most reliable nightlife operations, and to mark the upcoming 15th anniversary of the party, its founders, Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin (who also own the club Nowadays) have assembled a 15-tape box set that includes DJ mixes from Aurora Halal, Soul Summit, Avalon Emerson, Floating Points, OK Williams, musclecars, Physical Therapy, Suso Saiz, Optimo feat. Sal P, Ash Lauryn, CCL, Rena Anakwe and Tama Sumo. Harkin and Carter have also contributed mixes, and the complete box set is slated to drop on January 17.
Kelly Moran has been relatively quiet during the past few years, but the NYC pianist and composer will soon return to the Warp label with a new EP. Vessela is scheduled to arrive on November 17 (i.e. tomorrow), but the title track has already been shared.
Tiger & Woods have also gone several years without releasing new music—although one half of the group, Passarani, has been steadily releasing tunes during that time—but the Roman duo has now completed a new EP, DJs on Film, which will be issued via their own T&W imprint on December 8. Ahead of that, they’ve already shared “License to Vibe,” a decidedly retro-flavored cut that features the vocals of longtime collaborator ’Em.
Oceanic’s Choral Feeling is one of 2023 best electronic albums—given that it was released back in January, I do worry that it may be forgotten on many year-end lists—and the Nous’klaer label provided a welcome reminder of its existence last week, sharing a record called Choral Feeling (DJ Versions). The title is self-explanatory, and while the EP’s three songs have been slightly reworked in an effort to make them more palatable for the average dancefloor, the music exudes the same effervescent joy that defined the original LP.
Batu introduced his new A Long Strange Dream imprint earlier this year, and the Bristol mainstay will soon be returning to the young label with a new effort, half-speed. The EP, which is said to draw inspiration “from the ambiance of chill-out rooms and their ability to channel the intense emotions of rave,” will be released on December 1, though the song “flown” is available now.
Genre-blurring Washington DC artist Jackson Ryland, who people may also know as one half of the duo Superabundance alongside Future Times founder Max D, has a new album on the way. Rapid Xpansion will arrive on December 5—both digitally and on cassette—but two tracks from the record can already be heard here.
OTTO KENT 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 OttO Kent, a Berlin-based party veteran who’s currently one of the hosts of The Week, an Electronic Beats podcast that spotlights all the latest happenings in music and culture—and also takes deeper dives into the topics that everyone in dance music seems to be talking about. Kent’s examinations of cultural phenomena don’t stop there either, as he also authors Backup Account, a Substack devoted to the more unusual corners of TikTok, and specifically the “counter-cultural remixing and queerifornication” that happens on the app. One of the rare figures in electronic music who combines a deep well of knowledge with a sense of humor and an appreciation for the just how absurd the whole enterprise can be, I knew he’d not only have a quality recommendation for First Floor readers, but would also offer up a good story in the process.
I am a hyperbolic bitch. I am hardwired to call to the hills if a song spikes my serotonin. I learned it from my older sister, who was consistently “grounded” for the lengths she would go to buy music and merch and see live shows. She taught me how to be confident in my taste and to be shameless about it. At some point, my collection took a real turn away from hers, probably starting the day I spitefully unspooled her favorite Alice Cooper tape. We don’t share recommendations with each other like we used to, but in many ways, sharing links is one of the most peaceful forms of communication we have left. Fandom has repaired our relationship many times over.
When I heard the new a..s.o. album, I sent it to her right away. I knew there would be a lot of songs on the record that would hit her MTV-era sensibilities, and it was the song “Love in the Darkness,” with its sex-beat boom-bap and Stevie’s-spinning-shawl vocal melodies, that I wanted her to hear most. A song that could transport us both back. Back to the cracking sound a CD case would make if I accidentally sat on it, its value now instantly diminished at the trade-in counters. The voice of Alia Sèror-O’Neill croons over grainy synth tones and slide guitar that are eerily similar to those my sister and I would listen to in her bedroom, attempting to drown out the sounds poisoning the rest of the house or the city around us. This band is so much more than resurfaced sounds, but when powerful musicians fuse their record collections into a sound it sure does something to use foreverfans. AOTY, no cap.
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.
During the past two years, Hotflush founder and veteran DJ / producer Scuba has somewhat reinvented himself as one of electronic music’s most prominent podcasters—that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write—but it’s important to remember that the guy has also spent more than two decades entrenched in the world of UK bass, acquiring quite a bit of musical know-how in the process. On his new Digital Underground mixtape, he’s gone back to the early ’90s, taking cues from pioneering acts like Top Buzz, SL2, and Shades of Rhythm while cooking up a collection of distinctly retro hardcore and rave bangers. The whole release is stuffed with satisfyingly booming breakbeats, pitched diva wails and serrated synth stabs, but “Feel the Same” is a clear highlight, its repurposed rap hook and marauding hoovers flooding the dancefloor with endorphins.
There’s no shortage of “San Francisco is dead” sentiment in the world right now, but artists like Baalti and Farsight provide hope that maybe the Bay Area isn’t completely cooked just yet. The former’s Better Together EP dropped earlier this year, skillfully combining melodic house and breakbeat rhythms with elements of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi music, and now its contents have been reworked in a variety of ways on Better Together (Remixes), which features contributions from Seb Wildblood, SUCHI, Tom VR, Villager and Farsight. Perhaps there’s some sort of San Francisco-based synergy at work, but it’s Farsight’s remix that stands out, transforming the relaxed groove of the original “Buttons” into a steppy, UK garage-flavored cut, its underlying bounce bolstered by a bit of gnarled wobble bass.
Surveying Lake Haze’s extensive catalog, melody has always been a constant in the Portuguese producer’s music, but while he’s tried his hand at a number of styles over the years (e.g. electro, techno, acid, house, IDM, ambient), his new Mind Clarity EP might represent the furthest he’s ever ventured into breakbeat territory. “Inner Peace” is practically a liquid drum & bass tune, its pastel textures and general sense of serenity recalling the work of artists like Calibre and Photek. It’s a lush track, and one that’s arguably more for the head than the hips, but regardless of whether it represents a one-off experiment or something more permanent, Lake Haze sounds rather comfortable in this corner of the electronic sphere.
Taking its name from a collaborative art technique first developed by surrealists in the 1920s, Exquisite Corpse is the conceptually driven new EP from Johanna Knutsson and Hans Berg. But don’t let the words “conceptually driven” throw you. Rather than indulging in academic navel gazing or some rigid theoretical construct, the two artists have actually done something quite fun, passing the baton back and forth while remixing the same track over and over again. “Fold 6” was the final step in that process, and it’s also the EP’s strongest offering, a blippy techno cut in which the song’s broken drum pattern takes a back seat to Knutsson’s colorfully frolicking melodies. It’s got a little bit of a “forest rave at sunrise” vibe, but only the surliest of curmudgeons would complain about that.
The music of 99Letters in specifically rooted traditional Japanese instrumentation, but there’s nothing traditional about the Osaka artist’s new album Zigoku / 地獄. A meditation on death—the LP’s title translates to “hell”—the record is full of dark textures and brooding atmospheres, which occasionally coalesce into a sort of abstract techno, but more often sound more like the industrial and post-punk meditations of artists like Broken English Club and Forest Swords. The latter looms particularly large on album standout “Hotokesama / 仏様,” though the song’s skronky synths and dour disposition also recall Black Celebration-era Depeche Mode. “Nakimushinatori / 泣虫鳥” is somewhat lighter—its opening volley of HudMo-reminiscent synths might even be described as playful—but it’s still a trek through greyscale gloom, the track’s echoing reverb preventing even the smallest rays of sunshine from finding their way into the proceedings.
Sometimes the most compelling songs are the ones that defy easy categorization. “Cante Jondo” is taken from Iris, the second full-length from Italian duo One Million Eyes (who previously spent years operating under the name Tempelhof), and while it might be described as ambient, something like “deconstructed pop” or “avant-garde slowcore” feels more appropriate. Constructed atop a bed of gently plucked bass notes and softly crackling static, the track hinges on a single vocal loop, which has been undeniably tugged, stretched and manipulated, albeit in an impressive way that sacrifices none of its underlying humanity. No one could actually sing like this, but that doesn’t matter—the song is remarkably tender all the same.
Though most of her output is rooted in digital composition, Celia Hollander is (amongst other things) a classically trained pianist, and her new full-length 2nd Draft—a sequel to the DRAFT album she first released under the name $3.33 nearly a decade ago—finds the Los Angeles artist returning to the instrument. The building blocks of the record are recordings of an upright piano, which she would play during her down time at a 2022 residency in Nebraska, and while that does give the end product a notably stripped-down feel, the album never feels like a collection of musical meanderings, or even something that’s “just” piano. “Knife Drawer” is one of the high points, and even with its abbreviated runtime (2:12, to be exact), it’s a jaunty gem, one whose reverberating melodies seem to twirl with the grace of a ballerina.
Let the accolades begin. Niecey Blues’ Exit Simulation has been out for less than a week, and it’s already (and deservedly) attracting praise from pretty much everyone who’s taken the time to give it a listen. That’s probably because A) the album is really good and B) there’s nothing else out there that sounds quite like it. Sure, there are traces of Sade, Erykah Badu and even Brandy in the South Carolina artist’s voice, but her particular strain of soul and R&B is far more ethereal, a fact that likely stems from the gospel sounds she heard while growing up in a Christian cult in Oklahoma. The painful remnants of the experience do seem to linger throughout the record, and while it’s not a morose effort overall, those traces of the past do feel especially present on the quietly powerful “Violently Rooted,” on which Blues’ gorgeous, multitracked laments seem to float atop the subdued funk of the track’s underbelly.
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.)
Have a good 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.