First Floor #196 – Who Is This Guy?
a.k.a. An interview with dance music's most dedicated Bandcamp commenter, plus a round-up of the latest electronic music news and a fresh slate of new track recommendations.
During a time when music journalism is visibly struggling to keep up and social media increasingly feels like a conflict-driven hellscape that sensible people would rather avoid, where can those hungry for (preferably thoughtful) commentary and commentary turn? Newsletters and Discord servers have filled some of the void, stepping into the roles once occupied by blogs and message boards, but earnest music fans will always find new ways to express their opinions, even when it leads them toward unorthodox new conversational venues.
Bandcamp is one such venue, and during the past few years, the platform’s commenting function—which allows users to publicly comment on any piece of music they’ve purchased—has birthed an online space in which a small cadre of dedicated fans routinely share their thoughts on seemingly every prominent new album and EP that hits the site. Every genre has its own Bandcamp “regulars,” but when it comes to dance music, a young man named SVEBBE has overtaken the crowd, freely sharing his thoughts and routinely commenting on new releases, sometimes just hours after they were first announced. What drives this kind of behavior? Is it just fandom, or is something else at work? And of all the possible places to sound off, why choose Bandcamp? In an effort to find out, I tracked down SVEBBE, hoping to understand not just him, but the niche corner of contemporary music culture that he represents.
Our conversation can be found below, but today’s newsletter of course has plenty more to offer from the world of electronic music. Read on for a round-up of news items, new release announcements, links to interesting articles and my latest batch of new track recommendations, and I’ve also recruited San Francisco house duo Baalti to share a special guest recommendation with the First Floor audience.
Let’s get into it.
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 interview with SVEBBE, a Norwegian dance music fan who’s become practically unavoidable on Bandcamp, simply because he’s used the platform’s commenting function to publicly share his thoughts on nearly every new release of note. Who is he? And why would he do this? This conversation aims to find out.
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
As mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the folks at Nina—a newly revamped online platform where independent artists and labels can publish, present, store and (most importantly) sell their work—recently invited me to contribute to their new editorial arm, and this past Monday they published the first installment of my new monthly column, which is (not so cleverly) called Second Floor.
Much like this newsletter, Second Floor will focus on the electronic music realm, though it’s going to primarily focus on what’s happening with the music itself. For this first column, I decided to zero in on the recent resurgence of trip-hop (and trip-hop-adjacent) sounds, highlighting acts like Tirzah, Niecy Blues, a.s.o. and many others, including Huerco S. and the many acts that make up what’s been called the “West Mineral Cinematic Universe.”
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.
Resident Advisor is looking for a new Editor. In a job listing that went live earlier this week (both in London and NYC), the position is described as the “head of the Editorial team,” which immediately raised questions about the status of the publication’s existing Editor in Chief, Whitney Wei. When reached for comment, RA’s Chief Creative & Brand Officer Kazim Rashid confirmed that Wei “will be leaving RA at the end of the year, after a brilliant tenure of nearly three years.” Although the publication is “proud of what Whitney and the editorial team have produced” during her time as EIC, Rashid said that RA is “taking this opportunity to evolve our approach to publishing—both on and off the site” and is “looking for a unique visionary” who can “push [the organization’s] approach to content, storytelling and editorial into new heights.” To that end, they’ve chosen to list the position as Editor (as opposed to Editor in Chief), as RA wanted “to invite a larger pool of candidates to apply” and hopes “to meet candidates from different backgrounds, experience levels and across the content spectrum.”
Spotify is leaving Uruguay. As detailed in this Music Business Worldwide article by Murray Stassen, the move comes in response to the South American country’s newly passed Rendición de Cuentas law, which amended existing Uruguayan copyright statutes to require “right to a fair and equitable remuneration” for “agreements entered into by authors, composers, performers, directors and screenwriters” relating to the public distribution of their work. Claiming that the new law lacks clarity and could require higher payments, Spotify announced that it would begin to phase out its service in the country on January 1, and would fully cease operations in Uruguay by February 2024.
Anenon, whose fantastic new Moons Melt Milk Light album dropped last Friday (more on that later in the newsletter), granted an interview to Stephan Kunze for his Zen Sounds newsletter, opening up about the new LP, his youthful desire to be a scratch DJ, his time in the LA beat scene and why his music now sounds more stripped down than ever before.
Nina’s new editorial platform technically debuted last week, but this week has felt like the proper rollout; aside from my own aforementioned column (and a smattering of other pieces), the site also published an engrossing extended interview with Oneohtrix Point Never, who talked to Emilie Friedlander about his recent Again album, generational identity, leaving NYC behind and lots more.
During the latter half of the 2010s, Tbilisi was frequently touted as new hotbed for dance music and club culture, yet almost all of the attention—or at least the attention coming from outside of Georgia—seemed to focus on just one venue, Bassiani. A new feature in Resident Advisor, however, takes a much more comprehensive look at the city’s contemporary electronic music scene, as writer Carlos Hawthorn traveled to the Georgian capital, met a number of its key players and visited multiple venues (including the new-ish club Left Bank, which got a particularly long look). Moreover, he examined how the Russia-Ukraine war—and specifically the resulting influx of Russians into Tbilisi—has affected the local cultural landscape, complicating a social and economic situation that was already challenging for the city’s artists, promoters and venues.
Even if the name DJ Ramon Sucesso doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve almost certainly seen clips of him on social media this year. The young Brazilian producer is taking baile funk into intriguingly noisy new places—and frequently going viral in the process—and he’s now given an interview to journalist Nathan Evans for Mixmag, tracing back his life story and providing an inside view of what’s happening in his homeland’s constantly evolving music scene.
There’s perhaps no grime artist more OG than Slimzee, and the UK pioneer is the focus of the latest Baker’s Dozen feature in The Quietus, in which he talks about the old days with writer Manu Ekanayake and shares 13 of his favorite dubplates.
The editorial offshoot of a Toronto-based design firm, Frontier Magazine is an online publication dedicated to telling “stories from the edges of architecture, technology, culture and education.” While that means that most of the content is not focused on electronic music, editorial director Brian Sholis did recently interview both Jace Clayton (a.k.a. DJ /rupture) and Longform Editions co-founders Andrew Khedoori and Mark Gowing. The conversations are available as both audio podcasts and written transcripts.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Kali Malone has completed a new album, a “a collection of music for pipe organ, choir and brass quintet” called All Life Long. Billed as “an artistic enactment of translating the indescribable,” it’s slated for a February 9 release via Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ imprint, but the song “All Life Long (for organ)”—one of two versions of the track that appear on the record—has already been shared.
Paul Woolford revealed his plans to self-release four new Special Request albums during the next 12 months. The first one, WHAT TIME IS LOVE? SESSIONS, is available now and is said to be rooted in The KLF’s “What Time Is Love?,” which Woolford has “re-imagined, reinterpreted, reinvigorated, stretched into multiple dimensions & cast through an album-length revelatory wide-eyed prism.”
Heathered Pearls quietly released a new EP last week. The NYC artist claims that The Timing, The Structure contains “probably the prettiest loops” he’s ever made, and its five ambient tracks—none of which reach the 90-second mark—are all available now.
Back when the world was still in pandemic-induced lockdown, artists did all sorts of things to keep themselves busy. Techno veteran Speedy J passed the time with the Stay Home Soundystem project, for which he scheduled a series of livestreamed collaborations with the likes of Surgeon, Orphx, Dasha Rush, Steve Rachmad, Rødhåd, Lady Starlight, KiNK, Luke Slater, Drumcell and many, many others. Now those sessions have been compiled into the sprawling, 89-track Stay Home Soundsystem Compilation, which dropped earlier this week on STOOR. It will be followed next month by a vinyl edition that includes nine of the most compelling recordings.
Capping off a busy year, Scuba this week revealed that he’s completed his first film soundtrack. The film in question is called Blow Up My Life, and though it was released this past Tuesday, the music—which Scuba created under the name P.Rose and will be issuing via his own Hotflush label—won’t surface until December 1. Ahead of that, however, the track “Vanlyf” has already been made available.
BAALTI 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 Baalti, a pair of Indian producers (Mihir Chauhan and Jaiveer Singh) who live in San Francisco and together combine house and breakbeat rhythms with sonic elements lifted from classic Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi music. As demonstrated by their Better Together EP, which dropped earlier this year on the all my thoughts label, and the more recent Better Together (Remixes) EP, Baalti’s sound is undeniably a sort of hybrid, albeit one that’s not been designed to cater to Western perceptions or cornily rehash well-worn tropes from traditional South Asian music. “Does it slap?” is the project’s primary guiding principle, and that carries over to this recommendation, which was provided by Mihir.
This one was a recommendation from a fan who came to one of our recent shows. He kept insisting that we listen to this album, and refused to give any more context about it. I downloaded it for a short flight, hoping it would be something mellow that I could fall asleep to, but I found myself locked into 30 minutes of precise, hypnotic and masterful tombak and daf percussion. The sound design is beautiful—I was really taken by the layering and detail and variety of sounds, and spent some time trying to imagine what programming and processing was in the mix. Later on, I learned that each track was recorded on just one drum, in 11/8 metre, with no effects. Nothing has made me move on Ryanair as much as Mohammad Reza Mortazavi did with a single drum. So refreshing.
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 early 2000s, there was a brief moment, somewhere between electroclash and blog house, where house, techno and electro coalesced into something pretty great. The sound was never bestowed with a catchy name—in retrospect, it’s essentially tech house, albeit with some subtle nods to electro—but whatever you want to call it, Tiefschwarz were responsible for making some of the best tunes in this particular style. Twenty years later, the German duo is still around, yet I must admit that their output long ago fell off my radar, which is why I was surprised to see Ali Schwarz (one of the two brothers who makes up the group) suddenly pop up on Live at Robert Johnson with a new solo EP called Anti_Atlas. “Take Me Out,” a collaboration with fellow German outfit Rework, is the lead track, and while its glittering grooves and wailing diva are clear nods to ’80s-era Hi-NRG, the song itself is pure 2004, an expertly crafted reminder of a time when post-punk kids were happily buying Playhouse records and labels like Output and Kitsuné felt like the coolest imprints in the world.
It feels almost criminal to highlight a single track from Danny Daze’s new ::BLUE:: album. As he explained in his recent First Floor interview, the 92-minute record was designed to be consumed as a continuous listen, preferably blindfolded, and he sees zeroing in on just one song as something akin to reading a single chapter from the middle of a novel. All that said, “Antigravity Machine” is still a standout tune, a wiggly slice of IDM-infused techno that brings to mind some of Aphex Twin’s less manic offerings. There’s some real funk in its rubbery, almost Kraftwerkian rhythms—even the headiest Danny Daze tunes are still going to have a bit of Miami in them—and though it may not be the intended starting point of ::BLUE::, if it gets people to check out the rest of the record (or its associated planetarium show), I don’t think anyone is going to complain.
Although Barcelona tends to garner more attention from the international electronic music crowd, there’s a strong argument to be made that Madrid actually has a stronger dancefloor pedigree, particularly when it comes to techno. José Cabrera—who’s also released music as J.C. and Kasper, and is one half of the No Spiritual Surrender project—has been a big part of that reality during the past decade, and while he’s primarily known as one of the Spanish capital’s most reliable techno producers, his new Le Bateleur album takes a creative left turn into a decidedly loose and soulful strain of house music. The LP owes a clear debt to Detroit, and hits a high point with “Endless Dream” a freewheeling stomper adorned with twirly synths and a vocal fragment that’s been pitched, chopped and stretched into something utterly joyous. Maybe Cabrera should make house music more often.
The opening number on Trust Me, the debut album from xupid, “Coux” is a proper techno ripper. Built atop a muscular rhythm that revs like a motorcycle engine, there’s no shortage of underlying power, but the Berlin-based producer has also added a hint of trancey flair into the mix, employing tweaky sonics that sound like something from the Blade soundtrack. It’s suitable for the big room, yes, but there are no cheap theatrics here; “Coux” doesn’t need them.
With more than a decade of releases under his belt, it’s fair to say that Hodge is one of the leading lights of Bristol’s talent-rich bass music scene, but somehow, he’s never before appeared on Timedance, one of the city’s top labels. The new Voice Crash EP rectifies that situation in triumphant fashion, and the record’s title track is especially fierce, its thundering percussion seemingly growing more intense with each passing minute. Add in a flurry of synth stabs, spooky pads, subby menace and a recurring chime that sounds like a blacksmith striking an anvil, and you’ve got a bass-loaded whirlwind that’ll surely smash up the dance—and just might rearrange the guts of anyone who happens to be standing too close to the speaker stack.
Guided by a firm belief that the “quality of the music comes first,” the unknown - untitled label doesn’t reveal the artists behind its records until well after the official release date. In lesser curatorial hands, such a tactic might be little more than a gimmick, but more than three years after the imprint first started, its reputation is rock solid, at least amongst those brave enough to purchase the records. The latest offering is a compilation EP, uu008, and anyone who hears the swaggering might of “a3” (the actual track title will be unveiled somewhere down the line) won’t care that the identity of its creator remains a secret. Hovering somewhere around 110 bpm, it’s akin to a roided-out hip-hop cut, and though it’s been outfitted with some laser-like synth tones and plenty of low-end sludge, all that bassweight does nothing to impede the song’s confident strut.
Patrick Holland has had a musically adventurous few years, taking a major detour into breezy indie pop sounds and then gradually easing his way back towards the dancefloor with a potent series of solo singles. Now he’s also returned to Jump Source, his long-running collaboration with fellow Montreal resident Priori, and though the pair’s new JS03 EP is a bit more techno than their prior offerings, it’s no less compelling. The two still have a knack for subtly hooky melodies, and closing number “Halt (Quietude)” lands in a uniquely soothing zone somewhere between dub techno and ’90s prog, bathing its Ibiza-at-sunset grooves in a tactile fog of static and reverb. Do you want to freak out and put your hands in the air, or stay seated and zone the fuck out? “Halt (Quietude)” is the rare tune that’s suitable for both.
Although Russell E.L. Butler isn’t a native New Yorker—they were born in Bermuda, and then spent a number of years in the Bay Area before relocating to Brooklyn—their new Call Me G full-length is heavily steeped in the Big Apple’s rich house music lineage. It’s tempting to think that the time Butler spent digitizing Frankie Knuckles’ record collection had something to do with how the LP turned out, but regardless of exactly what influences were at work, the album feels like a refreshing reset, a laid-back effort that’s deeply soulful, dreamily dubby and in absolutely no hurry to usher folks onto the dancefloor. “I’m Dancing, No One Is Watching” and “Call Me G” are two of the highlights, their pleasures enhanced by the use of marimba / vibraphone-type melodies that recall Dream 2 Science (and, frankly, pretty much all the work of underrated NYC house hero Ben Cenac). On both tracks, the vibe is more “backyard get-together” than “peak time at the rave,” and the music is better for it. Butler has never before sounded so comfortable (and, at times, so vulnerable), and throughout the Call Me G album, they strip their music down to the essentials and allow its easy grooves to glide through the air like a cool breeze.
An artist that defies easy categorization, Panoram is one of the more unorthodox acts on the Running Back roster, but there’s an undeniable charm to the NYC-based Italian’s work, which stakes out a unique space somewhere in between ambient, IDM and avant-garde electronic pop. “Feathers” kicks off the new Keep Looking Where The Light Comes From album, and with its psychedelic guitar loops and quirky synthesized vocal snippets, the track could be mistaken for a long-lost jam from Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion sessions. Granted, there’s no Avey Tare or Panda Bear grabbing the mic, but the song has a similar sort of tripped-out allure, not to mention an underlying sense of wide-eyed wonder that’s sure to perk up whoever happens to be in earshot.
Considering that he co-founded and served as the primary songwriter for Depeche Mode, Yaz and Erasure, Vince Clarke certainly doesn’t need continue bolstering his musical resume, but at age 63, he’s just released Songs of Silence, which is not only his debut solo album, but a significant departure from the synth-pop that populates much of his discography. Solely using sounds generated by his Eurorack—yes, he’s become a modular guy—Clarke further limited himself while making the record, stipulating “that each track would be based around one note, maintaining a single key throughout.” What results is a patient, completely instrumental and often quite beautiful ambient LP. Standout “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” is perhaps the most cinematic selection, offering an orchestral flurry atop its buzzing background hum, while “White Rabbit” is easily the most lively cut on the album, its opening volley of bubbly arpeggiations gradually giving way to a series of urgent thwacks, each one sounding like an angry neighbor rhythmically striking the lid of a garbage can. Erasure diehards might feel differently, but the gallant appeal of Songs of Silence makes me wish that Clarke had gone down this road a long time ago.
Though his roots can be traced back to the LA beat scene of the late 2000s and early 2010s, Anenon long ago carved out his own path, one that’s steadily moved away from the dusty beats and hazy textures that defined his earliest efforts. New album Moons Melt Milk Light is easily his most naked release to date, an album that ditches electronics while embracing the natural sounds of his piano, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. (In fairness, field recordings are part of the mix as well.) There’s a simplicity to the music, but the uncluttered nature of the compositions only highlights the elegance of the work—and the humanity of the artist creating it. LP opener “Untitled Skies”—one of many highlights on the record—puts that humanity front and center, staging the sounds of Anenon’s breathing and his tapping of the sax keys right alongside the feverish eruptions of his primary instrument. It’s arresting stuff, and once the piano enters the fray, its melodies both sumptuous and somber, even the gruffest listeners are sure to feel a little something tugging at their heartstrings.
Walking the line between “devotional grace” and “genuinely unnerving” is “pásmo,” a spooky, fuzz-filled ambient gem from Richard Hronský’s new CLOSURES album. The vocals, which presumably belong to Ema Mihálová, have been skillfully looped, stretched and manipulated, to the point where the song’s opening half sounds like something you’d hear in the trailer of an auteur-driven horror film. That alone would have made for a satisfying listen, but Hronský elects to push things further into dreamland, transforming the vocals into extended (yet still quite lovely) drones and swaddling them in additional layers of static and reverb. Getting creeped out has rarely felt so transcendent.
And with that, we’ve reached 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, and for those of you in the US, have a happy Thanksgiving.
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.