First Floor #197 – Think Hard Before You Apply
a.k.a. Examining the editorial openings at Resident Advisor and The Wire, plus a round-up of the latest electronic music news and a fresh crop of new track recommendations.
Jobs in music journalism are hard to come by, and landing a salaried position at a well-established publication is even harder, which is why the current openings at The Wire and Resident Advisor both represent genuinely rare opportunities.
So why does neither gig seem all that appealing?
That was the focus of an essay I published earlier this week, and it’s now available (temporarily) for everyone to read. Find that below, but also make sure to check out the rest of this week’s digest, which contains an assortment of news items and release announcements, along with some links to interesting articles that were published elsewhere. The past week has also been an unusually busy time for new releases—in terms of sheer volume, it was one of the busiest weeks of 2023—which made it exceedingly difficult to narrow down today’s batch of track recommendations. My picks are below, as is a special guest recommendation from Austrian music journalist and radio host Katharina Seidler.
As always, we have a lot of ground to cover here at First Floor, but before we officially get started, I do have one last introductory thought to share:
In 2023, it’s baffling to me that anyone who’s involved in (or who claims to genuinely care about) independent music is still posting their Spotify Wrapped graphics. Even if you feel like you have to be on the platform at this point, you certainly don’t have to provide the company with free advertising and help to perpetuate its dominance over the music industry, especially when said company recently announced that it will soon stop paying any sound recording royalties whatsoever to the majority of artists using its services.
Okay, rant over. Let’s get into this week’s newsletter.
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, examines the current editorial job openings at The Wire and Resident Advisor, and considers what the stated terms of those positions say about the current state of electronic music journalism.
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.
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.
Tom Lea—the former Editor in Chief of FACT, who’s best known these days as the founder of the Local Action label—has teamed up with former colleague and celebrated music journalist Chal Ravens to launch a new podcast and newsletter called No Tags. Motivated by a desire to stop “moaning about the lack of coverage and quality interviews with some of the figures that [they] think are doing God’s work in this niche music sphere,” the two have “decided to Be The Change instead,” and say that No Tags will be devoted to talking “to the artists and industry figures [they] think deserve more recognition, hearing their stories and getting deep into the weeds with them about what’s going on in music, culture and the rest of it.” The first episode is scheduled to debut later today.
When I interviewed Simon Reynolds back in July, he mentioned that he was working on a new book called Futuromania, which he described as a “themed collection of pieces” that focus on electronic music and “provide a kind of overview from the early ’70s until just a few years ago, with a focus on ideas of the future and science fiction.” The release of that book has now been officially announced by UK publisher White Rabbit. The full title is now Futuromania: Electronic Dreams, Desiring Machines and Tomorrow's Music Today, and it’s due to arrive in April, alongside a limited-edition fanzine called From Synthadelia to Memoradelia that contains four bonus essays.
Continuing his excellent run of historically focused features for DJ Mag, writer Ben Cardew has penned a new article looking at Talking Heads’ 1983 album Speaking in Tongues, specifically highlighting how the group—and its unusual funk undercurrent—was embraced by DJs like Larry Levan, which led to several songs from the LP becoming legitimate club anthems.
Vince Clarke’s moody (and totally instrumental) new Songs of Silence album likely surprised a lot of people—especially those expecting the co-founder of groups like Depeche Mode, Yaz and Erasure to deliver a fresh batch of glamorously campy synth-pop—but the veteran musician explains his musical transformation in this illuminating feature that Mat Smith put together for Clash magazine.
Barcelona label Lapsus recently released wipE'out'' - The Zero Gravity Soundtrack, which contained the soundtrack to the 1995 PlayStation game of the same name, along with new remixes from the likes of Kode9, μ-Ziq, Simo Cell, Wordcolour and others. But how did that original soundtrack come to be in the first place? In a recent piece for Bandcamp Daily, Casey Jarman tracked down the music’s author, Welsh artist CoLD SToRAGE, and got the whole story, including what prompted this new reissue and what he’s up to now.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases announced during the past week.
Mor Elian unveiled a surprise new EP yesterday. The two-track Glue Kit is meant to be a follow-up companion to her Double Dip release from earlier this year, and 100% of the proceeds from the first week of sales will be split between three different charities: Doctors Without Borders, The Parents Circle and the Standing Together Movement. The EP is available now via the Fever AM label she runs alongside Rhyw.
Braille has been relatively quiet in recent years, but the NYC-based producer (who, aside from his solo work, is also one half of the Sepalcure project with Machinedrum) has quietly resurfaced in recent months, posting studio jams on his Instagram and now by releasing an unexpected new single called “Cavernous Testing Zone,” which came out last Friday on Hotflush.
Bristol’s Idle Hands—both the record shop and the associated label—came to an end last year, but founder Chris Farrell has spent the ensuing months building up a new label, radio show and party series called Devil’s Work. Having already issued music from Human Resources and Katushia, the young imprint just announced its third release, a new offering from Krotone called IHDW003. It’s due to arrive on December 8, but the track “Project 36” has already been shared.
Perc started doing brain-busting, hard-as-nails techno long before the Zoomer crowd made it practically the default sound of today’s club circuit, and the UK veteran will soon be delivering a new full-length, his first in seven years. The Cut Off is scheduled for a March 22 release on his own Perc Trax label, but first single “Imperial Leather” is available now, as is the accompanying music video.
Karen Vogt is someone whose music has been featured many times here in the newsletter, and the Paris-based Australian ambient / experimental / avant-pop artist has now put the finishing touches on a new album. Waterlog is a grief-stricken effort she made following the death of her cat, and it will be issued by Penelope Trappes’ Nite Hive imprint on February 9, but the song “We Coalesce” has already been shared, along with its associated music video.
Wata Igarashi has just today released Forgotten Tales, the second and final addendum piece to the Japanese artist’s debut album Agartha, which came out earlier this year on Kompakt. Forgotten Tales is available now on Igarashi’s own WIP label.
Following his 2023 EPs Not and Ready, Bruce will now be continuing his journey into experimental pop sounds with a full-length album, Not Ready for Love. It’s scheduled for a December 15 release on Timedance, though the track “I’m His Ex” can be heard now.
KATHARINA SEIDLER 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 Katharina Seidler, an Austrian journalist and radio host who’s been covering independent and electronic music for more than a decade. Many of those years have been spent at Vienna’s FM4, where she writes reviews, conducts interviews and co-hosts a weekly program called called Im Sumpf (translation: Inside the Swamp). Though she primarily works in German, she agreed to switch to English for this recommendation, which she used to highlight a promising talent from the Austrian music scene.
It’s not like I usually listen to Animal Collective all day—although I do listen to them a lot—and now for this newsletter have deliberately picked a more underground, harsh track to recommend, but Austrian newcomer Rent is a huge talent in current noise and drone music and someone who’s left me stunned throughout the year with her intense live performances. Her noisy drones are pleasant and downright sensual, despite all the gloom; there are compressed harmonies, echoes of Fennesz and memories of past sunrises, all conjured up on analogue synthesizers. The titles of tracks like “Nights of Unrest” or “This is Not Sunlight”—both of which, like “Every Echo from the Past,” appear on her As Cold as Sunlight EP—describe Rent’s sonic universe quite well. Nothing in her sound is artificially complicated or “difficult” for its own sake; on the contrary, Rent swims naturally through a sea of noise with strong strokes and great confidence, and the fact that she also works as an ecologist at the University of Vienna means that her knowledge of the earth’s climate crisis and the use of different organic textures are both inscribed in her music. Her debut album will be released in May 2024 via the Viennese label Ventil Records.
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.
Taken from the new Sensible Chaos EP, “My Belongings” is a real “tears on my JNCOs” affair, the sort of tune that cribs from classic rave tropes while cranking the sentimentality up to 11. All the pieces here are familiar: the soft-focus synths, the disembodied (and pleasantly pitch-shifted) diva wail, the breakbeat rhythm underpinning the track… but while Swedish producer Jakob Apelian may tug at listeners’ heartstrings, what he’s cooked up isn’t some hackneyed piece of maudlin nostalgia. There’s a difference between fondly recalling days gone by and actively looking to recreate them; “My Belongings” thankfully opts for the former.
With Sandwell District having reunited for a handful of shows this year, it’s fair to wonder if the techno supergroup will at some point release new music, but in the meantime, a new EP from crew member Silent Servant is nothing to complain about. In Memorium has been billed as a personal memoir of his own career, one in which each track focuses on a different timeframe. With the EP’s song titles clueing audiences in to exactly what (or, more specifically, when) the LA artist is referencing, “M-00” seems to indicate that his Y2K era was dominated by twisty, almost psychedelic synths and industrial-tinged crunch. More than two decades later, those things still sound very potent.
There’s no one track that truly encapsulates the whole of Otik’s sound, but Cosmosis, the UK bass explorer’s long-awaited debut full-length, does at least provide him with a bit more room to stretch out and invite listeners into his creative universe. House, techno, ambient, drum & bass, IDM… these styles all feature on the album, but it’s perhaps more constructive to think of the record as a genre-fluid space, one in which the LP’s title track shines particularly bright. A jungle-adjacent tune built atop booming percussion, an ominous low-end hum and plenty of reverb, “Cosmosis” should be burly enough for even the most demanding bass fiends, but it’s Otik’s embrace of color that truly stands out, his fluttering melodies bringing a sense of euphoria to the proceedings as he charts a course away from the club and into the stratosphere.
Although Tim Reaper is probably jungle’s #1 classicist, fellow UK producer Eusebeia absolutely deserves to be part of the conversation. Both men seem to effortlessly tap into the spirit—and, more importantly, the innately soulful sound—of the genre’s golden era, but what’s more impressive is how they reference that history without sliding into mere pastiche. With its crystalline chimes and rowdy percussive bursts, “Optimyst”—the swinging lead cut of Eusebeia’s new Restoration EP—undeniably bears traces of the mid ’90s, but it never feels “retro,” and its growling underbelly is something that’s clearly been optimized for the bassbins of this decade.
Originally released in 1985, “Asand (Dub Mix)” is an Italo delight, and it’s been given new life by Dutch duo Kamma & Masalo via their new Brighter Days compilation, which is an extension of their long-running Amsterdam club night of the same name. Hugh Bullen originally hailed from Trinidad and Tobago, but it was in Italy where he made his name as a musician, performing with a wide variety of jazz, funk, soul and disco groups throughout the ’70s and ’80s before eventually settling in London. He sadly passed away in 2016, but “Asand (Dub Mix)” still sounds incredibly fresh, its synthesized riffs and hooky pop sensibilities perfect for a night of neon glamor.
At some point, Greg Beato descended into what he describes as “straight modular madness,” but during the early 2010s—when he was still a teenager—the Miami producer was cranking out up to 10 tracks a day, most of which were never released. His new R.I.P. Breaker 1 2 EP—the title is a reference to one of his now-defunct aliases—resurfaces material from that era, and its dirty analog grooves immediately bring to mind both classic Chicago house and the gritty heyday of the L.I.E.S. label, which of course issued several of his best-known releases. The whole four-track collection is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp, and it opens on a high note with “In the Distance,” a gloriously unpolished, acid-licked number that serves up sleaze and menace in equal measure.
During the past two years, there’s been scattered talk of a post-dubstep revival, and while that hasn’t really materialized, “Selfish”—a standout cut from B:Thorough’s (Don't) Luv Me EP—certainly feels like a portal back to 2010. The Croydon producer himself would probably categorize it as more of an ode to classic grime (he’s even concluded the record with a “Devil Mix”), and echoes of Ruff Sqwad and early Wiley are definitely present, but between the neon synths and precision-chopped vocal fragments, “Selfish” also winds up sounding like the early days of Night Slugs. Moreover, the track’s trap drums have a distinctly American tilt, landing in a zone reminiscent of what artists like Kingdom and Brenmar were doing more than a decade ago. One track doesn’t make for a revival, but if this is what the return of post-dubstep would sound like, I say bring it on.
Nearly four years have gone by since Andrew Weatherall’s death, but given that he passed just a few weeks before Covid sent the whole world into lockdown, it still doesn’t feel like the electronic music world has truly processed what he meant to the genre. Perhaps a new record from The Woodleigh Research Facility, his decades-long collaboration with fellow UK artist Nina Walsh, will help. Named after the London club that hosted Weatherall’s A Love From Outer Space residency, Phonox Nights will sadly be the pair’s final album, but there’s nothing melancholy about its cosmic grooves, which sit somewhere between dub and techno, but don’t sound like dub techno at all. LP highlight “Wolves Don’t Chase Hope (They Chase Rabbits)” might actually be the most upbeat track on the record, not to mention the most spooky, as its stately riffs sound like something from the soundtrack of a vintage horror flick.
Homesick is Ciel’s first full-length album, and the Xi’an-born, Toronto-based artist saw it as a vehicle to dive deep into her own multi-faceted identity, using pandemic-induced downtime—and a grant from the Canadian government—to research traditional Chinese instrumentation and begin piecing together how it might fit into the context of modern club sounds. In lesser hands, such an endeavor might have wound up sounding like some sort of cringe-inducing “East meets West” mash-up, but Ciel was never going to just slap some antique Chinese melodies on top of bland techno beats. Though Homesick is a hybrid effort, it’s also a seamless one, even when Ciel herself is the one playing the traditional instruments. On LP highlight “Wood”—like all of the tracks on the record, it’s named after one of the eight types of Chinese instruments—the drum sounds were derived from recordings of her experimenting with the kuaiban (a kind of bamboo clapper), but they’re ultimately just one element of an effervescent cut that also pulls from early dubstep, broken techno and even a little prog house.
Eight Tits Total is an unusual album title, and while it’s unclear if Duckett is actually referencing animal nipples or simply came up with a clever way of saying the LP consists of eight tracks, the music itself is excellent, exploring various strains of techno, electro and what might be described as IDM-inflected pop. (Or is it pop-inflected IDM?) “Back to Life” is a clear standout, its low-key bounce provided by a slo-mo electro beat, but it’s the song’s hazy textures that create an almost narcotic effect. Like much of the UK artist’s best work, this introspective cut hovers on the edge of the dancefloor, but never leaves it entirely, the song’s sense of dreamy disorientation further enhanced by an alluring vocal refrain that longingly says, “Back to Liiiiiiiife” over and over again.
There’s technically no connection between these two songs, but Alliyah Enyo and Teresa Winter undoubtedly share some musical DNA, or at least a propensity for singing beautifully over reverb-soaked soundscapes. The former’s “Look Godly in Your Eyes” deserves a few bonus points for standing out on the talent-rich Common Ground Vol. 3 compilation (which also includes contributions from Martyna Basta, Aho Ssan, Chantal Michelle, Colin Self, Lamin Fofana and others), and it’s also impressive how Enyo offsets her echoing pipes with subtle, but undeniably muscular drones, lending her music an unexpected sense of weight. Winter employs a somewhat lighter touch throughout her new Proserpine album, but the LP’s contents are no less enchanting; the relative sparseness of the tender “Like an Apple” actually amplifies the emotional vulnerability of its creator, not to mention the utterly beguiling nature of her voice.
I almost started this blurb by saying, “I’d happily listen to Richie Culver read the phone book,” but then I remembered that phone books all but disappeared more than 10 years ago. Even so, the idea behind that little turn of phrase stands; Culver has an incredible voice, and his bassy register would likely prove captivating in just about any setting. On his new album Scream If You Don’t Exist, that voice rings out amidst of sea of smudgy textures, ominous tones and avant-garde percolations, the music exhibiting a kind of gloomy dynamism despite the almost total absence of percussion. “Underground Flower” is one of the LP’s less tumultuous selections, which is perhaps why it’s also such an obvious high point, the track’s relative tranquility providing Culver’s spoken prose with plenty of room to resonate within what sounds like an abandoned cathedral. He’s not preaching per se, but even with his calm delivery, his words seem to carry to power of the pulpit.
Like many other artists in the digital era, Pontiac Streator likes to periodically clear out his hard drive. Casual observers (i.e. people who have listened to the music) might regard his ongoing Select Works series as little more than a vehicle to offer up some half-finished tunes and make a few bucks on Bandcamp, but in reality, the collections are both a testament to his prolific nature and an indication that the ambient / experimental artist apparently makes so many good tracks that they couldn’t possibly all fit on his more formal releases. Select Works . vol V is the latest installment, and it opens on a high note with “shenae song,” a slice of deliciously warped R&B, one that surrounds its vocal snippets with lush tendrils of reverb and lovingly hijacks the kind of high-gloss, pseudo-spiritual new age that was quietly ubiquitous in the films (and advertisements) of the ’90s and 2000s.
That bring us to the end of today’s First Floor. Thank you so much for reading the newsletter. 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.