First Floor #30 – The Scene Isn't Worth Saving

a.k.a. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the rot in the electronic music industry. Let's tear it out.

Hello there. I’m Shawn Reynaldo, and welcome to First Floor, a weekly electronic music digest that includes news, my favorite new tracks and (usually) some of my thoughts on the issues affecting the larger scene / industry that surrounds the music. If you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to the newsletter by clicking the button below.

ON MY MIND

Over the past few weeks, electronic music has come to a standstill. Clubs are closed, festivals have been postponed or cancelled and many releases are starting to be delayed. DJs and dancers alike are stuck at home in self-isolation and music media outlets have largely stopped commissioning content that’s not related to the coronavirus. (PR emails, however, somehow keep coming unabated.)

This doesn’t make our industry particularly special. People from all walks of life have had their lives put on pause, and frankly, many of them are in situations that are much more precarious. Yet that hasn’t stopped the electronic music crowd from loudly sounding the alarm about their plight, and while I certainly understand the impulse—as of this moment, I myself have very little work on the horizon for the foreseeable future—I’ve also found a lot of the discourse to be not just tone deaf, but remarkably limited in scope.

Last week, Resident Advisor rolled out a major campaign called Save Our Scene, which they kicked off with an open letter that has since been signed by more than 4000 people. I encourage you to read it for yourself, but here are the major points:

  • Dance music is in trouble.

  • Dance music means a lot to us.

  • We need to save dance music.

I don’t mean to be glib, but that was basically it. Setting aside the fact that the letter included only a brief acknowledgement that maybe there are more important things to worry about right now (like, you know, people dying or the potential collapse of the health system), there also wasn’t much in the way of actual proposals to help our industry. Sure, there were some vague calls to “hold each other up” and “channel the community spirit originally at the heart of dance music,” but when it came to concrete suggestions of how the scene can be saved, this is what they came up with:

How can you help? Buy music and merchandise. Make a donation to support clubs and nightlife workers. Skip a refund to a cancelled event. Do whatever you can. Your support makes a massive difference.

A “massive” difference? Perhaps I have a different definition of the word massive, but these strike me as piecemeal suggestions that ultimately won’t “save” anything. To be fair, RA has also compiled links where people can donate to various clubs and initiatives, and has also put together a rundown of resources for those who want to give or receive help. They’ve even kept a running tally of virtual events for those seeking a bit of online engagement with electronic music. On a day-to-day, “here’s what’s happening right now” level, I have to admit that their editorial team has done an excellent job of staying on top of all the latest updates.

At the same time, RA’s attempt to couch this work as part of a larger, community-minded Save Our Scene campaign rings hollow. What exactly are they trying to save? It’s easy to get nostalgic and make vague allusions to PLUR and the magic of “dancing till dawn,” but do those words really mean anything when they’re coming from a ticketing company that was proudly touting its new partnership with Spotify just last month? The whole thing feels like a branding exercise, although that’s likely a byproduct of its execution (there’s even a dedicated logo!), but the campaign can perhaps be more accurately described as a grandiose act of buzzword-laden virtue signaling. It may be well intentioned, but it’s also flaccid, which is perfect for a world in which low-stakes clicktivism allows people to feel good about themselves while accomplishing very little. Save Our Scene isn’t about enacting real change; it’s about getting by until we can return to the old status quo.

There’s a logic to that approach, but I’d argue that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how fragile the electronic music industry had already become. In most places, clubs have been closed for only a couple of weeks, and yet many of us are concerned that whole industry might collapse. Even before the pandemic hit, it was clear that we were in trouble; producers’ revenue streams were drying up, venues were closing, labels were struggling to sell records, festivals were crowding out local clubs and smaller promoters, music media layoffs were rampant, DJ fees were spiraling to unreasonable levels… the list goes on and on. Bit by bit, the electronic music ecosystem was rotting; we all saw it, and nobody was happy about it, but we kept on grinding anyways, because what other option was there? Thinking big wasn’t an option most people even had time for.

Time, however, is no longer a problem. The whole world has been put on pause, and while many of us are rightly worried about simply keeping our heads above water, it’s concerning how much of the discourse continues to frame this crisis as an unexpected bump in the road. The pandemic isn’t a blip; it’s a wake up call, and now is a great time to think about the big picture. I don’t want to save the scene; I want to fix it, and enact structural change that allows us to build something that’s both more sustainable and more rewarding for the electronic music community.

Given the scope of the industry’s problems, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do have some suggestions.

Disengage with exploitative streaming platforms

At this point, it’s clear that Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon are a net negative for independent and underground music. From the microscopic royalty rates to the active commodification of music as a lifestyle product, these platforms foment the deterioration and destruction of independent and local music scenes. They most likely can’t be stopped, but they certainly don’t need to be encouraged and ought to be outright shunned. Independent musicians and labels should stop engaging with these platforms, and should instead direct their work (and their fans) toward platforms that actually understand and appreciate their needs. Last Friday’s Bandcamp sale was a great start, but in the grand scheme of things, the 4.3 million dollars in sales it generated are just a drop in the bucket. Consumers—even the ones who are avid fans of independent music—are never going to be convinced en masse to start buying music again, streaming technology isn’t going anywhere, so we need to find and/or develop platforms which cater to that without exploiting musicians in the process.

Disengage with the international festival circuit

With very few exceptions, festivals are not compatible with underground electronic music culture. Our community loves to fetishize small clubs and dark warehouses, and yet our DJs are spending half the year on giant stages, playing abbreviated sets for half-interested crowds. And why? Because it’s profitable. That’s it. Festival gigs pay a lot of money, so DJs play them, despite the fact that festivals (and their requisite exclusivity clauses) are suffocating local scenes. How are clubs and promoters supposed to compete? They can’t, unless we take action. Artists need to stop taking those bookings, and their fans need to stop buying tickets. Independent media outlets should stop covering festivals, and ticketing outlets like Resident Advisor should stop selling tickets to them. Does this require sacrificing a lot of money? Absolutely. But with each passing year, we’re moving dance music culture farther and farther away from its roots. When it comes to raving, bigger most definitely isn’t better.

Reduce the scene’s environmental impact

Electronic music is an environmental disaster. Every weekend, DJs are taking multiple flights as they hop from one party to the next. In the aggregate, we’re talking about hundreds of flights per year, per artist; the impact on climate change is staggering, and it gets much worse when we also think about the thousands of dancers who are compounding the problem by jetting off to clubs and festivals all around the globe. For a scene that prides itself on progressive values, it’s highly irresponsible, not to mention hypocritical.

Amplify local scenes

Of course, part of the reason that the volume of DJ flights is so out of control is that we’ve devalued local scenes. Allegiance to local parties and venues has declined, as electronic music fans increasingly just go to wherever a certain international DJ is playing, even if it’s a shitty megaclub or a giant festival. More and more, we’re concertizing the party experience, which is maddening when we remember that DJs are quite literally playing other people’s music.

Don’t get me wrong, I love DJing and value it as an artform, but in this day and age, when DJs largely all have access to the same music, is even the most talented selector going to be exponentially better than a skilled local? Most major cities are populated with plenty of talented DJs, but we continually overlook them in favor of a small pool of hyped (and significantly more expensive) fly-in talent; even worse, that hype usually stems from music that they produced, which is an entirely different skill set from DJing. It makes no sense, and it’s also homogenizing local scenes, which increasingly take their cues from whatever is happening in major hubs like Berlin, London and New York. As much as increased connectivity brings us all together, it’s important to recognize that amazing things can happen in (relative) isolation. Not all local scenes need to be the same, and we should encourage a diversity of approaches to music, parties and community building.

Break free of the Berlin-London-New York axis

The electronic music industry is largely concentrated in a few major cities, all of which have an outsized influence over the rest of the scene. Artists and narratives from these places take precedence over what’s happening elsewhere, and journalists (who also concentrate in these cities) overstate the importance of what’s happening in their immediate surroundings. Many artists can’t afford—or simply don’t want—to live in these electronic music hubs, but that doesn’t mean their work should be given short shrift or, even worse, exoticized when the music media deems it worthy of coverage. Electronic music is a global enterprise; let’s start treating it as such.

Rebalance revenue streams between DJs and producers

Simply put, DJs make too much and producers make too little. Although this stems from a larger shift in the music industry where revenue increasingly comes from the live arena, it’s particularly problematic in a community where the live performers (DJs) are primarily playing music that they didn’t write. Call it unfair, call it exploitative, call it whatever you like, but we can no longer justify a system in which the artists making the music (not to mention the labels who release it) aren’t properly compensated. After all, if DJs want to keep making their money, then they need producers to keep making tunes, and producers can’t do that if their only income is the minuscule trickle coming from streaming platforms. Whether we install some sort of revenue-sharing system or figure something else out, something needs to be done.

Fix the PRO system

Performance rights organizations are responsible for collecting royalties for music that’s played in public, and they are badly failing electronic music. In theory, they should be a major revenue source for producers, but the problem is that they’ve done an awful job keeping track of what’s getting played. Even with the growing power of music recognition technology (e.g. Shazam), PROs often struggle to identify what DJs are actually playing, and that’s in the rare cases where they’ve actually done the work to engage with a festival or venue about making a real effort to do any tracking. DJs themselves could help out by self-reporting their playlists, but most artists either don’t know this or aren’t willing to make the effort. Producers too are part of the problem, as they often don’t register their work with PROs, which means that they don’t get paid, even when their songs have been properly identified. Education, organization and activism are absolutely needed here, as the PROs are already collecting money from venues and festivals; however, they have little incentive to change their practices and pay it out correctly. Unless our industry mobilizes to either advocate for change or set up their own royalty collection system, we’re going to collectively continue to leave a whole lot of money on the table.

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Anyways, all of this is just a start, and I don’t mean for this to be some kind of manifesto. There’s a lot to be done, and I’m fully aware that not everyone is going to like these suggestions. Hell, some of these ideas would downright jeopardize people’s livelihoods, including people I count as friends and others whose work I deeply respect and admire. Regardless, let’s at least have a serious conversation about it. I know that lots of us are concerned about basic survival right now, and basic question like how the rent is going to be paid on April 1. But if we’re going to talk about our scene, let’s try to take a longer view, because we’re not going to “save” anything by encouraging a few Bandcamp sales and pointing people toward livestreams in hopes that they’ll make a donation. Our scene is under threat, but it was under threat long before the coronavirus hit. I say it’s time to build a new one.


ANOTHER THING I WROTE

  • Joey Anderson is one of my favorite producers, and though I’ve sung his praises many times (both here in the newsletter and in my writing over the years), his new album Rainbow Doll genuinely surprised me. I reviewed the LP for Pitchfork, and incredibly found myself referencing David Bowie, Robert Smith and various strands of ’80s goth and post-punk.


REAL QUICK

A round-up of the week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.

  • Pretty much everything is cancelled or delayed. In all likelihood, none of us will be going to a club or festival anytime soon, but if you’d like to keep up with all of the closures and cancellations, Resident Advisor has been doing an outstanding job tracking all of the latest developments.

  • Album announcements are slowing down, but Russian avant-popster Kate NV will be issuing a new LP called Room for the Moon on June 12 via RVNG Intl. The first single, “Sayonara,” is streaming now, and she’s also shared a video for the track.

  • As a format, licensed mix CDs have been on life support for quite some time, but that didn’t stop Beats in Space from launching a new series last year. The first installment, Powder in Space, was met with widespread acclaim, and now a second volume has been announced, with UK selector and Rinse FM staple Josey Rebelle at the helm. Josey in Space is set to arrive on May 15 (both as a CD and in mixed/unmixed digital formats), along with a 12” featuring four select tracks from the mix. One of those tracks (Fotomachine’s “BBoy”) is streaming here.

  • Yesterday Bicep dropped a new single called “Atlas” on Ninja Tune. Created in the aftermath of the two years that the London duo spent touring their 2017 self-titled debut album, the song was supposed to be something of a teaser for the slew of dates they had lined up for 2020, although the pandemic has obviously thrown that schedule into doubt.

  • Ikonika has new EP on the way. Entitled Bodies and slated to arrive via the Don’t Be Afraid label, it’s a highly personal effort that’s been in the works for three years, a period in which the UK producer has dealt with pregnancy, depression, therapy and more. Ahead of the record’s release on April 17, lead track “Your Body” is streaming here.

  • UK grime innovator Slackk dropped a new, pay-what-you want album called Drinking a Beer in the Sea on Bandcamp. Although he’d been working on the project for years, he elected to just go ahead put it online after coming to the ominous conclusion that “it seems like that chapter has gone now.”

  • Fresh off the release of his collaborative Juan Power album alongside The Juan Maclean, British producer and Me Me Me label founder Man Power decided to offer up a new solo full-length, Education, as a Bandcamp exclusive. Originally planned for an October release on vinyl, the current crisis prompted him to go ahead and drop it now.


MY WIFE HAS BETTER TASTE THAN I DO

My wife Dania is a wonderful person, but she has little regard for my taste in electronic music. As the head of the Paralaxe Editions label, she often describes the music I like with words like “cheesy,” “simple,” “predictable,” “boring” and, worst of all (in her mind), “happy.” In contrast, I think she has a fantastic ear, and I’m constantly amazed by the obscure gems she unearths, both from record bins and the dark corners of the internet. Given that, I’ve asked Dania to share some of her finds with the First Floor audience. Each week, she highlights something that she’s currently digging, and adds some of her thoughts as to why it’s worth our attention.

Nick Klein “Gotta Serve Somebody” (Psychic Liberation)

Hello all from the other side of the world. I’m in Australia right now, in quarantine actually. For those of you who may not know, my “day job” is working as an emergency doctor and I’ve flown back rather urgently to help with the crisis. I don’t know how long I will be here, but being here is what needs to be done, so I’m trying hard to reserve my energy for the front line and not get overwhelmed by the news. These are unprecedented times and there are so many unknowns, but it’s important to keep things positive. I’m seeing a lot of ambient playlists floating around these days and to be honest, I’m not really in the mood for that; I need something that is going to animate me for long days in the trenches. This will do the trick I think.

Follow Dania on Twitter, or check out her monthly radio show on dublab.es.


NEW THIS WEEK

The following is a rundown of my favorite tunes that came out during the past week. (To be clear, this doesn’t include any of the special Bandcamp offerings from last Friday; all of these are from “regular” releases that were already scheduled to come out.) Click on the track titles to hear each song individually, or you can also just head over to this convenient Buy Music Club list to find them all in one place.

Mistakes Are OK “These Days” (Hivern Discs)

For nearly a decade, I’ve been hearing that a Mistakes Are OK album was in the works. Although Barcelona producer Franc Sayol has been a part of the Hivern Discs crew since the beginning, until recently he’d only released a handful of tunes, most of which were actually remixes of his work by other artists. In 2020, however, that streak has abruptly come to the end, as he’s now issued not just one, but two Mistakes Are OK full-lengths, Transient Moods and The Orange Years. (Both are available on limited-edition cassette.) The former, which includes “These Days,” is the more dancefloor-focused effort, and fits right into the Hivern Discs cannon with its richly melodic and lightly psychedelic aesthetic, although the frequent use of Burial-style vocal processing adds a unique touch (and also hints at the fact that some of these tunes were probably first conceived of years ago). The fuzzy “These Days” is a bit reminiscent of Galcher Lustwerk, and its swirly sonics are perfect for those heady late-night moments at the club. Interestingly enough, these two albums may be the last we hear from Mistakes Are OK, as Sayol recently debuted a new moniker, Walden, and dropped a track under that name on the Fragments compilation.

JASSS “Turbo Olé” (Whities)

2017’s Weightless was an excellent album, but its experimental approach to techno doesn’t really capture the manic rave energy that JASSS brings to the DJ booth. With Whities 027, however, the Spanish producer has remedied that discrepancy, delivering two hard-hitting cuts that pay homage to the late nights she spent partying as a teenager. “Turbo Olé” has sharp, trance-like melodies and big, cracking breakbeats, along with a drop that hits like a buzzsaw. If all the clubs weren’t closed, this one might be an anthem already.

FIT Siegel “Exist On” (FIT Sound)

The Formula EP was supposed to come out at the end of the month, but FIT Siegel bumped up the release to coincide with last Friday’s Bandcamp bonanza. Many of his best tracks over the years have landed on the headier end of the spectrum (see 2015’s “Carmine”), and while “Exist On” does feature some Future Sound of London-style breakbeats, it’s ultimately a pretty chill tune, with soft pads and relaxed melodies that make the song more suitable for the sunrise than peak time. (To be clear, that’s not a bad thing.)

Pale Blue “I Walk Alone at Night” (2MR)

Recent years have seen a lot of talk about toxic masculinity within electronic music circles, but very little of the music itself has overtly addressed the topic. (Granted, the required dancefloor functionality and largely instrumental nature of dance music often makes clearly communicating political / social messages difficult.) With their new Breathe EP, however, Pale Blue are putting politics front and center, as Elizabeth Wight’s vocals directly address domestic abuse, rape culture and the ongoing fear for their safety that women deal with every day. The message of “I Walk Alone at Night” is particularly powerful, and the tune itself is a crunchy house banger that takes plenty of cues from the vintage sounds of ’80s and ’90s Chicago. Put this one on the next time that somebody tells you that getting political “kills the vibe” and “takes all the fun out of dance music.”

Josi Devil “The Devil’s Dance” (Homemade Sound System)

Something for the bass fiends. This one is hard to pin down, but it’s essentially a warped dancehall cut (although the beat perhaps has some splashes of reggaeton and Neptunes-style hip-hop). It’s dark and menacing, but it’s also upbeat and fun, even when the UK producer brings in some industrial synths that sound like a rusty metal door being wrenched shut. And yes, the low-end is super thick; this one will put give your subwoofers a workout.

JT Whitfield “Forensic Evaulation” (L.I.E.S.)

L.I.E.S. describes the new album from Austin producer JT Whitfield as something for “true fans of metal on metal music,” and I find no fault in their reasoning. “Forensic Evaluation,” which opens the untitled LP, is a grotty, industrial techno stomper. Serrated edges abound, and Whitfield ups the terror with sheets of stress-inducing static and distortion. It’s a bit of a punishing listen, but it’s also bound to be a winner for anyone who prefers a dark and stormy dancefloor.

Roll the Dice & El Perro Del Mar “Big Black” (The New Black)

Over the past few years, Roll the Dice (a.k.a. Swedish duo Peder Mannerfelt and Malcolm Pardon) have been releasing a series of collaborative tracks with artists like Alessandro Cortini, Glasser, Sophia Loizou and others. Now, those tracks have been compiled into a mini-album called Assimilarity, which includes the previously unreleased “Big Black” with fellow Swede El Perro Del Mar. Truth be told, I could listen to her sing over just about anything, and her breathy, soulful voice (which tips into Dead Can Dance / Cocteau Twins territory) sounds fantastic here, even as it’s twisted and pitch-shifted atop a swelling maelstrom of ominous electronics.

Kagami Smile “Discarded Moment” (Vill4in)

Originally from the Midwest and currently based in Shenzhen, China, Kagami Smile has just released a new full-length, Dream Residue, which sits somewhere between dream pop and dub techno. Album opener “Discarded Moment” is narcotic, transportive tune, yet it’s not exactly blissful. There’s a certain level of unease simmering beneath the song’s fuzzy textures and pleasantly billowing pads, a sensation that’s only heightened by the low-volume sci-fi chatter that Kagami Smile has weaved into the mix. Equal parts anxiety and beauty, it’s an engrossing listen all the same.

Arif “Viel” (Nous’klaer)

Rotterdam’s Nous’klaer label has been on quite a roll, and its latest offering is Ultra, an EP from Amsterdam artist and Garage Noord resident Arif. “Viel” is built atop a pulsing rhythm, but that’s merely the foundation for an elegant lattice of crystalline melodies. With its gleaming tones, Arif’s music nods to the minimal composition and pristine sound palette of Japanese ambient, and there’s perhaps a bit of gamelan in his melodic sensibility, but whether those similarities are intentional or not, he’s constructed something beautiful.

Akasha System “Unseen” (Self-released)

Following up on his excellent Echo Earth album from last year, Akasha System has a new EP called Epoch Flux. As before, the Portland artist has a talent for deep and dubby sounds, but he’s polished up his production here, stripping out some of the tape hiss, thickening up the bass and bringing the drums up higher in the mix. In truth, I preferred the fuzzy, lo-fi aesthetic of the former approach, but Epoch Flux still has its charms. With its pastel pads and dreamy atmospheres, “Unseen” has something of a new age spirit, but its crisp drums are clearly the work of someone with an appreciation for the club.

On the Ifness “Cuvée Con Vaux” (U-Udios)

U-Udios is a label headed up by Protect-U’s Mike Petillo, and essentially serves as a platform for his assorted jam sessions and collaborative endeavors. On the Ifness is a long-brewing project from Petillo and percussionist Sean McGuinness of the band Pissed Jeans, and their U-Udios 4 is a genre-hopping effort that comfortably fits into the larger Future Times / 1432 R universe. (Max D even shows up on one of the tracks.) As for “Cuvée Con Vaux,” it’s better suited for idling by the sea than raging on the dancefloor, as its aquatic tones, smooth guitar and gently ticking hi-hats make for a track that’s equal parts Balearic chillout, dreamy new age and ’80s jazz fusion.

Zeki 808 “White Label” (Ilian Tape)

Is this a dubstep record? If nothing else, it’s certainly dubstep-adjacent. Give Thanks is the new EP from this London producer, and “White Label” is its screwface anthem, a track that ladles thick slabs of gut-rumbling bass over frantically cracking drums and intermittent rave stabs. It doesn’t feel dated, but it’s certainly a throwback to the grotty street sounds of the early 2000s. Simply put: it’s a banger.

Eusebeia “Seckle” (Western Lore)

Bristol jungle outpost Western Lore continues its dominant run, this time with the Equal Rights + Justice EP from UK producer Eusebeia. “Seckle” has big drums, but it’s a sneakily introspective tune; one the one hand, it employs the loose, freewheeling rumble of classic ’90s jungle, but there are also deep melodies and moody atmospherics that recall the sci-fi soundscapes of Detroit techno. It’s not easy to walk the line between pensive jams and dancefloor bangers, but Eusebeia seems comfortable making tracks that appeal to the head and heart alike.

Seven Orbits “Mantis (Zaliva-D Remix)” (SVBKVLT)

Following its breakout 2019, Shanghai’s SVBKVLT label kicks off 2020 with EP0001, the first audio-only release from Italian audio-visual artist Seven Orbits. His originals offer up some intriguing forays into avant-garde club mayhem, but I found this remix from Beijing duo Zaliva-D much more compelling. With its rattling drums and ferocious bassline, it’s similar to the work of UK producers like Walton, but there’s something especially sinister about this tune, a sensation that’s only intensified by the song’s alien vocal chops and intermittent blasts of saxophone.

Soul Connection “Change / Love” (Invisible City Editions)

UK street soul—a distinctly British blend of late ’80s / early ’90s R&B, hip-hop, house and assorted elements that would eventually coalesce into the hardcore continuum—is likely overdue for a revival, although the digger crowd has already been on the case for years. Invisible City Editions is one of the major players in that world, and they’ve just dropped Street Soul, a collection of tunes from legendary UK duo Soul Connection. The six-track release pulls from two albums, 1988’s Rough & Ready and 1990’s Raw Street Soul; the latter included “Change / Love,” an incredible song in which the buttery vocals are pure R&B, the warm pads nod to early Detroit techno and the knocking drums are essentially the same sort of breakbeats that powered early hardcore. It’s an amazing document of a uniquely hybridized moment in UK dance music.

Tornado Wallace “P.N.G. (Praise No Ghosts)” (Optimo)

There’s always been something trippy about Tornado Wallace’s music, but on his new mini-album Midnight Magic, the Australian producer seems particularly concerned with expanding his consciousness. Compared to his previous releases, the new LP does feel a bit more club-oriented—the tempos are faster and the drums are harder, or at least more prominent in the mix—but this isn’t a collection of utilitarian DJ tools. “P.N.G. (Praise No Ghosts)” is just plain weird; atop its sturdy rhythm, there are bird calls, synth arpeggios, freaky vocal chants and plenty of tweaky little sounds, including a main melody that’s either a 303 or a sampled didgeridoo. It’s an unusual recipe, but the end result is a highly danceable vision quest that just about anyone should be able to enjoy.

Jan Wagner “Kapitel 27” (Quiet Love)

Jan Wagner first popped up on my radar last year, when he worked with Rosa Anschütz on her Rigid EP. (The title track was one of my favorite songs of 2019.) His resume, however, is actually quite extensive, as this German pianist and producer has contributed to numerous high-profile releases (frequently as a recording / mixing / mastering engineer), and also released an album called Nummern in 2018. Kapitel, his new full-length, is the sequel, and the piano-driven “Kapitel 27”—all of the LP’s song titles are “Kapitel” with a number—showcases not only Wagner’s emotive piano playing, but his skill at constructing a engaging narrative arc, complete with cinematic swells, dramatic dropouts and impeccable composition.

Gerard Stokkink “Yellow Turtles” (Music from Memory)

Amsterdam’s Music from Memory label has found a new target for its reissue lens, resulting in a new, self-explanatory EP series called Music for Dance and Theatre. “Yellow Turtles,” which opens the series’ first volume and was originally released in 1984, begins with an extended recording of what sounds like sea birds, but then segues into an increasingly intricate synth array that heavily recalls the work of groups like Tangerine Dream. The rhythms are subtle and the percussion is minimal, but the gliding pads and celestial spirit of “Yellow Turtles” are fully capable of carrying listeners away. It’s a dazzling piece.

Merrin Karras “Meridian” (A Strangely Isolated Place)

Lots of folks are reaching for ambient these days, and they’d be advised to dig into the brilliant catalog of A Strangely Isolated Place. The Los Angeles outpost’s latest release is Northwest Passage, a new album from veteran Irish producer Merrin Karras. (You may also know his more dancefloor-oriented production under the name Chymera.) Inspired by the chilly environs of the arctic, the LP is full of grand soundscapes that evolve and change at a glacial (pun intended) pace, but the music itself isn’t necessarily cold. “Meridian” is downright colorful, and the song’s deliberate pace—it’s more than nine minutes long—does nothing to detract from the inherent warmth of its effervescent synths and gently cascading melodies.


And with that, we’ve reached the end of another lengthy newsletter. If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading, and I also hope you enjoyed the tunes. (Don’t forget, you can find them all on this handy Buy Music Club list, and if you like them, buy them.)

I said this last week, but stay safe out there… and stay home.

Shawn


Shawn Reynaldo is a freelance writer, editor, presenter and project manager. Find him on LinkedIn or drop him an email to get in touch about projects, collaborations or potential work opportunities.