First Floor #33 – Going Live Without a Net
a.k.a. The worrisome (lack of) infrastructure around livestreaming.
|Shawn Reynaldo||Apr 14|| 2|
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
There’s nobody quite like Scratcha DVA, and this tweet he sent out over the weekend is the funniest thing I read all week:
For those of you who aren’t fluent in Scratchanese (that’s literally what he calls it), the joke here is a reference to London’s famed Fabric nightclub. Room 3 often featured some of the club’s most adventurous DJs, but was also notoriously empty half the time. A niche joke perhaps, but one that absolutely makes sense in the context of all the livestreams we’ve seen popping up over the past month. Based on the enthusiastic response to his tweet, I feel confident in saying that Scratcha and I aren’t the only ones who’ve quickly exited a stream after logging in and noticing that hardly anyone is watching.
Thankfully, the conversation around livestreams hasn’t been limited to Twitter jokes. It’s a topic I discussed here on First Floor a couple of weeks ago, but my musings honestly pale in comparison to the work that Cherie Hu has done in the latest edition of her excellent Water and Music newsletter. Hu is someone I’ve mentioned before, and she’s arguably leading the pack right now when it comes to reporting on the intersection of technology and the music industry. (For what it’s worth, she also takes a fairly agnostic approach that I find rather refreshing. Unlike many industry-focused journalists, she’s not a streaming or tech evangelist, but she’s not clamoring for the destruction of Spotify either. Simply put, she does real reporting and lets the facts do the talking.)
Anyways, Hu’s newsletter included this article, The Legal Underbelly of Livestreaming Concerts. I won’t try to summarize the whole thing, but she does an excellent job laying out just how much of a legal minefield livestreaming is, even for artists who want to follow the rules. This passage was particularly illuminating:
We shouldn't necessarily hold back emerging, talented artists from sharing their performances with the world today because of licenses that may take weeks to get. But the fact that most people who are scrambling to livestream are probably not clearing their performances beforehand potentially leaves a lot of money on the table for music rights holders — including the artists themselves, not just labels, publishers or performing rights organizations (PROs). Moreover, none of the open livestreaming platforms that are popular today (Instagram, Twitch, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) have the proper legal infrastructure to close that financial gap yet.
It was me who put that last line in bold, but it’s honestly a bit shocking that this kind of gaping hole exists in the system. When it comes to licensing and royalties, the livestreaming space is still in something of a Wild West mode, and while that has its benefits (e.g. artists being able to experiment without having to worry too much about copyright violations, at least on certain platforms), it also means that this is yet another example where the people who actually made the music being played aren’t being paid properly. Often times, they’re not being paid at all.
I know there’s nothing sexy about discussing the ins and outs of music licensing laws, especially during a time when most of the DJs livestreaming right now aren’t being paid either. The idea of “fixing” any of this might seem remote or impossible, and with predictions now surfacing that concerts may not return until the fall of 2021, it makes sense that many DJs would probably prefer to instead focus on the non-monetary benefits of livestreaming. After all, it’s a way to stay connected with friends (and fans), a potential outlet for dealing with anxiety, and for those who really don’t want to overthink things, it’s just an easy way have a bit of fun during the doldrums of life in quarantine. All of that is valid, but it’s also important to remember that this pandemic won’t last forever, and livestreaming isn’t likely to disappear completely, even after we’re all allowed to go outside again.
Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch (which is owned by Amazon)… these are all multibillion-dollar corporations, and the livestream-related infrastructure, norms and relationships that artists establish with them now are bound to carry over into the post-coronavirus world. If nothing changes, the music industry going to be locked into another system where tech companies are growing their platforms and raking in profits while paying very little to the artists whose content fuels their success. Musicians are already dangerously short on potential revenue streams; do they really want to surrender another one so quickly?
To be clear, I’m not against livestreams. They may not be an adequate replacement for partying, and a lot of them only have a handful of people tuning in, but a few have been downright massive; say what you will about Boiler Room, but some editions of their Streaming from Isolation series have racked up hundreds of thousands of views. There’s value in these kinds of common experiences, even when they’re happening online and yes, even when the listener numbers don’t crack triple digits. We’re all craving connection, and livestreaming seems to provide that, at least for some people. Unfortunately though, connection isn’t something that can pay any bills or make any these practices economically sustainable, which is a problem when a large swath of the industry is already teetering on the edge of financial ruin. Livestreaming is never going to be all about money, but money should at least be part of the conversation. Artists and the music community may be loathe to discuss these things, but if they don’t, others will gladly continue to make decisions without their input.
ANOTHER THING I WROTE
Andrea is one of Ilian Tape’s core members, and the spellbinding Ritorno, his first full-length album, might be the sunniest thing the label has ever released. It’s excellent, and I reviewed it for Pitchfork.
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.
Having trouble keeping up with all the streams out there? Resident Advisor has updated its events listings with a new location they’re calling Streamland, which you can find here. This new hub, which lists all events according to their start time in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), aims to be a comprehensive guide for all of the livestreams happening around the globe. It’s a great resource, and allows livestream organizers themselves to add their events to the calendar. The one major drawback is that time zone differences can make these listings a bit confusing—for instance, events happening on Saturday night in the US were listed on Sunday for me here in Barcelona—but aside from that issue, Streamland should be a useful tool for isolated clubbers everywhere.
Helena Hauff will be at the helm of the next edition of Tresor’s Kern mix series. Set for release on June 19 as a double CD, Kern Vol. 5 includes exclusive cuts from Galaxian, Umwelt and others, including a collaborative track from Hauff herself. Those exclusives, along with a number of other tracks from the mix, will also be issued on a triple-vinyl set. Ahead of that, head here to check out L.F.T.’s “Move” (another exclusive track) along with the full tracklist for both the CD and vinyl versions of the release.
The artist formerly known as Project Pablo continues to build momentum with the work he’s doing under his birth name, and on May 1 he’ll be releasing his first proper EP as Patrick Holland. Entitled Simstim, it’ll be coming via the Montreal producer’s own Verdicchio Music Publishing label and one of its tracks, “Sinking Feeling,” is already streaming here.
It feels like years have passed since Andrew Weatherall unexpectedly passed away—in reality, it’s been less than two months—but the much-missed UK artist has a new record coming out this week. Entitled Pamela #1 and splitting writing credits between Weatherall and his studio partner Nina Walsh, the 12” is bound to sell out quickly, and no digital version has been announced yet. Previews can be found on a number of different record shop sites, but here is the link to check out some clips via Hard Wax.
Not everyone is in the mood for hard-charging club sounds right now, but for those of you who are missing the dancefloor, last week’s FACT Mix from Berlin-based producer and Fever AM co-founder Rhyw is a thrilling session of adventurous techno hybrids.
The onslaught of new coronavirus-related benefit compilations continues, and while I can’t list them all, I do want to highlight some of the week’s more intriguing entries:
WorldWideWindow is an incredible 56-track compilation curated by Italian artist Neel. With more than six hours of music, mostly from the techno and ambient realms, this all-star collection includes tunes from Caterina Barbieri, Donato Dozzy, DJ Nobu, Johanna Knutsson, Shifted, Wata Igarashi, Rabih Beaini, Eva Geist, Mathew Johnson, Forest Drive West, Marco Shuttle and others too numerous to list. All proceeds go to the Red Cross.
Mutual Aid 2020 was assembled by Bristol bass / dub / jungle outpost Bokeh Versions and includes new tracks—many of which were initially supposed to be part of future releases on the label—from artists like Low Jack, Jay Glass Dubs, Sea Urchin, Mars89 and others.
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.
Hello. Perila’s self-released audiobook came out a few days ago, and hearing it has made me happy. Entitled Tracking Stones Within Four Walls / Air of Spring in Lungs, it’s just so gentle and tactile. Fans of ASMR will especially like “Non-Existent Lands I Like to Visit,” but I was drawn to the warped sibilance of “Fake Room of People,” which sounds like an interrupted Skype call.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a rundown of my favorite tunes that came out during the past week. 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.
If you’ve already read my Pitchfork review of Ritorno, you already know that I think the new Andrea album is something special. The Turin-based producer has been a part of the Ilian Tape crew for nearly a decade, but he’s always been one of its more low-key contributors, both in terms of his public persona, which is practically nonexistent, and his music, which has tended toward the dreamier end of the spectrum. Ritorno is his long-awaited debut LP, and though it’s been released with relatively little fanfare, the music speaks quite loudly on its own. Pulling from a variety of genres, the album’s broken techno rhythms will ring familiar to anyone who’s been following Ilian Tape over the past few years, but where the label often revels in darkness, Andrea has bathed his productions here in lush pads and warm, almost Balearic melodies, resulting in an LP that’s full of sunshine and frequently quite beautiful. Of course, there are still moments of bass-driven brawn (the snapping “TrackQY” is a testament to that), but songs like “Isabelle’s String” and particularly “LS September” have a ponderous, almost cinematic air about them, despite their lively drum patterns. These are just a few of Ritorno’s highlights, as the album is absolutely the sort of thing that deserves a start-to-finish listen.
Wilted Woman is full of surprises. Where most artists tend to focus on one particular sound, this Berlin-based American seems to deliver something different on every release, and whether she’s digging into frantic techno, experimental skronk, lively drum & bass or something else, she somehow manages to always keep it interesting. “Where’s My Generator,” a lo-fi gem which appears on her new Songs in the Key of Wilt EP, sits somewhere between synth-pop and post-punk; with its glossy keys and chugging bassline, it sounds like something out of downtown NYC in the early 1980s, an effect that’s only amplified by Wilted Woman’s reverb-soaked talk-singing. The mood is one of playful detachment, communicating a distinct sort of “I don’t give a fuck” attitude that only makes the music—and Wilted Woman herself—sound cooler.
Beware, this one comes with some serious cheese. Slim Steve is an Italian producer who lives in Berlin, and after doing records for labels like X-Kalay and E-Beamz, he’s just dropped the I Do It EP on NYC label Let’s Play House. “Do It (If U Love Me)” pulls heavily from commercial trance and house tropes, its brightly polished synths and diva vocal refrain harkening back to the kinds of tunes that became crossover radio hits in Europe and the UK during the late ’90s and early 2000s. I realize that might sound repellent to some readers, and truthfully, this track won’t be for everyone, but Slim Steve has smartly kept the ridiculousness in check while crafting something with a pop sensibility at its core. It may not change the world, but for anyone who’s in the mood for some empty club calories, “Do It (If U Love Me)” is both well done and a lot of fun.
I already sang the praises of the new WorldWideWindow compilation above (it really is great), but considering that it contains 56 tracks in total, I figured that it might be helpful to highlight a couple of my favorites. “Cressidra” is as good as anything you’d find on Barbieri’s own releases, a slow-brewing suite of twinkling synths and melodic drones that feels downright transportive. Some might describe it as “cosmic” or “sci-fi,” but while those descriptors aren’t entirely off base—Barbieri’s work certainly shares a sound palette with a lot of classic sci-fi—the music here doesn’t feel camp or otherworldly; it’s quietly hypnotic, and ultimately quite dazzling in its minimalism. Cortini’s “RidoPiango” is similarly entrancing, but the song’s gentle melodies are obscured by dense layers of reverb and static. The music, which harkens back to classic shoegaze, is still warm and inviting, but there’s also something a bit sinister about the track. Perhaps it’s a siren’s call, but this gauzy journey is one that’s well worth taking, even if destruction looms on the other side.
Shaytoon is the debut album from San Francisco producer Sepehr, an artist who operates at the intersection of techno, electro, acid and various strains of machine music. “Consortium” might be the LP’s most menacing tune, a slice of take-no-prisoners electro replete with neck-snapping breakbeats, sizzling acid tweaks and a thick, sludgy, bassline. It’s almost a shame to hear something like this at home, just because it’s so obviously geared to do some major damage on the dancefloor. Hopefully DJs won’t forget about this one whenever we all get back to raving again.
Is broken drum & bass a thing? “Esper” seems to make the case that it should be. Taken from the UK producer’s new Dire Hit EP, the track bounds along at 165 bpm, nimbly slipping in and out of the Amen break as its dreamy melodies recall the work of ’90s junglists like Adam F and Photek. Still, it’s the drums that take center stage, as Yak’s feverish percussion (and obvious sense of groove) often sounds like the work of a live jazz drummer. It’s not easy to sound this cool while moving this fast, but “Esper” does exactly that.
Full disclosure: Doctor Jeep and I used to work together at RBMA, but I first became familiar with his bass-centric creations long before we ever shared Google Docs or sat on the same conference call. “Unreal” is the title track of his latest EP, and it’s an upfront drum & bass track with hard-hitting percussion and the kind of wobbly bassline that would make any fan of old-school dubstep proud. What really makes the song, however, is the vocal sample, a quick diva snippet that Doctor Jeep has sliced and diced to magnificent effect. When the drop hits at the three-minute mark, the song takes off like a rocket, the unknown vocalist’s “it’s something unreeeeeeeeeeal” gloriously stretched out and twisted as the track’s blazing drum patterns work their magic.
This week’s rowdiest selection comes courtesy of a collaboration between Stillcold label founder Andrew Doubek and Alexander Dennis (a.k.a. Eprom). The two first met back in 2005 while Doubek was DJing in San Francisco, and that chance meeting slowly blossomed into a full-fledged project. “Saleh” is from the duo’s self-titled debut album, and it’s something like a cross between a warped dancehall tune and an aggressive grime cut. It’s wild that two Americans made this, because the sound is so distinctly British, but I’m not complaining; the bassline is rude, the beat is unrelenting and the vibe is electric.
“Genesis” isn’t the single off Krystal Klear’s new Cyclia Two EP (that would be “Future Fantasy,” whose new video was directed by none other than Gerd Janson) and I doubt it’s going to be the track that DJs reach for most, either. It is, however, the song I like best. Krystal Klear is best known for his Italo-flavored big-room anthems, but I think he also has a genuine talent for synth pop that dials down the pomp and slows down the tempo. 2018’s “Divison Ave” was a great example of this, and “Genesis” taps into a similar vein, its vibrant synths and subdued strut sounding like a lost Human League or Soft Cell instrumental. If the whole DJ thing doesn’t work out for Krystal Klear, maybe he could start a new wave band.
This was a pleasant surprise. Italian trio Agents of Time are generally a little too tech house for my tastes, but “Who Found El Dorado?” sounds like something that could have come out on Running Back. Taken from the Music Made Paradise, the group’s debut EP on Kompakt, this glossy chugger blends Moroder-style ’80s disco with a cosmic variant of house music. It’s a formula that’s been done plenty of times before, but when it’s well executed, I’ll always have time for neon synth flashes and a bouncy beat.
It almost feels wrong to pick a single track from DJ Python’s beautiful new Mas Amable LP. The album was so clearly designed for prolonged engagement—with each track blending into the next, it quite literally plays like a DJ mix—to a point where consuming anything less than the entire full-length feels somehow incomplete. Mas Amable is a mood, one that’s uniquely comforting with its languid reggaeton rhythms and loping melodies. It doesn’t have much to do with the dancefloor, as the NYC producer has compared the record to a day spent sitting around and talking with a friend (or just someone you find interesting). Songs like “mmmm” (the LP’s closing track) feel nostalgic, but not because they sound like music we’ve heard before; it’s a nostalgia for those rare moments when we’ve felt loved and understood by those we care about most. On a basic level, it’s about connection, and while that idea gets a lot of lip service in dance music circles, it’s rarely been explored in such an engaging fashion.
That’s all for today. As always, thanks so much for reading the newsletter, and I 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, please buy them.)
Back next Tuesday.