First Floor #43 – Are You Sure You Want to Be an Electronic Music Journalist?
a.k.a. How to get started in an increasingly cursed profession.
|Jun 30, 2020||4|
Hello there. I’m Shawn Reynaldo, and welcome to First Floor, a weekly electronic music digest that includes news, my favorite new tracks and 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
Before we get started, a quick scheduling note: During the month of July, the newsletter will be going out biweekly. It’s not a permanent change (although it may extend into August—that’s TBD), but for the time being, the next two editions of the newsletter will go out on July 14 and July 28.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been making an effort to help counteract structural bias and racism within the music industry by sharing some of the institutional knowledge I’ve picked up over the years. Music professionals often take this stuff for granted, but we should never forget that many of the basic facts about “how it all works” are largely unavailable to people whose social / professional circles don’t offer easy access to the industry and its secrets.
I’ve previously put together some entry-level primers for music promotion and publishing / licensing / syncs, but this time around, I wanted to tackle a topic that’s a bit closer to home: music journalism. More specifically, I wanted to talk about electronic music journalism, and provide some tips for how folks who are interested in writing could potentially make their way into the field, regardless of their background.
To be clear, these tips are just a guide for writers who are just getting started, and aren’t meant as a cure-all for the electronic music press and its diversity problem. “Fixing” (or at least seriously addressing) that problem is the responsibility of editors and publications, which need to actively recruit and develop a more diverse talent pool. Hiring Black people and POC for editorial, managerial and other decision-making roles is also a key part of the equation. There’s a lot of work to do and many changes need to be made, but today I’m going to focus solely on helping more writers get into the mix.
To make this information as palatable / useful as possible, I’ve broken my thoughts into sections.
ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS?
Yes, I realize it’s a bit contradictory to follow up a whole spiel about the serious need to recruit and develop a more diverse writer pool with a warning about how dire the profession has become, but things really are grim out there. It’s no secret that media (and culture-oriented media in particular) has been in trouble for quite some time, and the onslaught of layoffs, closures and consolidations has only intensified during the pandemic.
Even as electronic music has grown into a global, multi-billion dollar industry, electronic music journalism has remained a largely niche concern. It was exactly a year ago that Red Bull Music Academy came to an end, and since then we’ve seen FACT stop publishing written content and Tiny Mix Tapes go on hiatus. Resident Advisor laid off staff and once the pandemic hit, they furloughed many of the folks remaining on their payroll and stopped commissioning freelancers. DJ Mag’s print edition has been on hold since April, and Mixmag just suspended its print magazine entirely and laid off the entire print staff. This is just a partial list, but the trend line is clear: there just aren’t that many places left that will actually pay people to write about electronic music.
None of this is meant as a call for sympathy, and I don’t think many electronic music journalists got into the field with hopes of striking it rich. That said, I do want to make absolutely clear just how precarious the situation has become, even for experienced writers. Editorial budgets are small, competition is intense, staff jobs are scarce, mentorship / training programs are virtually nonexistent and the pay, especially for freelancers, is often laughably low. As much as I don’t want to scare anyone away, if you’re a new / young writer who wants to get into electronic music journalism, it’s best that you know right up front what kind of world you’re entering.
WRITE, WRITE AND WRITE SOME MORE
Getting started as a music writer can be difficult, simply because most outlets won’t hire or commission you unless you’ve already done some writing elsewhere. It’s absolutely a Catch-22, and the only way around it is to be realistic and basically write wherever you can. While it’s good to have goals, your first assignments won’t come from Pitchfork, The New York Times or The Wire. That said, the beauty of the internet is that anyone can create an outlet, and there are tons of electronic music websites out there; most of them have only a handful of readers (if that) and usually feature some dodgy writing, but if they’ll let you contribute and publish your byline, you should take the opportunity, even if you have to work for free or cheap.
These sites are often just a quick Google away. If you’re not sure where to look, search for some of your favorite artists along with the word “review”or “interview” and click through a few pages of results; chances are that you’ll find some websites covering the music you like, and all you have to do is drop them a quick email or direct message via their socials to get involved. Even better, if you’re not getting paid, there’s a good chance they’ll let you write about whatever you want; take advantage and indulge your passions.
Otherwise, it’s never a bad idea to start building a platform of your own, even if that “platform” is just a blog or newsletter. When you’re a new writer, having an audience doesn’t matter all that much; it’s more important to simply have a place (or several places) where you can write consistently, hone your craft and begin to flesh out your “voice.” It’s a process, and most music journalists I know cringe when they look at their earliest work; if you’re going to suck—and most people do when they’re getting started—it’s better to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, and preferably in a place where most people aren’t looking.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Repetition (and natural talent of course) will help you move forward as a music writer, but it’s also important to pay attention to what other writers are doing. Reading other people’s work is essential, and not just so you can learn all of their tricks. (That is a nice bonus though, and while straight-up plagiarism is never okay, there’s nothing wrong with lifting a quality adjective or getting inspired by someone’s clever narrative framework.)
On a more practical level, reading other journalists’ work is also a great way to get a better grasp of the overall lay of the land. If you like electronic music, look who is writing and where their work is getting published. Take note of which outlets are focused on particular artists and scenes; figure out which places cover more commercial stuff and which ones prefer to dig deeper. Look at what kinds of articles run at different outlets; see who’s doing reviews, who’s doing artist interviews and who’s doing opinion columns. Music journalism takes many different forms, and if you have a thorough understanding of who is doing what and where, you’ll be better equipped to pick your spots and ascertain where you might fit in, either now or in the future.
If you haven’t checked it out already, Todd Burns’ weekly Music Journalism Insider newsletter is a must-read, and features insightful interviews with writers from across the musical spectrum who often drop nuggets of wisdom about the industry and their craft.
FOLLOW THE RULES
This should be self-explanatory, but if you’re going to be a music writer, you need to have a firm handle on (admittedly boring) things like grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, etc. Although it’s of course important to have your own voice, you need to express that voice in a way that won’t drive a copy editor completely bonkers. Aside from the basics, it’s also essential that you learn how to structure a larger narrative, which includes everything from crafting a strong lede (a.k.a. introduction) to employing smooth transitions between ideas and finishing things off with a solid kicker (a.k.a. close). Learning to do this well takes practice, so be patient and don’t be scared to take note of what techniques your favorite writers apply in their own work.
Once you start writing for publications, it’s also key that you meet your deadlines and the assigned word count. While every writer will occasionally need extra time or wind up writing something that’s way longer than the publication asked for, don’t just drop these things on your editors without warning. Give them a heads up if you need an extension or your piece is running overly long; they’re literally there to help you, so if you’re having trouble, let them know and ask for assistance. And when it comes to communication, be professional; answer editors’ emails promptly and do what you can to make their jobs easier, as they’re likely juggling articles from lots of different writers while holding down all sorts of responsibilities that you’re not even aware of.
The online media era has been plagued with cutbacks, and one of the main casualties has been proper editorial feedback. It’s incredible how many music writers these days continue to see their work published with only minor tweaks and changes from the original draft. This is not a good thing.
One of the best ways to improve as a writer is to receive (constructive) criticism. Being edited isn’t always fun, and accepting feedback does require setting your ego aside, but another person—especially an experienced one—is usually going to do a better job than you when it comes to sussing out the weak points in your work. Are there holes in your narrative? Do you rely on overly repetitive phrasing or verbiage? Are you making arguments and assertions without backing them up? What are your crutches? A good editor can spot all of these things, and will ideally provide some useful ideas for how to shore up your work and avoid similar pitfalls in the future.
Editors aren’t infallible of course, and it’s okay to push back (respectfully) if a change is suggested that you disagree with. Writers should absolutely fight to preserve their own voice—no one else will—but being open to critique is just as important. With thoughtful editing being such a rarity these days, especially for electronic music writing, if you encounter an editor who’s actually willing to take the time and provide real feedback, it’s a good idea to engage with the process.
RELATIONSHIPS MATTER, AND SO DOES SOCIAL MEDIA
Writing is an inherently solitary practice, but building relationships is essential to a sustained career in music journalism. Like many other fields, “who you know” matters, and this unfortunately gives an unfair advantage to those people whose privilege grants them easy access to the music industry. However, this advantage can be overcome, especially during a time when “knowing” someone often boils down to following each other on Twitter and exchanging the occasional email or direct message.
If you’re a new writer lacking in connections, social media is one of the fastest ways to start building them. Follow writers and publications that you like, and retweet or share their work when you come across an article that’s particularly good. If a piece really has you thinking, maybe even send them a reply or a compliment. Don’t overdo it—being overly thirsty is never a good look—but the occasional signal boost or thoughtful comment will likely be noticed and might prompt them to start following you back. That’s part of the reason why it’s also important to share your own work; when someone clicks on your Twitter profile and does a quick scroll, you ideally want them to see that you too are a writer and have something interesting to say. Every time that one of your pieces gets published, post the link and make sure to tag the publication, along with any artists and / or labels that you’ve written about. (That said, if you’ve written something sharply critical or negative about an artist or record, you may want to skip the tag. There’s no need to rub people’s face in the fact that you didn’t care for their work.)
All of this may sound like sucking up, and I suppose it is to a certain degree, but it’s also just a way of connecting with your peers. As much as it’s important to try and get on the radar of more established writers and publications, social media is also a great way to link up with other journalists with a similar level of experience, or even those with less experience. Turnover and change is a constant in music media, and you never know when that novice writer you traded messages with last year will get hired on staff at a publication you like. Although editors are supposed to (and often do) look beyond their immediate circles when commissioning journalists, they’re also human beings and will naturally be inclined to gravitate towards people they already know, or at least know about. Furthermore, as they move up, they’re likely going to bring their friends and acquaintances (even the virtual ones) along with them, so if you’re not the kind of writer whose body of work simply speaks for itself—and in the electronic music world, only a handful of people fall into that category—then playing the social (media) game is probably a smart idea.
LEARN TO PITCH AND PROMOTE YOURSELF
Making friends on Twitter can help you get ahead, but actually getting hired to write something requires another, more specific skill: pitching. That’s where you contact editors and say “I would like to write about X, and I think it would be interesting because of A, B and C.” Pretty much all music writers have to do it, and it’s one of the only ways to land some paid work once you have some experience under your belt.
There’s no exact formula for a successful pitch, but remember that editors—who are insanely busy to begin with—receive them all the time, so you want to make things as easy as possible for them. If you’re emailing an editor (especially one you don’t already have a working relationship with) with an idea, you need to succinctly introduce yourself and your pitch in the span of just a few sentences. If your pitch is more than a paragraph, it’s probably too long. They only need the crux of what you want to write about. It needs to be more than “I want to interview artist Z,” but it doesn’t need to include that artist’s entire life story (or yours).
Not every pitch is going to be accepted, or even get a response. Dealing with rejection and being flat-out ignored is just part of life as a working music journalist. Don’t take it personally. Be persistent, but don’t be annoying. If someone turns you down, thank them for taking the time to consider your idea. If they don’t respond to your initial email, it’s okay to send a follow-up, but unless it’s insanely time sensitive (e.g. “I have the chance to interview Aphex Twin two days from now.”), it’s probably best to wait at least a week before nudging them again. If you don’t get a response at that point, it’s probably best to move on.
None of this is easy, and having to sell yourself and your ideas isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. If you need help, ask other journalists for advice, or even for an introduction if you’d like an “in” with an editor who they already know and you don’t. I mentioned this before, but the Music Journalism Insider newsletter is an incredible resource, and paid subscribers have access to a database that includes contact information and pitching instructions for a wide variety of publications.
Outside of pitching, don’t be afraid to sell yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to be “very online” (although plenty of writers do go that route), but you do need to not be timid about sharing your work and taking part in “the discourse.” Although I’d strongly advise against jumping into every single Twitter scrum, exchanging thoughts and sharing your opinions does help people get to know your voice, your outlook and your unique expertise. Readers are drawn to writers they can identify with, and sharing some of yourself (within reason) online can facilitate that process. As a writer, there is a good chance that you and your perspective are the most valuable things you have.
FIND OTHER WORK
Earning a living as a full-time music journalist, particularly one who writes about electronic music, is extremely difficult. Freelance rates have actually gone down in recent years, and the recent flood of layoffs is likely to depress them even further. If you add up all the time that journalists spend listening to music, not to mention pitching, researching, interviewing, transcribing and of course writing, and then break it all down into an hourly wage, it quickly becomes clear that freelancers are paid a pittance. If you’re a working music writer, it’s not impossible to hustle hard and cobble together enough money to pay the bills each month, but you’re just as likely to wind up exhausted and burnt out.
Unless you can land a salaried staff job—and those usually involve cranking out tons of content (often about music and artists you don’t really care about) and / or mostly managing work that’s been written by other people—your best bet is to supplement your music writing with something that actually pays an adult wage. Whether you’re working as a bartender, stocking shelves, copywriting for an ad agency or doing something else entirely, having steady income will help you maintain both your sanity and your passion for music writing, and that’s what’s most important, especially when you’re just getting started.
ASK FOR HELP
There’s no instruction manual for how to be a music journalist, and what I’ve written here honestly only scratches the surface. Yet there is something of a community out there, and most music writers, especially right now, are willing to share whatever bits of wisdom they’ve picked up over the years. Don’t be scared to reach out to the journalists you admire and ask them for help or advice. You might be surprised just how generous people will be with their time and knowledge. For my own part, if anyone reading this is interested in writing about electronic music—and this goes double for Black people and POC—and you want advice, feedback, information or even just some contacts, please feel free to drop me a line. Music journalism may be a cursed profession, but there’s no excuse for it being a closed shop.
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.
REMINDER: This Friday, July 3 is another Bandcamp Friday, on which the company will once again waive its usual 10-15% fee for all sales through the platform. Start planning your purchases now and directly support your favorite artists.
Trax Records has countless classics in its catalog, but artists have been complaining about the Chicago label’s shady business practices (including the non-payment of royalties) since the late ’80s. Last week, a couple of the artists responsible for many of those classics, Larry Heard and Robert Owens, filed a multi-million dollar copyright infringement suit against Trax Records and its current owner, Rachael Cain. They’re seeking a minimum payment of one million dollars, and a more complete rundown of their filing and the entire story can be found in this news story from 5Mag.
Detroit techno icon Kevin Saunderson gave a powerful interview to Billboard in which he spoke directly about issues of structural racism within the music industry and how it has especially failed Black artists.
With parties (both legal and illegal) starting to happen again, Gabriel Szatan wrote a wonderful piece for Dazed that examines the potential post-lockdown landscape, making some insightful observations and smartly asking more questions than it answers.
Manchester producer Anz, whose breakout Invitation 2 Dance EP from last year still sounds amazing, turned heads last week with her fifth annual production mix. Entitled Spring/Summer Dubs 2020 and consisting of 100% tunes she made during lockdown, it runs nearly 90 minutes and gleefully hops through numerous genres.
Back in May, Jay Glass Dubs teased the forthcoming release of a new album called Soma for Berceuse Heroique, and now all the details have been finalized. The LP will arrive on July 7, and in the meantime, the experimental Greek artist has shared another track from the record, “Your Raps,” which can be streamed here.
No First Floor newsletter would be complete these days without mentioning the latest round of benefit compilations. Here are some of the most intriguing new offerings:
Home Fitness/家庭保健 Vol. 2 was assembled by Beijing’s DCYY/到此一游 label and BULLY Magazine, and includes new music from Jacques Greene, AceMo, Yu Su, Wasted Fates, Chekov and others. Proceeds will be split between the Movement for Black Lives and a variety of other charities selected by the artists.
Melt the Pot was curated by Brussels-based platform United 4 Equity (U4E) and features artists like Steffi, Blue Hour, Randomer, DJ Slugo, Cardopusher and many more. Sales will be split evenly between The Bail Project and Black Lives Matter.
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 all. I’m currently writing this in between patients on night shift in the emergency department. I’m jacked on my third coffee and they’re jacked on meth, so we’re all having a good time. Meanwhile, I’ve just bought the new Rhythmia, Vol. I compilation. I can’t write anything too detailed about it, as I’m listening on my iPhone speakers at a low volume so the patients don’t wake up. Ondness is someone that I’ve spoken about before, but here he is again, this time on a compilation that benefits several organisations, including Migrant Organise, a platform where refugees and migrants organise for power, dignity and justice in the UK. Once upon a time, I was a first-generation migrant to the UK, so this cause is close to my heart. Cop it while it lasts.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a rundown of my favorite tunes that came out during the past week or so. 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.
I was temped to post all four tracks from DO-lense, a compilation EP that surfaced last week from Barcelona / Berlin booking agency Futura. Home to acts like Lena Willikens, Marie Davidson, Vladimir Ivkovic, Borusiade, Violet and many others, Futura is essentially a boutique outfit that’s dedicated to the outer realms of the dancefloor, and DO-lense is the agency’s first foray into releasing music. Described as “a message from us, a caress, a whisper of saudade for connecting, for dancing, for being close to each other,” the EP doesn’t contain anything suitable for the club, but that doesn’t seem to bother contributors like John Talabot and Matias Aguayo, whose dense, meditative productions both feel impressively transportive. As for Lucrecia Dalt, the Colombian artist’s wonderfully jagged “iiiaaa” sits somewhere between a Balkan dirge and a warped tango, her voice passionately rising above the talk-singing that defined her Anticlines album and instead forming a sort of woeful lament. London duo Tomaga takes a more deliberate path on “Lucifer Rising,” a moody march whose subtle groove slowly swells as the track heads further and further into the underworld. It’s fantastic stuff, and perhaps a sign that Futura should do this sort of thing more often.
London producer Fotomachine—who’s mostly released music in the past as Photomachine—has been a part of the UK’s electronic music circuit for at least a decade, but in recent years, much of his activity has been taking place behind the scenes at Technicolour, the Ninja Tune imprint that he heads up. That said, he still makes tunes of his own; his track “BBoy” recently appeared on Josey Rebelle’s excellent Josey in Space mix compilation, and now he’s offered up a new EP called Ecstasy and Little Machines. “Fetish” is one of the record’s clear standouts, a synthy, analog chugger whose smudgy sonics and confident strut remind me of fellow UK producer Funkineven.
Last year, The Ransom Note launched a new, mostly cassette-based sub-label called Bytes, and its latest release is Cnidae, the debut album from a young Polish outfit called Jik. Apparently, the Warsaw-based duo were the first artists who sent their demo to Bytes, and while that makes for a cute story, it shouldn’t detract from the quality of their music, which playfully pulls from elements of ambient, drone and IDM. The sparkling “Arp” is particularly buoyant, its airy melodies and stuttering rhythms coalescing into something that sounds like a Balearic take on artists like Plaid and Aphex Twin.
Roman Flügel is one of those artists whose discography is so extensive that it’s practically impossible to talk about his career in any sort of succinct fashion, and the German producer’s many collaborations further complicate the task. One of Flügel’s most reliable production partners over the years was fellow German Jörn Elling Wuttke, and while they found all sorts of acclaim together as Acid Jesus, Alter Ego and a litany of other names, their 1994 self-titled ambient album as The Primitive Painter was essentially lost to time for the past 25+ years—until now. Thanks to a new reissue, the LP is now back in circulation and still sounds fantastic, at least for anyone who enjoys lush bursts of melody-rich psychedelia. “Hope” kicks off the album with 11 minutes of swirling bliss, the sort of thing that’s perfect for zoning out on a sunny summer afternoon.
Black Noi$e recently became the first artist signed to Earl Sweatshirt’s Tan Cressida label, and while that’s bound to further boost his profile in hip-hop circles, the Detroit producer has also spent years building his house and techno bonafides. “Ballad” is taken from Harsh Riddims Vol. 4, a new compilation from Atlanta label Harsh Riddims, which is headed up by producer Fit of Body. The cassette also features tunes from artists like Divine Interface and System Olympia, but there’s something special about “Ballad,” which layers a looping synth melody and a subtle Motor City groove over a grotty machine beat.
Most people probably don’t need a reminder that things feel completely out of whack in the electronic music world right now, but it’s telling that Skee Mask dropped two new EPs last week and they barely made a ripple in the discourse. Given the big-picture issues that most of the industry is wrestling with at the moment, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting that both ISS005 and ISS006 feature some typically ace material from the young German producer. Those looking for his uniquely broken rhythms will likely gravitate toward the former EP, which contains the high-energy drum wallop of “Type Beat 3,” while those hoping for something new should check out the latter, a beatless affair that finds him trying on various flavors of ambient. “Cafe Mu” kicks off that EP on an impressive note, weaving together sci-fi blips and bleeps with a myriad of symphonic strings. It’s not what I expected, but I wasn’t exactly surprised; at this point, it seems that Skee Mask is capable of doing just about anything.
There’s not much of a demand for “hot new artists to watch” round-ups at the moment, but if I had the chance to write one, I’d absolutely put Dylan Henner on the list. An ambient artist who maintains a very low profile, he debuted last year with a couple of brilliant EPs on the Phantom Limb label, and has followed that up in 2020 with a pair of cassette releases. Here he reworks “Romanian Fantasies” from London-based violin and cello duo Fran & Flora, stretching out the original’s Eastern European melodic sensibilities into something gentler and more cinematic. Strings are still front and center, but Henner’s added reverb makes them sound as though they’re ringing out from a distance, which somehow heightens the song’s sense of melancholy and longing. It’s gorgeous stuff, and can be found on the new Unfurl (Remix EP).
When it comes to electronic music in Mexico, most outsiders rarely look beyond what’s happening in the capital, but the border city of Tijuana has long been a hotbed for interesting sounds. That’s where Benfika can be found, and the producer has just released Ruinas, an EP of jagged club sounds that fits right into the greater post-Fade to Mind diaspora. The record is littered with crashing drums and thundering bass blasts, but “Pentimento” shows a promising bit of melodic flair with its synth arpeggios and disembodied vocal snippets. There’s something disorienting and dreamlike about the track, but it doesn’t quite tip into nightmare territory; it’s more like one of those dreams that you wake up from and ask yourself, “what the hell was that?”
Another producer who resides on the US-Mexico border, Rizu X makes her home in Laredo, Texas. She’s just dropped a new split EP with Katerina called Bizarro World, and the record contains three of her techno-not-techno offerings, demonstrating a taste for broken rhythms and decadent synths. “Quiero” is the best of the bunch, as the track juxtaposes sparkling melodies against dark, industrial clangs and lively, dembow-ish percussion. It’s hard to think of anything else that sounds quite like it, which is perhaps what makes Rizu X such an intriguing artist.
Truth be told, poppy club tracks like “Cadena” aren’t usually my cup of tea these days, but this booming bit of futuristic, bass-loaded reggaeton is just plain electric. Mining the same vibe that made Kamxilo’s “Paleta” a breakout hit a few years back, Bay Area producer Farsight has fortified “Cadena” with thick (and slightly wobbly) slabs of bass and buzzing synths. However, it’s the turbocharged vocal—lifted from Jenn Morel’s 2017 smash “Pónteme”—that makes the song absolutely deadly, as her distinctly Dominican flow sounds incredible atop Farsight’s razor-sharp percussion and low-end magic.
Keeping things in a poppy zone, the energetic “Dream” is taken from Modern Rave, the second album of a retro-minded trilogy from Luke Vibert. Channeling the raucous spirit of early ’90s rave and hardcore, it’s heavy on neon synth stabs and pitch-shifted diva acrobatics, but the veteran UK producer—who’s old enough to have heard this stuff the first time it came around—puts a mischievous spin on the proceedings, giving the music a playful, cut-and-paste feel. It all verges on silliness, but it’s also a whole lot of fun. After all, this sort of dance music was ridiculous to begin with, and Vibert has effectively tapped into that spirit without having to turn out a nostalgia-soaked facsimile of old-school rave sounds.
It was only a few weeks ago that Daniel Avery finished new album Love + Light, but rather than waiting for months to plan out the release and a full promo campaign, the UK producer elected to skip that routine and share it with the world now. While the LP does contain a handful of big-room techno cuts that will likely please those still hoping for another Drone Logic, Avery is often at his best when he deviates from the dancefloor and indulges in noisy blasts of noise and reverb. “Infinite Future” is built atop a sturdy, almost hip-hop-ish beat, but it’s closer in spirit to shoegaze, with towering melodies and oscillating sheets of gritty delay that sound like My Bloody Valentine armed with a Space Echo. It’s followed by the more mellow—and more distorted—“After the Fire,” which offers the proverbial comedown as it cautiously navigates a lush fog of elegantly decaying soundscapes.
The final release on the newly renamed Whities imprint—from now on, it will be known as AD 93—comes from Russian producer тпсб, who’s previously appeared on labels like Blackest Ever Black and Climate of Fear. His latest EP borrows from the more ambient / melodic side of drum & bass, and largely eschews the dancefloor while rolling out airy pads and ethereal vocal clips. It’s not until halfway through “If This Is I Don’t Know What Isn’t” that a proper beat kicks in, but even though the track hasn’t really been optimized for the club, there’s something enticing about its relaxed spirit and languid sonics. It sounds like a lost gem from a mid ’90s ambient compilation, and that’s a good thing.
Originally performed a decade ago, this live recording from UK cellist Lucy Railton was just released on a limited-edition 10”, with all proceeds being split equally between the UN Refugee Agency Covid-19 Appeal and The Grenfell Foundation. Messiaen was a French composer who famously wrote and performed his Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) while living as a prisoner inside a Nazi camp during World War II. Seventy years later, Railton adapted the fifth movement of his piece for cello and organ, and though she describes the performance as a “a normal Saturday concert” for “a half full audience,” something about the show stuck with her. I’m thankful that it did, because this is some achingly beautiful material, with gentle organ tones underpinning the utter despair being communicated by Railton’s cello. (The crying baby in the background only adds to haunting atmosphere.) Haunting, heartbreaking stuff.
That brings us to the end of this week’s newsletter. As always, thank you so much for reading, 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 in two weeks,