First Floor #44 – Summer Reading
a.k.a. Four thought-provoking articles about electronic music.
|Shawn Reynaldo||Jul 14|| 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 reminder: During the month of July, the newsletter is 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 edition of First Floor will go out on July 28.
Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t have a big, sweeping “take” or topic today. I could blame the onset of summer here in Spain, or the fact that I’ve been spending a lot of time with my wife Dania now that she’s back home in Barcelona after spending several months working abroad, but whatever the reason, there just wasn’t a coherent essay rolling around my brain this week.
That said, I still have plenty to share. (Even during a global pandemic, things really get backed up when you take a week off.) Down in the ‘New This Week’ section, you’ll find 20 new tracks, and the news round-up in today’s ‘Real Quick’ section is also longer than usual. Right now though, I want to highlight four separate articles that I’ve come across during the past week or so, all of which I found intriguing, even when I didn’t agree with everything they had to say. Consider it a summer reading list, or at least something to tide you over until the next edition of First Floor shows up in your inbox later this month.
Wow. That was my initial response to this massive, 14000+ word piece that UK artist R.O.S.H. put together. In short, it’s a thoroughly researched (and self-published) deep dive into issues of structural racism and bias within the UK electronic music press and how they’ve contributed to the marginalization of Black and working class artists and scenes. It makes a lot of writers and media outlets look very bad, and with more than 100 citations, it reads like a graduate thesis (although the language isn’t overly academic), containing a level of detail and research that honestly puts most modern-day music journalism to shame. (Full disclosure: one of those citations is an excerpt from a prior First Floor newsletter, but I had no idea that was happening and had nothing to do with the creation of his article.) It’s not perfect; the piece is very UK-centric, and like many artists, R.O.S.H. tends to overstate the influence of music journalists while overestimating the resources at their disposal and failing to fully factor in how the shift to online media (and click-based economic models) has reshaped editorial budgets, staffing levels and content creation. All that said, he’s not a journalist, and there are a lot of sharp critiques here. Perhaps I’ll do a more thorough dissection another time, but for now, I’d advise that anyone with an interest in the electronic music industry set aside a big chunk of time and give this a read.
Writing for Electronic Beats, Marco Gomez (a.k.a. False Witness) posits that Europe has created an “ideal” listening space for house and techno, one that’s modeled on the cold, industrial aesthetic of places like Berghain and isn’t necessarily optimized for the sounds created by Black and POC artists. (Full disclosure: I too contribute to Electronic Beats on occasion, and this article also references First Floor, but I had nothing to do with the creation of the piece.) It’s an interesting argument, and though it doesn’t necessarily square 100% with my own experience—I was going to warehouse raves in the US in the late ’90s, long before Berghain was a “thing,” and those kinds of spaces date back even earlier—I do think there’s something to be said for how underground electronic music scenes around the globe have too frequently sought to recreate what’s happening in Berlin rather than developing sounds and aesthetics that are unique to their particular locale.
The Washington Post’s Chris Richards is one of the few broadsheet music writers whose work I make a point to read, and it’s been impressive to see him toggle between mainstream pop and relatively obscure sounds from one article to the next. This piece is a short profile of NYC producers AceMo and MoMA Ready, highlighting their Haus of Altr label and its efforts to create a platform for young Black artists and tout the undeniably Black roots of house, techno and other forms of dance music. For most electronic music diehards, the article may not contain much in the way of new information, although it’s impressive to see how Richards presents the content for a more general audience without dumbing things down. (He literally opens the piece by citing the words of Theo Parrish.)
Once the article is complete, however, there is a hard lesson to be learned in the comments section. I know that “don’t read the comments” is generally a good rule in life, but in this instance, they provide an illuminating window into just how little the average person (and even the average music fan) knows about the true origins of house and techno. Amongst journalists and within industry circles, there’s a tendency to think that these origin stories have been already been told, in detail. I can honestly say that I’ve spent more time on the early days of Chicago house and Detroit techno than anything else in my whole career, but after reading these comments, it’s clear that my work (and that of my colleagues) has only made the smallest of dents in the flat-out ignorance that surrounds the birth of these world-changing sounds. Although we probably can’t expect every middle-aged white guy in America to know the story of the Belleville Three in detail, it’s not too much to ask that electronic music not boiled down into EDM or mischaracterized as something that was brought over from Europe. We still have work to do.
On a lighter note, I randomly came across Roger Ebert’s review of the film Groove, a not-great (and totally fictitious) movie from 2000 that tells the story of an illegal rave in San Francisco. While I can’t personally recommend Groove as quality cinema—fun fact: a special press screening of the film was one of the first-ever media events I was invited to as a young journalist—I can absolutely recommend this review, just because it’s hilarious to read Roger Ebert gleefully dunking on the the movie and rave culture in general. Although it’s clear he doesn’t have a deep understanding of (or respect for) raving, this opening paragraph is gold:
"Groove" provides a cleaned-up, innocuous version of the rave scene, showing it as a life-affirming voyage of discovery instead of what it often is, a stop-and-shop ticket to troubles with Ecstasy. Like drug movies from the 1960s, it's naive, believing that the problems of the straight life can be solved by dropping out and tuning in. It somehow manages not to have any of its characters actually say, "After that night, nothing was ever the same again," but I have a feeling they're thinking it.
To be clear, I found myself laughing both at with with Ebert while reading his review, and his outright dismissal of raves—which he at one point equates with beer blasts—is moderately infuriating, but this piece is an amusing relic from 20 years ago, and a welcome reminder that, at least in some corners, the discourse around electronic music culture has come quite a long way.
SOME OTHER THINGS I WROTE
My enthusiasm for all things Ilian Tape is no big secret, so it was a pleasure to chat with Italian producer (and longtime label affiliate) Andrea and put together a feature for Beatportal’s Introducing series that touches on his recent Ritorno album, life in Turin and how he spent his time in lockdown.
Julianna Barwick has just released a gorgeous new album called Healing Is a Miracle, and I had the chance to interview her for Electronic Beats. Check out the resulting feature for talk of Enya, intense Sigur Rós fandom, her hippie-ish life in Los Angeles and (of course) the new LP.
Less than a year after his Information album was released to critical acclaim, NYC producer Galcher Lustwerk has followed it up with a similarly bleary-eyed (and similarly good) companion EP called Proof, which I reviewed 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.
Matt McDermott is one of my favorite electronic music writers, and this feature on Bandcamp that he put together for Resident Advisor really captures what’s special about the platform and the culture that’s developed around it. And for those interested in additional Bandcamp reading, Chal Ravens’ recent piece for The Guardian is also worth a read. (Ignore the boneheaded “Heroes of Streaming” title, and remember that writers rarely get to set their own headlines, especially in more generalist publications.)
Lucrecia Dalt has a new album on the way. Entitled No Era Sólida and designed to encourage listeners to “embrace the possibilities of possession,” it’s the Colombian artist’s second full-length for RVNG Intl. and will be arriving on September 11. In the meantime, opening track “Disuelta” is streaming here, or you can check out the song’s freaky video.
Veteran experimental duo Matmos are no strangers to ambitious ideas, but their forthcoming new album is a real doozy. Set for release on August 21 via Thrill Jockey and clocking in at three hours long, The Consuming Flame: Open Exercises in Group Form features contributions from 99 different artists (including Oneohtrix Point Never, Matthew Herbert, Rabit, members of Giant Swan and Yo La Tengo and so many others), all of who contributed material with a tempo of 99 beats per minute. There’s a lot to unpack, and a three-minute excerpt can be heard here.
Norwegian artist DJ Sotofett is keeping very busy this month, as he’s pledged to release one new track every day via his Bandcamp page.
Salon des Amateurs co-founder and industrial chug specialist Tolouse Low Trax has finished his fourth LP, Jumping Dead Leafs, which is slated for release on September 11 via Bureau B. Preview clips of the record are streaming here.
Sarah Davachi is seemingly always releasing new music, but the LA-based Canadian recently announced the launch of her own imprint, Late Records, which will officially kick off with the September 18 release of a new album called Cantus, Descant. Said to be a “meditation on impermanence and endings,” the minimalist opening track, “Stations II,” is streaming here, and Davachi has also commissioned an eerie video for the song.
The dire state of the world hasn’t stopped Local Action from having an impressive year, and the London label has just shared the news that it will be releasing a new E.M.M.A. album—her first in seven years—on July 29. Exploring “the fluid nature of the dream,” it’s entitled Indigo Dream and opening cut “Into Indigo” is streaming here.
The AD 93 label (formerly known as Whities) is christening its new name in style, as it’s prepped a collaborative EP from Anunaku (a.k.a. TSVI) and DJ Plead. The record drops on July 17, but in the meantime, two of its three tracks are streaming here.
It wouldn’t be First Floor without a rundown of the latest benefit compilations—here are some of the more intriguing offerings that have surfaced in recent weeks:
Physically Sick 3 is the latest collection from Physical Therapy’s Allergy Season label, this time with a curation assist from Discwoman. All proceeds go to Equality For Flatbush, and the 27-track release includes music from DJ Python, AYA, SHYBOI, Anz, Special Request, Olive T, Low Jack, AceMo and others.
Music in Support of Black Mental Health is a self-explanatory collection assembled by Lara Rix-Martin and Mike Paradinas that benefits five different charities in the US and UK. There are 28 tracks in total from artists like Zora Jones & Sinjin Hawke, Rian Treanor, Jana Rush, Ital Tek, FaltyDL, Kuedo and many more.
Break the Silence is a techno-focused collection with unreleased music from Robert Hood, Mark Broom, Planetary Assault Systems, Eddie Fowlkes, Ben Sims and more. All proceeds benefit Campaign Zero and its work to combat police violence in the United States.
in_vurt was put together by Cassegrain’s Arcing Seas label to help Seoul nightspot Vurt. Artists like Marco Shuttle, Artefakt, Answer Code Request, Peter Van Hoesen, Jamaica Suk and a variety of South Korean producers have all contributed tracks.
Uzuri Recordings Retrospective Charity Compilation was curated by Lakuti and Tama Sumo to help Project Triangle, a non-profit organization in Cape Town. Included are tracks from Move D, Joe Clausell, Glenn Underground, Stump Valley, Whodat and more.
War Child 4 is the latest installment of Glasgow label Craigie Knowes’ effort to help the War Child organization, which “provides protection, education, livelihood, and advocacy of children in areas of conflict.” The release features new tunes from Innershades, Stellar OM Source, DJ Python, No Moon, Eluize 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. 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. After almost four months away, I’m finally back home. It’s summer, the streets smell strongly of weed (even when you’re wearing a mask) and I’m listening to this track from 1987 that I would love to see reissued on vinyl, as it kind of fits the sleepy, lazy streets of Barcelona right now. I was reminded of Tibor Szemző’s work after listening to Laila Sakini’s “Diaphragmatic Breathing” mix for her Careful series, where each piece sounds more like a short narrative collage than a traditional mix. I’d also recommend checking out other Careful entries from artists like Jonnie Standish, Penelope Trappes and Flora Yin-Wong, amongst others.
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.
Although NYC has been getting a lot of attention lately as the premier hub for young Black producers, it’s never a good idea to sleep on what’s happening in Detroit. Bale Defoe is part of the Motor City’s latest wave of talent, and the slow-brewing “Delete Contact 2” can be found on his new EP, The Emotional LOUD Pack. Opening with some subtly booming bass drops, the song steadily builds momentum with some soulful keys and snapping percussion, but things become downright jubilant about halfway through as Defoe begins to alternate between pitch-shifted revelry and what sounds like a nod to same sort of chilled hip-hop that first put fellow Detroiter J. Dilla on the map back in the ’90s. It’s a nice touch that makes “Delete Contact 2” more than just another deep house cut.
Hessle Audio has never been a terribly prolific label, but following a relatively busy 2018, the UK imprint went more than 18 months without a new release. This month, however, that hiatus came to an end with the arrival of new EPs from label co-founders Pangaea and Pearson Sound. Over the past few years, the former has transitioned away from raw, dark-and-driving techno into more joyous territory, and “Like This (Full Mix” continues that trajectory, rolling out a big, brash bassline and a confident, diva-fueled strut. Less colorful but similarly energetic is “Alien Mode,” on which Pearson Sound combines thick sheets of rough-edged low-end with tumbling breakbeats and warped vocal snippets that sound like a callback to Josh Wink’s classic “Higher State of Consciousness.” More than a decade into their run, the Hessle boys sound like they’re having more fun than ever.
I wasn’t a big fan of Jayda G’s debut album Significant Changes, on which the Canadian artist (who was living in Berlin at the time) dove deep into disco and funk sounds while sharing conservationist messages ripped from her studies of marine biology. (Reading that description, the album sounds great on paper, but the music just wasn’t to my taste.) “Both of Us,” however, is right up my alley, a perky bit of throwback piano house that Jayda G (who’s now based in London) cooked up alongside UK producer Fred. The song’s “French Kiss”-style slowdown, which begins around the three-and-a-half-minute mark, is a neat trick that will surely make dancefloors go nuts some day, but even without it, the track’s vamping melodies and breathy, lovelorn vocals are more than enough to hook just about anyone.
When I interviewed Julianna Barwick for the Electronic Beats feature I mentioned above, she spent a lot of time talking about her love of Sigur Rós, and the voice of frontman Jónsi in particular. They’re friends now, but when the time came to work together on “In Light,” Barwick was nonetheless wracked with nerves—not that it affected the final product. This might very well be the most gorgeous moment on the undeniably gorgeous Healing Is a Miracle album; drenched in reverb, Barwick and Jónsi’s angelic voices gently twist and tangle, their delicate back-and-forth unaffected by the turbulent maelstrom that’s crashing all around them. Simultaneously uplifting and apocalyptic, its a fantastic way to spend six minutes of your time.
Hailing from Detroit, Ian Fink comes out of the city’s jazz scene, but he’s been gradually moving into the electronic sphere in recent years. Nomovement is his latest EP, and the title track is a colorful tune that sits somewhere between a psychedelic vision quest and a relaxed night at a smokey dive bar. Although the song’s stuttering rhythms are clearly the work of someone well versed in beat science, it’s the gently twisting and turning melodies that steal the show, recalling the efforts of early ’80s Tangerine Dream and other cinematic synthesists of the era.
Taken from new album Black Liberty, “Protect Black Women” is only two minutes long, but those two minutes are remarkably tender. Using little more than a bare-bones, late-night house beat and some soft, jazzy keys, the shapeshifting Phoenix producer skillfully tugs at heartstrings while underlining our collective need to support Black women, a point he hammers home with a clip of a famous Malcolm X speech from 1962. My only complaint is that it doesn’t go on for longer, but in this particular case, I think it’s fair to say that the message is more important than the medium.
Soma, the new album from Jay Glass Dubs, isn’t one of those records that’s easy to sum up in a simple sentence or two. While it is in some ways a continuation of the Greek producer’s dub-not-dub experiments, it’s also a significant expansion of his sound, folding in bits of smoky trip-hop, post-punk skronk, warped ambient and IDM and other elements too numerous to list. In short, it’s an unusual record, but not an unpleasant one, as Jay Glass Dubs has boiled these disparate styles down into a murky roux that’s surprisingly flavorful. “Now Set Up” is arguably one of the LP’s biggest head turners, simply because it employs an Amen break; it’s a move that has admittedly become trendy (and even cliché) as of late, but this shouldn’t be written off as just another artist randomly trying his hand at a jungle track. The song begins with a lumbering industrial stomp and a gloomy atmosphere that’s reminiscent of classic 4AD, and that haunting mood stays intact once the drum & bass ruckus kicks in. It’s potential dancefloor material from an artist who rareley goes in that direction, but it’s also got a whole lot of depth.
As interesting as it can be to hear an outsider deliver their take on jungle and drum & bass, there’s a real satisfaction that comes with hearing the authentic article from a real OG. Krust has been synonymous with jungle since the early ’90s, and has authored countless classics (both solo and collaborative), often while working alongside fellow Bristolian drum & bass legend Roni Size. In recent years, however, he’s been relatively quiet, only releasing the occasional record, but hopefully that will change once people hear The Fundamentalist, his new two-song EP for Rotterdam’s Speed label. “Another Story” is the b-side, but there’s no stopping its sinister bass blasts and rollicking percussion, which maintains the frenzied, organic feel that has always been a defining feature of Krust’s work. It’s a heavy tune, not to mention a prime example of how it’s possible to conjure an ominous drum & bass vibe without resorting to tech-step cartoonishness.
Who else is ready for a UK funky revival? It’s been more than a decade since the genre’s snapping drums and syncopated rhythms reinvigorated British dancefloors, and while there have been small flareups here and there, the time feels right for a full-on celebration of this distinctly UK sound. Scratcha DVA (aka Scratchclart) certainly seems to favor the idea, and recently teamed up with fellow Londoner Bamz on The Classix 2, a collection of revitalized funky classics from back in the day. “Tell Dem Agen” is a hard-hitting take on DJ NG’s 2006 anthem “Tell Me,” and while their version doesn’t feature the vocal hooks of Katy B, it doesn’t really need them—the duo’s slapping beats and playful, almost symphonic flourishes make me long for the days of Fuzzy Logik, Crazy Cousinz and so many others.
I made reference to this in my Pitchfork review of the Proof EP, but “I Had to Slow It Down” is something of a creative detour for Galcher Lustwerk. As the title implies, this one bumps along at a slower tempo than we’re accustomed to hearing from the NYC producer. With its chunky bassline and sultry (maybe even sleazy) saxophone, the song has more in common with ’80s boogie-funk and New Romantic decadence than house music, and Lustwerk seems to revel in the track’s lush ambience and deliberate strut, his signature gravelly flow exuding both cool confidence and heavy-lidded exhaustion. This may not be something that most DJs can easily employ, but it’s good enough to make me hope that Lustwerk continues to occasionally slow it down on future releases.
Continuing with today’s trend of artists stepping out of their comfort zone, “GG” is a surprisingly hip-hop-flavored offering from London producer Otik, who can usually be found deftly weaving together bits of techno and bass music. It’s taken from Lost Structures, a collection of odds and ends that he created between 2015 and 2018, and while there are plenty of quality tunes on there, “GG” is essentially a woozy trap cut that buries its raps and hi-hat patterns in a dense sludge of bass and reverb, resulting in something that’s both unexpected and pleasantly dreamy. It’s possible that this was just a one-off experiment from Otik—it’s even listed as a “bonus track,” which is a funny classification for something off a digital release—but given the quality of the end result, maybe it’s a direction that he should explore more seriously.
When it comes to flashy, synth-driven combinations of house, disco, boogie and Italo, Jex Opolis is among the best in the business. “Jan’s Hammer” apparently started back in 2010 as a song for his old band DVAS, but once that project went kaput, it sat on a hard drive until 2019, when the Canadian producer randomly stumbled across the project file and decided to spruce it up for modern dancefloors. With its swirling melodies, neon sheen and brazenly retro aesthetic, the song is perfect for fans of upbeat fare from labels like Running Back and Permanent Vacation, not to mention anyone who enjoys a healthy dose of campy glamor.
Hailing from Belfast in Northern Ireland, Bobby Analog has a knack for channeling the stripped-down composition and ramshackle spirit of classic Chicago house, but songs like “Another Day in Loneliness” aren’t mere retreads. Appearing on Sadfishing For Happiness, a collection of tunes he’s made over the past couple of years, this track updates the Windy City template with bright melodies and perky percussion, resulting in something that’s both colorful and a bit melancholy. For years, artists have put a premium on making bangers, but with clubs off limits for the time being, there’s now added value in coming up with something emotional instead.
Keeping things in Belfast, “Emydidae” is taken from Temperate Space, the second of two Space Dimension Controller EPs “heavily inspired by The Other People Place, reptiles, artificial environments, aquatic wildlife and plants.” (The first, Basking Lamp, came out in June.) Comparing yourself to The Other People Place (or any Drexciya-related project for that matter) is a risky proposition, but the jazzy chords and relaxed vibe of “Emydidae” make it a worthy continuation of OPP’s airy, melodic take on electro and techno. Furthermore, it’s just plain pleasant to listen to, and that goes a long way during these emotionally fractured times.
Speaking of Drexciya-related projects, this is an all-star collaboration between a couple of electro-techno veterans, including Heinrich Mueller (a.k.a. Drexciya co-founder Gerald Donald). Working alongside German producer and Solar One co-founder The Exaltics (which is actually just one person), he’s come up with Dimensional Shifting, a full-length album that will likely tick all of the necessary boxes for the electro diehards out there. “Hologram Universe” is arguably the most aggressive track on the record, with sharp, distorted synths and cracking breakbeats, though the song’s distinctly Drexciyan wiggle subtly lightens up the proceedings.
The excavation of Hieroglyphic Being’s archives continues unabated, and the veteran Chicago producer has recently made available The Cosmic Bebop Vol. 2, another collection of his vintage “sonic sketches.” Stuffed with unruly machine rhythms, the makeshift album is as wild and unruly as you might expect, but “Kazmik Block Chord - 009” is a high-stepping and uniquely potent track that’s marked by jagged synths, a brash (and notably distorted) bassline and a driving, linear beat. When listening to Hieroglyphic Being, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether he or his gear are in control of what’s happening, but this is a case where the man has clearly bested his machines—and created a solid dancefloor cut in the process.
The closing track on the new HOA011 compilation—an all-star effort that also includes efforts from young Black standouts like Kush Jones, Stefan Ringer, AshTreJinkins, DJ Swisha and so many others—“Porno” is a jazzy drum & bass cut from Tah, a rising talent out of Newark, New Jersey. The flute melodies remind me of LTJ Bukem, and the chunky bassline reminds me of Adam F, but this is no recycling job; there’s a freshness to Tah’s production here, which balances a rough-and-tumble energy with the song’s sweetly sentimental sound. (The song’s breezy vocal goes a long way towards establishing the latter.) All in all, the track is a lovely reminder of just how soulful dance music can be, even at 160+ bpm.
Nobody talks much about the LA beat scene anymore, but I still feel like the city has a knack for offering up a unique brand of wonderfully off-kilter rhythms. D Tiberio has been a low-key presence for several years now, and his latest release is Jeffy Just Needs a Hug, a two-song EP for Nosaj Thing’s Timetable imprint. The titular cut—which takes its name from a cheeky piece of graffiti in D Tiberio’s neighborhood—features a slow, loping beat and time-stretched vocal clips that are even slower. Sun-soaked and blissfully blunted, the song dreamily bops along at a relaxed pace, encapsulating the sense of oddly pleasant weirdness that often comes with cruising through Los Angeles.
Originally released on private press cassette in 1984, Music for Insomniacs was a collection of four-track experiments from Tommy Mandel, a producer and keyboardist who spent his days working and touring with top-flight acts like Todd Rundgren, The Clash, The B-52s, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper and more. This album, however, had no real commercial aspirations, and was inspired by the different waves of sleep, from alpha to theta. Newly reissued by the Invisible City Editions label, the LP kicks off with “Alpha (Flutes),” which gracefully flutters along as it unfurls wave after wave of delicate flute and synth melodies over the course of eight minutes. It’s a beautiful piece, and becomes even better when Mandel starts softly singing (in a manner that reminds me a little of Arthur Russell) during the song’s final minute.
That’s it for today’s edition of First Floor. As always, thank you so much for reading the newsletter, and I do 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,