First Floor #49 – A Year Already?
a.k.a. Believe it or not, this newsletter has been around for a full year.
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
One year ago this week, I sent out this newsletter for the first time. That first edition didn’t have a proper title, didn’t have one of these opening “On My Mind” essays and went out to all of 89 people. Thankfully, by the time that the second newsletter went out—the very next day, as it happens—my subscriber pool had swelled all the way to 235 people. The audience was growing!
After that, I settled into a (mostly) weekly routine, and much to my amazement, people actually started reading this thing. When I started the newsletter, I didn’t have any grand aspirations; my work at RBMA had come to an end a couple of months prior, and while I was already starting to re-establish myself as a freelancer, I figured it would be cool to have my own little outlet, a place where I could share my opinions and recommendations without having to go through an editor and deal with the whole pitching process. So I started firing off these missives, and though the past year obviously hasn’t been great for electronic music—or the world at large—I’m still doing it.
I suppose that’s some sort of accomplishment or at least a milestone, but my ability to crank out content isn’t what keeps the newsletter going. I’ve learned a lot during the past 12 months, but what’s really surprised me is that not a week goes by that I don’t get an email from a complete stranger about First Floor, usually to tell me that they really enjoy the newsletter and want to thank me for putting it together. (I also receive plenty of messages telling me I’m totally off base, but that’s just part of being a culture writer these days.)
Having spent the past 20 years (yikes!) working in various facets of the music industry, I’ve been involved in all sorts of projects, big and small. Many of you probably know about my journalism and radio work, but I’ve also run labels, thrown parties and helped out behind the scenes on a bunch of different stuff. And while I’m reluctant to now slap myself on the back or take some sort of victory lap, I can honestly say that this newsletter has generated more positive feedback than anything else I’ve ever done, and for that, I am endlessly appreciative. To everyone who’s ever taken the time to read First Floor, whether you signed up at the very beginning or just came across it randomly and never actually bothered to subscribe, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you. Your support means a lot, especially in a world that’s overflowing with content and where electronic music is far from the most pressing matter.
Anyways, this is all starting to sound like some sort of bizarre acceptance speech—and even worse, it’s for an award that I’m giving myself—so I’d like to wrap up the emotive gushing and instead take a look back at some of the most memorable editions of First Floor from the past year. I’ve combed through the numbers, and here are the five most-read installments of the newsletter:
By far the most-read edition of the newsletter, this was written in the early days of the pandemic, right after Resident Advisor unveiled its hollow ‘Save Our Scene’ campaign. Tired of empty sloganeering and put off by the idea that things should “go back to normal,” I put something together that was both a critique of electronic music’s (severely broken) status quo and a list of suggestions detailing how we could potentially work toward building an industry that’s more equitable and sustainable for everyone.
The streaming economy—and Spotify in particular—have been frequent targets of the newsletter, but this one was written in May, right after the second Bandcamp Friday, which wound up being an even bigger success than the first one. After seeing Bandcamp actively work to directly support artists and labels during the pandemic, it became even more clear to me that Spotify and the other major streaming platforms were almost completely detached from underground music culture, and no longer deserved our support. It’s an argument I’ve returned to again and again, but I just don’t think streaming can be “fixed.” Finding (or preferably building) something better is the only way forward.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, electronic music went through something of a reckoning in terms of its relationship with Black people and other people of color. That process is still underway, but back in June, I was taking stock of how I myself could contribute to positive change, and figured that one way to help make things more equitable for everyone would be to eliminate the secrecy that often surrounds the basic facts of how things in the music industry work. It’s a topic I addressed over the course of several newsletters—and plan to return to in the future—but this one proved to be particularly popular, probably because so many artists (especially the ones without industry contacts) have only the faintest idea of how journalists actually find music and approach their work. More than anything, it’s a how-to guide for artists who want someone like me to pay attention to (and potentially cover) their music, and based on my inbox over the past few months, it seems that lots of people who read it took my advice.
Written in the days after a COVID-19 outbreak was traced back to newly reopened nightclubs in Seoul, South Korea, this edition of First Floor was based upon a simple premise: in the face of a pandemic and an airborne virus, there’s no easy way to make clubbing safe again. Knowing that, the electronic music world (and governments around the globe) not only shouldn’t be rushing to “get back to normal,” but they ought to be taking steps to support an industry that’s stuck on what increasingly seems like an indefinite pause.
Easily the most difficult newsletter I’ve ever written, this edition was the first one published following the killing of George Floyd. After seeing what felt like a tsunami of pledges to “do better” in the aftermath of his death, I wanted to take a closer look at what that actually meant, and more specifically what it meant in relation to my own work in electronic music. That began with examining how I’d personally failed to recognize structural racism and discrimination within the industry, and also included coming up with concrete ways that I could immediately take responsibility and work to improve the situation moving forward.
So there you have it, the official First Floor top five. Hopefully this this little trip down memory lane doesn’t come off as overly self-indulgent, but even if it’s not your cup of tea, I can assure you that the rest of today’s newsletter consists of all-original content.
Before we get to that though, I’d once again like to say thank you to everyone who’s supported First Floor during the past year. Let’s hope that the next 12 months are a little less tumultuous.
A round-up of the last week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Over the weekend, Bandcamp hosted a livestream concert from harpist Mary Lattimore, and apparently has additional livestream events scheduled for later this month with Matmos and Sarah Davachi. At this point, the events appear to be some sort of pilot program or beta testing—Bandcamp itself hasn’t made any announcement about what the company’s plans are—but perhaps this will lead to some sort of new functionality for the entire platform. I’ll be keeping an eye out for additional details in the weeks and months ahead.
Ilian Tape founders Zenker Brothers have a new album on the way. Entitled Cosmic Transmission, it’s the Munich duo’s second full-length and will be released on October 15. Track previews can be streamed here.
Legendary Manchester duo Autechre has also announced the impending release of a new album, SIGN, that will arrive via Warp on October 16. Not many details about the LP have been shared, but the full tracklist can be seen here.
New Grouper is always good news, but the latest offering from Liz Harris isn’t music; it’s a limited-edition zine called Presence, and the first issue, entitled In the Mist, is available in both physical and digital formats. More details are here, and The Creative Independent is also hosting a preview of one of the publication’s features, an interview with musician Marisa Anderson.
The pandemic has prompted artists from across the electronic music spectrum to start emptying out their archives, and even Moodymann is now getting into the act. On October 2, he’ll be releasing an EP called DEMOS, CASSETTES, ADATS & FLOPPIES PT.1 via Bandcamp, and the opening cut, “TiredOfLookin4UTime4U2ComeLookin4Me” is streaming here.
Italian artists Eva Geist and Donato Dozzy have formed a new synth-pop project, Il Quadro di Troisi. Partially inspired by the late actor and director Massimo Troisi, the duo’s self-titled debut album will surface on October 16 as a joint release between the Raster label and Milan’s Terraforma festival. In the meantime, several songs from the LP are already streaming here.
Jeff Mills’ Axis Records continues to expand its roster. Fresh off the release of the Galactic Halo album from Detroit veteran Terrence Dixon, the label has announced an upcoming LP, Ambrosia, from Alabama producer Byron the Aquarius. Detailed here by Resident Advisor, the record—which is described as a “mix between soulful house and jazz music with a touch of blues”—is set to arrive on October 16.
As part of last week’s Bandcamp Friday bonanza, a trio of Beirut-supporting compilations popped up that are worthy of your attention.
For Beirut, the End of Corruption is a 31-track collection from System Revival that includes music from Legowelt, Peder Mannerfelt, Exos, Rhyw, Umwelt and many others.
XquisiteForce.collection/01 was put together by the SFX label and features tracks from ELLLL, Katie Gately, KMRU, ZULI, Gramrcy and more.
Nisf Madeena comes from Tunisian outpost Ma3azef and brings together songs from Nicolas Jaar, Slikback, DJ Plead, FRKTL, Fatima Al Qadiri 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. Lately I've been listening to a lot of the enigmatic Anne Gillis, a French visual artist, sound artist and composer who’s been active since the ’80s and works with samples, found objects and her voice. She’s also known for her sporadic, ritualistic and theatrical live performances, in which she employs objects like sewing machines (Skarylikladie, 1986) and wheelchairs (Zophrétastha, 1988) as instruments. I've been reminded of her work during my current research on vocals, and I've been in love with this track from her Archives Box 1983-2015 (which was remastered by Colin Potter) for a while now. It's angelic, alien and delicate, but at the same time, it’s so tactile. I love the way she incorporates textures and changes the tempo at the last minute, transforming what could be considered a mere sound collage into a narrative song.
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.
Perhaps he was inspired by the announcement that Sade would soon be reissuing all six of her albums in a new box set, but patten offered up this glorious re-edit of “Cherish the Day” for last week’s Bandcamp Friday. It’s part of the UK producer’s long-running re-edits series, but this one feels special, infusing the sultry classic with a skippy garage rhythm. Sade is one of those artists whose work almost seems untouchable, and in most cases she probably shouldn’t be remixed, even as a lark, but patten strikes an impressive balance here, paying homage to the original and maintaining its classy vibe while injecting a playful bit of low-end bump into the proceedings.
A new project from Scottish producer and Craigie Knowes affiliate The Burrell Connection, Dream_E is jokingly billed as “Glasgow’s answer to Basic Channel.” It’s a lofty comparison, albeit one that won’t feel entirely inappropriate for anyone’s who’s heard Dreams on 22, his first album under this moniker. Stuffed with lush pads and billowing melodies, the record feels like a warm blanket, the sort of thing one can easily—and eagerly—get lost in, particularly once the fuzzy currents of songs like “DreamFour” kick in. With its bubbling synths, “DreamTwo” is a tad more lively, but even is as track bounds along, its dreamlike ambience is thankfully never interrupted by a kick drum or anything more than the slightest hint of percussion.
It’s frustrating that Editions Mego usually refuses to make more than a single track from its new releases available to stream on Bandcamp, but “Side Lengths” certainly isn’t a bad introduction to Blink A Few Times To Clear Your Eyes, the sophomore album from Grand River. Though the track is said to have been made with a Yamaha DX-7 synth, the Dutch / Italian artist effectively blurs the line between acoustic and electronic sounds, unfurling what sounds like an array of gently plucked strings over a swelling cascade of furtive bleeps and burps. That description may paint a frantic picture, and there’s definitely a lot happening here, but the mood of “Side Lengths” is a peaceful one. Grand River has many talents, and one of them is finding calm in the chaos.
For anyone who’s heard her annual production mixes, it’s no secret that Anz has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. House, techno, garage, jungle, dubstep… the Manchester-based artist practically glides through genres, but still, her new EP for Hessle Audio feels like something of a surprise, both for her and the label. “Loos in Twos (NRG)” employs the same sort of wiggly, slightly off-kilter rhythms you’d expect from Hessle regulars like Joe, but there’s also an unexpected bit of old-school madness. It’s not every day that you hear vintage rave stabs on a Hessle record, but after hearing this track and its chunky, shambling bassline, I’m starting to think that this aesthetic loosening of the tie is perhaps overdue. Kudos to Anz for making it happen.
The rapid ascent of Kush Jones continues, and “The Bell” leads off The Bronx producer’s new Strictly 4 My CDJZ 11 EP. Like much of his work, the track is a sort of footwork / drum & bass hybrid, but the vibe here is heady—pensive even. More than anything, it reminds me of the melodic, jazz-inflected work of ’90s drum & bass artists like Adam F and LTJ Bukem—the song’s organic-sounding bassline has a lot to do with that—but “The Bell” isn’t a mere retread. Despite the track’s woozy atmosphere, the rhythms here are sharp, with drums that were clearly programmed by someone who grew up listening to modern hip-hop production. It’s an impressive fusion of styles and eras, and my only complaint is that its runtime is only three minutes; I could easily listen to this one bounce along for a whole lot longer.
Al Wootton is officially on a roll. Fresh off the release of his album Witness—one of 2020’s best electronic full-lengths—he’s just dropped Snake Dance, a similarly excellent EP for storied Bristol bass outpost Livity Sound. “Ender” opens the record, and while the track has plenty of dubby low-end heft, the real magic lies in its slippery percussion, which subtly clicks and clacks as the tune cooly slithers along, making for a unique sort of laid-back stepper. Don’t let the song’s seemingly relaxed air fool you; “Ender” won’t beat you over the head, but it definitely packs a punch.
For more than a year now, Otik has been talked about as someone who’s on the precipice of breaking big, the typical “artist to watch” whose signature release is just around the corner. Maybe it’s time to retire that talk, because I think it’s clear that this UK producer already deserves a spot alongside the best of his bass music peers. Otik isn’t really a “big tune” guy; his best work exists in a hazy space that references the hardcore continuum without having to indulge in screwface-inducing acrobatics. 4CB, his latest EP, is borderline psychedelic—according to Otik, the tracks were originally being held back for a potential album—and the woozy weirdness of the title track recalls the work of LA producers like Flying Lotus and Teebs. “Otherworldly” goes bigger, but the EP’s dreamy sensibility stays intact as Otik serves up fuzzed-out sonics and cloudy bursts of disembodied (albeit still soulful) vocals.
Another hotly tipped UK bass producer, Pessimist isn’t exactly a new kid on the block—he’s been releasing music since 2010—but he does seem to be in top form as of late. “Ridge Racer Revolution” appears on his new Atyeo EP, which also happens to be his first proper outing on Ilian Tape, and the track is a ripper. A high-stepping piece of rave-ready drum & bass, the song is a full-on assault, a roaring semi truck that’s poised to flatten unsuspecting ravers with its bustling rhythms and thick waves of distorted bass. Pessimist does slip in a loungey, piano-fueled interlude about halfway through, but the respite is brief and he quickly brings back the mayhem. This tune may not be for the faint of heart, but it is quite a ride.
It’s unlikely “Harajuku Girls” was inspired by the Gwen Stefani song of the same name, but the track does feel like the result of Parris letting his proverbial hair down. The opening cut from his new Polychrome Swim EP, it’s an upfront club tune, at least in comparison to the laid-back, jazz- and hip-hop-infused beat constructions he’s best known for. Powered by warbling synths, quick-hitting drums and sassy vocal snippets, it’s a snappy roller that combines the groove of classic house with the perky percussive sensibilities of his native UK. “Aqua Surge,” on the other hand, is a less linear effort, one that pairs swirling pads and melodic sparkle with deconstructed rave rhythms; it’s a bit odd, but it’s also euphoric, making for something that feels like getting a bit too much gas at the dentist.
It’s been two years since BNJMN released his Hypnagogia album, but Delsin is just now following it up with a remix EP that pulls together an impressive list of reworks from likes of rRoxymore, Mattheis and Luigi Tozzi. My favorite of the bunch, however, is this effort from Berlin veteran Efdemin, who conjures up the same kind of dubby drive that made his New Atlantis album one of last year’s best techno LPs. Bathed in a light fog, his take on “Hypnagogia Pt. 2” radiates a sort of inherent cool, but the song’s seemingly detached, rainy-day vibe takes nothing away from its insistent chug. It’s a tricky balancing act, and Efdemin’s ability to pull it off shows why he’s such a top-notch producer.
I don’t know if Zombies in Miami know about my well-documented weakness for Italo-infused house cuts, but the Mexican duo’s long-awaited debut album 2712 is full of them. “When Your Time Has Gone” closes the LP on a particularly glamorous note, its glittering synths and neon swagger bopping along with the track’s loosely psychedelic vibe and nu-disco-ish beat. They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but if artists like Todd Terje can repeatedly strike gold while going back to this stylistic well again and again, I can’t begrudge Zombies in Miami for tapping into a similar vein.
The closing track off her new Are You Hoping for a Miracle? EP, “When It’s All Over” finds UK producer and NTS regular Fauzia cooking up an R&B / drum & bass hybrid while skillfully employing the sultry vocals of Kelela. As far as I can tell, the lines appear to have been lifted from “OICU,” Kelela’s 2014 collaboration with rapper Le1f, but “When It’s All Over” shouldn’t be seen as a simple rework or some sort of bootleg remix. It’s very much Fauzia’s creation, opening with a suite of soft synths and gently splashing water sounds and gradually folding a tumbling Amen break. The vibe never really rises above a simmer, but with Kelela’s unmistakable voice gliding atop the proceedings, the song makes for a fantastic late-night lullaby.
Hieroglyphic Being again? Yes, again. I know that I have written a lot about this guy over the past few months, but he’s once again emptied out his archives, dropping two more album-length collections in advance of last week’s Bandcamp Friday. What makes these tracks unique, however, is that they’re both essentially ambient pieces, which is somewhat unexpected given the grotty, distorted nature of his usual house and techno creations. “Galilean Satellites,” which opens his Strange Strings Vol 1 release, is downright symphonic, a remarkably delicate piece that consists of little more than lilting string swells and gentle ambiance. The fluttering “Collapse Anomaly” perhaps has a touch more grit, but its cinematic synths make it sound like something lifted from a ’70s sci-fi soundtrack. I didn’t know that Hieroglyphic Being had this particular mood in his toolkit, but I’m very glad I found out.
And with that, today’s edition of First Floor has come to an end. I know that this week’s newsletter is already overloaded with unsolicited sentimentality, but seriously, thank you so much for reading, and of course, 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, please buy them.)
Until next time,