First Floor #52 – The Time Has Come
a.k.a. The newsletter could really use your support.
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
Just a few weeks ago, First Floor celebrated its first birthday, and the time has come to take the next step.
Over the past year and change, a whole lot of time and energy has gone into this newsletter. That was obviously 100% voluntary on my part, but as First Floor has grown, so have its demands on my time—when I add it all up, I’m regularly spending at least two to three days per week putting this thing together.
And that’s fine! Clearly I enjoy the work, and it’s been amazing to see the audience grow, but things have reached a point where I’d like to do more, but simply don’t have the resources to make that happen.
So yes, starting today, I’m opening up paid subscriptions.
Now, before you quickly unsubscribe or just delete this email, please note that a free version of First Floor will continue to exist. With everything that’s happening in the world right now, I know that not everyone can pay for the newsletter, and I’m not planning to put the whole thing behind a paywall. If you’re already subscribed, and you do nothing, you will continue to receive First Floor every Tuesday.
So… why bother with a paid subscription?
Well, because a few things are going to be changing:
Starting next week, some of the “On My Mind” essays that kick off the newsletter will only be available to paid subscribers. Some will still be free of course, but if you want to read them all, you’ll need a paid subscription.
If you read First Floor for the new music recommendations, the “New This Week” section is going to change. Each week, the free version of the newsletter will still include three of my favorite new releases. However, if you want the full compliment of new tunes—which often reaches 10, 15 and even 20 tracks—you’ll need a paid subscription.
As of today, most of the First Floor archives will now only be available to paid subscribers. Select editions from the past year will remain accessible to all, but if you’re interested in catching up on past issues or taking a deep dive into the archives, a paid subscription will be required.
In terms of immediate changes, that’s basically it, but in terms of the “big picture,” I’m also launching paid subscriptions so that I can invest more time and more money into First Floor and, more importantly, expand its editorial reach. For example:
MORE CONTRIBUTORS: I’ve long wanted to add more voices to the newsletter, but as a professional writer myself, I don’t like the idea of asking folks to do work for free. With enough paid subscriptions, I’ll have an actual budget that I will use to commission other writers and give them a platform to write about electronic music and the industry / community that surrounds it.
MORE REPORTING: Up until now, First Floor has largely been an opinion-based outlet, and while it’s been nice to have a platform to share my assorted thoughts and points of view, I’d like to do more investigation, analysis and actual reporting. Of course, those things generally require more time, more energy and more money, which is where the paid subscriptions come in. With this new revenue, I’ll be freed up to dig deeper into issues, do more research, conduct interviews, etc.
MORE TYPES OF CONTENT: First Floor already has a lot of stuff in it, but there’s certainly room for more (and different) types of stories. I’d love to see interviews with artists and industry people, how-to guides, guest columns, oral histories, retrospectives… the possibilities are endless, and paid subscriptions will make pursuing these things a whole lot easier. And of course, when major additions are made to First Floor, paid subscribers will be given the chance to take the first look.
Anyways, that’s my pitch.
There’s no hard sell. If you like First Floor and would like to help me continue to put it together, I would very much appreciate your support. Paid subscriptions are open now, at a rate of $6 (USD) per month or $60 (USD) per year. And just to help get things started, I’m also offering discounted subscription rates ($5 monthly, $50 annual) for everyone who signs up during the next seven days. So why wait? Sign up for a paid subscription now and you can get 100% of First Floor on the cheap.
Lastly, I know that some readers might want to support the newsletter, but aren’t able to make (or simply aren’t interested in) an ongoing monthly or yearly commitment. For those people, I’ve also opened up one-time donations via Buy Me a Coffee—the First Floor page is here.
That’s about it. Thanks again to everyone who’s been reading and supporting First Floor already. Whether or not you elect to become a paid subscriber, I hope you’ll stick with me, and I’ll do my best to keep things interesting.
ANOTHER THING I WROTE
It’s not often that I get asked to write about something outside of the electronic music realm, but Pitchfork enlisted me to review the new album from Deradoorian. (In fairness, the commission wasn’t totally random; her music—at least on her past solo releases—is electronic-ish, and I did also profile her back in 2015.) Entitled Find the Sun, it’s darker and far more rockin’ than I expected, but the record is excellent and I rather enjoyed getting back in touch with my (now largely neglected) indie side.
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.
I have to thank David Turner and his excellent Penny Fractions newsletter for tipping me off to this piece, which takes a (reasoned) critical look at Bandcamp. Written by Kristoffer Cornils for DJ Lab, the original article was published in German, but the Google-translated English version I linked to is still a coherent read. Even as someone who’s a big fan of the Bandcamp platform (and also contributes occasionally to the site’s editorial arm), I think Cornils raises some legitimate questions and concerns, even if some of the language used (e.g. putting “monopoly” in the title) feels a bit over the top.
UK producer Mark Hawkins, who’s been primarily releasing music as Marquis Hawkes for the past eight years, has elected to drop the moniker following years of criticism and controversy around the name. Via the Houndstooth label, he released a statement explaining the origins of the name and the reasoning behind his decisions to make a change now.
DJ Mag posted its recent cover story with Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke online.
Electronic Beats published an in-depth feature on Zora Jones, tracing her artistic path back to an Austrian horse farm and exploring what exactly she found so inspiring about Japanese tentacle porn when making her debut album.
Oneohtrix Point Never has a new album on the way. Inspired by American commercial radio—and, more specifically, the idea of radio programming being tailored to specific dayparts—it’s called Magic Oneohtrix Point Never and will arrive on October 30 via Warp. Ahead of that, he’s shared a trio of songs that have been grouped together as a “Drive Time Suite.”
British-born, Berlin-based artist Call Super has announced a new full-length, Every Mouth Teeth Missing. After releasing his first two LPs via Houndstooth, he’s now moved over to Anthony Naples and Jenny Slattery’s Incienso label, which will be issuing the album on October 23. In the meantime, the title track is streaming here.
Speaking of Houndstooth, the UK label will soon be releasing a new EP from Penelope Trappes, who’s been doing some very impressive solo work in recent years (and is also still one half of The Golden Filter). Entitled Eel Drip, it’s due to arrive on October 23. The title track is already streaming here, and Trappes has also shared a visually arresting new video for the song.
Robert Hood is one of the most celebrated Detroit techno artists of all time, and though he now lives in Alabama, he’s still repping for the Motor City. His latest EP, Nothing Stops Detroit, is scheduled for an October 9 release on Radio Slave’s Rekids label, and will reportedly be followed by a new album in the months ahead. No official previews have been shared yet, but some song clips can be heard on the Juno website.
Iraqi experimental techno artist E-Saggila (who resides in Canada) turned a lot of heads with her 2019 album My World My Way, and she’s now readied a new full-length for Domick Fernow’s Hospital Productions. Entitled Corporate Cross, it’s set to arrive on November 20, and the lead track, “Redcloud,” is streaming here.
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. This track is a collaboration between Asmus Tietchens and CV Liquidsky. First of all, the title of this song is great and when you listen to the music, it’s even better. Tietchens considers his work to be a kind of “absolute music,” i.e. music that has no message and isn’t meant to provoke particular thoughts or feelings. It’s open to interpretation, so take from it what you will. CV Liquidsky (a.k.a. Andreas Hoffmann), a frequent Tietchens collaborator, was an artist, writer, musician and graphic designer, and was also half of the industrial electro-pop duo Cinéma Vérité. Working together, Tiechens and CV Liquidsky purposely wanted to avoid making a perfect album, so they left things to chance, included errors in the final recordings and were spontaneous in their approach. I love this song for its monotonous chug and the metallic samples that peek through and at times (more specifically, around 2:33) even sound like the distant cheer of a crowd.
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.
Sully is incredible. I know it’s corny to say that he’s “your favorite producer’s favorite producer,” but there is so much love out there for this veteran artist, who’s quietly been turning out top-shelf tunes for more than a decade. Back in the early 2010’s, he was crafting picture-perfect recreations of classic 2-step garage, but in recent years he’s turned his focus to drum & bass, with results that are even more impressive. Both “Werk” and “Swandive” appear on Sully’s new Swandive EP, which beautifully taps into the rough-and-tumble spirit of ’90s jungle without sounding like a generic retread. The former is a hyperactive drum workout with a thick, sludgy bassline that confidently rumbles—or perhaps oozes—below the track’s percussive swarm. “Swandive” sports a similar rattling intensity, but takes a more cinematic approach, folding in some symphonic pads and small bursts of color. It’s fantastic stuff, and yet more evidence that Sully remains a wildly underappreciated talent.
Drum & bass also plays a role in Sophia Loizou’s artistic vision, but her music can’t be mistaken for some sort of throwback. The Bristol-based producer (who’s currently working on a PhD at Goldsiths) is fully oriented toward the future, and her work forges new ground while frequently stripping jungle down to its constituent parts. On her new album Untold, disassembled Amen breaks snap and flutter alongside patches of ambient bliss and experimental static, resulting in dense creations like “Celestial Web,” which also adds some dreamily cooing—and somewhat alien-sounding—vocals into the mix. “Inner Dreams” up the drama even further, dropping the drum & bass references entirely while serving up a fuzzy—and oddly majestic—melodic dirge that sounds like Holy Other soundtracking an installment of the BBC’s Planet Earth series.
Back in July, I got excited about “GG,” a surprisingly hip-hop-leaning Otik track that sounded a lot more like an outtake from a Young Thug mixtape than a potential Timedance release. It was an unexpected move, and one that the budding UK talent hasn’t repeated since, but “Seasonal FX,” the b-side from his new 12” for Keysound, does employ a similar sensibility—not in its rhythms, but in its vocal processing. The track itself is a heady breakbeat roller, and while its snapping rhythms and lithe melodies will grab DJs’ attention, the song’s pitch-shifted vocal is the real earworm element. More of a fragment than a full-blown vocal, it’s been Auto-Tuned to robotic perfection without sapping the words—which aren’t even intelligible—of their emotional weight. It’s an impressive trick, and one that mirrors hip-hop (and other radio-friendly sounds), both in terms of the overall vibe—you can file this in the “sad banger” category—and its ability to stuff multiple moods and objectives into a relatively compact package.
Khotin likely won’t be a new name for many First Floor readers, as I’ve featured his colorful, ambient-ish sounds many times here in the newsletter, but that familiarity shouldn’t detract from the brilliance of his new album, the cheekily titled Finds You Well. It’s his first new material for Ghostly International—the label reissued his similarly excellent Beautiful You LP last year—and it’s filled with the same sort of kaleidoscopic, soft-focus nostalgia that makes artists like Boards of Canada so compelling. Obviously that’s a lofty comparison, and Khotin’s tunes don’t share BoC’s sinister undercurrents, but there is a sneaky emotional depth to his music. The breezy “Ivory Tower” is full of childlike wonder, and it’s been filtered through a smeared lens that makes the song feel like the audio equivalent of watching someone’s old home movies on VHS. “Outside in the Light” takes a dreamier approach, tugging at heartstrings as Khotin weaves a string of messages salvaged from old answering machines into a lush melodic mist. Listening to the recordings, there are folks are pouring their hearts out and others who are simply asking for directions, but regardless of what they’re saying, there’s just something so honest—and undeniably moving—about hearing these people “leave a message after the tone.”
Other than maybe Hieroglyphic Being, I think Kareem Ali just might be the artist I’ve highlighted the most on First Floor this year. Of course, the fact that he drops a new release practically every week certainly factors into that, but regardless of his prolific nature, there’s no shying away from the fact that this Phoenix-based producer is a special talent. “Black Woman IV (Come Back to Me Redux)” closes out his new Black Power Redux EP—which seems to be a sort of sequel to his Black Power EP that came out back in February—and the track falls right into his wheelhouse, settling into a sultry, late-night groove that’s bolstered by some soft keys and some even softer, lovelorn vocals. It’s deep house done right.
Truth be told, Richard Skelton is one of those artists whose name I’ve come across countless times over the years, but I’ve never really taken the time to familiarize myself with his body of work. However, after hearing his new album These Charms May Be Sung Over a Wound, it’s clear that I’ve been missing out. Apparently, the LP is something of a change of pace for the veteran UK experimenter, as he’s ditched acoustic instrumentation in favor of synths, static and distortion, winding up in a zone that’s not terribly far off from what artists like Hiro Kone are doing. “For the Application of Fire” slowly stalks along, leaving a trail of heavily reverberating dread in its wake, yet the track has a real epic flair that also brings to mind the soaring crunch of post-rock outfits like Mogwai. Doom rarely sounds this sumptuous.
With clubs closed, I have to admit that my appetite for hard-charging techno—especially the dark, industrial-flavored stuff—has decreased significantly. That said, sometimes I come across a tune in that vein that’s simply too good to ignore. “Unbroken Flow of Words and Tears” is taken from a new split release (with Ukranian producer Poly Chain) that’s kicking off the Standard Deviation label, a new offshoot of Kiev-based club night ∄. Nene H is a Turkish artist who splits her time between Berlin and Copenhagen, and here she’s storming ahead full throttle, the track’s pounding kick and insistent thrum flanked by ominously pulsing synths and indecipherable (but weirdly energetic) vocal bleats. She’s not reinventing in the wheel here, but in a crowded field, it’s a prime example of how this sort of techno should be done.
It’s easy to be skeptical about a label like Lobster Theremin dipping its toes into the drum & bass pool, but that trepidation quickly melts away when they’re enlisting folks like Tim Reaper. The London producer has released literally dozens of records in recent years, and his new Cityscapes EP finds him nimbly straddling the line between jungle and techno, sometimes within the context of a single track. “Cityscapes,” however, is more of a straight-up drum & bass rumbler, albeit one whose soft keys, anime-ish digital melodies and R&B-flavored groove provide a nice contrast to Reaper’s percussive ruckus.
After reviewing that new Deradoorian album, I’m definitely in the mood for “real” instruments right now, and this tune has just enough post-punky bounce to help me scratch that itch. Viennese duo Mieux cleverly refer to the track as a “new wave of new wave of new wave anthem,” so there’s no delusion that new ground is being broken here, but “I Want” is still a whole lot of fun, calling back to the peppy bounce of pop acts like Blondie (minus Debbie Harry of course) and the bass-driven pogo of post-punk bands like LiLiPUT. It’s not clear if this is simply a one-off experiment or the start of a whole new direction for Mieux, but either way, there’s a lot of synthy joy in the song’s three-and-a-half minutes.
Keeping things upbeat, the new Boot & Heel EP is a neon-streaked sugar rush. Billed as “the first Tiger & Woods product that could be called unashamedly Italo disco,” the record leans straight into over-the-top ’80s hijinks—with its glittering synths, big melodies and campily empowering lyrics, “Gotta Change” sounds like something that would have accompanied a workout montage in an ’80s teen movie. The cheese may be off the charts, but that’s the point—it’s silly, it’s fun and, most importantly, the track sounds amazing. After all, who’s better equipped to conjure up a bit of Italo magic than two guys from Rome who undoubtedly heard the stuff on repeat when they were growing up?
That’s all I’ve got for today. Thank you so much for reading First Floor; your support is what keeps this newsletter going. And, as always, 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.)
Until next time,