First Floor #53 – Promos Won't Pay the Rent
a.k.a. An interview with Mosca and a question: should producers still be giving their music away for free?
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. This is the free edition of the newsletter; access to all First Floor content (including the complete archive) requires a paid subscription. If you haven’t done so already, please consider signing up for a subscription (paid or unpaid) by clicking the button below. Alternately, you can also make a one-time donation here.
ON MY MIND
First of all, I just wanted to thank everyone who signed up for a paid subscription over the past week. It was honestly a bit scary to pull the trigger on that, and seeing folks pledge their support has been amazing—and also helped to calm my nerves.
Anyways, on to the newsletter…
A little more than a week ago, I got an email from UK producer Mosca. I’m guessing that many people reading this are already familiar with his music—his song “Bax” was arguably one of the biggest anthems of the past decade, and he’s previously done records for labels like Numbers, Night Slugs, Livity Sound, 3024, Hypercolour and his own Not So Much imprint—and what he sent was essentially a standard promo email about his latest release, “The Optics.” DJs, music journalists and other industry folks get these kinds of emails all the time, but there was one major difference in what Mosca sent—while he did include a preview stream, there was no link to download the music. On the contrary, he specifically encouraged people who liked the song to buy it on Bandcamp once it was released on October 1.
To the average electronic music fan, this might not seem like a big deal, but for me, it was pretty unusual. As a music journalist, I’m constantly inundated with promos, and many DJs—especially the established ones—are in the same boat. As a practice, it’s basically standard operating procedure, and dates back decades; artists and labels are simply expected to send their music, for free, to folks who might write about it, play it on the radio or promote it in some way. Even in recent years, when the industry has increasingly scrutinized the idea of “exposure” and questioned the idea of anyone providing labor without compensation, there’s been little discussion of whether or not it makes sense for artists—especially established ones—to keep providing their music for free, even when that music is then being used to generate revenue (e.g. DJ fees, ad sales) for others.
Mosca certainly isn’t the first artist to bypass the promo game and sell music direct to the public, but his email was one of the first times I’d seen “please buy this if you like it” messaging directed specifically toward industry insiders. His motivation was simple—he needed the money, and to hammer the point home, he even created a new label, Rent, specifically for selling his own music.
Reading his email spelling all this out, I didn’t necessarily think that Mosca meant to make a grand statement about unfair business practices and unpaid labor within the music industry, but it nonetheless got me thinking about the absurdity of a system in which DJs are often being paid thousands of dollars to play other people’s music, much of which they probably obtained for free. (For what it’s worth, the same could also be said about the music media, where outlets are creating content to generate clicks—and in turn sell ads and / or secure brand partnerships—using established artists’ music that they’ve most likely been sent for free.) Back when music consumers were actually buying music, perhaps the current promo system made more sense, but as revenue streams have dried up—particularly for artists who don’t DJ or play live—perhaps a rethink is needed.
Wanting to explore the issue further, I got on the phone with Mosca to ask about his new release (which, by the way, is excellent), his decision to not send out promos and what the response has been like so far. Along the way, we also touched upon some of the systemic, big-picture issues that his email got me thinking in the first place.
Go here to read our conversation. (PLEASE NOTE: the link will be open to all for the next 48 hours, but after that, it will be available to paid subscribers only.)
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.
Less than six months after Mixcloud got into the livestreaming game—First Floor readers may remember my interview with CEO Nico Perez from back in April—the company is expanding its footprint in that arena by launching ticketed livestreams. Billed as a tool that “allows creators to promote and broadcast their own pay-per-view streams through Mixcloud LIVE,” it’s launching later this month, and tickets are already on sale for performances from Lafawndah, Flying Lotus and Leon Vynehall. Tickets for a show with Róisín Murphy will go on sale later this week, and another event with Nas is reportedly in the works. At this point, the possibility of creating a ticketed livestream still isn’t open to everyone, but Mixcloud is accepting requests from artists and managers here.
With COVID case numbers on the rise again, many countries are tightening (or re-tightening) restrictions around clubbing and going out. Over in the UK, the government has enacted a raft of new measures that feel unusually strict, disallowing music to be played at a volume higher than 85 decibels and also threatening venues with fines if they allow costumers to dance (or even sing) in groups of more than six people. In response, there’s been a renewed push to lobby for government support of the nightlife industry, and this petition has been making the rounds. (In fairness, similar campaigns are underway in countries around the world. Here in Spain, several professional culture organizations have banded together under the banner #LaCulturaDebeContinuar, which translates to “Culture Should Continue.”)
UK duo Overmono have put their time in lockdown to good use, cooking up a new EP called Everything U Need that’s due to arrive on November 6 via XL. Until then, fans will have to tide themselves over by streaming the bouncy title track on repeat.
Martyn has announced a new collaborative EP, The Passenger, that he’s created alongside UK producer (and fellow recovering junglist) Om Unit. Set for release on November 9 via the 3024 label, it’s said to be an homage to Bristol (Om Unit’s hometown) and “a love letter to techstep innovators Nico and Ed Rush.” The EP’s title track is streaming here.
Mor Elian unveiled an ambient-ish new side project called Alloy Sea. Officially debuting on October 30, the first release is Petrichor, a four-part, 50-minute-long piece that will also kick off Syn Syn, a new sub-label of the Fever AM outpost she runs alongside Rhyw. In the meantime, part one is streaming here.
The Prophet-5 is one of the most legendary synths of all time, and creator Dave Smith is about to bring it back to the market. Rolling out this month, the new Prophet-5 is largely modeled on the original, but does feature some upgrades. More details can be found on the official product page, and Sequential (Smith’s company) has also put together this promotional video. Synth geeks will also be pleased to know that they’ve also cooked up a new Prophet-10.
With most live gigs on hold for the foreseeable future (especially in the US), experimental artist Sarah Davachi—who recently released the excellent Cantus, Descant LP—has elected to replace her missing tour dates with an expansive new live album, Figures in Open Air, which will be coming out on November 6 through her own Late Music label. Ahead of that, she’s shared this live version of the song “Diaphonia Basilica.”
Just in time for last week’s Bandcamp Friday, a new benefit compilation surfaced called The Many. Assembled by the Meda Fury label, it features a whopping 42 tracks from artists like dBridge, Basement Jaxx, Levon Vincent, Violet, Hieroglyphic Being, DJ Nature, Red Rack’em and many more. All proceeds will be split between four charities: Amnesty International, Afrorack, Stop Hate UK and Harrow Club W10.
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. Over the weekend I picked up the Wire and was happy to see Áine O’Dwyer doing the Invisible Jukebox. It reminded me of her 2015 album, Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I and II. I suppose I have a soft spot for liturgical music—I was the only Muslim girl in a Catholic school and hymn singing during Mass was perhaps the most palatable part of the service. I always thought there was a melancholic beauty to it all, even if the music itself was bit too formulaic. Listening to this record again, it reminds me of walking in on an organist who’s warming up for a church service, gently riffing away. (You can even hear children’s voices reverberating in the background.) Despite the heavy religious connotations, the music is transcendental.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following are some of my favorite tracks from three releases that came out during the past week or so. (Click on the track titles to hear each song individually.) An extended list of recommendations is available to paid subscribers only. If you are a paid subscriber and would like to go ahead and jump to the complete list—which includes the recommendations below—you can find that here.
The slippery organic textures of rRoxymore’s Face to Phase LP made it one of 2019’s best electronic music full-lengths, and now the Berlin-based producer has assembled a potent remix package around “Forward Flamingo,” a housey standout from the original album. With reworks from DJ Plead, Badsista and Banga, there’s no shortage of talent on the Forward Flamingo EP, but my favorite versions come from UK artists Joe and Altered Natives. The former has a well-documented knack for off-kilter, deeply percussive rhythms, and here he infuses the track with a jaunty, almost jazzy shimmy, resulting in something that’s simultaneously both oddly calming and a little bit spooky. Altered Natives’ version has more heft—there’s no missing his burly bassline—but with its tinkling piano, space-age pads and disembodied vocal snippets, he’s also steered the song into some intriguingly moody territory.
Seattle producer Homemade Weapons has been releasing tunes for the better part of a decade, most often via Samurai Music, one of the most reliable drum & bass labels out there. “Rubicon,” however, was first issued in 2016 through his own Weaponry imprint, and has now been given this lively rework by the mysterious Takuhn, another Samurai Music affiliate. While the original was deep and dubby, the remix is almost pummeling in its approach, unleashing a rolling torrent of percussion atop the track’s hefty low-end thump. Yet this tune shouldn’t be mistaken for a mindless kick to the teeth—it may be a bruiser, but there’s a subtle funkiness to track’s impatient bounce, which hypnotically scuttles back and forth beneath the furious drum attack.
Rian Treanor’s ATAXIA was another one of 2019’s best electronic albums, but the many accolades it picked up haven’t lulled the UK producer into complacency. His new LP, File Under UK Metaplasm, is actually rooted in 2018 trip to Uganda, where he performed at the Nyege Nyege festival and then spent a month in Kampala collaborating with local singeli artists. Immersed in high-velocity rhythms, Treanor began to ramp up his own bpms, ultimately landing on a style that sits somewhere between footwork, techno, grime and the hyperactive East African sounds he encountered on that trip. The album won’t be for everyone—it’s an intense listen, to say the least—but the melodic “Orders from the Pausing,” which closes the record, dials down the mayhem. It could be even described as “fast techno,” but as opposed to the trance-adjacent stuff coming out of Denmark, this tune is relatively minimal, with Treanor sprinkling glassy synth fragments atop the song’s incessant kick drum, which nonchalantly bounds along at 180 bpm.
Once gain, additional track recommendations are available to paid subscribers, and can be found here. This week’s selections include new music from Moodymann, Tiga & Hudson Mohawke and more, including new tracks from labels like Houndstooth, Avenue 66, Idle Hands and Freedom to Spend.
That’s all for today’s newsletter. Thank you so much for reading First Floor—your support is what keeps it going.
Back next week,