First Floor #58 – The Other Election (this time with the correct link)
a.k.a. The folly of publishing reader-voted DJ lists in 2020.
NOTE: Apologies for the double email today, but the first email had an incorrect link for this week’s complete essay. The link has been corrected below. Sorry for clogging up your inbox.
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
So… how about that election? Pretty crazy, right?
No, not the US Presidental election. I’m talking about DJ Mag and its annual Top 100 DJs poll. The results were unveiled on Saturday night, and were followed the next day by the publication’s Alternative Top 100 DJs list, which was compiled by “combining votes in the Top 100 DJs poll with house and techno sales data from Beatport.”
(Before I continue, allow me to disclose that I have previously contributed to DJ Mag as a freelancer, though I had nothing to do with the creation of these lists.)
DJ Mag has been running the Top 100 DJ list since 1993. It’s become an annual tradition, and is probably one of the most popular pieces of content they run all year. (It’s no coincidence that the publication’s homepage has a “Top 100 Lists” tab.) People love—and love to hate—lists, and across online media, readers everywhere are driven by an odd compulsion to see what’s on them, even when they know they’re going to hate the results, which is why they’re some of the most highly clickable (i.e. profitable) content of the internet.
That very compulsion is what prompted me to look at these DJ Mag lists yesterday. Having seen them in previous years, I certainly knew what to expect—bland artists from the worlds of EDM, tech-house and commercial techno, compiled into a list in which white men are even more overrepresented than usual, queer representation is minimal and the handful of women who manage to make the cut mostly look like fashion models.
These 2020 editions didn’t disappoint.
Go here to continue reading this essay. (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.
Over the weekend, Karl Tryggvason, a self-described “software developer, DJ and music enthusiast” who heads up a platform called Lazily Evaluated, published an intriguing new online data visualization he’s labeled Clubster Analysis. Using data from Resident Advisor’s 2019 event listings, he’s compared lineups and booking trends between many of the world’s top clubs (or at least the ones that are most active on RA), even grouping the venues with the most similar bookings into clusters. Given the limits of the data set, it’s not a perfect tool—for instance, it’s heavily weighted toward Western Europe and the US, along with genres like house and techno—but it does allow for some interesting, data-driven comparisons between different clubs, cities and countries.
Spotify continued its slide into cartoonish villainy last week, announcing a new “experiment” in which artists could volunteer to have their work (or select portions of their work) boosted by the company’s algorithm in exchange for accepting a “promotional recording royalty rate” (i.e. even less than usual). As you might expect, the move was roundly criticized as a potential new form of payola, and it didn’t help that the details of this new “promotional” rate haven’t been revealed, even in an interview with the company’s product marketing lead about the program. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops, but it’s probably safe to assume that Spotify hasn’t been phased by the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers and its recent demands for more equitable treatment from the streaming giant.
Inspired by a series of ambient livestreams he broadcast from his garden during lockdown, Glasgow artist Auntie Flo has set up a new online radio station called Ambient Flo. Broadcasting 24 hours a day and centered on three priorities (music, health and fair economy), the station also features a different guest curator every month; JD Twitch from Optimo started things off, and artists such as Shanti Celeste, Sarathy Korwar, Free Love, KMRU and Nicola Cruz have all been lined up for the months ahead. As for “fair economy,” the station is built around the idea of profit sharing with the artists whose music is being played—read more about that here—and needs 500 supporters (donations start at £3 per month) within the first three months to become sustainable.
Cherie Hu, whose excellent Water & Music newsletter has been referenced countless times here in the newsletter, debuted a new monthly column for DJ Mag yesterday. Entitled State of Play, it focuses on the intersection between music and gaming, and the first installment focuses on the rise of in-game concerts.
In yet another piece of DJ Mag news, Zora Jones—who’s fresh off the release of her excellent Ten Billion Angels album—is the latest subject of the publication’s Recognise series, which published a new interview and exclusive mix from the Fractal Fantasy co-founder.
A round-up of noteworthy upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Jam City, the UK producer (and former Night Slugs affiliate) whose Classical Curves LP arguably kickstarted the whole “deconstructed club” trend back in 2012, is about to drop a new album. Entitled Pillowland, it’s slated to arrive on November 13 via his own Earthly imprint and is said to contain “10 scorch’d, carnival-esque hallucinations of Pop-Rock Fantasy.” Ahead of its release, Jam City has shared this teaser video, along with one track from the album, “Cartwheel,” which is streaming here.
House and techno producer Basic Soul Unit is one of those low-key artists whose talents are often overlooked—despite the fact that his last full-length, 2015’s Under the Same Sky, came out on Dekmantel—but the Canadian artist has announced a new LP. Set for release on December 1, it’s called Free to Be and will be issued via his own Lab.our imprint. In the meantime, two tracks from the record, “Raincoast” and “Drifting Souls,” are available to stream.
Shadows in Blue, the stellar debut album from Hodge, got a bit lost in the mania of the first COVID lockdown, but the Bristol producer has prepped a follow-up remix EP called Remixes in Blue. Due to arrive on December 4 via Houndstooth, it includes reworks from Shanti Celeste, Kush Jones, AYA, Facta & K-Lone, Surgeon and Anz, whose take on “Lanes” 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.
Ellen Fullman & Theresa Wong Harbors (Room40)
Hello. I’ve just finished reading Alvin Lucier’s Music 109 and I really enjoyed it! More often than not, texts on experimental music can be as challenging as the music itself, but this book compiles a series of lectures that Alvin gave at Wesleyan College to his first-year students, so it’s quite approachable and, dare I say, an easy read. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on Ellen Fullman’s The Long String Instrument (1980), a work involving dozens of highly tensioned metallic strings (spanning up to 30 metres in length) that she brushed with her rosin-coated fingers. The sound created a fundamental tone, followed by resonating overtones of inaudible harmonics, eventually creating an organ-like polyphony. Alvin compares the work to Michael Jordan being able to jump even higher when he’s already in mid-air. You can find numerous videos of Fullman’s performances on YouTube—here’s one of her at Detroit’s MOCAD in 2013—however, I’ve linked above to Harbors, her collaboration with Theresa Wong, which draws inspiration from The Long String Instrument.
Follow Dania on Twitter, or check out her monthly radio show on dublab.es.
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.
Kit Grill “Sugar” (Primary Colours)
Kit Grill “Ceremony” (Primary Colours)
Taken from the London producer’s new Ride album—his first to feature the Fairlight CMI—both “Sugar” and “Ceremony” are humble odes to the emotive synth-pop of the early-to-mid ’80s. Kit Grill’s music is instrumental, but even without vocals, it clearly taps into the vein of vaunted groups like New Order and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, albeit in a somewhat muted fashion. There’s a certain emotional grandeur to his pastel keys and washy melodies, but the overall vibe is a lot closer to “bedroom melancholy” than “big-budget spectacle.” Although the LP’s path has been walked many times before—by artists and listeners alike—Ride feels more like a tender homage than a full-on re-creation, and that intimacy only adds to the record’s nostalgic allure.
Ani Klang “The Problem = (A.Fruit Remix)” (Hyperboloid)
There’s nothing quiet about this track, which appears on Ani Klang’s new Burn the Empire EP. The original “The Problem =” is a chaotic assault of avant-garde club rhythms, but here they’ve been transformed into a thundering drum & bass ruckus by Russian producer A.Fruit. There’s a rumbling Amen break, yes, but the tune has also been fleshed out with warped vocal fragments, brawny blasts of noise and chirping synths that sound like a squawking tropical bird. There’s a lot to take in, but you’ll be glad you did.
KMRU “Drawing Water” (Self-released)
KMRU “Matching Teal Surfaces” (Self-released)
2020 has been short on breakout success stories (at least in the electronic music realm), but KMRU has undeniably stepped up to claim a spot as one of ambient music’s most promising talents. Only a few months have passed since his album Peel dropped on Editions Mego, and since then, the Kenyan producer and sound artist has unveiled several more releases, including last week’s Drawing Water EP. Bringing together soft melodies and subtle field recordings (“Drawing Water” features the sound of playing children), the music is minimal, but it’s also graceful and inviting, its twinkling melodies and gentle tape hiss coming together to form a sort of lullaby. And while I realize it’s generally not a compliment to say that something puts me to sleep, these KMRU tunes are exactly the sort of thing I’d like to hear when I’m about to drift off into dreamland.
Once again, additional track recommendations are available to paid subscribers. This week’s selections include new music from Sarah Davachi, Kevin Richard Martin (a.k.a. The Bug), Kareem Ali, Overmono and more, including new tracks from labels like Hessle Audio, Sneaker Social Club, Black Catalogue, Exit and more.
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And with that, we’ve come to the end of today’s newsletter. Thank you so much for reading, and I do hope you enjoyed the tunes.
Have a great week,
Shawn Reynaldo is a freelance writer, editor, presenter and project manager. Find him on LinkedIn or drop him an email to get in touch about projects, collaborations or potential work opportunities.