First Floor #91 – It's Not Over Yet
a.k.a. Swelling COVID fatigue, bad behavior and a whole lot of new music.
Hello there. I’m Shawn Reynaldo, and welcome to First Floor, a weekly electronic music digest that includes news, interviews, 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 support the newsletter by making a one-time donation here.
A QUICK SCHEDULING NOTE
There will be no new edition of First Floor next week, but this free version of the newsletter will return on Wednesday, August 11.
THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS
With nightclubs open in the US and UK, open-air events happening in Berlin and restrictions also starting to be lifted in a few other places, it feels like much of the narrative around nightlife has shifted away from the pandemic, with clubbers and professionals alike gleefully celebrating their return to the dancefloor.
Sitting here in Barcelona, however, where clubs are very much closed and a nighttime curfew is literally in place, it doesn’t really feel like anything is “back” just yet, but that hasn’t stopped folks from beginning to talk about the pandemic as more of an inconvenience than a full-blown health crisis. This phenomenon isn’t something that’s limited to Barcelona of course; within electronic music circles everywhere, it seems like people are increasingly refusing to follow the rules—or even pretend like they’re following the rules—when it comes to partying.
Yesterday, I published a longer piece on the topic. Here’s an excerpt:
Out of curiosity, I looked at the Barcelona events page on Resident Advisor yesterday, expecting to see a rash of canceled parties and some out-of-date listings from promoters who hadn’t bothered to update their calendars. There was some of that, but much to my surprise, I also found a number of listings for this weekend that barely even bothered to hide their intentions to skirt the rules.
One party, which will officially adhere to the law by wrapping up at 10 p.m., expressly spells out plans to hold an all-night afterparty at a “secret location” that will be revealed on the night of the event. And while the promoters do make a point to state that they will not “tolerate any forms of racism, sexism, transphobia, or any other forms of discrimination,” their concern for others doesn’t extend to a point where they feel it’s necessary to mention any safety measures or COVID protocols.
Another event, which announces (literally in all caps) that it will “OPERATE WITHIN THE GOVERNMENT'S NEW RESTRICTIONS,” also makes sure to note that its own “secret location” is 45 minutes outside of Barcelona, in a place that has “NO CURFEW!” (A little context: In Catalonia, nightly curfews have only been imposed in municipalities where COVID rates are above 400 cases per 100,000 residents. While this covers approximately 80% of the region’s population, it doesn’t stop people—or promoters—from going to towns without curfews to party.) Not surprisingly, no safety measures have been included in this listing either.
These are just two examples of course, and given that the issue clearly goes deeper than a couple of rogue promoters in Barcelona, the remainder of the piece widens the lens and attempts to take a more macro look at what’s going on.
To read the complete article, please click here.
PLEASE NOTE: The full essay was originally published yesterday and shared with paid subscribers, but the paywall has been temporarily removed for the next 24 hours. If you’d like exclusive first access to long-form First Floor pieces—and unlimited views of all newsletter content—then please sign up for a paid subscription.
A round-up of of the last week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Editions Mego founder Peter Rehberg (a.k.a. Pita) unexpectedly passed away last week, leaving behind a decades-long legacy that’s profoundly shaped electronic and experimental music over the years. Numerous tributes have surfaced in the wake of his death, but Philip Sherburne put together a particularly good retrospective for Pitchfork that highlighted nine of Editions Mego’s most essential releases. The Wire has also dipped into its archives, making three different articles featuring Rehberg publicly available, along with a 2007 column he wrote for the magazine about Cabaret Voltaire.
Many feared the worst when Dance Mania legend Paul Johnson contracted COVID-19 and was moved into the ICU last week, but a small bit of good news has surfaced since then. According to a post by fellow Chicago house veteran Gene Farris, Johnson isn’t out of the woods yet, but he is breathing on his own. Fingers crossed that he’ll recover.
Anyone in search of a fresh batch of numbers highlighting the inequities of the streaming music economy ought to check out this Rolling Stone article by Music Business Worldwide founder Tim Ingham, who dissects the faulty logic behind the “passion economy” while diving into the fact that only 13,400 artists—a number provided by Spotify itself—earn more than $50,000 per year on the platform. That’s just 0.2% of all artists on Spotify, and the $50,000 figure doesn’t account for recoupment costs, manager / agent fees, splits between band members and a whole slew of other factors.
Back in January, UK label Big Dada (an offshoot of Ninja Tune) relaunched as a label “run by Black, POC & Minority Ethnic people for Black, POC & Minority Ethnic artists,” and now an editorial arm has been added to their platform, highlighting the work of exclusively Black and POC writers. New articles will be added monthly, and the first batch has already been published.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Grouper has new full-length lined up. Entitled Shade and slated for release on Kranky, she describes it as “an album about respite, and the coast, poetically and literally.” Although the complete LP won’t surface until October 22, one of its songs, “Unclean Mind,” has already been unveiled.
Italian arpeggio manipulator Caterina Barbieri has launched her own label, light-years, which she officially kicked off last week with the release of “Knot of Spirit,” a new collaborative single with Lyra Pramuk.
More than a decade into his career, Joy Orbison has completed his first album-length project. Entitled Still Slipping Vol. 1, it’s a mixtape the UK artist describes as a “soul record,” and amongst its selections are collaborations with the likes of Herron, James Massiah, Bathe, Léa Sen, Goya Gumbani and Tyson, along with several members of Orbison’s own family. No music has been shared yet, but the release is scheduled to drop via XL on August 13.
The eminently quotable Scratchclart (a.k.a. Scratcha DVA)—who was the subject of an illuminating First Floor interview back in March—has a new Hyperdub release on the way. The Afrotek EP, which explores the fusion of South African and UK rhythms, is set to arrive on September 3, and includes collaborations with :3LON and Mez. Also appearing is Durban producer Mxshi Mo, who contributes to the record’s title track, which was shared last week.
Smurphy, another person who was recently interviewed here in the newsletter, has largely left music behind, but last week the Mexican artist unearthed “Nightwaves,” the very first Smurphy track and a song that was originally created for a “fake witch house compilation” back in 2011.
Dial Records co-founder Lawrence has offered up The City of Tomorrow as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp. The music from the five-track release was originally published as part of the series Musiche Visibili, and first appeared on the virtual exhibition platform 5E by Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève.
Simo Cell—who first broke into the spotlight with releases for bass-centric outposts like Livity Sound and Wisdom Teeth—is about to release a new mini-LP called YES.DJ, which also happens to be his first solo effort since 2018. Before it arrives via his own TEMƎT label on September 21, the French artist has shared the opening track, “Short Leg.”
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 is an important record that came out of Australia back in 1975. The country isn’t really known for jazz, but the ’60’s and ’70s was a particularly fertile period, and Brian Brown, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, is often celebrated as one of its greatest artists. Carlton Streets is generally considered his finest work, and here I’ve linked to the landmark album’s opening 10-minute title track, a piece inspired by the once bohemian suburb of Carlton in Melbourne. It begins with a one-minute improvisational flurry before finding its groove, and my favourite transition happens midway through, when the song moves into a jazzy, ren-faire-style melody. The LP has been compared to Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi and the mid-period jazz fusion of Soft Machine, but I think it sounds more uniquely Australian. There is one copy of the original pressing available on Discogs for 300-odd euros, but luckily it appears that Thee Roundtable label will be reissuing the album sometime soon.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes that came out during the past week or so. The ones in the ‘Big Three’ section are the songs I especially want to highlight (and therefore have longer write-ups), but the tracks in the ‘Best of the Rest’ section are also very much worth your time. In both sections, you can 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.
THE BIG THREE
After a series of EPs for labels like Central Processing Unit and Hypercolour made him an “artist to watch,” 96 Back has spent 2021 in a spotlight provided by Local Action, who’ve tapped the young Sheffield producer for a trilogy of EPs. Flex Time, the series’ second installment, dropped last week, and while listeners might initially be drawn to its swaggering vocal collabs with Cadence Weapon and Iceboy Violet, the more introspective “Tired Angel” is quietly the best track on the record. With its sparse composition and glitchy undulations, the song almost sounds like something from the Clicks & Cuts compilations, but its colorfully wonky grooves—which don’t fully kick in until about halfway through—also nod to early grime. References aside, it’s a refined listen, and a clear demonstration that 96 Back’s talents aren’t limited to the crafting of futuristic bangers. (For what it’s worth though, crafting bangers is something he does quite well.)
During the late 2000s and early 2010s, the term “tropical bass” began to circulate in electronic music circles, and though it was undeniably reductive (not to mention potentially problematic), it did at least represent a newfound willingness to engage with the rhythms of the Global South. “Atalaku,” the debut single from Ivorian artist Asna, reminds me of that era, fusing what might be described as a linear techno kick with shuffling percussive hits, weighty bass tones and a joyous West African guitar melody. A true hybrid, there are echoes of groups like Buraka Som Sistema in the song’s slinky grooves and low-end boom, but “Atalaku” never feels like a retread. On the contrary, it feels like a celebration, and seeing as how it’s likely capable of lighting up dancefloors on both sides of the equator, my only complaint is that it’s less than three minutes long.
A core member of the Numbers artist roster during the early 2010s, Redinho has always followed his own path. While his labelmates were making house, techno and bass anthems, the London producer explored a playful strain of talkbox-driven electro-funk. More recently, he’s veered into pop and hip-hop production, working extensively with Riz Ahmed and Swet Shop Boys, and now he’s taken another left turn on new album Finally We're Alone, his first full-length since 2014.
Redinho describes the record as being akin to a “collection of diary entries during lockdown,” and the LP dives heavily into ’80s nostalgia—new wave and synth-pop in particular. (He’s also ditched the talkbox and started properly singing for the first time.) “So Good Together” still has a funky underbelly, but its sparkling synths and confident guitar licks make it sound like something that might have soundtracked a montage during a big-budget dramedy in 1986. (This is a good thing.) “Too Late to Turn Back” is another standout, albeit one with a more melancholy feel and a late-night vibe, its smooth, almost Balearic melodies gleaming like neon reflecting off the chrome of a passing sports car. Much of Finally We're Alone continues in this dreamy (albeit funk-informed) vein, and while the LP is an obvious homage to a bygone era, it’s also been constructed with a clear sense of reverence and a loving attention to detail.
BEST OF THE REST
No excuse is needed to highlight the talents of KMRU, but given the passing of Editions Mego founder Rehberg last week, now seems like a good time to once again highlight one of his label’s biggest recent success stories. Here, the Berlin-based Kenyan transforms Koki Nakano’s “Overlay,” weaving the Japanese pianist’s elegant chords into crackling loops, ultimately landing on something that’s both hazy and comfortably meditative.
During the earliest days of the pandemic, UK musicians Sally Pilkington and Richard Dawson (who are also members of the group Hen Ogledd) coped with their anxiety and insecurity by making music, adopting the name Bulbis and quite literally recording and releasing something new nearly every day. More than a year later, a few pieces from the 63(!) albums they offered up have been compiled onto the Blue Forty cassette, a release highlighted by the patient sprawl of “The Easter Bunny,” which marries soft, spacey twang with gentle sonics and quietly soaring vocal melodies. Simultaneously epic and humble, it’s a subtly immersive listen that’s capable of soothing even the rawest of nerves.
NYC producer Kush Jones celebrated a birthday last week, and marked the occasion with a new EP called Existing, Do Not Desire to Be Perceived. “Interrupted” is the sinister opening number, a drum & bass cut powered by menacing swathes of bass, psychedelic sirens and menacingly percolating percussion. It’s a bit darker than many of Jones’ past offerings, but the song’s potency is perhaps a sign that he ought to spend more time playing in the muck.
A Brooklyn artist who’s previously collaborated with Exael, Ben Bondy is one of those producers who folds bits of ambient and experimental into his leftfield club rhythms—or perhaps it’s the other way around. “Ash in Emerald Casing,” a hyperactive highlight from his new Glans Intercum release, has an alluringly woozy groove, but its jittery rhythms cry out for the dancefloor. Only the adventurous need apply, but they’ll be glad they did.
Does the world need a new Aleksi Perälä release every week? Probably not. The Finnish veteran can be maddeningly prolific, but no amount of listener fatigue can dim the sparkle of his latest offering, Phantasia IV, a gloriously chiming and almost whimsical collection of tunes. There’s a hypnotic lightness to “FI3AC2153010,” and even the more languid “FI3AC2153020” is packed with intoxicatingly sonorous melodies.
All of the tracks on Los Angeles artist Celia Hollander’s new Timekeeper LP are named after a different minute of the day, and “3:34 AM” brilliantly captures the mood of being alone in the middle of the night, its serene palette evoking solitude as the song’s nervous melodic vibrations radiate a feeling of creeping anxiety.
The name Newworldaquarium has never really rolled off the tongue, which is perhaps why the Dutch house and dub-techno veteran has officially shortened the moniker to NWAQ. He’s also started up a new label, Last Age, which he’s inaugurated with a nature-inspired EP called Above. The plush “Above II” opens the record in dreamy fashion, its floaty sonics conjuring images of gloriously wide open spaces.
Mark Broom has been waving the flag for UK techno for the past three decades, but his new album Fünfzig offers him a chance to flex his versatility, veering into house, disco, dub and a variety of other sounds. “Memories” is one of the LP’s big-room boomers, a crunchy stomper with deliciously un-subtle melodic swells and drums that slap hard enough to keep anyone listening from drifting off into fantasyland.
After launching his own Bambe label earlier this year, Parisian bass-techno producer Bambounou has upped the ante on the young imprint’s second release, drafting Bristol talent Bruce for a collaborative EP called Final Conference. Of the record’s three tunes, “Rai” is the one with the most obvious strut in its step, the song’s chunky bassline driving the duo’s bouncy romp across the dancefloor.
Dreamcastmoe gets vulnerable on “My Soul Belongs 2U,” a lush bit of lo-fi R&B from his new After All This EP. As the DC crooner bares his lovelorn soul atop syrupy, funk-filled beats, the song channels the spirit of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, sounding like something they might have cooked up back in the day—if they only had a 4-track and a budget drum machine at their disposal.
It’s hard to believe that Time Is Now only started last year, but the upstart imprint has quickly climbed toward the top of the UK heap, buoyed primary by a steady onslaught of perky garage tunes. Daffy does explore that vibe on his new Time Is Now White Vol. 6 EP, but the young Bristol producer truly excels when he sets UKG’s silky stutter aside and embraces a bit of dutty rudeness. “Nerves” is a rowdy jungle tune whose rumbling beats are backed by menacingly sludgy waves of bass, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
That’s it for today’s edition of First Floor. Thanks 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.)
See you in two weeks,