First Floor #94 – The Book of Elijah
a.k.a. A fascinating interview with the Butterz co-founder, plus another interview with Shackleton, music news and the week's best new tunes.
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.
ELIJAH IS DOLING OUT MUSIC INDUSTRY WISDOM, ONE POST AT A TIME
“Have you seen what Elijah has been posting on social media lately?”
That’s a question I’ve been asking people with increasing frequency over the past few months. Elijah, of course, is one half of the duo Elijah & Skilliam and the co-founder of the Butterz label, one of grime’s most important outposts over the past decade.
But regardless of whether or not you’re a grime fan or even know the name Elijah, the content of what he’s posting about should interest anyone who’s interested in the mechanics of the music industry. A few months back, the UK artist—who also works with the Youth Music organization and their NextGen fund for emerging creatives—began using his personal Twitter account to post thoughtful (and often thought-provoking) threads, sharing knowledge while also breaking taboos (i.e. talking about money), dispelling myths about how the industry works and tackling thorny issues (e.g. what “diversity” in the music should really look like).
More recently, Elijah expanded these efforts to Instagram, posting eye-catching daily infographics that communicate and touch upon many of the same ideas. This was the first one:
Some are these posts are funny, some are inspirational, some raise difficult questions and many challenge the status quo, but they all provide genuine insight, and have already kickstarted plenty of conversations.
Wanting to know more, both about what inspired Elijah in the first place and what he’s hoping to accomplish, I got on a call with him last weekend. We had a long conversation—seriously, this is the longest First Floor interview to date—during which he shined a light on his thought process, shared a whole lot of wisdom and also got into the weeds on some of electronic music’s most complicated issues.
The complete interview is here. Set aside a little time and read it, as this one is full of choice quotes and thoughtful insights.
PLEASE NOTE: The full interview 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.
ANOTHER THING I WROTE
It almost feels unreal to type this, but I interviewed Shackleton for Pitchfork. The famously shy and press-averse artist hadn’t done a proper interview in more than a decade, but with a new solo album on the horizon (his first in nine years), he agreed to get on the phone for an “on the record” chat. It took a fair bit of cajoling on my part—I’d honestly been chasing a Shackleton interview for years—but he was open, polite and exceedingly humble while discussing the new LP, the legacy of Skull Disco, the value of mystery and more.
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.
Todd Burns’ Music Journalism Insider offered up a special edition this week, with famed electronic music writer Simon Reynolds contributing to the newsletter’s ongoing Notes on Process series. More specifically, the English scribe provided both the rough draft and the final draft of a piece he’d written back in 1992 about Castlemorton—an infamous, week-long rave that set off all sorts of panic and controversy in the UK—and answered a variety of questions about the article’s genesis and the (admittedly wild) circumstances he was reporting on. It’s a fascinating window into the early rave scene, and also an excellent behind-the-scenes look at how music writing and editing works (or at least how they worked back in the day).
Grouper is on the cover of The Wire this month, and while the magazine’s interview with her is available to subscribers only (along with people who actually pick up a print copy), they have published an online version of this essay she wrote, in which she highlights some of her favorite art about the sea.
Following the recent death of Editions Mego founder Peter Rehberg, the label has announced that its releases currently in preorder—which include a new album from Powell and reissues of artists like Oneohtrix Point Never and Fennesz—will be delayed, but measures are being taken to get them out as soon as possible. (For what it’s worth, the digital version of the Powell full-length is still coming out this Friday.) Additional releases that Rehberg was working on will also be announced in the months ahead, and will apparently be the label’s final offerings.
Jasmine Kent-Smith has penned a wide-ranging feature for Crack magazine that examines issues of transparency and ownership within the music industry—and how they’ve been rapidly changing during the past few years.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Call Super has a new EP on the way. Slated for a September 24 release on Can You Feel the Sun—the imprint he runs alongside fellow British artist Parris—Cherry Drops I is described as “a distraction from painful reflections and recollections,” and though none of its tracks have yet been made available, some preview clips can be heard here.
Huerco S will soon be dropping a new album from his Pendant alias. Entitled To All Sides They Will Stretch out Their Hands, it’s due out next month on his West Mineral Ltd. label. In the meantime, he’s shared a preview here.
Panoramabar resident and Love on the Rocks label founder Paramida is already well known as a DJ, but the Berlin artist has now lined up her debut EP. Dream Ritual, which comes backed with remixes from Eris Drew & Octo Octa and Youandewan, will surface on October 15, and previews of its four tracks can be heard here.
Ambient outpost A Strangely Isolated Place has been featured numerous times here in the newsletter, and now the LA label has launched a new offshoot, 9128. More details can be found here, but the imprint is designed to document live performances that happen on the 9128.live platform, which itself is a sort of online radio station that also hosts curated live takeovers with artists from all around the word. The first release, which dropped last week, is Session One, an hour-long set from UK artists Jo Johnson and Hilary Robinson.
Techno veteran Luke Slater has completed a new album as Planetary Assault Systems. Sky Scraping is the first full-length from the project since 2016, and before it arrives on October 15 via the Token label, Slater has made several of its tracks available 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 one is from Jeremiah Cymerman, a clarinetist from New York. Each track on his new album Citadels & Sanctuaries is dedicated to a different composer who has influenced his musical practice, from Evan Parker to Alvin Lucier. “Between Always and Forever” is dedicated to Toru Takemitsu, and it’s such a journey. There are spacey clarinet reverbs, crackling sounds, the gentle click-clack of fingers on the clarinet keys, and around the 2:40 mark, the track elegantly transforms into something else entirely. Cymerman is the rare artist who manipulates his instrument without corrupting its sound.
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
Jungle, garage, dubstep, techno, breakbeat… if a genre involves heavy bass and booming beats, there’s a good chance that Doctor Jeep has given it a whirl. The NYC producer has continued his chameleon act on the new Reflexing EP, a three-track effort that hits a particularly high note on ’90s rave throwback “Necka Pill.” While there’s no shortage of producers currently swimming in these waters, few capture the era’s rough-and-tumble spirit like this, as the track’s shuddering breaks, pitch-shifted hip-hop samples and triumphant, sci-fi melodies will have you nostalgically reaching for a jar for Vicks VapoRub. And for those worried that the song might be a mere retread, those fears will quickly dissipate once the tune’s gut-rumbling bassline kicks in, adding a proper low-end sledgehammer into the mix. This one is poised to do some damage.
A musician, poet, writer and fashion model who once lived with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and also palled around with William S. Burroughs (amongst other things), Leslie Winer has lived a rather impressive life, which is now being celebrated with a new anthology called When I Hit You — You'll Feel It. From a historical perspective, its most intriguing offerings are the songs from Winer’s debut album Witch, an avant-garde, proto-trip-hop effort that actually sat on the shelf for three years before her label finally agreed to release it in 1993. Musically, however, I prefer “Tree,” a track that was recorded in 1996, but didn’t actually surface until much later, first appearing on her 2012 &c. LP. The trip-hop vibe is still present, the song’s hazy aesthetic evoking memories of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, but Winer’s intense talk-singing, in combination with the song’s warbling strings, gives the track its own uniquely psychedelic flair.
In truth, Palmistry’s music isn’t the sort of thing I usually listen to, but I’ve been a sucker for his whole “sadboy crooner with lo-fi dancehall and garage beats” aesthetic ever since the London artist first started dropping singles on Mixpak nearly a decade ago. He’s sharpened up his craft a bit over the years, but wyrdo—his latest album, and first for Fool’s Gold—retains his melancholy pop charm, particularly on the peppy “wya” (which is shorthand for “Where You At?”). The sugary, AutoTune-assisted tune goes down easy—it’s the sort of thing you can easily listen to 10 times in a row—but “Harp Stereo,” a rare Palmistry instrumental, might be even better. Combining gently plucked melodies from its titular instrument with some gleaming synths, a few sonorous chimes and a cooly detached vocal sample, the track offers something a bit deeper and more ponderous. Palmistry usually wears his emotions on his sleeve, but “Harp Stereo” demonstrates the benefits of occasionally leaving things up to the listener’s imagination.
BEST OF THE REST
Every week, Aleksi Perälä drops a new release on Bandcamp, and every week, I groan when the notification hits my inbox. This has been going on for months, and despite being a fan of the Finnish producer’s sparkling creations, I simply can’t handle that much music from a single artist. So why haven’t I started ignoring the releases? Because Perälä is clever enough to make sure that they all have at least one bonafide gem, and “FI3AC2155010,” which opens his new Phantasia VI EP, is a glittering wonder that sounds like the Rainbow Brite version of a Shackleton tune.
After years of dabbling in various strains of bass music, Houston producer Sines has purposely tapped into his Latin roots on new album El Amor Es Eterno, and while much of the LP intriguingly folds in elements of reggaeton and street-ready rap, he’s at his best on “Forever Never,” a skittering garage lullaby that sounds a lot closer to South London than South Texas.
For much of his career, Irish artist Mano Le Tough has dabbled at the edges of pop music, frequently incorporating his own voice into his melodic dancefloor creations. On new album At the Moment—his first for DJ Koze’s Pampa label—he’s basically set traditional house music templates aside, letting his freak flag fly as he plays with new styles and tempos while moving toward a sort of leftfield electronic pop. “Fadó Fadó,” which sounds like an ’80s-era collaboration between New Order and Ryuichi Sakamoto, is an obvious high point, its quirky synths playfully offsetting the song’s post-punky strut and confident sense of cool.
A woozy highlight of Gus Callahan’s new From Sun to Sound cassette, “Platesong” definitely has some chillwave in its DNA, its majestic bloops and lush, laid-back spirit strongly recalling the early output of artists like Washed Out. If you need something to soundtrack a lazy afternoon of zoning out by the pool—and can’t stand hearing that song from the opening credits of Portlandia again—put this one on.
Often times, the best techno isn’t adorned with any dazzling bells and whistles, a lesson that Confidential Recipe—a Venezuelan producer who’s currently based in Colombia—has taken to heart on “Senso.” A no-nonsense belter from his new Hold That Jack EP, the bouncy, Detroit-flavored track dispenses with the bullshit, allowing its steady drums and high-energy bassline to charge ahead into the night.
Dripping with ’80s nostalgia, “Out of the Pink” is a neon journey with a cosmic twist. Taking what might otherwise be a standard Italo cut, Berlin duo CYRK have cranked the reverb and elongated the song’s synth-fueled grooves, landing on something that sounds like Giorgio Moroder trying his hand at space disco. (And for those interested in going even further into outer space, don’t miss Prins Thomas’ slow-brewing remix.)
That’s it for today’s newsletter. Thank you so much for reading First Floor, 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.)
Have a great week,