First Floor #95 – The Legacy of Basement Jaxx and the Origins of Hyperpop

a.k.a. A closer look at the UK duo's 2001 LP 'Rooty,' plus a round-up of the week's most interesting interviews, articles, news and tracks.

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.


DID BASEMENT JAXX INVENT HYPERPOP?

Over the past month or so, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Basement Jaxx, and specifically their 2001 album Rooty—a rambunctious record that, incidentally, I didn’t even like all that much when it first came out.

Twenty years later, I’ve warmed to the album somewhat. It’s still not something I’d cite as a personal favorite—as far as I’m concerned, the London duo of Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe have never topped the brilliance of their 1997 single “Fly Life”—but as I’ve been thinking about Rooty and its legacy, my own preferences have largely taken a backseat. What’s far more interesting is the fact that I’ve increasingly been seeing tracks like “Romeo” and “Where’s Your Head At” pop up in DJ sets and playlists from artists who were probably in grade school when those songs first dropped. Why now? How exactly did Rooty become a source of multiple Gen Z anthems?

Admittedly, my pondering of Rooty was further fueled by this recent article that music journalist Ben Cardew wrote about the album for DJ Mag’s Solid Gold series. In many ways, it’s a thorough dissection of the LP, its genesis and how the music was initially received 20 years ago, but what really got my mental gears turning were lines like these:

Rooty pulls together individual strands of London music that typically wouldn’t mix, particularly in the pre-broadband internet era when musical boundaries were more zealously guarded. No one would bat an eyelid at a punk house jam or R&B garage shuffler in 2021; back then, these kind of mixtures were more unusual, which makes Rooty a very prophetic album — a 5G release in the era of dial-up.

Saying that an album was “ahead of its time” is a well-worn cliché, but Rooty—a brash, colorful, genre-busting effort that shamelessly engaged with pop music and largely ignored notions of what was “cool” in electronic music at the time—is something that arguably arrived decades too early. The subheading of Cardew’s piece describes the LP as “a paean to the adaptable power of house music,” and while that’s certainly not inaccurate, perhaps it doesn’t go far enough. As an album stuffed with big swings, Rooty cries out for audacious hyperbole, and to my ears, it sounds like an obvious ancestor of today’s hyperpop boom.

To continue reading this essay, please go here.

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REAL QUICK

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.

  • Jamaican dub and reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry passed away over the weekend at the age of 85. Countless tributes, memorials and fond remembrances have already poured in from across the musical spectrum, but if you’re looking for something to read about the legacy of this truly singular artist, this piece from Jace Clayton (a.k.a. DJ /rupture) is an excellent place to start.

  • According to a post by the Berlin Clubcommission, the city’s Senate has decided to reopen indoor clubbing for people who’ve been vaccinated against (or have recovered from) COVID-19. (A little context: over the summer, several outdoor venues in Berlin began holding events, but with chilly autumn and freezing winter looming, that likely would not have been a feasible option for much longer.) As of now, the city’s decision—which the Clubcommission claims will likely take effect this weekend—does not include a mask requirement or capacity restrictions, nor does it have a provision for people with a negative PCR test to also come inside.

  • In an effort to keep better tabs on the whole NFT / crypto / blockchain / DAO / Web3 zone and how it intersects with music, I recently started following the MUSIC x newsletter, a biweekly dispatch from Bas Grasmayer and Maarten Walraven that aims to provide “regular insights about the future of music, media and tech.” Earlier this week, Grasmayer penned a piece about post-pandemic music scenes and discussed how things will most likely look (and work) rather differently once (if?) the pandemic comes to an end.

  • Since 2015, Anz has been putting together an annual mixtape consisting entirely of her own unreleased productions, and the highly anticipated 2021 installment dropped last Thursday. Assembled following several sleepless nights—the Manchester producer says that she literally cried when it was complete—the mix only features tunes that she made during the previous week, which makes the genre-hopping final product all the more impressive.

  • Last week I highlighted a track from the new Leslie Winer retrospective, When I Hit You — You'll Feel It, and while I was only about to scratch the surface of her incredible life story—seriously, she was mentored by William S. Burroughs, dated Jean-Michel Basquiat and made music with Jon Hassell, and that’s only the beginning of her adventures—the enigmatic musician, poet, author and former model has granted a rare interview to music journalist Andy Beta, who profiled her for the New York Times. (On a related note, John Thorp also recently dug into the backstory of five tracks from When I Hit You — You'll Feel It in this piece for Bandcamp Daily.)

  • It’s never a bad time to read an interview with Oakland experimental artist Dax Pierson, who spoke with Crack Magazine’s Cameron Cook about his winding musical journey and how it’s been profoundly shaped by his life as a Black, queer and disabled individual.

  • Nene H is the subject of DJ Mag’s latest On Cue feature, which includes an exclusive DJ mix from the techno experimenter, but also finds her speaking to Sophie McNulty about growing up in Turkey, the influence of her father and how she first found her way into the electronic music realm.


JUST ANNOUNCED

A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.

  • Anthony Naples has remained relatively quiet since the release of his acclaimed 2019 album Fog FM, but he’s just unveiled a new full-length. Entitled Chameleon, the LP represents the first time that the NYC artist “wrote the songs on instruments first - guitar, bass, synthesizer, drums, et cetera,” and it’s due to arrive this Friday, September 3 via Incienso—the label Naples runs alongside Jenny Slattery. Ahead of that, two new tracks are already available here.

  • Anz had herself a busy week. After dropping the mixtape detailed above, she announced yesterday that she’d signed with Ninja Tune and would soon be releasing a new EP called All Hours. It’s slated to drop on October 15, but Anz has already shared the bouncy lead single, “You Could Be,” which features the vocals of George Riley.

  • The Adult Swim Singles series has done it again, enlisting Kate NV to deliver one of her signature avant-pop gems. “d d don’t” can be heard here (along with the rest of the 2021 series), and the Russian artist has also made the track available for sale on Bandcamp. Next month, she’ll also be releasing an instrumental version of her celebrated 2020 LP Room for the Moon via RVNG Intl. The full release is due out on September 24, but a vocal-free version of the song “Telefon” has been shared in the meantime.

  • KMRU has new collaborative album on the way. Entitled Peripheral, it’s a joint effort from the Kenyan ambient producer (who currently resides in Berlin) and Echium, a Manchester artist who’s previously done two full-lengths for the Sferic label. No songs or sound clips have yet been shared from the new LP, but it’s apparently going to be self-released through Bandcamp on October 1.

  • Flood, the debut EP from Bristol rave punks Scalping, made a few ripples when it dropped last June, and now the Houndstooth label has assembled a lineup of heavy hitters for Flood Remixed. Listeners will have to wait until October 8 to hear all the reworks from Hodge, Laurel Halo, object blue, Azu Tiwaline and AQXDM, but the EP’s closing number, a remix of the song “Cloudburst” by epic Scottish post-rockers Mogwai, is available now.

  • Earlier today, the Permanent Vacation label released Fundraiser for Afghanistan, a 25-track compilation that includes contributions from Tuff City Kids, Fort Romeau, Lauer, Mano Le Tough, Red Axes, Lord of the Isles and many others. All proceeds will go to Afghanischer Frauenverein, a charity supporting women and children in Afghanistan.


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.

Marie Rose Sarri “Controvento” (Enmossed x Psychic Liberation)

Hello. This is one for the headphones. Marie Rose Sarri, an Afro-Belgian musician, composer, sound designer and music art therapist who’s based in Italy, originally created “Controvento”—a 40-minute-long, surround-sound track—for an electro-acoustic composition exam and later performed it at the “L.Cherubini” Conservatory in Florence. Each sound is perfectly isolated, to a point where every element is almost palpable, and yet this remains a wonderfully cohesive piece, something you can feel from head to toe—a sculpture!

Follow Dania on Twitter, or check out her monthly radio show on dublab.es.


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

Kush Jones “Rugrats (Anz Childish Remix)” (Franchise)

Given that she’s now been mentioned in three separate line items, let’s just go ahead and name Anz as the official MVP of this week’s newsletter. Kush Jones’ name is on the cover of the new Rugrats / Basic Bass EP, but this remix steals the spotlight, stripping out the tinkling melodies of the original “Rugrats” and infusing the track with pulsing waves of bass that cut across the stereo spectrum like a samurai sword. Like most Anz productions, the song also has an infectious sense of bounce, as the Manchester producer always seems to be light on her feet, no matter how much low-end heft she builds into a track. It’s tempting to say that she’s on a hot streak, but given that it’s been going on for literally years now, perhaps it’s better to simply note that Anz is a wildly talented artist and leave it at that.

(Tangentially related side note: The Rugrats / Basic Bass EP came out last Friday, but just yesterday, Franchise released a video for the track “Basic Bass,” and the lively clip was coincidentally put together by Low Limit, an LA artist who—full disclosure—is an old friend and was also one of my partners in the Icee Hot label / party.)

The Bug “Clash (feat. Logan)” (Ninja Tune)

The Bug “Pressure (feat. Flowdan)” (Ninja Tune)

The Bug “Bomb (feat. Flowdan)” (Ninja Tune)

Kevin Martin is pretty much always making and releasing music, and while the ambient-leaning stuff he’s been doing under his own name lately has been particularly sublime—he spoke with me at length about it in this First Floor interview a few months back—his most beloved project, The Bug, went a full seven years without a new solo full-length. It was a long wait, but it triumphantly came to an end last week with Fire, a snarling bulldozer of an album that ferociously—and righteously—wields Martin’s mastery of all things bass.

Listening to the bellowing horns of “Clash,” one imagines the ancient army of Carthage, its soldiers straddling elephants as they ravage the countryside and confidently march against the Romans. The music is technically still rooted in dancehall and grime, but it’s so much bigger than that, the song’s towering low-end assault sounding utterly merciless. Terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure, Fire may be targeting sworn enemies, a rotten system or something else entirely, but whoever (or whatever) is in Martin’s sights appears to be in for a very rough ride.

“Pressure” is perhaps more of a classic Bug tune, especially since longtime collaborator Flowdan is on the mic, but again, the intensity has been dialed up to 11, with divebombing pillars of gnarled bass-noise evoking images of kamikaze pilots plowing into battleships. “Bomb,” another Flowdan collab, slows the tempo a bit, but offers no relief, as its menacing rumble has more in common with a snarling junkyard dog than the average dancefloor bop. Like most of the Fire LP, it’s been laced with a sort of guttural rage, and if Martin gets his way, he’ll burn down everything in his path.

Space Afrika “Lose You Beau” (Dais)

Space Afrika “<>” (Dais)

Following hybtwibt? couldn’t have been easy. Recorded in the days following the death of George Floyd, that mixtape from UK duo Space Afrika brilliantly tapped into a unique moment of sadness, suffering and rage, a time when seemingly the whole world was focused on the endemic injustice of the Black experience. The conversations sparked by that moment lasted longer than most, and while they haven’t disappeared entirely, their intensity has surely faded as other crises and other concerns (both trivial and serious) have seized our collective attention.

Given that, Space Afrika’s latest album, Honest Labour, arrives without the benefit of much “discourse” at its back, but perhaps that’s for the best, as the LP’s contents shine all the more brightly. There’s still plenty of love and loss in the duo’s soulfully ambient creations—the swirling static and disembodied laments of “Lose You Beau” are drenched in heartbreak—but the album was also conceived as an “homage to UK energy.” Honest Labour’s fuzzy ambience and moody atmospheres echo the rhythms of the street (and the dancefloor)—Burial fans will relish the garage fragments and screwed vocals of “<>”—but the album ultimately settles into a zone of meditative, late-night solitude, watching the rain fall over dimmed streetlights as a low-key DJ mix quietly plays in the background.

BEST OF THE REST

Emmet Read “Discotheque” (Midnight People)

Emmet Read “Happy People” (Midnight People)

Easily the happiest tunes I heard all week, “Discotheque” and “Happy People” are the first two songs from Emmet Read’s Italo-flavored new Highway to Moog EP. Bright, colorful and bursting with synthy joy, the vibe is definitely retro, but no one’s going to complain when the music sounds like Giorgio Moroder and Todd Terje getting together in the studio after gorging themselves on frosted pop tarts.

B:Thorough “Digital Orchid” (Coyote)

The blippy melodies of “Digital Orchid”—the lead track on B:Orchid’s new Raindrops EP—come straight out of the classic grime playbook, but the London producer smartly switches up the formula by bringing in cracking trap drums, lush pads and even some new age-style woodwinds. Few artists would even attempt to marry the streets with the spa, but B:Thorough has somehow made it work.

Haiku Salut “Entering” (Secret Name)

Indietronica was a horrible name for a genre, but a lot of lovely records were tagged with that descriptor during the early 2000s. The Hill, The Light, The Ghost is the fifth album from UK outfit Haiku Salut, and gentle LP highlight “Entering” absolutely harkens back to the days when labels like FatCat and Morr Music were at the height of their powers. With its soft piano and pitter-pat percussion, there’s something a bit melancholy about the tune, but its intimate feel makes the music feel welcoming all the same.

Karim Sahraoui “Jazzaj” (Integrity)

Noni “Inner Space” (Low)

Not every song is made for peak time—that’s a good thing—and these two tracks offer up a subdued brand of house music that’s tailor-made for those bleary, late-night hours when a party is just beginning to lose steam. Karim Sahraoui’s “Jazzaj,” an elegant selection from the sprawling new 5 Years of Integrity compilation, layers soulful piano and billowing strings atop a steady, Detroit-style beat, while “Inner Space,” the title track of San Diego producer Noni’s new EP, offsets its more energetic beats with dreamy vocal manipulations and sultry sax riffs.

Samurai Breaks “Jitterbug” (Hooversound)

The latest EP from Samurai Breaks is called TURBO RAVE ARTILLERY, and “Jitterbug” lives up to that potent billing, fortifying its hyperactive drum hits with face-slapping waves of crunchy wobble-bass. Perhaps that sounds a bit aggro—and the song certainly isn’t timid—but the UK producer has also kept things fun, filling the track with video game chirps, playful vocal clips and a irrepressible sense of glee.

Scanner “The Canonization” (Room40)

Dipping into his archives, UK artist Scanner just released Earthbound Transmissions, a haunting collection of manipulated recordings that he first put onto cassette more than 30 years ago. The music on the LP varies—and gets intriguingly weird when random vocal snippets come into play—but while it’s all technically “ambient,” the weighty undulations of grey album opener “The Canonization” are a lot closer to William Basinski than anything you’d find on the average chillout compilation.

Mistareez “Affectionate” (Banoffee Pies)

Banoffee Pies has never had a distinctly “Bristol” aesthetic—the label’s Bandcamp page literally says “No signature sound”—but Mistareez’s new Surface Comms EP definitely channels the city’s celebrated trip-hop history. “Affectionate” is no retread—its spacious electronics and buzzing field recordings are closer to classic new age than classic Massive Attack—but the song’s dusty beats give the track a satisfyingly familiar psychedelic chug.

Bruno Bavota “Apartment Song #4” (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Like many artists, Bruno Bavota turned to music during the earliest days of COVID lockdown, and produced a sublime, two-volume EP set called Apartment Loops. Those releases, which focused on his soaring modular synth excursions, have now been folded into a larger package, For Apartments: Songs & Loops, which also includes a number of the Italian composer’s acoustic piano pieces. “Apartment Song #4” might be the best of those, and though its tumbling melodies do sound pensive and even a little sad, there’s also a bit of hope at its core, and that’s more than enough to keep anyone transfixed.

IVVVO “Broke Over Me Like a Rainstorm” (Lith Dolina)

In the era of Bandcamp Fridays, it’s easy to groan about producers rummaging through their archives and putting up half-finished demos for sale, but IVVVO’s Greatest Hits, Archive 2010​-​2015—which the London-based Portuguese artist bills as “a collection of works and early studies”—is a welcome reminder that some musicians do have some genuine gold in their vaults. “Broke Over Me Like a Rainstorm” is essentially a moody ambient / experimental track, but it’s also a deconstructed bit of gospel house, with ghostly diva remnants wailing “hallelujah” atop the song’s busted percussion and textured static.

Bendik Giske “Cruising” (Smalltown Supersound)

The 10-and-a-half-minute centerpiece of Bendik Giske’s new Cracks LP, “Cruising” is an immersive, saxophone-driven journey into the subconscious. Songs of this length often lose focus, especially when the instrumentation is this minimal, but the Norwegian artist brilliantly weaves his fluttering melodies and brash outbursts into a sort of luxuriously meditative bliss, an experience thoughtfully accentuated with room noise and the quiet clacking of his chosen instrument.


And with that, we’ve come to the end of 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.)

Back next week,

Shawn


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.