First Floor #96 – The Next Phase of Anthony Naples
a.k.a. An in-depth interview with the NYC producer, plus a MUTEK panel on NFTs, a round-up of the week's news and a fresh batch of new track recommendations.
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.
ANTHONY NAPLES ISN’T AFRAID ANYMORE
Anthony Naples released a new album last week, and only let the world know about it a few days ahead of time. It was a curious move from the NYC producer, whose prior full-length, the house- and techno-oriented Fog FM, was one of 2019’s most celebrated electronic music LPs. Even in the midst of a pandemic, most artists would have looked to capitalize on their previous success with a proper publicity campaign and an extended press rollout, but Naples simply put the new album, Chameleon, up for sale on his Bandcamp page. (Thanks to the global vinyl-pressing backlog, physical copies of the record won’t even be available until early next year.)
Chameleon also doesn’t sound much like Fog FM. Listening to the LP, it quickly becomes clear that Naples pretty much set house and techno aside altogether (at least on this record), and though he’s previously dabbled in ambient and experimental sounds, he’s never before veered this far away from the dancefloor. The initial album announcement didn’t provide much in the way of information explaining this change, but it did contain a few clues, saying that Chameleon was the product of “endless jammin’” and was “the first time Anthony wrote the songs on instruments first - guitar, bass, synthesizer, drums, et cetera.”
Clearly, some things had shifted in Naples’ world, but he hadn’t yet spilled the beans about what they were, which is why I asked if he’d be interested in an interview. Over the course of a long call last weekend, we spoke at length about the new album and what inspired it—yes, the pandemic played a part, but this isn’t the typical “house producer makes an ambient record during lockdown” story—but also touched on Naples’ mindset, his newfound love of running, the current vibe in NYC and why he prefers to work independently. (The latter topic also overlaps with a look at the current state of Incienso, the label Naples runs with his wife Jenny Slattery.)
It was an honest and revealing conversation, and provided an interesting window into just how difficult it can be for artists—even established ones—to ignore expectations and trust their instincts. (It’s also the first time that Pat Metheny has ever been mentioned in the newsletter, which seems like a milestone in its own right.)
To read the interview, please go here.
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 DID
Last week, I moderated a virtual panel for MUTEK Montreal. Entitled NFTs, the Blockchain and the Changing Dynamics of the Music Industry (a full description can be found here), the discussion also included Jacques Greene, Matthewdavid, Damien Roach (a.k.a. patten) and Lindsay Howard from the Foundation platform. Knowing that these topics have been discussed quite a bit in other panels this year, I purposely sought to avoid entry-level “What is an NFT?” talk, but also did my best to keep the conversation from getting bogged down in Web3 jargon that only experts would understand.
How did we do? Well, you can judge for yourself by watching the panel online, as it’s now available—for free—throughout the rest of September. Registration is required here, but after signing up you’ll have access to all of this year’s MUTEK Montreal panels, along with several other goodies.
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.
The Bug (a.k.a. Kevin Martin) has been the toast of the internet in recent weeks, as the English producer’s new LP Fire has quickly become one of 2021’s most enthusiastically celebrated releases. Last Wednesday, the Guardian published an interview with Martin (conducted by John Doran) in which he traces back his history and explains the righteous anger at the core of his new album. And for those seeking an even deeper dive, journalist Chal Ravens will also be interviewing The Bug live this evening at 8pm CET / 7pm UK / 1pm EST / 10am PST for Crack magazine, although the online talk will only be available to official Crack Supporters. More details on that can be found here.
Lucrecia Dalt co-created (and did the music for) a short film, Pedis Possessio, that debuted over the weekend. The fourth installment of the Jump Cut series—which itself was commissioned by the CTM and MUTEK festivals—the piece, described as an “audiovisual collaborative essay” by Dalt and her collaborators Aina Climent, Judit J. Ferrer and Miguel Prado, tells the story of an alien life form visiting Earth, and includes some stunning footage of the island of Mallorca. It’s available to watch (for free) here.
Pretty much everyone loves Sade, and most electronic music fans have a special place in their heart for remixes (both official and unofficial) of the iconic British singer. Listing every single Sade rework would be impossible, but this Attack magazine column does an excellent job rounding up many of the best ones.
Following in the footsteps of last year’s Blackout Week, during which Mixmag exclusively dedicated its feature section to Black artists and stories, the publication is currently in the midst of what’s its calling the South Asian Series, a weeklong effort highlighting that community’s contributions (past and present) to dance music. Guest edited by Nabihah Iqbal, the series kicked off on Monday with this introductory post, and every commissioned writer, designer, photographer and artist involved in creating this content is of South Asian heritage.
I’d admittedly a couple of weeks late on this—thanks to the Music Journalism Insider newsletter for bringing it to my attention—but Harold Heath recently wrote an interesting / concerning piece for 5Mag in which he dives into how the pandemic has prompted certain elements of the UK’s electronic music scene to cozy up with anti-vax and right-wing rhetoric and organizations.
South African gqom star DJ Lag is on the cover of the latest issue of DJ Mag, and the magazine has now published the accompanying feature (which was written by Jessica Kariisa and goes very deep into Lag’s history) online. The same issue also includes an introductory Get to Know piece with fast-rising Detroit techno producer Huey Mnemonic, and the feature (which was penned by Ria Hylton) is now available online here.
Music journalist / industry analyst Cherie Hu has gotten a lot of shine here on First Floor—in fact, I interviewed her earlier this year—and just yesterday she finally launched the long-awaited proper website for her Water & Music newsletter / platform, which has rapidly become one of the most trusted and influential outlets within music industry circles.
Following a quiet August, the Tone Glow newsletter has exploded with new activity during the past week, publishing a number of new interviews, including editor Joshua Minsoo Kim’s conversations with Laila Sakini and Low. (The latter also includes a rather harsh assessment of the new Space Afrika album—and contemporary ambient music in general—that unfortunately inspired a whole lot of ambient music “discourse” on Twitter in recent days.)
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Ben UFO will be at the helm of the second release from Melodies Record Club, the curated “mini-compilation” reissue series from Floating Points’ Melodies International label. Scheduled to arrive on October 1, the two-song offering will contain “Drums,” a song from synth pioneer Laurie Spiegel and her groundbreaking 1980 album The Expanding Universe, and “Echoes From Mamori,” a rare piece from Olof Dreijer (a.k.a. one half of The Knife). The latter track, which clocks in at nearly 13 minutes, has already been shared here.
Steve Summers (who also makes music as Confused House and several other monikers) has been a regular contributor to L.I.E.S. since the earliest days of the label, but last week the Chicago producer finally released a proper full-length on the imprint. Entitled Generation Loss, it’s available here.
Palmbomen II has shared details of a new upcoming LP, Make a Film, which is set to drop on October 1 via his own World of Paint label. Consisting of music he made for a variety of film projects, the album is described as “a faux crash course in filmmaking plus the soundtrack to score your first movie.” Several of its 24 tracks have been shared here.
Planet Mu founder Mike Paradinas (a.k.a. µ-Ziq) has teamed up with Mrs Jynx (a UK artist who’d previously released on his label more than a decade ago) on a new collaborative album called The Secret Garden. Bonding over shared experiences relating to loss—both had recently lost a parent to cancer—and the therapeutic power of music, the two began trading ideas earlier this year, and the record apparently came together pretty quickly. The LP is scheduled for a November 19 release on Planet Mu, but its title track is already 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. I’m sitting here writing this with a throbbing migraine, and normally I’d pass on writing on a day like today, but I really wanted to share this one. Felisha Ledesma uses a software synthesiser she built with (ex-Elektron synth designer) Ess Mattison called AMQR, and they also release instruments through their project Fors. (I’ve got a few—they are reasonably priced, and 10% of sales are currently going to to the non-profit Women in Exile.) Her latest release, Fringe, has two tracks, but I’m currently listening to “Golden Mirror,” which opens up with what feels like a tape loop of lo-fi hiss and guitar panning. As the track proceeds, she artfully builds on this, adding layer upon layer yet never making things feel claustrophobic. Thank you Felisha, I needed this healing energy.
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
Electro done right. Both “The Exiled” and “Hung Up” are taken from The Exiled, a new charity compilation of high-octane tracks from Venezuelan producers, all of whom left their homeland for economic and / or political reasons. (All proceeds from The Exiled benefit Santa Cruz De Mara, an organization which supports elderly people living in poverty and struggling to survive with accommodation and food.)
While the release features many different flavors of electro, Ara-U—a London-based artist who heads up the No Static / Automatic label and also curated the compilation—thrillingly kicks thing off by tapping into the genre’s roots, his wiggling rhythms combining the spirit of ’80s breakdance with a sharp sci-fi sound palette and some deliciously funky, boogie-style basslines. ELO—who lives in Bogotá, Colombia and is also known as Leeon—follows more of a ’90s path, as the upfront, tension-filled “Hung Up” sounds like the Propllerheads scoring a James Bond montage.
Five years have passed since the first DJ Seinfeld record dropped, and it’s still hard to take him completely seriously. Such are the consequences of a silly artist moniker and rising to prominence as part of a semi-jokey trend—in his case, “lo-fi house”—that felt more like a meme than an actual scene. Perhaps it’s not fair for the Swedish producer to be saddled with that baggage, but hats off to him for continuing to push forward, because his sophomore LP Mirrors is the work of someone who’s significantly upped his production game. DJ Seinfeld has always had a genuine knack for catchy hooks, and as charming as the crackle and blown-out sounds of his early productions could be, he’s now cast those elements aside, replacing them with high-polish tunes that sparkle their way across the dancefloor.
Lead single “U Already Know,” a collaboration with LA-based vocalist Teira, echoes the Italo-house hybrids of labels like Running Back and Permanent Vacation, but pushes that formula firmly into the pop sphere. It’s still a dance cut, but it’s also the sort of tune your friends who don’t really like house and techno will happily put on their “Summer Dance Party” playlist. This is what groups like Disclosure ought to be doing, and while that might read as a backhanded compliments—and perhaps it is—DJ Seinfeld could certainly do a lot worse than creating an instantly hummable tune that conjures images of cruising along the California coast with the top down. He’s got other tricks up his sleeve too: for those seeking something a tad more subtle, “Walking with Ur Smile” is a bouncy 2-step garage number with a touch of romance, its shuffling rhythms and classic M1 melodies sounding like the musical equivalent of being happily in love.
If anyone needs a quick lesson in UK hardcore, Telepathy is the perfect crash course. The debut offering from Minder is a sprawling, 18-track whirlwind—adding to the nostalgia, it’s also been released on double cassette in what the label calls “a classic rave tape pack”—that gleefully channels the genre’s past in all its booming, unpolished glory. Full of thick bass and looming clouds of echo and distortion, it’s hard to tell if the production is paying homage to classic dub or is simply a lo-fi affair—maybe it’s both—but Minder effectively brings the ruckus, often with clips of fire-breathing MCs at his back.
Album opener “Lips” sits atop galloping drums and sheets of warbling bass, but the song’s recurring vocal, “Oh to feel your lips / On my fingertips,” gives it an almost soulful feel. “Twenty” is heavier and noisier, its static and low-end throb filling up the entire sonic spectrum, until a rowdy jungle rhythm breaks through in the track’s latter half. And then there’s “Rose,” a manic rave anthem powered by wildly darting organ riffs and a guttural low-end rumble. A relaxing listen it is not, but Telepathy is easily one of this year’s most enjoyable rave time machines.
BEST OF THE REST
Colloboh was born in Nigeria and raised in the DMV—he currently calls Baltimore home—but “Borderline” is rooted in the skittering beats of UK garage. A highlight of new Entity Relation EP, it’s more of a moody, midtempo bopper than a rowdy dancefloor anthem, but the relaxed pace allows Colloboh’s sparkling melodies—which come courtesy of his modular synthesizer—to truly shine.
Light and airy, “Moving II” is a fluttering standout on Circular Sequence, a new tape from Barcelona artist Nueen, who actually recorded it while back home in his native Mallorca. The island’s inherent tranquility runs through the song’s patient, new agey drift, its delicate melodies quietly soaring above an abandoned winter coastline.
If Shackleton moved to an island in the middle of the Mediterranean and enlisted a poet to deliver some dreamy prose atop his ethereal pads and softly clattering polyrhythms, it might sound something like this track, the epic, 11-minute closer from UK producer Aboutface’s new album °s. (That said, despite the music’s loosely Balearic feel, the coordinates of the song title are actually located in Brighton.)
The chillout vibes are strong on Colocate, the latest album from Oakland duo Motoko & Myers (a.k.a. Wonja and DJML), and “Misplaced Ceiling” sounds like krautrock on quaaludes, or maybe an old Talk Talk demo. It’s music for staring out the window on a rainy day, its minimal, almost motorik rhythm and soft-focus melodies perfect for a bout of thoughtful rumination.
Beautiful Vol. 1, the debut offering from Sherelle’s new Black- and LGBTQI+-centric Beautiful label / platform, is a hell of an opening statement, arriving with new tracks from artists like Scratcha DVA, Loraine James, Kareem Ali, Roska, Tim Reaper and many others. And while listeners may gravitate towards the compilation’s many club heaters, it was the hazy psychedelia, African drum sounds and alluring Catalan-language vocal sample of UK producer Otik’s “The Blind Cow” that made my ears perk up.
Given his highly prolific nature, a new album from Kareem Ali isn’t exactly world-stopping news, but the freshly released All These Moments is easily one of the Arizona-based artist’s most substantive efforts to date. Across 26 tracks, Ali tours through house, techno, drum & bass, ambient, hip-hop, R&B and more, and is often at his best on tender numbers like “Telepathic (Skyface),” a warm slice of breakbeat-tinged electronic soul that wouldn’t sound out of place on the next Caribou LP.
Looking for muscular, no-frills techno? If so, James Ruskin’s Blueprint label has been a reliable outpost for the past 25 years, and “Hand Over Control”—the title track of the latest EP from American techno veteran Dustin Zahn—is a high-quality barnstormer with rippling, sci-fi synths, a brawny low end and a seemingly unstoppable sense of forward momentum.
He’s done it again. The repeated appearances of Aleksi Perälä in the newsletter are starting to feel like a joke, but the Finnish techno mystic has ensnared me yet again, this time with the glittering wonder of “FI3AC2156010,” the feverishly percolating opener from his new Phantasia VII EP.
Considering that Philip Glass scored the original 1992 film Candyman, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe had some massive shoes to fill when he agreed to put together the music for the new 2021 sequel, but “The Sweet” is a clear indication that the Brooklyn composer and synthesist was more than up to the task. Just over two minutes long—it’s definitely one of those tunes you wish was longer—the track establishes a sinister vibe with its spooky synths and darkly groaning strings, but it’s the song’s ghostly vocal choir that’s really going to keep people up at night.
A mysterious new addition to the Ilian Tape roster, 20kPa might be some previously unheralded talent or a veteran producer who’s simply having some fun with a newly invented moniker, but either way, “Procedure” is a lethal breakbeat ripper with taut drums, jagged synths and elastic bass flares. This one is tough enough to cut glass.
Few artists have spent more time building bridges between contemporary UK bass music and South African gqom than Scratcha DVA, and the endlessly creative London producer has continued that effort on his new Afrotek EP. Lead single “Flex”—a collaboration with Baltimore artist :3LON that ought to be on the radio somewhere—offers a compelling sort of bass-heavy Afro-R&B, but “Sleeper” strips out the vocals, allowing the song’s steppy percussion and swirling synths to truly shine.
The annals of electronic music history are full of travel-inspired compositions, and that includes the work of Gävle-Stockholm Dub, a project whose origins can be traced back to a Swedish commuter train. New album Ingenmansland (translation: No Man’s Land) offers a soothing trip into cosmic bliss, its melodic wanderlust and pillowy, meditative chug recalling Autobahn-era Kraftwerk.
As long as we’re talking about ’70s krautrock, “ETGSS”—the B-side of Time Wharp’s new release Ingenue—finds the NYC experimentalist doing her best Neu! impression, the song’s polite churn brilliantly flanked by noodling guitars, subtly funky synths and the occasional melodic drone.
A potent lesson in the power of sound design, “My Dreams Sleep in Your Hands”—one of several standouts from We Become Mist, the debut album from LA duo Heliochrysum—is a cinematic sledgehammer, its waves of static swelling to typhoon levels as the song’s imposing bass tendrils ominously lurch across the horizon. It’s a visceral and occasionally unsettling listen, and one whose impact recalls the work of Ben Frost, who (not coincidentally) also mixed the LP.
What does “Michael Cera” have to do with the lovably awkward actor of the same name? Probably nothing, but the track—which appears on Sputnik One’s new Love from Above EP—is a delightfully hyperactive ball of energy, its high-pitched vocal snippets excitedly bopping alongside the Dublin producer’s crooked basslines and bubbly polyrhythms.
There’s no shortage of ’90s rave nostalgia on offer these days, but Rotterdam producer FFF has practically crammed the entire decade into “It’s Official,” one of several euphoria-filled rollercoasters on the new One Tribe EP. The song’s joyous (some might say maniacal) piano vamps are the star attraction here, but don’t miss the quick detours into hip-house and acid techno. All that’s missing are the tiny backpack and a pair of enormous JNCOs.
Phase has been anointed as “the future of Metalheadz” by none other than Goldie, and “Call Me In” lives up to that responsibility. With its growling, industrial-strength basslines, the track verges on tech-step drum & bass, but the Belgian artist smartly dials the aggression back just enough to allow a little bit of soulful, diva-driven melody into the mix. It’s not quite pop music, but Phase clearly has an ear for hooks, and if tech-step ever has a proper crossover moment, it quite possibly will sound like this.
That’s all I’ve got for today’s newsletter. As always, 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.)
Enjoy the rest of your week,