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First Floor #97 – DFA (Unpleasantly) Makes Some Changes
a.k.a. An interview with ousted label co-founder Jonathan Galkin, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and some 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.
JONATHAN GALKIN HELPED START DFA RECORDS. LAST YEAR HE WAS SHOWN THE DOOR.
For much of the past 20 years, DFA Records has been a constant in my life. Like many other people, I flipped out over The Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” when it surfaced in 2002, and subsequently went down the DFA rabbit hole, snapping up records from LCD Soundsystem, The Juan MacLean, Black Dice and pretty much every other artist whose music they released during the next few years. After finding out who co-founders James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy were, I quickly began worshipping at their altar, undeniably charmed by their ability to bring together two sounds I loved: dance music and punk rock.
During those years, I was already working in radio, and made contact with a different member of the DFA tribe: Jonathan Galkin, another co-founder, who also seemed to be in charge of running the label on a day-to-day basis. It was Galkin who sent promos my way, coordinated interviews and provided information about what the label was up to, and that relationship continued throughout the 2000s and 2010s. A lot changed during those years; The Rapture left DFA for a major label, not returning until nearly a decade later; DFA signed a separate deal with EMI, temporarily muddying its status as an indie darling, only to later go fully independent once again; the dance-punk craze faded, but that didn’t stop LCD Soundsystem from becoming the label’s critically adored flagship act before they retired (with much fanfare) in 2011 and then reunited (again, with much fanfare) a few years later.
Dozens of other DFA artists came and went during those years, but throughout it all, Jonathan Galkin was a constant, at least for those of us who worked in the industry. DFA’s prominence faded somewhat during the 2010s, but its release schedule rarely slowed, and for those who took the time to listen, the quality of the music remained high. Label lifers such as The Juan MacLean, Shit Robot and Holy Ghost! were joined by new acts like Factory Floor, Essaie Pas and Perel, and though the press had long ago stopped drooling over every single 12”, DFA promos (many of which were sent directly from Galkin himself) remained a welcome arrival in my inbox.
Last year, however, they suddenly stopped. A few weeks before the pandemic, DFA released an album from Cold Beat, and in the months that followed, a few additional digital-only EPs surfaced on the label’s Bandcamp, but then things went quiet. Admittedly, I didn’t take much notice at first; when you receive hundreds of emails a day, it’s difficult to keep tabs on what every single label is up to. But then this past June, I received word of a new album from Black Dice, Mod Prog Sic, which was announced as “the debut release on DFA Records label head and co-founder Jonathan Galkin’s new label, FourFour Records.”
Clearly, something had changed in Galkin’s life, and once I saw that FourFour also had forthcoming records from DFA-affiliated acts like NHK yx Koyxen, Nik Void (of Factory Floor), Benoit & Sergio and Larry Gus in the hopper—along with records from other intriguing artists like Matías Aguayo and Eva Geist—I realized that DFA itself had actually gone dark and suspected that there was probably more to the story. Given that, I began reaching out to Galkin, and asked if he’d be interested in doing an interview for the newsletter, and although it took some time to confirm, we finally got on a call this past Sunday.
As it turned out, Galkin had a lot more to talk about than his new label. During the course of our conversation, he recounted the nearly two decades he spent at DFA, shedding light on the label’s beginnings, its (sometimes dysfunctional) inner workings and how he was abruptly ousted last year. DFA Records actually turned 20 a couple of weeks ago—not that anyone from the label has acknowledged it publicly—and Galkin reflected on its legacy, including where he feels it fell short and missed opportunities. And yes, he also discussed his relationship with James Murphy, taking some shots at his former partner and even sharing his thoughts on LCD Soundsystem’s unexpected return from retirement.
Of course, there’s also a fair bit of talk about what Galkin is up to now, as FourFour Records is ready to go and looks to be very busy in the months ahead. With the new Black Dice album set to drop in a couple of weeks, Galkin outlined what else he’s lined up, and how he hopes to operate his new label a bit differently than DFA Records. In short, we covered a lot of ground, and for anyone who’s followed DFA over the past 20 years, this should make for some interesting reading.
To read the complete interview, please click 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.
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.
In rather disturbing news, several reports surfaced last week about a rave that was staged by Parisian promoter La Toilette alongside a refugee squat. The party was broken up by police after only two hours, at which time officers also entered the neighboring building housing the refugees, whose already precarious living situation is now in potential jeopardy. More details are included in the linked stories, including La Toilette’s attempts to explain how and why things went awry, and the response of United Migrants, the non-profit running the squat.
The effects of COVID continue to ripple through the club and festival landscape, as a reported 150,000 people took part in Unmute Us protests across The Netherlands last weekend, demanding that the government lift its ban on music festivals, nightclubs and other events. It seems to have worked, as it was announced last night that social distancing requirements would be dropped as of September 25, at which time entry to venues will be permitted for those with proof of vaccination, proof of recovery or a negative test.
Over in the UK, health minister Sajid Javid stated that the government’s plan to require a vaccine passport to enter crowded venues (including nightclubs) in England had been scrapped. In Scotland, however, a plan has been approved to start requiring vaccine passports as of October 1.
Here in Spain, the FORT festival, which was scheduled to take place next month in the Catalan city of Roses, has been pushed back a week and moved 40 km north across the French border, where there are fewer COVID restrictions. (For what it’s worth, I wrote about promoters actively skirting health guidelines back in July; it seems that things haven’t improved much since then.)
Writing for the Pioneer Works Broadcast, journalist Liz Pelly has put together a feature detailing how libraries in the US and Canada are attempting to counter the streaming giants by setting up locally based streaming collections and initiatives of their own.
Working in coordination with Shazam, Apple Music has officially launched a new program that they claim will automatically identify and pays rights holders for all tracks in DJ mixes that are uploaded to the platform. Although this Billboard report explains that Apple Music’s mix program is currently “editorially led” (i.e. DJs can’t simply upload their own mixes to the platform, as they do on SoundCloud and Mixcloud), they have already partnered with entities like Boiler Room, !K7 (owners of the renowned DJ-Kicks mix series), Cercle and Tomorrowland, amongst others. Time will tell just how well this new service works (and whether it will eventually be opened up to the public), but if it lives up to Apple’s promises, it will certainly be a step in the right direction.
Mixmag wrapped up its week-long South Asian Series, and while there are numerous features worth reading (especially for those interested in how the South Asian community has helped shape UK dance music in recent decades), of particular note are guest editor Nabihah Iqbal’s interviews with actor / musician Riz Ahmed and London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Ben Cardew’s Discovery: The Future Unfurled has been mentioned several times here in the newsletter, and another excerpt from the newly released book has been published by DJ Mag. The piece describes how Daft Punk laid the foundations for EDM, and that wasn’t the only article from the Barcelona-based journalist that went live last week. Writing for Crack, he also put together a retrospective look at Cocteau Twins’ seminal 1990 album Heaven or Las Vegas.
With a decade of releases—and three full-length albums, including 2021’s A Call to Arms—under his belt, London producer Visionist announced last week that he was dropping his artist moniker, and would henceforth be working under his birth name, Louis Carnell. To commemorate the change, he also released a new single, “Fixed Is the Day We’ve Cast Our Lot,” which is a vocal reworking of the song “Cast” from his most recent LP.
Fresh off the release of their new album Honest Labour, UK ambient / experimental duo Space Afrika was profiled by Martin Guttridge-Hewitt for DJ Mag.
Since 2018, the Cod3 QR label has been an anonymously curated techno outpost, releasing a series of EPs with tracks created by producers whose identities also were kept secret. Last week, however, as the label digitally issued its 10th EP, its founders were revealed as Laurent Garnier and Scan X. (As it turns out, past Cod3 QR releases were populated by artists like Agents of Time, CYRK, R.O.S.H, Joe Farr, Eduardo de la Calle and several others.)
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Eris Drew will soon be releasing her debut full-length. Scheduled for an October 29 release via T4T LUV NRG—the label she runs alongside her partner Octo Octa—the LP, which the veteran Chicago DJ wrote and recorded in rural New Hampshire during lockdown, is called Quivering in Time, and she’s already shared the title track.
Just yesterday, Kenyan producer Slikback continued his prolific 2021 by dropping a new album. MELT is an all-star affair, featuring collaborations with Objekt, KMRU, Tzusing, Brodinski, Ziúr and numerous others, and it’s available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
Manchester artist Finn—who was interviewed here in the newsletter earlier this year—has lined up a new EP for the Local Action label. A Good Place, which is described as “a record conceived and released against a heavy backdrop of palpable tiredness and malaise,” will be released on September 28, but its anthemic / melancholy-tinged title track is available now.
Boxed, the long-running London club night and label founded by Mr. Mitch, Slackk, Logos and Oil Gang, is coming to an end. A final party is happening this Friday at Corsica Studios, and ahead of that, the crew has also dropped a farewell compilation. Entitled The Last Boxed, it’s available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp and includes tracks from Slackk, Ize, Nammy Wams, JQ, B:Thorough and several others.
A few months back, Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones launched an online club simulator through their Fractal Fantasy platform, and those who thoroughly explored their virtual space might have come across a downloadable ZIP file of new edits from the duo (and a few of their affiliates). Now, that giant package of club-ready heaters has also been made available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp.
Oneohtrix Point Never has put together a new Blu-Ray edition of his 2020 album Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, and while there are all sorts of goodies inside (bonus tracks, 16 different music videos, etc.), the most exciting extra is a new version of the song “Tales from the Trash Stratum” that includes the vocals of Elizabeth Fraser (of Cocteau Twins fame). That single can be heard here, and the complete package will drop on October 29 via Warp Records.
Italian techno veteran Donato Dozzy will return to the iconic Tresor label next month, as he’s completed a new EP called 124. The four-track release is set to arrive on October 15, but in the meantime, opening number “Messy Kafka World” is already available.
Back in 2019, Richard Fearless released the Deep Rave Memory LP, and he’ll soon be following it up with a companion album, Future Rave Memory. The UK producer—who some may still remember as the man behind Death in Vegas—will be issuing the new full-length on November 5 through his own Drone label, and in the meantime, he’s already shared one of its tracks, a moody, 15-minute epic called “Our Acid House.”
As first reported by Resident Advisor, John Talabot’s Hivern Discs label has joined forces with fellow Barcelona outpost Domestica Records to form a new reissue imprint, Música Máquina. The new undertaking’s first offering will be a new vinyl edition of Sequences, a 1988 cassette by Catalan artist Idee Du Femelle, which is set to arrive on September 30. Before that, opening track “Come Back to Bali” has been shared.
Ronan may be an unfamiliar name to many readers, but the nomadic American artist has been featured numerous times here at First Floor, and he’ll soon be releasing his debut full-length, Reflections on Intrinsic Value Recorded while he was living in Mexico City, the album—which is said to take influence from “the UK hardcore continuum, psychedelic trance and traditional ceremonial music,” has been slated for an October 8 release on Ronan’s own Eternal Ocean label, and one track, “Producing Tenderness,” has already been shared.
As a continued celebration of Moog Sound Studio, the vaunted gear company has put together a second Explorations In Analog Synthesis compilation. Included are tracks from Galcher Lustwerk, Boy Harsher, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Paula Temple, TYGAPAW and others, all of which can be heard 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 don’t know how I slept on this one (it came out last month), but this is pure narcotic bliss. mu tate is an alias of Artur Strekalov, an artist who’s based in London but originally hails from Riga, Latvia. To be honest, I don’t know too much about him, but he’s described his music as “immersive sonic procedures for introverted consumption,” which sounds like something that’s right up my alley. His new album is untitled, as are all five of its songs, but track one is not to be missed.
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
Note to self: pay attention when people I know recommend new music. Last year, a guy I know here in Barcelona wrote me, saying that he’d started working with a local artist named Marina Herlop. I remember reading the email and briefly listening to the music he sent me, but my attention was admittedly fleeting, and aside from making a small mental note, I didn’t make any effort to dig deeper, find out more or catch a concert, despite the fact that Herlop lived in the same city as me.
Cut to a year later, and she’s now appeared on the PAN label with a fantastic new single, “miu.” Largely built around manipulated snippets of her own acrobatic voice, the song offers an ethereal sort of avant-pop, one that references traditional choral music while also folding in sharp, almost alien electronics. It’s similar in nature to the work of Tarta Relena—with whom Herlop has previously collaborated—but the music is both more intimate and more modern. Presumably a longer release will follow in the months ahead, and while I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t take notice of Herlop’s talents sooner, she’s definitely got my attention now.
“Cinematic” is a word that’s frequently been used to describe Tim Hecker’s music over the past two decades, but the Canadian artist has only been hired a handful of times to apply his towering drone and noise sculptures to the world of film and television. This year, however, his IMDb page got a major new addition, as Hecker was tapped to score The North Water, a short-run TV series involving a 19th-century whaling expedition into the Arctic. (Here’s the trailer for anyone who’s curious.)
The show’s original score was released last week, and though it’s perhaps a bit more orchestral than much of Hecker’s recent work—a lot of cello is involved—his flair for the dramatic remains intact. “Twinkle in the Wasteland” is one of the brighter selections, its delicate melodies slowly blossoming as the song’s bellowing strings—which have a distinctly whale-like quality—fill the composition with wonder. More tumultuous is “Seasick,” which lives up to its title with a suite of lurching strings and low-end boom, the track conjuring images of trudging into a merciless (and seemingly endless) frozen expanse.
If Bicep had been active during the blog-house era, they might have come up with something like “Breathe.” The title track of the latest EP from London duo Kassian, the song has a subtly anthemic streak, and its airy swells and ethereal vocal clips are straight out of the recycled retro playbook. Yet “Breathe” has more personality than the average hands-in-the-air creation, employing a wiggly, electro-flavored bassline that wouldn’t have been out of place on a late-2000s Ed Banger compilation. Things never get too rowdy—as bangers go, this one is rather pensive—but “Breathe” was destined for big rooms, and proves that deep(ish) house cuts can still have some personality.
BEST OF THE REST
Right when you think that industrial-flavored techno has completely run out of interesting ideas, an album like Katharsis appears. The new LP from Italian producer Nigh/T\mare swaps out greyscale dread for percussive vibrance, as the relentlessly thundering drums of “Self Immolation” sound like a stampede of buffalo, while the mind-bending “Doomed to Struggle” could soundtrack an ancient Druid ritual.
Speaking of percussive energy, “Dark Matter” is a furiously thrumming highlight off Potential Energy, the latest EP from Brooklyn artist Ayesha. Drums are at the core of this one, but it’s the rubbery basslines and swirly synth squiggles that make it a guaranteed party-starter.
Opening with an effervescent (and endearingly lo-fi) synth, “Ryo” lovingly taps into the 8-bit era of Japanese videogames, but the song—a standout on Rulers, the debut LP from Austrian duo Mieux—quickly moves onto the dancefloor, ultimately landing on something that sounds like they’ve stitched an old Ninja Gaiden soundtrack onto a chunky house rhythm.
The title track of Hassan Abou Alam’s new EP opens the record on a decidedly playful note, as the Egyptian producer’s slightly fuzzy (albeit undeniably potent) beats and wonky melodies bound along with the joyful abandon of a toddler who’s just learned to stand on their own two feet. “It Spills” does have a little bit of ’90s big beat energy, but it never feels camp, and is more than sturdy enough to rattle a modern soundsystem.
Not many artists would release something with this much tape hiss, but Sarah Davachi understands that there’s genuine beauty in the soft crackle that pervades her new album Antiphonals. Described as an attempt to merge her live and studio practices, the patient, slow-brewing LP reaches a high point on “Gradual of Image,” the song’s gently strummed guitar intermingling with languid organ melodies for a few sublime minutes before the whole thing melts back into the song’s ever-present bed of static.
An album born out of quiet, late-night recordings—Megan Alice Clune didn’t want to disturb her neighbors—If You Do is a warm and captivatingly lo-fi celebration of the human voice. LP closer “Existential Geography” butts up against the limits of technology, its dreamy textures populated with bits of digital warble and the occasional crunch of distortion, but that aural errata doesn’t detract from the music’s emotional heft; on the contrary, it only enhances the song’s sense of intimacy.
The two pieces on Re:Moving were originally created for dance performances choreographed by Yin Yue, but after those performances were scuttled by the global pandemic, veteran Dutch producer Machinefabriek decided to give the music a proper release. “Re:Moving” is a slow-moving beast that unfurls over the course of 21 minutes, furtively moving between motorik rhythms, chaotic bursts of thrashy squall, exquisite string passages, sci-fi crunch and more. It’s a shame that the music can’t be experienced in its intended environment, but Machinefabriek has left plenty of room for our imaginations to fill in the missing pieces of the narrative.
I’ve written about this before, but when it comes to orchestral instrumentation, the cello is having a real moment right now. Tancade, the debut solo LP from French cellist Gaspar Claus, is the latest effort to push the instrument beyond its presumed limits, and “2359” literally explores the cello’s percussive potential, the song’s furious tapping and sharp plucking sounding something like a flamenco track made by a drum-machine virtuoso. Add in some weepy string melodies and a little bit of metal-esque distortion, and “2359” is one highly memorable tune.
FJAAK have never been afraid of a little intergenerational fraternization—the Berlin outfit famously got an early boost from Modeselektor—and the group’s latest EP is a collaborative effort with veteran producer (and fellow German) Tobi Neumann. On “F-Zero,” they’ve cooked up a robust (and borderline cartoonish) slice of rave music, stretching the song’s whirring basslines like silly putty as their bouncing breakbeats (barely) maintain some semblance of dancefloor order. In short: this one is a lot of fun.
And with that, we’ve come to the end of 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.)
Have a great week,