First Floor #98 – Who Needs a Plan? Not MMM.
a.k.a. A rare interview with Errorsmith and Fiedel, plus a round-up of what turned out to be a very busy week in electronic 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.
WHEN IT COMES TO MMM, ERRORSMITH AND FIEDEL NEVER HAD A PLAN.
First of all, I just want to welcome all of the new subscribers. I know that a whole bunch of you signed up last week to read the interview with DFA co-founder Jonathan Galkin—and sorry, it’s still only available to paid First Floor subscribers—but now that you’re here, I hope you’ll stick around. The free version of the newsletter is always full of good stuff, and if you dive in, you’ll almost certainly find something you like. (And if you do, please consider that paid subscription tier.)
Anyways, I have a question for First Floor readers, old and new alike:
Do you know MMM?
For anyone who’s been seriously following electronic music during the past few decades, that might seem like a ridiculous query, as seminal tracks like “Donna” and “Nous Sommes MMM” have granted the Berlin duo a vaunted position amongst the techno and rave elite.
Here’s the thing about MMM though—they’ve never really released a whole lot of music. After “Donna” blew up in 1997, they waited 11 years to drop another record. Just last week, they announced the forthcoming release of On the Edge, the first full-length of their 25 year career, but it too arrives after a seven-year absence. (And yes, it’s being released by the duo themselves, just like all of their past records.) If you already know MMM, news of the LP is undoubtedly exciting, but if you just got into dance music during the past few years, you might be thinking, “Who are MMM?”
It’s unlikely that this concerns MMM much. Both of its members—Errorsmith (a.k.a. Erik Wiegand) and Fiedel (a.k.a. Michael Fiedler), who first met in 1994 and began making music together the following year—have managed to stay quite busy during the past 25 years, even as they’ve largely shunned the spotlight. (Aside from MMM, both artists also have enviable solo careers. Errorsmith is a well-regarded instrument designer whose celebrated 2017 LP for PAN, Superlative Fatigue, was largely created using the Razor synth plug-in that he himself built, while Fiedel, who co-founded Berlin’s famed Wax Treatment party and also takes care of its legendary Killasan soundsystem, is a long-time resident DJ at Berghain who oversees several labels: Fiedelone, Fiedeltwo and Super Sound Tool.)
Chasing press attention has never been MMM’s bag—the current publicity campaign for On the Edge is the group’s first—and the numerous extended absences in their catalog demonstrate that ideas like “maintaining visibility” have never been important to them. Prior to last weekend, Errorsmith and Fiedel hadn’t done a joint English-language interview in more than a decade, but with the new album on the way, they’ve decided to open themselves back up to questions, with First Floor as their first media stop.
There was a lot of ground to cover, and though our conversation did touch upon the duo’s origins and how the project was shaped by the spirit of ’90s Berlin, we mostly focused on more recent history, and why MMM would finally choose to release a full-length now, a full 25 years after their first 12” appeared in 2006. We also discussed the new album’s “mellow” and “meditative” sound, which is something of a surprise from an outfit best known for boisterous techno, rave, electro and other dancefloor-oriented offerings. In the context of today’s increasingly careerist electronic music sphere, MMM’s decisions and timeline may seem odd, but as Errorsmith and Fiedel explained (repeatedly), they’ve never been guided by anything resembling a plan. They’re simply two friends who get together and make music when they can, and perhaps that’s why the results have been so rewarding.
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.
ANOTHER THING I WROTE
Have you ever been sent a ZIP file of WAV files, none of which contain any artist or song information? Has a promo ever landed in your inbox, but accessing it requires logging into some platform you’ve ever heard of? Do you prefer to be sent streams, but find that people always send download links instead? Or vice versa?
Admittedly, the idea of talking about these issues might initially sound like more of a potential sleep aid than a fascinating topic of discussion, but these topics—and, more importantly, the frustrations they cause—are ubiquitous in the music industry. That’s why Byta—a platform devoted to “fast and secure audio sharing”—commissioned me to put together a series of articles diving into the day-to-day difficulties faced by music industry folks who work with digital files (i.e. pretty much everyone). After all, if any of these problems are going to be solved (or even constructively addressed), someone needs to kickstart the conversation, or at least acknowledge publicly that they exist.
Digital Blues: The Day-to-Day Challenges of Music Sharing is my attempt to do just that. It’s a three-part series, and while some of my own thoughts and analysis are obviously included, I also interviewed a number of different people from across the music industry, including artists like Dre Skull, Nina Las Vegas and Parris, journalists Philip Sherburne and Isabela Raygoza, radio programmer Miles Anzaldo (the current Music Director at KROQ in Los Angeles), publicist Terra Lopez, sound engineer Sam John (of Precise Mastering) and music supervisor Alison Moses.
The series’ first installment, which focuses on metadata, went live last week. Part two follows tomorrow, and part three will be published on September 30. Give it a read; if you work with music, you’ll almost certainly find yourself nodding along within the first minute or two.
A round-up of of the last week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to interviews, mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Richard H. Kirk has died. The pioneering electronic / industrial / experimental artist was best known for his work with Cabaret Voltaire, although he worked under literally dozens of different aliases during his career, which incredibly spanned nearly five decades. Few details about his death have been made public, but Mute Records’ announcement referred to Kirk as a “towering creative genius,” which feels appropriate.
Lovers of soundsystem culture should not miss this fantastic piece on Dominican car audio culture that Isabelia Herrera wrote for the New York Times. It’s an amazing window into a vibrant musical subculture, and the accompanying photos / videos are incredible.
The Water & Music newsletter has been dormant during the past few months—mostly because founder Cherie Hu was busy migrating to entire platform to a new website—but it was revived in a major way this week with the launch of Extended Play, a new free weekly mailout that’s devoted to “contextualizing music-industry data.” The first edition is a heavily researched deep dive into the current state of livestreaming, a medium that’s so far failed to generate widespread audience interest, despite being greeted with all sorts of enthusiasm (and, more importantly, investment) by the music industry.
Shackleton interviews are a rare thing—a fact that was touted when I recently spoke to him in this recent feature for Pitchfork—but with his new album Departing Like Rivers out this month, the famously press-shy artist has elected to come a bit further out of his shell, digging into his musical history with writer Andy Beta in a new profile for Bandcamp.
Now that the hype around NFTs has cooled somewhat, DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) have become the hot new crypto abbreviation, and Andrew Ryce put together a feature for Resident Advisor in which he examines their potential applications in the world of music. The piece does include a lot of wildly optimistic quotes from crypto enthusiasts who seem to communicate exclusively in utopian speak, and it is almost entirely focused on one particular DAO (Friends with Benefits), but overall the article is pretty even-handed, as Ryce does take the time to address (or at least acknowledge) the serious critiques being thrown toward the burgeoning crypto space and the communities it’s fostered so far.
Fresh off the release of her debut album Under the Lilac Sky, the New Delhi-born, New York-based artist Arushi Jain has been profiled by Safi Bugel for Crack magazine, speaking at length about her unique combination of modular synthesis with Indian classical music.
Speaking of India, the country was at the center of the so-called “plague rave” discourse earlier this year, as several Western DJs traveled to the country to perform in the midst of the pandemic. While much of the previous conversation has focused on condemning those DJs, this new feature that Dhruva Balram penned for DJ Mag tells a more complicated story, one in which Indian promoters, artists and clubgoers also went to great lengths to keep the party going over the past 18 months, despite the COVID threat.
Back in April, I interviewed SoundCloud’s Mike Pelczynski about the company’s partial shift to user-centric streaming payout model—something the company has branded “fan-powered royalties”—and last week Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan reported on a particular case where that new system resulted in a track from Portishead generating 500% more revenue than it would have under the old pro-rata payout model. While the piece doesn’t offer much more in the way of data, and focuses on one cherry-picked example from a relatively high-profile artist, it is an encouraging story, and seems to indicate that SoundCloud continues to be serious about pushing the user-centric model.
As someone who drools over nearly everything Sully does, it was exciting to see that he’d been tapped for the latest edition of DJ Mag’s On Cue series. The article includes an interview with journalist Oskar Jeff, who digs into the UK artist’s early influences and the path he’s charted through dubstep, garage and jungle, and is also accompanied by a new DJ mix from Sully himself.
It’s not often that I’ll link to the same publication three times within a single newsletter, but DJ Mag has been on quite a roll lately, and their hot streak continues with this Livity Sound feature from Oli Warwick, who spoke with Simo Cell, Azu Tiwaline, label founder Peverelist and others about the Bristol outpost’s impeccable 10-year run.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
“Bax” is easily the most recognizable track in Mosca’s catalog, and last Sunday was the 10-year anniversary of the song’s initial release. To mark the occasion, the English producer released a new version of the seminal tune, taking inspiration from classic Baltimore house and using the lyrics of Charm City rapper Big Ria. The song is out now on Mosca’s own Rent label, a venture he spoke about at length in this First Floor interview last year.
Hyperdub has started up a new book imprint called Flatlines Press, which will officially debut with the release of Ø on October 12. Focused on the club night of the same name, which was curated by Kode9 and Shannen SP and took place at London’s Corsica Studios from January 2017 to March 2020, the book is said to be a “time capsule,” with images of event installations, plus “conceptual abstracts, artist bios, short additional texts and a flyer archive.” More details—and a presale link—can be found here.
Dead Rock, the debut album from Physical Therapy’s ambient-oriented Car Culture alias, is one of 2021’s strongest electronic albums—the New Jersey native discussed it at length in this First Floor interview a few months back—and now it’s been followed up with Car Culture Dubs, a name-your-price collection of edits that includes reworks of artists like Fleetwood Mac, Rickie Lee Jones, Donovan and Minnie Riperton. Apparently it will only be available for a limited time, so act fast if you’d like to download a copy.
DJ Lag will soon release his debut album. Entitled Meeting with the King, it’s said to feature both Lag’s signature gqom sound and some amapiano tracks, plus collaborations with Sinjin Hawke and a myriad of South African artists, including Lady Du, who features on lead single “Lucifer.” The full LP is scheduled to arrive on November 5 via the Black Major and Ice Drop labels.
Sherelle is seemingly everywhere these days, and now the Beautiful boss and Hooversound co-founder has been tapped to deliver the next edition of the Fabric Presents mix compilation series. It’s slated to arrive on November 26 and is being billed as a “high-octane, hi-energy tribute to jungle, footwork and bass beats,” but no audio previews have been shared yet. Nevertheless, a full rundown of what’s on offer—including the complete tracklist—can be found here.
RVNG Intl. and Adult Swim teamed up on a new compilation, Salutations, that dropped last week. Included are new tracks from Batu, Emily A. Sprague, Visible Cloaks, Sign Libra and a myriad of other artists, all of which are available here.
Soichi Terada was showered with acclaim when Sounds from the Far East—a Hunee-curated collection of the Japanese artist’s material from the ’90s and early 2000s—was released in 2015, and now he’s set to follow it up with an LP of newly produced music. Entitled Asakusa Light, it’s Terada’s first new house music album in 25 years, and will be issued via Rush Hour in December. More details are here, and first single “Bamboo Fighter” is already available to stream.
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 know Shawn already mentioned Mosca today, but “Vaccum Sealed” came out a few weeks ago, and I think it’s fantastic. I don’t often write about dance music, but whatever Mosca puts out always piques my interest. Apparently this track is his first ever go at drum & bass and it’s a good one. I could inundate you with superfluous adjectives about how great it is, but maybe it’s better to simply say that it’s hard not to move to this one.
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
Although the built-in vagueness of the term “bass music” leaves its practitioners with plenty of room to experiment, it does sometimes feel like producers have squeezed all the life out of the UK hardcore continuum. How many more dubstep-techno hybrids (with elements of IDM and / or jungle mixed in) do we really need? Luckily though, artists like Delay Grounds are around to deliver something fresh.
On the UK producer’s Upcycling EP, which surfaced just a few months ago, he literally used garbage he’d found in dumpsters to create sounds, and while that was certainly intriguing on a conceptual level, what was truly impressive is how Delay Grounds used those sounds to create wildly compelling club tracks. He’s now followed that up with a more personal new EP, Genus, and despite no trash being involved, the quality of the music remains exceedingly high. “I’d Like to See You Try” is a percussive stalker with plenty of crunch and some unnerving samples of a little kid’s ramblings, and “Are We There Yet?” is even more unhinged, its weighty bassline swaying like a wrecking ball as the song’s drums chaotically fire. It’s excellent stuff, and offers further proof that Delay Grounds is a serious talent.
Fans of Pure Moods-style ambient and new age are going to love Chaleur Humaine, the newly reissued 1992 album from French outfit UMAN (a.k.a. the brother-and-sister duo of Danielle and Didier Jean). A dreamy, high-gloss affair, the LP’s sparkling chimes and fuzzy atmospheres conjure images of fairy tales and fantasy novels, and Danielle’s soaring, highly processed vocals—which could sit comfortably alongside those of Enya or Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser—further enhance the music’s magical feel. On “Entrelacs,” she coos an invented language amidst an alluring swirl of pastel melodies, while the tear-jerking drama of “Cordes Sensibles” is even more intense, with UMAN “playing” a series of manipulated (albeit operatic) vocal clips atop the song’s sadly tinkling piano and laid-back trip-hop beat. Is it all a bit tacky? Perhaps, but it’s also wondrous and transportive. If someone built a luxury spa that was equally inspired by ’90s chillout rooms and the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, Chaleur Humaine would definitely be the house soundtrack.
Rhinestones, the latest full-length from Australian duo HTRK, is already being greeted with “album of the year” talk, and though I’m not yet ready to go that far, it’s an undeniably stunning record. The pair has been moving in a gloomier direction for years now, but the new LP captures that mood while stripping their sound down to the studs, leaving Jonnine Standish’s voice to do most of the emotional heavy lifting. Album opener “Kiss Kiss and Rhinestones” is closer to alt-country than electronic music, but it’s incredibly moving all the same, the song’s melancholy-streaked ramble bringing to mind the likes of PJ Harvey and even Slowdive’s more intimate moments. It’s a route that many shoegaze (and shoegaze-adjacent) outfits have pursued before, but Rhinestones makes it clear that HTRK always had some proper songwriting chops beneath their layers of fuzz and distortion. This time around, the group only really needs an acoustic guitar and a microphone to make an impact, and you just might find yourself reaching for the nearest box of tissues.
BEST OF THE REST
With past releases on labels like 100% Silk, Mister Saturday Night and Permanent Vacation—not to mention The Nite Owl Diner, which he ran alongside Chrissy—Alex Burkat is best known for his dancefloor-oriented dabblings, but his latest EP, The Spiral Island, finds him delving into a pool of unreleased ambient and experimental recordings he made while living in Brooklyn during the early 2010s. “East Coast Bells” is the best of the bunch, a twinkling journey into the clouds that’s perfect for staring at the sky and letting your mind lazily wander.
When it comes to weirdo ambient, few things are more reliable than the ENXPL cassette series, which dropped two excellent new installments last week. The first was a split between Rhode Island experimenter Russian Tsarlag and North Carolina’s Secret Boyfriend, and here I’ve highlighted the head-turning songs that open their respective sides of the tape. “Port Town” is sparse and pensive, its weighty drones and gentle twang sounding like a minimal Spaghetti Western score, while the blissfully shoegazey undulations of “Last Word” slowly stretch across the horizon like nimbus clouds on a grey afternoon.
The second tape came from Tokyo artist Sachi Kobayashi, whose Imaginary Trip has a more alien feel, especially on the tension-filled “Watch a Traditional Something.” The song’s warbling tones and low-end grumble make it sound like an outtake from a ’70s sci-fi film, evoking images of a doomed crew nobly making its way through a hopelessly disabled spaceship before disaster strikes. It’s unsettling, yes, but it’s also completely engrossing.
Although Bandcamp Fridays have taught many of us to feel wary any time an artist says that they’re dipping into their archives, CiM’s Unselected ProTracker Mods is a wholly worthwhile excavation. All nine of its tracks were written between 1996 and 1998, during a time when the UK producer was attempting to create electronic music with Amiga samples, using a computer that didn’t even have MIDI capabilities. As you might expect, what he produced is a bit rough around the edges, but “Metric” is a playfully glitchy delight and the more upbeat “Crash” is a lovably rattling number that does its best to approximate the spastic breakbeats of the era.
Speaking of the ’90s, Alpha Tracks has done a spot-on impression of that decade’s high-energy trance music on his new EP Bye Bye Sky High. Granted, recycled ’90s trance is everywhere these days, but the Vienna-based producer channels a particularly potent strain of the genre on “Double Exposure,” avoiding full-on cheese while rolling out a speedy brew of pummelling kicks, ethereal vocals and gurgling acid lines. In many ways, the song is more techno than trance, but Alpha Tracks has added just enough of the latter’s trademark grandeur to make this one palatable for a big-room crowd.
Electro with a side of melancholy. Although UK producer False Persona can make a proper electro banger with the best of them—the title track of his new Unknown Variable EP is a enjoyably brawny rumbler—“By My Side” explores the genre’s more tender side, sanding off the rough edges and employing some glittering synths that wind up sounding downright wistful. And if that’s not enough to tug at your heartstrings, he also throws some ghostly, Burial-esque vocal snippets into the mix. “By My Side” may not be a full-blown weeper, but it’s absolutely something a lovesick raver would play on repeat when they’re alone in their bedroom.
Martyn dropped the third and final chapter of the It Was Always There compilation last week, and its contents once again demonstrated that there’s an incredible wealth of talented (and largely unheralded) producers out there. The full collection is worth perusing, but Manchester producer Darsk has really distinguished himself with “Lair,” a booming cut whose fortified low end and broken techno rhythms compare favorably with those crafted by the Ilian Tape crew.
Ricardo Tobar can do a little bit of everything, which perhaps explains how the Chilean producer has managed to contribute to a diverse slate of labels that includes Border Community, Cocoon and ESP Institute, to name just a few. “Our Violence” is the title track of his latest EP, and it’s a confident dancefloor stomper, harkening back to the early days of UK acid house with its bright synths and snippets of anthemic diva vocals. There’s a definite retro flavor at work, but this satisfyingly crunchy tune feels more like an homage than a throwback, with Tobar repurposing the best bits of the past to create something new and vibrant.
It’s long been obvious that Simo Cell has a passion for bass, but on his new mini-LP YES.DJ, the French producer stretches that love across numerous genres and tempos, dipping into trap, juke, dub, Southern hip-hop and more. “Whispers” offers a twisted, electro-infused take on Jersey and Baltimore club, surrounding its bouncy beats with jagged basslines, ice-cold synths and devilishly manipulated vocal clips. (Imagine Rye Rye and the Ying Yang Twins getting into the studio with DJ Stingray and you’ve got something close to this track.) It’s not the average dancefloor cut—halfway through, Simo Cell brings in what sounds like samples of a yelping dog—but “Whispers” is both inventively odd and damn effective.
Plenty of artists commission remix records, but Swedish pianist and composer Henrik Lindstrand has gone a step further with Reimagined, enlisting people like Christina Vantzou, Alex Somers and Benoît Pioulard to make their own versions of tracks from his Leken, Nattresan and Nordhem LPs. Here, Berlin-based cellist Anne Müller puts her spin on “Søndermarken,” replacing Lindstrand’s piano with pert plucks and emotive string passages while creating something that sounds like the musical equivalent of a spring garden in full bloom. Given that “Søndermarken” translates to “the Southern field,” maybe that sensation isn’t a coincidence, but even if it is, this subtly cinematic number is brimming with warmth and possibility.
That brings us 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.)
Until next time,