"Yeah, let's not even bring that term into it."
Reilly and Nico of Brooklyn's Fifth Wall Records are living in a bubble. There's recently been a buzz surrounding leftfield house and techno—often dubbed "outsider"—in the duo's new East Coast home, but they've looked elsewhere for inspiration. Fifth Wall's club-ready, industrial aesthetic is more in-line with music produced across the Atlantic, and it's arrived at a point where demand for the sound is rising. The Fifth Wall sound is more conventional than a lot of the music coming out of New York, more likely to get thrown on the platter at 4 AM. It takes cues from the style of techno championed by a growing number of European, particularly UK-based, producers, but gives it an American touch.
The label was started back in February with a 12-inch from Nico (both of the label heads preferred not to give their surnames). Case (Nabis) was the debut of his Hound Scale alias, and a clear sign of what was to come. Steely, swinging percussion and jarring samples were coupled with R&B vocals and big basslines, immediately recalling heavyweight tracks from the UK bass / techno sphere. Despite the maximalist approach, through, there was a clear focus on groove, helping give each track an accessible dance floor appeal. It was funky, bouncy techno, yet it felt at home on the more brutal end of things. Though it was more straightforward and loopy, the same could be said of Fifth Wall's second release, Reilly's Used Experience EP. Produced under the name Divvorce, this one too was aimed at the peak-time dance floor.
The Fifth Wall discography now totals nine 12-inches. Two more have come from Reilly and Nico, with contributions also supplied by UK acts Clouds and Unklone, and Ireland's Myler. These international contributors have so far been the label's most conventional efforts, each showcasing an abrasive, full-bodied sound very much in line with current trends. It was thanks to the success of Fifth Wall's first two releases that these were possible. Clouds, one of the year's biggest techno breakthroughs, emailed asking to be put on the Fifth Wall promo list. One thing led to another, and then Reilly and Nico signed some of the Scottish duo's new material in the form of the Man Out Of Dubs EP. "We were like, 'Wait, why are they sending us music?'" Reilly says. "Who are we? We're nobodies.' But that's how it happened with a few of the [other acts] too."
Of the artists Reilly and Nico have released original material from, they've only met two—Matrixxman and Physical Therapy—face-to-face. In Fifth Wall's early days, it was necessary to look outside the US to find the sound they wanted. Reilly and Nico trawled SoundCloud, often beginning with the acts they'd discovered via hurfyd, a well-known YouTube channel specialising in lesser known house and techno. "There's a web of star producers," Reilly says. "We'd look at someone's SoundCloud, and see who they're following and who's following them. We'd just meander through social media."
"Everyone we were in touch with at the beginning was from the UK," Nico says. "There's just more of a foundation for this kind of thing over there so their taste levels for good music are higher at a younger age. It seems like everyone we put out from the UK is like 20."
"And in the US they're in their thirties," Reilly adds.
Matrixxmann and Physical Therapy are the two other Americans on the Fifth Wall roster. Their efforts strayed from the abrasiveness of the label's earlier catalogue. Matrixxmann's polished The XX Files, one of the label's most memorable releases, bundled a drum track, proto-house tropes and swirling synths (albeit with a bone crunching remix from Myler). Physical Therapy's Yes, I'm Elastic took an oddball approach to classicist techno. Its slightly syncopated rhythms and tongue-in-cheek vocals were a step away from the warehouse sound that had dominated Fifth Wall's previous output.
Nico and Reilly have long been fans of UK music. Nico recounts buying Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner and a Newham Generals mixtape in London as a teenager, laying the foundations for his interest in electronic music. "Instrumental grime led me to garage, jungle and all that other shit," he explains. "I don't know what I'd be listening to if there was no UK on the map, but it wouldn't be techno."
The pair met at a breast cancer benefit gig in San Francisco. They'd grown up in the surrounding area, and at the time had just begun producing music. At the beginning, Reilly was making various kinds of house and bass music, releasing on labels like Top Billin and Hot N Heavy, while Nico was trying his hand at grime beats. They didn't stick with any one thing for too long, though, dabbling in several other styles before settling on techno. "It's easy to not get swept up in a genre there," Nico says of San Francisco. "There's no one being like, 'Oh yeah, we're techno heads.' Everyone just likes whatever is popular at that moment."
In founding Fifth Wall, Reilly and Nico aimed to create a home for music that was underrepresented in the US. The warehouse techno sound was flourishing across Europe, but didn't have the support of labels, or even many DJs, at home. They both recall complaining about the music they heard at parties, pondering why no Americans were making the kind of music they liked. "Anytime we would see each other at clubs, we would be like, 'Oh, man, this fucking music is terrible,'" Nico laughs. "We'd say, 'What's the deal, man? Why is America so perpetually fucking behind these days?'"
"Most of the music we liked was from the UK or Germany or wherever," Reilly continues. "But where were the American labels championing this music? They were non-existent."
The timing of Reilly and Nico's relocation to New York was independent of any musical trends. House and techno are going through a strong period in New York, helped along by the breakthroughs of many new producers and labels like L.I.E.S. and Mister Saturday Night. "The house and techno scene has grown exponentially since moving here," Reilly says. "When I first arrived, most of the house and techno parties were the bigger, more established nights—parties like Blk|Market Membership and Resolute. Now there are a lot of smaller, more random things, happening at places like Bossa Nova Civic Club."
"We decided to move here and start the record label before [New York] was super buzzy," Reilly says.
The pair had discussed heading east for some time. Before meeting they'd planned on moving to New York for separate, non-musical reasons, but decided to do relocate together after Nico had graduated college. They now run Fifth Wall out of the Brooklyn apartment they share, but are hesitant to suggest that being based in New York has a major strategic advantage over being based elsewhere in the US. Nonetheless, they say that being in close proximity to a stronger scene means that they're more likely to meet people that are musically like-minded. "It would be a much larger benefit if we were in London or Berlin," Nico says. "But it's definitely a benefit over San Francisco. I rarely go out here, so I rarely meet people. But it seems that every time I do, I meet someone with a similar outlook on music as me."
For Reilly and Nico, the learning curve has been steep. They took some financial hits early on because of pressing plant and administrative issues. After almost a year in the game, though, things have settled down, but they regret not seeking advice more proactively. "We made some mistakes," Nico says. "Not huge mistakes, but we would have a few more thousand dollars if we would've had a Mr. Miyagi of dance music come 'round and tell us what to do. If you're starting a label, do your research."
Nico and Reilly are the latest in a long line of artists to supply world-class techno from a New York base. Synewave and Sonic Groove are well-known examples, but dozens of others have done their part over the past two decades. With a careful acknowledgement of the city's history, Reilly and Nico aspire to bridge the gap they see between US and European techno. "We just thought we'd come in with a fresher take on things," Nico concludes. "The foundations are here but we wanted to bring it up-to-date."
Download: RA Label of the Month 1312 Mix: Fifth Wall
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Filesize: 183 MB
Part I: Divvorce
Charanjit Singh - Raga Bhairav
JoeFarr - Take Two of These
Tripeo - Untitled #4
Alis - Untitled
Plastikman - Plasticine
Metrist - Untitled
Clouds - Cybergrind Your Mind
Matrixxman - Credentials (Myler Remix)
Divvorce - Roquentin's Release
Adam F - Circles
Part II: Hound Scales
Lewi White and Jammer - The Coffin
Tori Amos/Bjork/PJ Harvey/Massive Attack - Dissolved by the Water of all the Years
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark - The New Stone Age
Prurient - You Show Great Spirit
Low Jack - Dont you Know
Dualit - Rant
Metrist - Dragen Tract
Darqwan - Said the Spider (Surgeon Remix)
Hound Scales - Howard Hughesian
Myler - Buttersoft Leather
Hound Scales - Throated
Collapsing New Buildings - Styropo
The Jacka - Wit the Shit