Various Artists Bangs & Works, Vol. 1: A Chicago Footwork Compilation
Reviewed by Andrew Gaerig Source: (Pitchfork)
Let's be clear: footwork, or footwurk, or footwerk is not blowing up. Not like dubstep or electroclash or hyphy blew up. Footwork is really more of a lit fuse at this point, and one of those painfully slow, Wile E. Coyote-style fuses at that. Roughly, footwork pits sharp, repetitive samples of soul, hip-hop, and reggae against limping, junkyard-dog 808s. It is music composed, at least theoretically, to encourage a specific kind of dancing, but the strangeness of the tracks suggests the producers have ulterior motives. (The dancing looks a bit like breakdancing, but using your arms is discouraged.) Bangs & Works, Vol. 1 is the first widely available compilation of footwork music, released by London-based Planet Mu, whose founder, Mike Paradinas, is relentless in his quest for new sounds.
There is little question why footwork evolved in Chicago: House music birthed the raunchier, uptempo ghetto house (or "juke"), which in turn led to the stripped-for-parts footwork sound. Like ghetto house, tracks usually settle in around 160 bpm; at 140 you've found yourself a ballad. There are hip-hop roots too: the sound's genesis is rooted in RP Boo's "Baby Come On", a track that prominently features an Ol' Dirty Bastard sample (sadly not included here). Other tracks owe a debt to hip-hop's vulgar confidence. Kanye West is said to have been influenced by the scene's early progenitors.
Chicago-based journalist and DJ Dave Quam called footwork "more or less the gum under the shoe of mainstream electronic music," which is a fantastic visual that also speaks to the tuff pliability of the sound. Footwork is not expansive. Unlike, say, house music, which has been refracted into a million directions, Bangs & Works will sound homogenous and alien on first listen (remember back to your first listen to Run the Road or Favela Booty Beats; shit's going to start off a little annoying). Repeated listens will parcel the tracks into three or so basic categories: short, styled dance numbers; novelty tracks; and slyly artful tracks.
Regarding that third category: it's probably fair to say that ghetto house never spawned tracks that sought as obviously to transcend their club context as DJ Elmoe's "Whea Yo Ghost At, Whea Yo Dead Man" or DJ Trouble's "Bangs & Works". Tracks like DJ Roc's "One Blood" and DJ Nate's "Ima Dog" remind me of anyone's first experience with a sampler: They invariably mash a single pad, rhythmically restarting the sample again and again.
The core element of footwork appears to be contrast: between the sharp drums and the melodic samples, between art and novelty. "Ima Dog" pits its ripping, staccato title sample against what sounds like a new age elegy. RP Boo's "Eraser" feigns Armageddon, but its ascendant soul diva exposes it as something more optimistic. DJ Nate's "He Ain't Bout It" mixes banal trash talk with soothing chants. "Jungle Juke" goofily steals from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", and "Freddy vs. Jason" is a horror-movie mashup.
Footwork seems like it should be a young man's game, but it's not, really. It's been fermenting in Chicago for at least a decade, if not longer, and many of its principals-- RP Boo, DJ Rashad, DJ Roc, DJ Spinn-- are hardly fresh faces. Footwork reminds me spiritually of the blues that artists like Junior Kimbrough used to play: raunchy, fun music that knowingly sacrificed complexity for rhythm (the ramshackle clubs this music was played in: juke joints). And like some strains of blues, footwork appears to be catching on overseas before it finds larger audiences stateside. Bristol-based dubstep producer Addison Groove's "Footcrab", one of the year's dance music smashes, is an obvious homage and would be even if its mantra-like, goofball refrain didn't sound like a G-rated version of DJ Roc's "Fuck Dat".
At this point, it's not worth speculating about the future prospects of the footwork scene. If dubstep and house long ago left the club in search of other musical terrains, footwork is only just peeking out the door. The real promise of Bangs & Works isn't an international footwork movement per se, but a generation of resourceful and creative producers-- heretofore ignored-- redefining dance music for themselves. Here's hoping the size of their audience matches their appetites for the goofy, the melancholy, and the left-field.
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