Various Artists - Bangs & Works Vol. 1 (A Chicago Footwork Compilation)
Reviewed by Jeremy Bye Source: (The Silent Ballet)
Around the time of Warp's first Artificial Intelligence album and the evolution of ambient techno, people woke up to the possibility of enjoying dance music in the comfort of their homes. This wasn't a new idea - earlier generations had coped with this conundrum and had squared the notion of listening to the swing bands in the dancehall and the kitchen - but for the time it was something of a breakthrough. Dance music had become too hard edged, too fast and muscular to appeal to the casual listener, and the notion of creating compilations for after hours spread; eventually the record shop shelves would groan from the weight of CDs with the words 'ambient' and 'chill out' plastered all over them.
Despite this glut, there was room for the occasional genre-defining compilation, one that simultaneously introduced a new sound and made everything else that followed seem watered down. Mo'Wax's Headz, compiled by James Lavelle, collected a host of fresh artists and put them alongside a few established names to introduce Trip-Hop to a new audience and make any attempt to better it a futile exercise. Today, even the concept of such a compilation seems improbable. Now that everybody can listen to everything on the internet, few hidden musical enclaves are left. Playlists and streaming audio are increasingly the method of preferred communication. Into this situation, however, a genre-defining compilation has just arrived, introducing music that might, just might, wield a pervasive influence on the mainstream in 2011.
It may seem a touch premature to place Bangs & Works on a similar pedestal to Headz, but there are parallels. Headz introduced a new sound based on an established style and was compiled by a British curator who drew on an insular world born out of the DJ culture. Those at a remove to the scene were left to wonder how this had been brought together and what would happen next, which turned out to be a series of increasingly watered down attempts to copy the style from other record labels. To date, Bangs & Works has the first part nailed down. The sound is Footwork, and the insular world is Chicago; the word spread within the community principally via YouTube and only after several years evolving at its own pace did it eventually make it to the ears of Mike Paradinas of Planet Mu. Paradinas as champion of Footwork makes perfect sense, as his label has been one of the main focal points for the growth of dubstep (and to a lesser extent, grime); and he has had some previous success in dragging an underground, alien-sounding genre towards the mainstream.
Footwork is a type of dance music named after the style of dancing that has developed in parallel with the music over a decade or so. The form and the function is such that all the tracks on Bangs & Works stick to a similar tempo (a snappy 160bpm). While it may be popular, this music is distributed with little or no money going to the artist. The record companies might be constantly warning of the Imminent Collapse of the Music Industry, but this is how the new wave of artists are dealing with it: make it, give it away, move on. It's not a solution that will suit everybody, but for bedroom-based musicians who wouldn't make a living out of it anyway, it will do for now - some 2000 miles west the youthful hip-hoppers in the Odd Future collective are doing the same thing.
The opening introduction for Footwork to a wider audience was in the form of DJ Nate, but one artist's vision of the music over 25 tracks on Da Trak Genious may have proved a little too much; on Bangs & Works he's limited to a couple of contributions alongside about a dozen other producers. The variety works well; within a fairly rigid template there's a lot to distinguish the artists and tracks from one another. The opening track, DJ Elmoe's "Where Yo Ghost At, Where Yo Dead Man" is a gentle introduction. The pitched-up vocal, the sparse drum, the empty arrangement - it's positively refined, particularly in comparison to Tha Pope's "Jungle Juke", which arrives a couple of tracks later and samples a version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)" to punishing effect. These are Footwork tropes: bass and drums meet midway between techno and R&B, and are the foundations for an occasional keyboard patch and more often pitched up (or down) samples of tunes or movies, frequently the sweary bits. Obvious chopped up samples litter Footwork releases, from Tiffany Evans' "Promise Ring" to Wings' "Live & Let Die", the obligatory nod to Kraftwerk and beyond.
Within the apparent self-imposed limitations of the genre, surprises still exist, such as DJ Spinn's "2020", the nascent sound of ambient Footwork. DJ Trouble's "Mosh Pit" co-opts a guitar riff as its theme, whilst reggae and hip hop rhythms crop up from time to time on other tracks. With its juddering beats and disconcerting samples, one can see why these sounds caught the imagination of Mike Paradinas. Given the way he and his peers adapted the sounds of jungle into drill 'n' bass, it is possible that a mutant strain of Footwork is being cooked up in UK bedroom studios even now. Having been a home of the blues, techno and post-rock, it seems entirely likely that Chicago will be the location for another musical revolution; the integration of Footwork into the mainstream will be fascinating to watch.
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