When Paradinas put out Bangs & Works Vol 1 in 2010, it sent shock waves through dance music. Planet Mu's landmark compilation introduced the world to a strange new sound coming out of South and West Chicago which, for all intents and purposes, blew minds. That sound was footwork, a descendent of ghettohouse which, as it transpired, had been around for years but had remained largely unknown outside of Chicago. Unknown, that is, until Mike Paradinas sorted through a few thousand tracks and selected his favourite 24 for Bangs & Works. Evolving out of 4/4 juke, footwork producers added manic syncopation and blitzkrieg sample-craft in a bid to create a music reflective of the increasingly intricate, trick-laden and aggressive dance moves displayed at juke battles.
The outcome was avant, abstract and, for the virgin listener, difficult to comprehend. Just for a moment it was as though the future was back, just when we were beginning to think that the "shock of the new" in dance music was a thing of the past.
Five years later, footwork continues to impact the British scene, but it's no longer a darling of dance music journalism. As the Chicago scene faces trying times following the untimely death of DJ Rashad, one of footwork's founding fathers, we talk to the man who brought the genre to Britain to find out where the future lies for the Windy City's very most mind-bending dance invention.
Thump: Have you come across a footwork mini-scene of sorts, or even footwork nights and regular battles, either in London or farther afield in Britain?
Mike Paradinas: Well there's that Dalston label, We Buy Gold. I DJ'd at one of their nights a while back.
So how does a footwork night in Britain play out then?
Well it was in Dalston, so there was a lot of what you might call "passing trade" - i.e people who weren't necessarily there for the footwork. But I suppose there was a few confused people and a few people who were totally loving it. But, yeah, it did still go off a bit.
What was the deal, dancing-wise?
Do you mean were people footwork-dancing? No, it more drunk people having a laugh. To tell you the truth I haven't ever seen Brits footworking, not in the athletic sense, as opposed to just a really good but drunken tribute. In the UK, it's not like it is in, say, Japan.
How do you mean?
Well over here, footwork the music is catching on, in that increasingly, certain elements of footwork are being spliced with pre-existing UK genres from the "hardcore continuum", in the post-dubstep landscape. But in Japan, where there's a massive footwork scene, they do things differently. Generally speaking, Japanese culture places a lot of stock in appropriating modes of Western pop culture accurately and in their entirety. So in the case of footwork, rather than stop at merely adopting the music, they've also developed a whole scene based around music - i.e with actual dancing.
But not here?
In Britain, it's a completely different set up. On the one hand, historically we've always felt a bit guilty about appropriating or importing whole cultures, preferring to invent our own scenes, do our own thing or take parts of the culture and put our own spin on them. I mean, look at the criticism Hijack received back in 1986 for rapping in American accents. That attitude still persists. Secondly, in Britain. because we're all so uptight and shit dancers, footwork as a dance just hasn't caught on. I mean, basically, over here we need to be fucked on drugs to dance, which obviously isn't exactly conducive to developing a scene around such an athletic dance form.
So what the Japanese are doing, is it pretty much straight footwork?
Well it is in tempo, yeah. But then, the Japanese tend to go a bit mad don't they? So there's a lot of really crazy stuff there. I mean it doesn't sound like Chicago footwork and it doesn't sound like the more streamlined stuff that's coming out of Europe. And they're really into the history of footwork, so they're making music that goes right back to ghetto house.
As for Chicago, how has the death of DJ Rashad affected the scene do you feel?
Rashad's death has brought everyone together, and given them a renewed sense of purpose. The producers want to carry on the footwork because of Rashad. They want to carry on what Rashad started, is the best way of putting it. Apart from that, the producers are still producing, just as they always have since 2006/2007.
Otherwise, what's happening within the Chicago scene right now?
Well a lot of the producers have moved on to hip hop; artists like Young Smoke, and Nate. Loadsa autotune.
Following Rashad and Spinn's lead, Traxman and RP Boo are starting to travel outside of Chicago, which is an important next step for the scene. They've played Japan a couple of times now, while Tim And Barry brought them to the UK. There's not a lot of money in doing footwork just in Chicago, but nevertheless, personally I have found it difficult to get the producers to leave the city. It's hard to get them into the way of thinking that they can escape Chicago, the idea of flying somewhere to DJ is very alien to them.
However, in some cases, it's simply down to the fact that some of the producers aren't willing to put work in, or perhaps would prefer to spend their time in the studio, which is something I completely understand; I hate DJing and playing live.
At the same time, it costs a lot to bring these producers over here.
Is there a producer we're unaware of who might otherwise have come to the attentions of the international press had they travelled out of Chicago?
If there's one DJ who's been overlooked it's probably DJ Diamond. Amazing producer. He comes up with these amazing idea, and concepts and production. But some people just want to sit down and have everything come to them in terms of a career, but it doesn't always work like that.
Any new producers coming through who've impressed you this year?
Yeah, we've got releases coming out on Planet Mu this year from one lesser known artist, JLin, a female footwork producer. She's amazing. Her stuff was used to soundtrack Rick Owen's fashion show in March, so she's doing really well out of that. She's been over to Europe since.
Is there anyone you feel is pushing the form forward? Changing footwork?
You've got people like Teklife's Australian producer, Little Jabba - a friend of Rashad's. He's doing some really interesting things.
In what way?
Well, it's like he's introduced a completely different feeling into footwork. He doesn't use the same sort of samples, and his music is synthesiser-based as opposed to sample-based. With synthesiser-based footwork, sometimes the end result can be a bit wishy-washy, but Jabba keeps it interesting and dark.
Can that go too far though? I find some of Traxman and Spinn's recent stuff a bit like it's defanging the genre. Seems like they're attempting to take footwork more "tasteful", "musical" direction, if you like; what with all the orchestral and jazz samples. It reminds me a bit of what became of D'n'B towards the end of the 90s. What do you think?
I don't agree. If you mean, like, the "coffee-table jazz-ification" of footwork, the only so-called "gentrified" footwork I can think of is some of the stuff Earl's being releasing lately, or some of the more streamlined styles coming out of Europe, from producers who don't know how to make a sample sound tough. But no, Traxman is hardcore. His use of samples is more Dilla than LTJ Bukem.
I found Rashad's last big release on Hyperdub, Double Cup, really interesting. Because it was kind of a two-way-traffic scenario whereby, for once, here was a Chicago footwork producer taking from the British scene instead of the other way around. There was jungle and Brit acid influences on there.
He was really inspired by his European tour. Actually there's a lot of Chicago producers very interested in British style. For instance, Young Smoke's been putting dubstep on his tracks. The thing is, though, once the Brit influences are fed through the footwork template, more often than not they're eaten up beyond recognition. So you can't always identify the UK element.
And finally, the $64,000 dollar question. What is the difference between footwork and juke?
Juke is what the stuff you bang footwork too. The music grew out of the dance. But at the same time, juke is party music that's more 4/4, whereas the producers I've talked to see footwork as the more syncopated stuff. And juke is the music for the parties, while footwork is for the battles. Also, footwork is footwork but juke can refer to footwork and ghettohouse.
Is there a new Bangs And Work compilation in the pipeline?
Not yet. I mean, we tried but they cost a lot of money to do because all the artists wants paying - like, an advance. We've released two of them and lost money on both. I love footwork but when the label loses money it impacts our ability to release stuff from the other artists on the label. I mean, we do have a lot of tracks reserved for another compilation, but not quite enough yet.
"Dark Energy" by JLin will be released on Planet Mu in early 2015.
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