What started out as Mike Paradinas’ latest craze, somewhere between snobbish and fun, has ended up as the trend topic of the year. Juke fever has spread like its tempo behaves: wildly. And everybody knows that the faster something rises, the harder it falls. After digesting the minced meat of DJ Nate, DJ Roc and DJ Rashad served up on Planet Mu –bigger fans will have accompanied this menu with other mixtapes and personal discoveries– we all now have the same question: how long will the footwork effect last? Or to put it another way, how much it is possible to stretch and/or mutate the genre? Partly being honest, partly watching my back, I’ll say that it’s hard to be sure. Nevertheless, if you go scratching at the family tree of Chicago House, you can find the genetic trace that the endogamy of the place has left, until you get to the juke of the new kids. Here, the novelty is that a style that is so particular to a context like the suburbs of Chicago could cross the ocean first-class to have everyone talking about it. But the “concept” has been brewing for a long time in the Windy City.
In the suburbs of the south side of Chicago, like in other big American cities, young people either get into a dance crew or a gang. There are obviously exceptions, but stories of African-American teenagers who choose dancing as an alternative to gang shootouts have already been seen. Looking no further, in “Rize” (2005), David LaChapelle portrayed the krump universe and how its inhabitants got involved in the Los Angeles dance underworld with an almost religious fervour, it being their only alternative left if they declined the option of crime. Footwork also has a lot of this, with the difference that in Chicago that competitive spirit has spread from dance to sound systems. If you don’t dance, you take care of the music; but you always compete. RP Boo started out dancing, until he switched over to the turntables. This happened at the end of the 90s. Thanks to a Roland R-70 and a sampler of the ice-cream truck song, RP Boo accidentally became the father of juke –as a musical style, since the dance already existed. “Ice Cream”, as well as “Baby Come On”, were played by other names that are now familiar thanks to Paradinas. DJ Spinn, DJ Rashad or DJ Clent were in charge then of spinning for the dance battles between the different crews in Chi-Town (the local name for the China Town of the city) and other neighbourhoods on the south side of Chicago. Ghetto house was the religion of the day, and in fact, if you listen to these old pieces of footwork, you’ll find more similarities to suburban house than to DJ Nate’s productions. Nevertheless, the first genetic mutation had taken place. The rest was just a matter of time.
2. The Impasse Since 1997, when RP Boo forged the first link in the evolutionary chain leading to the footwork we know, with the genre in the hands of young kids who get together to dance after school, record it, and post it on YouTube, its evolution has been gradual, but wide-ranging. Labels like Twilight 76 or Dancemania, dedicated to giving expression to the rough tracks of native house for some time, started to put out productions from Deeon, Gant-Man or DJ Rashad among others. In fact, Twilight 76 sensed the offshoot of juke as a genre, and in the middle of the noughties created Juke Trax to welcome those young producers who were starting to show their own particular styles. The first releases from DJ Spinn, DJ Rashad or DJ Clent can be found in the Juke Trax catalogue between 2004 and 2005, with a sound that is still close to its grandfather, ghetto house, but already with the “concept” created by RP Boo in “Ice Cream” or “Baby Come On” developed. Just then, in 2005, and far from the Chicago ecosystem, Missy Elliott included snippets of the footwork that people danced in the 90’s in the video for “Lose Control”; then the tempo was lower than in conventional ghetto house in order to facilitate the movements. It’s true that it is the beat itself that encourages you to recover the dance; the sample of “Clear” from Cybotron makes you think of “The New Dance Show” and its dancers, the same place where juke was forged to the rhythm of “Percolator”. Another example that is much more faithful to the idea of footwork that has reached us this year on YouTube and which is much closer in time. In 2007 the Chicago duo Dude ‘N Nem pulled “Watch My Feet” out from their sleeves, a song that spread on MTV thanks to a video that reflects the footwork scene to a certain extent, from the dance itself to battles between crews. So the references between 1997 and 2010, although they are few and far between, can be found in the heart of Chi-Town, in their natural habitat, and even in more mainstream urban music. This has been exactly the stylistic evolution of the wave; the old school starts from the patterns of ghetto house and ghetto-tech as its productive base, as this is its musical background. Nevertheless, the new guys have grown up listening to R&B, southern rap and other variants of hip hop, so the generational jump is also stylistic out of pure logic.
3. The Present Knowing the evolution of the wave in its natural setting, the neighbourhoods of Chicago, it’s easy to predict that footwork will continue to provide the music for battles in sports centres on Friday nights. As has occurred in the last ten years, the genre will mutate and the different splits will be marked by the evolution of other music that serves as an inspiration and material that can be sampled, for those who will be the future Nates, Rocs, etc. But let’s not forget that the main motivation for these kids to get home, hang up their backpacks, and start producing is to “get over” at the next party, in the next battle. That Mike Paradinas has decided to put out the material of these producers in a few albums on his label is an isolated incident, completely separate from the energetic spiral behind the movement. And, nevertheless, this is the fact that has created a global interest in this endemic fever from the Windy City, with its own consequences. The first, obviously, is the distributing of the sound. The producers who put music to the wave have gone from being famous in their neighbourhood to being recognisable not only in other places within the United States, but also on the other side of the Atlantic. The eye of the capo of Planet Mu has been crucial in this sense, but if this fixation had taken place in 1997, regarding some figure similar to Paradinas, the result wouldn’t have been the same. Here, once again, the merit goes to the everlasting global network. The second consequence of the outbreak of footwork is how this sound is being used in some cases, reinvented in others, by producers far away from Lake Michigan or not involved in the universe of dance battles. Over the course of 2010, as the pandemic has spread, we have seen common names from electronic current events hop on the bandwagon. From Cooly G announcing the inclusion of songs in his DJ sessions on Twitter, to Machinedrum putting out his own vision of the genre in mixtape format. Many are them are ending the year by having made their mark on the already-global juke scene.
4. The FutureAnd we’re back to the origin of the text, to the question that catches at our soul when we’re talking about footwork, the big question surrounding this rhythmic wave. If this uncertainty didn’t exist, we would already have our mind on the consequences of the popularisation of the genre. Nevertheless, it’s still a bit early for that. We’re referring to the ability that the genre will have to recreate itself in the coming months; how much a style that has undergone so little change over the last ten years can be stretched, deformed, deconstructed and evolved. From here on, the history of footwork lies in the hands, on one hand, of its instigators and how they are affected by it being not only dance crews who pay attention to their productions, but also a good part of the world’s musical establishment. Will DJ Nate and his comrades keep producing with the sole purpose of blowing out the sound system of the dance battle in question, or will they change their creative habits in order to open up to global understanding? And if this happens and, in effect, the next mutation of the stock comes from the “international” gene, we still don’t know what the stylistic consequences might be. Whether some specific sound will come into fashion when it comes to sampling (imagine if they start getting into Disney classics or Bollywood soundtracks) or the bpm’s will slow down from 160 to make it easier for the international market to absorb are issues that are still up in the air.
In this sense, a key piece might be the Ghettophilies label, born for the purpose of giving an outlet to juke production from Chicago, but which since its very beginning has announced its intention to include other genres in its catalogue, such as ghetto-tech or even moombahton. Meanwhile, and as has been happening this year, the most likely thing is that straying outside the genre will come from outside of the scene itself. Producers like Andrea or Addison Groove, who try a bit of discordant rhythm, might provide another vision—less purist, but more easily assimilated—for this relatively new musical wave. And although the capos of the Chicago scene have already declared their enthusiasm for the spreading of juke (RP Boo himself bragged in an interview about it being Europe who has noticed them, and he took advantage to attack his fellow Americans for their lack of vision), it’s hard to imagine that the productions of some outsider could end up being played in Chi-Town battles.
Whether we like to speculate more or less, the answer to the future of juke will only become clear over time. Let’s enjoy in the here and now what this remaining fever that’s spread like wildfire has to offer, and which will undoubtedly have consequences when we find ourselves in December of 2011 going over the ins and outs of musical current events still to come. For the time being, this is what the subject has to say for itself, and not just this year, but over the last decade. So here’s our footwork taster menu.
a) Planet Mu: Lighting the Fire Paradinas opened the way by announcing the release of DJ Nate and DJ Roc’s albums, as well as DJ Rashad’s maxi. Three fundamental pieces that give the particular vision of a single producer, they collect material from the present, but also more vintage productions, and they make a good package when it comes to becoming familiar with the vocals and the schizophrenic rhythm. If you want to get a wider view of this trip, you can go one of two ways. Listen to the mix with which Paradinas made his passion for the scene official, or get a hold of “Bangs & Works Vol. 1” , a wide-ranging compilation of the genre and the latest thing that Planet Mu has put out in this area recently.
Bangs & Works Vol.1
b) Ghettophilies: The Vision from the InsideA newly created label, heir to the legacy of Juke Trax or the legendary Dancemania, Ghettophilies has had a frenzied pace of production. Going over their albums can provide a more genuine view of what is happening on the streets of Chicago, with the names of heavyweights in the genre (DJ Clent, Traxman or RP Boo) amongst their prominent producers. In November, they closed the year with the compilation “Overkill” , on which you can find the most select pieces that the label has to offer at its young age.
c) Outside Agents: Chicago from the Outside or the Tangent As we’ve said, and as you will already know yourself if you follow current events in electronic music, the number of outside producers who have assimilated the juke sound for their own creations is growing every day. Headhunter put on the suit of Addison Groove to make the juke sound more European in “Footcrab”. Later, Andrea (that is to say, Andy Stott) would do something similar under the auspices of the Daphne label, satellite of Modern Love, with “Retail Juke / Write Off” . Another example of how the genre works in the hands of amateur players is “Footwerk Clasixxx Da Revenge Mix”, a set put out for urb.com by the multifaceted Machinedrum, in which you can find Travis Steward or Hovatronredone juke-style, songs by Dorian Concept remixed with the more orthodox footwork of DJ Elmoe, Rashad, Nate, etc.
d) For Explorers
If your appetite for footwork is insatiable, we recommend that you root around a little in the musical archaeology of the genre. Starting with the first productions of RP Boo, “Ice Cream” and “Baby Come On” is a good way to start to enjoy the references of the sub-label Juke Trax, where we can find DJ Spinn, Rashad or DJ Clent rejuvenated. And if what attracts you to this story is its relationship with more conventional music, your man is DJ Gant-Man, a legend of Chi-Town ghetto house, head of the label Bang Tha Box Recordingz and a specialist in transferring mainstream hits to footwork battles. A magnificent example is this mixtape where you can hear anything from Kid Sister to Elvis Crespo or Lenny Kravitz