DJ Magazine - Footwork 101 - Issue #490
DJ Magazine - 'Footwork 101'
Issue 490 (September 2010)
This past year, UK dancefloors and headphones have been treated to a previously land-locked sound: the high energy, snare-inflected, sample-laced bump and bounce of Chicago’s juke and footwork. It’s thanks in part to Swamp 81, Loefah’s imprint that unleashed dub shapeshifter Ramadanman’s hyperactive ‘Work Them’ and introduced the house-geared moniker of dubstep’s Headhunter, Addison Groove (whose ‘Footcrab’ anthem relentlessly grabbed a hold of 2010’s bassbins). Now, as autumn creeps closer, London’s electronic stable Planet Mu has lined up releases from three of the Chicago scene’s standouts, allowing the rest of the world to taste something as unique and heavy as one of the Windy City’s notorious deep dish pizzas.

Sonically, the juke/footwork comparisons to grime/ dubstep are inevitable, sharing darkly-lit, escapist bass soundscapes and a similar rawness. But juke and footwork are simply Chicago through and through: community- knit, decade-spanning scenes that stand just as loud and proud in the city’s legacy as the classic sounds of Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, Mr Fingers or Farley Jackmaster Funk.

Beyond the record sleeves and mix-tapes, juke/footwork revolve around footwork dancing, a step-based style with an intensely competitive and dedicated battle scene. From large-scale footworking events to spontaneous street battles, a footwork routine is an impossibly fast whirlwind of feet, creativity, attitude and water-tight popping & locking. Over the past four years, the energetic dance style — which has been lighting up hood-linked parties and dancefloors for nearly 20 years — has exploded into the mainstream, even stealing airtime on MTV. Footworkers have featured in music videos for The Count & Sinden’s ‘Beeper’ (featuring Chicagoan Kid Sister), Twista’s ‘Pimp Like Me,‘ Missy Elliott’s ‘Lose Control,’ and Dude N Nem’s ‘Watch My Feet’. Meanwhile, Chicago’s FootworKINGZ, a vibrant collective of performers, have been holding down national TV contests (such as America’s Got Talent) and finding their feet on stages around the world, including a globe-spanning tour with Madonna.

As juke and footwork start to expand, it’s similar to the child’s game Telephone, where information is passed, misinterpreted and repeated incorrectly. Credit is rarely given where due and definitions never quite add up. To find out the real history, the only way to string together the frayed links is to head straight into the ‘hoods where it all began.

First up, meet the Geto DJ’z, unsung heroes of the city’s underground and Chicago’s largest DJ crew (30 members deep), most of whom can be found at their weekly Sunday get-together at DJ X-Ray’s house on the Westside. Playing all styles — from house to hip-hop to juke — since 1992, the Geto DJ’z include Traxman (aka ‘The Captain,’ whose ‘Get Down Lil’ Mama’ is the most undeniable juke anthem), legendary hip-hop masters X-Ray and Clash Titan, house DJ Danta Williams, and Jammin’ Gerald, the blueprint-setting icon who gave ghetto house a home at The Factory (a 300-capacity weekly party) from the mid ’80s until 1991.

From there, head a bit further west to find a bright 20-year-old holding the torch for Footwork’s younger generation: the prolific DJ Nate, whose immersive, hypnotic, tweaked-out Planet Mu debut (‘Da Track Genious’) hit worldwide shelves this past September.

Meanwhile, below the Chicago River, DJ Roc remains one of the undisputed kings of Chicity’s Southside, leading his crews Beat Squad and Bosses Of The Circle with an unmistakable rhythmic sound. After his three albums hit underground gold (‘Juke City’ Volumes 1-3), Roc is readying his tour de force, ‘The Crack Capone,’ for Planet Mu this October. The Southside is also home to the elusive pioneer and analogue-heavy RP Boo, more specifically the “Dude Off 59th Street,” whose ‘Godzilla’ classic set the tone for the darker edge of Footwork. But you need to tread even deeper south — to Chicago’s South suburb Markham - to stumble upon the charismatic Rashad and Spinn. Old school friends that became leaders of Juke Trax (a sub-label of Detroit ghetto-tech’s Database), the duo carried the baton for the generation after (Juke’s main label) Dance Mania’s downfall at the end of the ‘90s. It’s Rashad alone that stands as the last leg of the Planet Mu tripod, with his soul-stealing ‘Itz Not Rite’ EP.

Lastly, no footwork investigation would be complete without input from the feet that are kicking along the scene’s progression. Meet Southside’s Aaron “Aaron the Great” Neal (aka AG), creator of two infamous dance battle crews (Terra Squad and Leaders Of The New School), as well as an honorary member of the FootworKINGZ.

Take a seat for a quick-fire lesson through Footwork 101, with some of the genre’s most important and scene-rumbling innovators...

How did you first discover juke and footworking?
Rashad: “I started DJing when I was 10. When I was 11-years-old, I used to DJ on a college radio station [Kennedy King College Radio on the Southside] with DJ Nehpets, Gant-man and DJ Jana Rush. At 13, I started DJing at a skating rink in Markham, playing DJ Funk, D-Man, Deeon, Jammin’ Gerald, Traxman, Paul Johnson. I was just infatuated with the music.”
DJ Roc: “I grew up on the lower end of the Southside of Chicago in the projects. I was footworking and dancing since I was three-years-old. I grew up listening to DJ PJ, Deeon, Slugo; people would sell their mix-tapes on the streets and at parties. I used to dance a lot in my high school years. When I was 16 I started DJing; I made a setup out of two Playstations and a four-channel mixer.”
DJ Nate: “I never really liked footwork or juke music until my second year of high school. I started going to the

clubs and watching videos, and all of my friends in high school were footworking. I saw people doing it all the time, I just fell into it.”
AG: “I’ve been footworking since I was 12, so it’s been about 13 long, hard years. It’s taken a long time; I took a lot of losses. I was always into dance routines and footworking, and then went from there. I learned the basics from [old school footworking legends] Ant Brown and Que, and I just kept practicing. I started Terror Squad in ’02 when I was about 16.”
Danta Williams: “I started spinning when I was six on the Southwest side. Most footwork battles used to be at gym shows, grammar school shows, high school dances. It wasn’t just the club. But the club to be at was The Factory — a lot of people were going from the age of 13 and up.”

Cajmere’s ‘The Percolator’ is often regarded as the beginning of juke by people outside of the scene. When do you personally think it all began?
DJ X-Ray: “There was so much before that. That was just one of those go-between tracks. People might beg to differ, but to me, records like Farley Funk’s ‘Jack The Bass’ in ’85 were the birth of ghetto house as we know it.” Traxman: “And then ghetto house spun into Juke in the late ‘90s; Juke is a child of house music. At the time, we never thought it’d become a genre. We were calling juke ‘grimy street tracks,’ or ‘grimy ghetto house’.”
X-Ray: “‘Juke’ is a direct Southern term. And if you’re from Chicago, 90% of your family is from the South; we migrated directly from there to here. The story is Poncho went to St Louis and brought that term back to Chicago with him. He kept on saying it and it caught on.”
Traxman: “Then they made the track ‘Juke It Out’ on Dance Mania in ’98 — Poncho and Gant-man produced the beat, Tone did the vocals.”
Spinn: “They took juke and changed it. We were saying that regardless, and juke music was already big, but that was the first time the word took off officially.”

Did juke represent what was happening in your neighborhoods?
Clash Titan: “Definitely. It was all just ‘hood-related stuff.”
X-Ray: “Sometimes it’d just be a chant that was hot in the ‘hood. It would be incorporating street slang that everyone could relate to.”

How did the styles vary between different sides of the city?
Rashad: “Now it’s all the same. But back then, West side was faster, more energy...”
Spinn: “More party chants. You had Jammin’ Gerald, DJ Funk, Traxman and Slick Rick all coming from the west. They were making tracks on that level - the pump and the edit tracks, a bunch of chopped up samples, the megamixes, stuff like that. Southside was more likely to bust a rap.”
Rashad: “Like DJ Deeon’s ‘Let Me Bang’.”
Traxman: “We would make our tracks a little more classy on the Westside, a little more universal, and the beat was more straightforward. But the Southside was a little more ‘hood: they had a grimier edge.”
X-Ray: “A lot of people don’t know that the go-between was DJ Sneak in ’93, ’94. He had a warmer, cleaner sound that was in-between both.”
When did footworking start getting incorporated into the scene?
Jammin’ Gerald: “Footworking has been around a lot longer than most people think; since the late ‘80s. It’s similar to Chicago jacking, the style just changed.”
Clash Titan: “Footwork is like ‘Beat Street’ — it’s an extension of b-boying. The steps are similar to up-rocking and top-rocking.”
RP Boo: “Footwork was always there, at the parties. But it never really got a name until around 2003. A lot of people didn’t know about it unless they came to the parties.”
X-Ray: “Some people misinterpret, or misdiagnose, the difference between juke and footwork. Juke is the party. Jukin’ is more dancing with the females, and footwork is more about the battle.”
Danta: “Footwork tracks often have a darker sound, with less bounce.”

How did you start making footwork tracks?
Rashad: “People just started saying our tracks were footwork tracks.”
Spinn: “Everyone said, ‘They make party music’.”
Rashad: “Because Spinn and I were both footwork dancers, we knew what would make people dance.”
Roc: “I started making juke tracks before I got into the footworking tracks; I was more with the booty music. But I started getting more recognition for doing footwork tracks around 2005.”
Nate: “I started to make footwork and juke when I was 15. Footwork’s easier to make because with juke there’s different breaks and all sorts of stuff.”
Roc: “My juke tracks are different — they’re different tempos, depending on the vocal or how I want the beat to go. With juke tracks, you could do 160 or 167BPM. All of my footwork tracks are always at 160.”

What makes a footwork track stand out to you?
Roc: “It could be a raw sound, or it could be your creativity with it — like if you flip it, or you tweak the sound something serious. Or if the track drops and the bassline hits hard, and then you use a crazy weird sound. There’s so much with a footwork track that people like. I like dark and gothic sounds, I like to mess with the movie samples — Star Wars, Dracula, Jaws, horror movies.”
Traxman: “Energy, it has to have energy. It can be really simple, with one sample, but it has to bring that feeling where you can’t sit down, you’ve got to get up.”
RP Boo: “I end up with different styles of tracks. I like to make a sample tell a story; that’s the creative art of it. It’s like reading a book, it’s an essay.”
Spinn: “It needs to be put together. Not just thrown together, but a nice beginning, a climax, a breakdown, and it’s gotta build up. A lot of the new stuff I hear, people just start the track up and they just throw in anything, anywhere.”
Rashad: “A lot of the new cats are just sampling songs with no art behind it. The sounds that we sample mean something; we put words together so it has a meaning.”
Nate: “Samples are good, so everyone can harmonize and the track takes you into a trance. If you really hear something that you can feel, you’re gonna dance, you’re gonna react to it. For me, it isn’t really all about the sample; it’s all about good bass, a nice hi-hat and a nice clap. If you got the rhythm, you don’t need nothing else.”

How would you describe footwork dancing to someone outside of Chicago?
Roc: “If you see what footworkers do with their feet and you actually see a battle, you’d see their body movement and the tricks that they use, it’s very energetic. The things they do with their bodies — the movements — it’s sharp. And if you hear the track, you’ll see that they dance to the beat. If the beat drops, they’re catching it. And then you see how the crowd’s raw.”
Nate: “They go so fast. It comes from hours and hours of practice. In footwork, if you’re really a footworker, everything is so co-ordinated. You always wonder, ‘How’d they think of that?!’ Or ‘How do they go for 20 minutes straight?’”

How do you feel about footwork branching out to the rest of the world?
AG: “We go to dance overseas, we performed in 24 cities in two weeks. One of the biggest shows was in Sicily; there were about 1000 people on an outdoor stage. It was crazy. We just want it to keep growing.”
Roc: “It’s big for me because I never thought it’d go this far. Growing up around it, I just thought this culture was just gonna stay in Chicago and it wouldn’t go beyond that.”
Rashad: “I love it, it’s exciting. Spinn’s going to Europe next month, and we’re going to New York, Seattle, Detroit, Minnesota, North Carolina and ATL this summer. I feel like they appreciate the music so much more outside of Chicago. Like, in the UK — Bok Bok, I think he’s real talented. I respect that they’re carrying on what we’re doing.”
DJ Magazine - Footwork 101 - Issue #490

DJ Magazine - Footwork 101 - Issue #490

3-Page in-depth feature about Chicago's juke/footwork scene - with interviews from pioneering DJs, dancers and producers from around the city.

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