DJ Elmoe - "Yo Shit Fucked Up" (Bangs & Works, Vol. 1: A Chicago Footwork Compilation)
The multifarious world of DIY electronic music has a rich history of sublimely weird, hyper-specific genres and scenes that play by their own rules and do not adapt well to a larger audience. Like jungle flowers perfectly suited to their own wild environs, grime, bounce, ghettotech, hyphy, funky, acid, screwed and chopped rap, Baltimore club and countless others have lived vital, vibrant lives at home whilst withering abroad. Some sounds just can’t be exported outside the ward, district, or three block radius from whence they originated.
Add to this list “footwork,” Chicago’s freakiest dance genre. Although not exactly a brand new scene, the latest tracks making their way ‘round the internet have signaled a dawning era. Collected here on Bangs & Works, Vol, 1, 2010’s footwork makes its case as some of the most avant music today. Like an amped up, day-glo, low-budget Burial, the tracks enclosed in this comp leap out of the speakers with a brazen disregard for most anyone’s rules. Samples are pitched both way out of tune and way off beat, snare hits fly around the measure like machine guns, loops glitch like a lost Oval record; the whole thing projects both an air of somber aggression and goofy surrealism. On one track, double-time drums suggest movement, but the mournful, semi-ambient piano loop floating on top is lifted straight out of your mom’s “me time” candlelit baths. Add a nice “shit’s fucked up” sample that slides up and down the chromatic scale, and you get a track that is purportedly danceable but comes off more like a nervous horror-hop jam in miniature.
The whole thing, all 25 tracks, maintains this disorienting bent. Each cut seems designed to disrupt, each mashing together its samples so weirdly that you wonder if the producers are engaged in an extended game of “fuck it” one-upmanship. And with no track reaching the four-minute mark, the ideas fly by quick. This makes for either a thrilling or grating listen, depending on how receptive you’re feeling. Like Orthrelm, raga jungle and Steve Reich’s late-’60s tape loops, these tracks refuse to sit in the background, instead demanding one’s full attention and a bit of volume. Listening to Bangs & Works now as I type this, I can attest that it sounds pretty crap on computer speakers, but through a proper system, it’s surprisingly full despite its generally skeletal nature. The hard edges, brutal samples and clunky basslines which sound so uninviting quiet have a way of flowing together when boosted, drawing one in precisely because of their unusual, wrong-sounding qualities.
Because of that bizarreness, I wish I could say that this is some kind of “future of music” we’ve got on our hands here. But I can’t. Just a month or two back, I reviewed a similar comp from South Africa of high-speed electro that equally played by its own rules, apparently unconcerned with any sort of universal appeal that might come with slicker production, friendlier BPMs or lyrics in English. Both are exciting for the same reasons: both offer highly personal, fully-realized visions of music that are refreshing in their modern, un-classic weirdness, and both compilations contain choice cuts from a presumably sprawling scene. This second point is the most important thing you need to know about Bangs & Works, something that’s easy to overlook amidst all the critic-speak: The tracks are mostly good. Really, really good, actually. Some are even great. But none of them, thankfully, are pop crossovers. Soon, probably by this time next year, they will likely be outdated and mostly forgotten in the scene from which they came, replaced by something new and hopefully equally compelling. Maybe we’ll have a compilation of that stuff, too, perhaps a year or three late. Either way, right now we’ve got a tantalizing peek into a world that few would even know to explore.