On the rise: Footwork

by Cameron Seibold


For anyone paying attention to underground dance music, it’s impossible to go without noticing the rise and influence of the Chicago footwork scene. Though the genre has roots as far back as the early ‘90s, it has only been in the past five years with releases like Planet Mu’s “Bangs and Works Volume 1” compilation and DJ Rashad’s “Double Cup” that footwork has truly seen the light of major publicity.

Chicago footwork is a two part genre: one part music and one part dance. Whereas most styles of dance are a reaction to music, footwork music is a reaction to dance. It’s a pure and raw form of dance music that was custom made to fit a style of intensely fast paced movement.

Footwork was born from Chicago house, ghetto house, and juke music. It’s still often called juke because the genres are so similar, however footwork tends to be slightly higher tempo and doesn’t employ the typical common time beat that juke and house music typically do.

It’s widely accepted that Chicago native Kavain Space aka RP Boo is the originator of the genre, taking influence from the ‘90s juke scene that he was a part of and adjusting his tracks based on the reaction of the performers who danced to it to arrive at something tailor made for the dancers.

The music typically incorporates rhythmically complex percussion from the classic Roland 808 and 909 drum machines at 150-160 beats per minute, layering samples of anything from Kraftwerk to Gil Scott-Heron, adding bright synth lines, humming sub bass, and repetitive chopped up vocal phrases or call outs that establish who was involved with creating or inspiring the track.

The dance that inspired the music is predictably just as intensely fast paced and complex. Watching footworking is like watching break dancing, tap dancing, and voguing all at once, and at truly incredible speeds.

Like breakdancing and many other forms of street dance, footworking is typically in the format of a “battle”, in which the crowd forms a circle on the dance floor and dancers face off for money or glory. A footwork battle includes a plethora of dance moves, from dribbles to skates to bangs, mikes, and crossovers.

As the name implies, footworking is mostly focused on a dancer’s feet and legs, but it’s really left to the artist’s discretion to make their own form of the moves.

There are multiple labels that promote footwork music, like Planet Mu and Hyperdub, but the most prominent and deserving footwork music label as of now is Teklife, a Chicago based label run by Morris Harper, aka DJ Spinn and, up until April of 2014, the late Rashad Harden, aka DJ Rashad.

However, calling Teklife a mere music label is a bit of a misnomer. At its heart, it’s a worldwide collective of visual artists, DJs, musicians, and dancers, all focused on pushing footwork culture forward.

Teklife is undoubtedly a major reason for the current surge in interest the world is showing for footwork music, as they are home to many of the most innovative and hard working artists in the genre, like DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, and RP Boo, genre pioneer Traxman, visual artist Ashes57, dancer Lightbulb, and many others. This dream team of creatives from around the world have come together to create a unique brand that is easily the gold standard of footworking in 2015.

Footwork is without a doubt a genre to keep your eyes and ears open for in 2015. It’s an entirely unique genre that’s been destroying dance floors since the early ‘90s in one form or another. Even though it may peak into mainstream success (for better or worse) at some point, when the hype dies down the right people will still be footworking and enjoying the music as they always have.

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