April 20, 2012

Son Raw’s on the West side of Chicago looking for a bust down.

It’s tough to keep up with the underground Juke/Footwork movement if you aren’t actually part of it. My homeboy Hesk (more on whom later) will happily name-drop half a dozen producers who’ve apparently made incredible tunes but I’ll be damned if anyone outside of the South or West sides (and of course, specialist Internet forums) have even heard of them. The rest of us get our regular doses of high-speed booty-house from the good folks at Planet Mu who’ve done a great job at exposing the music to a wider audience. It’s safe to say that Addison Groove aside, no one’s done more to get the genre out there than label head Mike Paradinas and he’s to be commended.

That said, quite a few Chicago heads have latched onto the fact that the label’s Bangs & Works comps showcase a very specific side of Juke, one that caters more to thrill-seeking tourists than dancers on the Chicago streets. If Footwork’s triplets and rough-shod samples seem extra weird, it’s partially by design since the musical avant-guard tends not to make a fuss over more workmanlike club tracks. So it might be surprising to some that the Mind of Traxman, the latest Juke LP to be released on Planet Mu is also the label’s most listenable and danceable. The brainchild of Traxman, a 20 year vet, it comes with all the prerequisite micro-samples and mindfucks but balances out the proceedings with the kind of soul-sampling more commonly associated with fellow Chi-producers No I.D or Kanye West.

The result is an album that practically “jukes” all of Chicago’s musical history from bluesy jazz to soulful Hip-Hop to Acid tracks & Bootyhouse. On paper this might seem a bit scattered but the variety of source material, along with the various ways its treated, makes for an engaging listen that keeps things from becoming too one-note. It also shows how far the genre can be stretched: 1988’s synth-noodling couldn’t be further from “I Need some Money”s future disco or Rockkkkk’s battle-ready minimalism. Though much harsher for the uninitiated than Machinedrum’s Room(s), the previous high water mark in Footwork LPs, The Mind of Traxman proves once and for all that the genuine Chicago article can work in album form sans-compromise and that Footwork has the substance to survive should Anglophile crate diggers move on to a new thrill.

Further afield, fellow Footwork vets and scene stalwarts Rashad and DJ Spinn will be launching a new label Lit City with the intention of representing the Chicago sound sans outside interference. If this promotional mix is any indication, it’ll be something to look out for.

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