Making Tracks: Chicago Footwork
“Footwork is both a music and a dance,” says the light-footed dance crew leader Lite Bulb. “They coincide together. It feels like you’re getting a one-two punch.”
It’s 8pm on a Sunday on the South Side of Chicago—87th street off of the Dan Ryan Expressway. The street is dead except for the sound of muffled bass rattling the glass door at the entrance of a linoleum-floored, fluorescent-lit storefront. You’re standing in front of Battlegroundz, one of the half-dozen Chicago venues where crews and individuals get together every week to defend their honour with their feet. And just like last Sunday, the dancers are out and they’re starting to get riled up.
Walking into the slightly claustrophobic community centre, the heat is thick, the circle has formed, and somebody is heckling someone else about how they can’t dance for shit. “Talking trash, or whatever you want to call it, is all about footwork being a competitive sport,” says DJ Earl, who you can find posted up behind a mixer and two CDJs. “Footworking is like a never-ending competition,” Lite Bulb admits. “There’s always gonna be the next dude who thinks he’s this or thinks he’s that.” So yes, they’ll be back.
Footwork has a few different homes across Chicago, and with the recent momentum that its DJs and producers have amassed across the global landscape of dance music magazines, festivals, and record labels, there seem to be more and more every day.
Making Tracks follows the genre’s most successful DJs—the Teklife crew—and the city’s best footwork dancers from their basement studios in Markham to the Pitchfork festival to a Boiler Room warehouse party on the North Side.
We meet DJ Spinn, one the movement’s international figureheads, as well as DJ Earl, footwork’s rising star, and DJ Taye, the young-gun of the Teklife collective. Dancers J-Ron and Lite Bulb tell us about the rough streets of Chicago’s South Side, and footworking as an outlet for that day-to-day pressure. DJ Spinn, DJ Manny, and DJ Rashad make a beat in Spinn’s basement—Sirr Tmo is in the background vibing out. We even learn a little bit about the basic moves. Keep an eye out for more work from director Wills Glasspiegel and collaborator Oliver Rivard as they continue their work documenting this now-international movement of game-changing electronic music and dance.
Footwork dancer Frost from Leaders of The New School