Stepping to a New Beat: Jlin Confounds Footwork Expectations
Bangs and works that bang and work.
Gary, Indiana is best known for being the birthplace of Michael and the rest of the Jackson litter. Founded in 1906 to house Gary Works, the largest steel mill in North America, the city nestles against Lake Michigan and lies a mere 25 miles from Chicago. The proximity to an American cultural powerhouse, and that attendant distance, both literal and metaphorical, is something that seems pertinent to remember when thinking about Gary's latest musical export, Jlin.
Released this week, Dark Energy, is Jerilynn Patton's first album for esteemed UK label Planet Mu, one of the first European imprints to embrace juke and footwork. The now-legendary Bangs and Works primers brought producers like DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, Traxman and RP Boo to global attention. So it seems like a perfect fit that Patton's scorched-earth, broken, blistering record takes things full circle. Dark Energy is a timely reminder of footwork's inherent excitement.
Footwork's blueprint - the staccato rhythms, the chopped and pitched vocal cut-ups, the restless, relentless propulsion that makes individual tracks feel like infinitessimally small parts of an unending onward march - was birthed in Chicago. From there, as these things do, it rolled round the world, being picked apart, recontextualized, re-viewed and reshaped by outside ears, Patton's included. When we speak to her over Skype on a Sunday afternoon, she's keen to stress that her interpretation of footwork, of what it is and what it sets out to do, looks beyond Chicago's city limits. "I view footwork as an African based modern dance music that fits this era in time. The music itself is based out of Chicago, but the root is based out Africa. That's just my opinion though. Everybody sees things differently, doesn't make them right or wrong per se. Footwork to me is formed of expression that comes from within," she adds. "It is a dance that takes consistency and persistence to master. I believe footwork is set out to create good frequencies and vibrations into the world in the form of dance."
Ah, yes. The dancing. Despite the notionally unignorable importance of the genre's bodily element, it's easy to overlook it in favour of focusing on the dizzying sonics. The head overtakes the heart. Footwork's roots are literal: the name comes from the spasmodically hypnotic ankle rolls and toe twists that played out as perfect physical accompaniments to the music. Patton has never been a dancer and never hit the Chicago clubs where those moves were de-rigueur. That distance from the Windy City has turned her into a kind of auto-didact of the genre. YouTube was her primary teacher. "I watched a lot of footwork on YouTube in 2008. Dancer wise I pretty much watched everybody. My favourite person to watch was Queen Crystal James, though." The producers, that those snatches of syncopation were set to, included DJ Roc, DJ Diamond, RP, Traxman, Bobby Skillz, Spinn, Rashad and C-Bit.
It was that year that Patton became Jlin and started making her own footwork tracks. "I didn't fit in. I wanted to at that time but I just didn't," she tells me. "I hadn't mastered the craft then." Most of us associate footwork as a magpie form of music, a sound that works and reworks samples manically; turning the known, thought-to-be-know, and the plain unknown into the new. Jlin shys away from them. Dark Energy tracks like "Mansa Musa" and the utterly fucked, utterly wonderful closer "Abnormal Restriction" fizz with air-punching exuberance. These are self-generated, self-powered explorations of her sonic identity. Why did she decided to head down this route of sonic self-sufficiency? "My mother is the one who opened the door to that question. She asked me "What do you sound like?" That question changed my whole world. That made me want to become authentic."
When we speak she hones in on intensity as a key theme for the album. "Mike [Paradinas, owner of Planet Mu] kinda came at me about putting one together and it just went from there. The main thing I told Mike was that I wanted the album to be intense, and not die at any point, meaning that the music becomes more intense by the track. So many albums have greats songs but so many slow points, I didn't want that." Dark Energy, as the name suggests, refutes that. It is a thundering, raucous blast from an outsider looking in. It is exactly what footwork in 2015 needs.
Dark Energy is out now on Planet Mu
Follow Jlin on SoundCloud