Juan Atkins and Derrick May have both talked about how Detroit Techno, before its exportation to the raving fields of Europe, was an aspirational scene: a hipster avant la lettre mobilization of latent snobberies, a black visionary post-disco pop music in thrall to a well-heeled Euro-futurism. Just as Italian producers, operating under misspelt monikers like Sivy Foster and Malcom and the Bad Girls, pretended to be American, framing each Menardian re-recording of C’est Chic in cutout Itanglo gibberish, Detroit scenesters like Superlife and A Number Of Names pace egged an arch Italiano refinement as they shrouded a thunderspool electro-industrial chassis in Moroderian dry ice.
Chicago House, on the other hand, always had this de-individualizing, psychedelic experience at its core — a wild-eyed stamping of feet in a forest of bodies at the witching hour; a commune of chest-bared narcissists gurning in staged mourning, writhing in harness to a headbanging rattle of snares and toms.
Detroit’s Music Institute ran a no-liquor policy in its heyday, a single strobe light illuminating an Izod-clad dancefloor — Chicago’s equally iconic Warehouse ladled out acid-spiked punch to go with its studs-and-leather ambience, its mirror-balled interiors, its vaulted crêpe paper ceiling. It’s this Chicagoan spirit of down-to-earth opportunist decadence that haunts footwork’s MPC cantrips, as if the hard-earned equilibrium of establishment (“mature”?) house’s brainy frug has been torn and scattered into a zoetrope reel’s worth of clownish mutant forms.
Unlike the equally robust Da Mind of Traxman, “the erotic lit of footwork” (Pearson, B; TMT: 2012), DJ Rashad’s TEKLIFE Vol. 1: Welcome To The Chi doesn’t present a singular vision of what footwork should be. Instead, it feels like a State of the Union address from one of the genre’s central figures, a restless tyro goblinoid Dillaesthesis, ranging across what seems like the sum of footwork’s possibilities, from booty house updates like “Twitter” (“She on my Twitter/ I’m gonna hit her”) and “My Way Home” to future blueprints like “iPod,” “Fly Spray,” and “Over Ya Head.”
These last tracks, maniac oscillations between tension and release, are particularly attention-grabbing: the seed of something like a ‘hardwork’ style, perhaps; an integral pond-hopping encounter between house and hard dance that resembles techno’s earlier transatlantic encounter with Italo. It’s here that footwork overlaps with the ravery weirdness of poststep electronix; it’s here where lessons will be learned; it’s here where the magic secrets are stored.
Not that one can accuse Rashad of diffidence elsewhere: indeed, his USP, his particular chunklet of scenius, is that no one makes footwork so accessible yet so affably bonkers. A trio of tracks — “CCP”, “Kush Ain’t Loud” and “Chicago” — track their origins in the shop-front respectability of the jazz-funk canon to the spastic horizon of a uniquely inappropriate .GIF animation.
It should be clear that this is a form that deals in opposites, a parallax rhythm that undoes monetized reifications. The figure of the gangsta isn’t dispensed with, but refigured — Buster Keaton plays Don Corleone, house music’s Real Music pretensions infantilized with the prodigal iconoclasm of a Hype Williams mixtape — and this emphasis on refiguration and balance seems thrillingly coherent for a scene that spends much of its time impersonating an ice skater trying to put out a fire.
If Da Mind Of Traxman is to be the critic’s choice, this season’s Chicago must-have for every non-native, Welcome To The Chi, with its compilation-feel eclecticism, could get the tourist’s vote: a one-click authenticity upgrade, a sonic adventure tour of dancers’ apartments the night before a dance.
02. Don’t Drop It
04. Bakk Off
05. We Trippy Mane
06. Trap Bakk
07. She Gonna Go
08. Fly Spray
10. We Leanin
11. Da Life
12. Kush Ain’t Loud
13. Walk For Me
16. Over Ya Head
17. Well Well Well
18. Welcome To The Chi
19. Shoot Me
20. My Way Home