From an outsider’s perspective, footwork dance might seem aggressive, but perhaps that’s because it is; when dancers get so close to their opponents that they can feel each others’ sweat, their hearts beat in unison and incessant glares operate like some abstract tractor beam. It looks as though the entire thing’s set to end in blows, before the participants tally an astonishing combination of moves to some cobbled mash of bass, synth, and sample, packing far more punch than any slog in the guts. Sure, I’ve seen more of these bouts on YouTube than I’ve witnessed in disused warehouses, so what consequently strikes me most is the ratio of online comps versus clips that provide tips and instruction. As an export from the dilapidated basements of Detroit and the underground car parks of Chicago, footwork now seems just as likely to be about explaining moves and technique as it does about participation and spectatorship, all of which fuels worldwide curiosity in the scenes that kicked it off to begin with.
Paisley Parks is a product of that evolution. Over the past decade, a number of Japanese DJs and production crews have angled their sound towards Chicago footwork, juke, and Detroit jit. Throughout his terrific article on the expanding enthusiasm for it in Japan, DJ Fulltono discusses his obsession for the styles footwork encompasses. His fandom spans from 20 years of following the twisted path of Chicago House through ghettotech, while imitating the dance moves he saw on the net. It sets the scene perfectly for understanding why Бｈ○§† comes bound in such sweat-charged house bouts, as these like-minded practitioners follow the stylistic preferences of what Dave Quam once called a “mutation,” which became “faster, uglier and even more hyper-localized” as it ran its global course.
Last year, Jap Mutation Bootyism released a free compilation, Japanese Juke&Footworks, subsequently embedding four Paisley Parks pieces among a bombastic 45-strong tracklist. This only fed curiosity about our bandana-baring collective, who had already dropped their first three records on Bandcamp. The crew consists of Nou, Kes and Kent, who are all based in Yokohama and produce music for the highly adventurous Pan Pacific Playa label. Their latest album is an outright dedication to the footwork these guys clearly love: Бｈ○§†, named after a footwork dance move, compiles 71 minutes of the most outrageous, imaginative, and downright deranged footwork, distorting its influences across a beautiful template of exquisite beat innovation, which has slowly begun to shift to that virtual exchange of ideas.
Бｈ○§† is awash with samples and snippets from various Teklife affiliations, but whereas Traxman sampled Ronnie Laws and DJ Rashad hit up Gil Scott-Heron, Paisley Parks borrow directly from a more contemporary suite. Subtlety is of little concern here, particularly on “There’s No Pain Killer Anymore!,” which shamelessly borrows from Rashad’s own “We Trippy Mane.” The delicious buzz of the latter is laced with freakish vocal loops from Renaldo and the Loaf’s “Spratt’s Medium,” injecting a completely unorthodox take on the work of US practitioners while setting the pace for their scattered, key-driven centerpiece, “Shine”. Indeed, the music still comes couched in the stylings of DJ Spinn and DJ Earl, even though its flecked with samples from a library of “outside” sources, which makes the whole experience completely unpredictable. They cap this off towards the end of the record, with the shimmering lounge bar piano twist of “サラ・ジェーン” on “So High”. That very track, then, alters the path for the rest of the album, which is equally doused with its “Pai-Pai-Pai-Pai-Paisley Parks” watermark, but sinks into the exotica-spiked “R.B.S.N” and the eerie loop of “Unchained Ghost.” Those tracks come at the tail end of an album that’s sporadic and intense, but never forced, where influences extend beyond the setlist of an underground dance-off, reflecting how complicit the act is in a two-way cross cultural dialogue as opposed to embarking on a mere crash course for replication’s sake.
As far and wide as the exchange is stretching, courtesy of online file-sharing through a sundry of forms, the interchange is becoming richer as it spreads across oceans. Paisley Parks maintain a close relationship with the dancers who shimmy and shake to their rambunctious grooves, indicating an adherence to the principles of what they practice — this album is all about movement, which is quite spectacular when taking into account how knotty these tracks are to bounce to. But where it was once asserted that the Japanese were “chiming in” to a conversation deemed otherwise out of their remit, they are now contributing to it substantially, not only in the international live bouts they engage in, but through producing some of the most mangled and addictive footwork to date.