DJ Orange Julius The Grove

[Mall Music; 2017]

Styles: footwork, mall music
Others: DJ Mastercard, DJ Paypal, Cakedog

In the suburban American Southwest, where I grew up, a mall is a kind of oasis. When it’s 110 degrees outside, everyone on the road is being an asshole, and there’s nothing to do for days on end, the sheer, breezy passages of glass and marble, pulsing with rowdy streams of teens, seem both to heal and to plug you into something greater. A point of attraction and convergence in the disperse manifold of the desert city, the mall simulates a community larger and better connected than the one surrounding and incorporating it. Some of the malls I went to when I was younger are dead or dying, their last few stores shining a light in the middle of their vast, built darknesses, oases drying up on the neighborhoods, teetering and underserved, outside. Sometimes I dream about being younger and alone, under rays of sun split by the translucent cool of a mall, almost floating.

Something like that indescribable and serene energy that lives at malls, the sum of their ringing of light, chatter, and dated pop music, has always been an important part of DJ Orange Julius’s approach to footwork. It’s kind of like if a conventional footwork artist limited their sampling to bits and pieces of public muzak and overheard rap lines. Sometimes it sounds formulaic, others a little cliché, but often it’s creative, critical, and fun. The Grove isn’t a major stylistic innovation, but it’s all of those. Like going to the mall, it might be a little shrill, but it makes you feel good. It is without a doubt the most studio-polished OJ release to date, from the master all the way down to the sample quality. “Anuva” is recommendable for practically any dancefloor, and its gorgeous palette is the closest thing The Grove has to the irreverent muzak of Orange Julius classics like “Penetrate Dem Gutz.” “Finally Together,” an amazing collaboration with DJ Mastercard and a minor aesthetic outlier, plays pianos, delayed breakbeats, and tranced-out vocals against the usual rhythm-section suspects. Right away, “MS Footwork” demonstrates the more important directions of the record: starker, sparser, with drums as a main character and the tongue eased slightly out of the cheek.

The mall depicted on the album art for The Grove has grown to include the entire city, or at least a realistic microcosm of it. On a high-res version of the 3D masterpiece, you can sort of make out the words “OPEN ALL DAY” and “OPEN ALL NIGHT” on the signs affixed to the large glass doors separating a clean, manicured entry plaza, bookended by horse statues, from the streets, cars, and buildings on the other side. It’s an image not unlike one of the mall (probably subconsciously familiar to any suburban sprawl-dweller) as representative of the “real city,” apparently signaled by monolithic architecture and buying stuff in a frenetic atmosphere. The cover is a slightly hilarious and almost irresponsible image of the mall as the full, unmitigated manifestation of the pleasures of the city. Not really a mall or a city, The Grove manages to be a footwork record with serious resemblances to both, as well as to a very contemporary, pseudo-utopian sense of humor.

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