DJ Paypal Sold Out

[Brainfeeder; 2015]

Styles: footwork, drum n’ bass, jazz breaks, piano roll
Others: DJ Rashad, DJ Earl, DJ Taye, DJ Spinn, Tielsie, Plug

Before his tragic death in 2014, it seemed likely that DJ Rashad was destined to become the “face” of footwork. Even though he came up at a time when many other juke DJs were getting similar exposure, even when he was appearing side-by-side with these artists on comps or in collabs, there was something about his work in particular that got people talking. Maybe it was just the perfect time and place for him to appear, maybe it was that on super-lean, hyper-catchy tracks like “CCP” and ”iPod” you could hear the 10,000 hours of practice paying off. Personally, I thought the defining characteristic that brought Rashad so much attention was that he was already favoring a kind of “post-” mentality when we (the wider music public/music critics) found him, that he had already begun to explore the genre’s cerebral aspects and new song forms while many of his peers were still caught up in the visceral stunt of putting a groove-breaking triplet on one. When Double Cup dropped, Rashad’s intuitive grasp of footwork and juke rhythms had been abstracted to a template, an ideology of flexible sound. Hybrid experiments like “Acid Bit” and “Im Too Hi” didn’t just work, they made crucial arguments for footwork’s next step: subsuming other subgenres into its ethos. To be sure, a bit of its actual instrumentation would remain (the poppy snares, the thin hi-hats), but more importantly, the focus was on filling songs with little moments, stunts strung together in a tight routine of pure style.

Similarly, DJ Paypal — an anonymous producer who plays with a shirt over his face at every show, runs Mall Music Inc. and markets irony better than anyone in the game — wants to say several things with footwork that haven’t been said yet. His Drake Edits and the Buy Now EP were good examples of how the frantic, fast-forward-to-the-best-part aesthetic of footwork could basically transform anything, from commercial rap to Afrobeat to chipmunk disco, into a narcotic hit of beatwork. With Sold Out, though (a double EP but really an album’s worth of material), the artist overflows with ideas for new directions in the genre. From the ecstatic vocal chant of the title track, heralding some great big parade of dancers from the heavens, to the explosive closer “Say Goodbye,” this record bangs and really works, combining footwork’s stunting, confounding rhythms with irreverent confidence, a bevy of different tricks and masterful sample mixing.

While “Sold Out” is a great opener in terms of exposition — the jazzy drum chops, the stilted but beautiful samples, elated harmony and counterpoint — the album really launches with “Ahhhhhhh,” a chopped-up, twice-flipped soul groove that vacillates between mid- and hi-tempo in effortless logic leaps, no doubt the product of painstaking editing; the song doesn’t spare a second between its well-planned beats. “Slim Trak” further amplifies things from here, squashing an Afrobeat sample into a greasy ooze with constant sidechaining and double delays — a crowd favorite. “Awakening” seems like the most traditional footwork song, in that it is the most repetitive and stunted of the songs on Sold Out, four minutes of drum workout underpinned by comical, nasal blips of sax and trumpet. But like every other song on the record, the track has been carefully sculpted into a perfect earworm, each new pattern and configuration a slick new compact joy. The latter half of the record is more of a curveball, with collaborations between footwork DJs and a few strange others: slicing soul samples with DJ Earl on “We Finally Made It” into a minor anthem, stadium style; getting high and funky on “On A Cloud” with vocoder and whistles; and “Say Goodbye,” which features Keiska and PC Music producer Tielsie in a romantic, vaporwave-tinged arrangement that eventually catapults itself into straight-up EDM supersaturation.

Ultimately, Sold Out is not doing what its title cheekily alludes to. Although it traverses a variety of genres outside of footwork’s typical territory, DJ Paypal never relents on the actual practice of the juke: the core sound of the beat, getting danced on. He blends an irreverence to footwork’s typically minimal trappings with an adherence to its mind-bending meandering, cutting big-budget and indie productions alike into an ecstatic dance collage. This record exists as more proof that footwork’s capabilities are only barely explored. New possibilities run amok all over the beat in 2015. Footwork’s once-startling, once-coaching technique, the elusive change-up trip-a-let, can now be absorbed into public knowledge along with Amen breaks and the oonce oonce. We get it now — we accept that in footwork a song’s momentum will be split endlessly, that its arc will be sacrificed for instant gratification. In these narrow performance spaces, we can hear the artists plan their routines and get a sense of their style: Spinn’s off that loud. Diamond reps his clique. Jlin has dark energies to master. Rashad didn’t give a fuck. DJ Paypal sits atop the braintree, dropping ideas.

Links: Brainfeeder

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