Jlin Dark Energy

[Planet Mu; 2015]

Styles: footwork, neo-hardstyle, 9th dan electro
Others: DJ Roc, RP Boo, DJ Diamond, Donna Haraway, Sadie Plant

Footwork’s breakthrough into wider consciousness, which these pages charted as well as anyone, was set against a crisis of faith in dance music in general and house music in particular. On DJ Rashad’s Just A Taste Vol. 1, Mr P, our editor-in-chief, wrote: “If footwork’s original meaning was established in these underground dance circles in Chicago, then its currency to everyone else now rests somewhat heavily on those too busy rationalizing the noise/music cleavage or politely tracing dance music’s trajectory to actually do any footworking themselves.” In his review of Young Smoke’s Space Zone, Ed Comentale observed that “By serving the needs of one scene, twisting itself around its rules and protocols, footwork shook itself free from all other traditions and traditional forms,” before raising the question: “If footwork’s avant-garde fascination exists […] by its connection to a local scene, then what’s to be gained (except a wider audience) by applying more conventional standards of production and evaluation?”

Ed’s question expresses a cluster of concerns. Footwork is exciting, fun, cutting-edge, and experimental, but it’s also flimsy and unstable. Its multivalent rhythms flicker into life within the heat of the moment, chattering grooves snapping in all directions. An autofire barrage of sonic detail lends each track a fight-or-flight shoot-out sensuality. The mutant velocity of its attacks make it as unpredictable as it is urgent. As a local movement, footwork developed organically from within regional and traditional structures-to-hand. It dismantled their core circuits and rewired them according to a different set of diagrams, as-yet unfinished and imprecise. As a global style, it has become a more diffuse impetus, acting upon international club culture from without. A transitional methodology, cut off from its moment of acceleration, can only inoculate older forms against their disintegration for so long.

These considerations are relevant, because Dark Energy, the debut album by Jerrilynn Patton a/k/a Jlin, is good enough to allay fears that post-juke electronics are on the swoon. Although it is rockist to suggest that this album alone marks the way forward for an entire scene, footwork has thrived largely via rockist modes of consumption. In other words, its cultural dissemination has depended, in some order of emphasis, on: the album-dominant structural legacy of rock (as opposed to the the single-dominant structural legacy of pop); the (critics’ choice) master narrative of an emerging sub-genre outgrowing the market of its antecedent category; the pleasure of learning to read strange, new signatures of authenticity. By prioritizing rhythm over hooks, by turning away from looped vocal samples and toward a starker, more tensile vocabulary of snares and strings, Dark Energy immediately sounds like a benchmark, an outlier in terms of minimalist abstraction and intensity.

Earlier footwork hits often probed and dissected the sonic substance of the disco-funk tradition. Tracks like Rashad’s “In Da Club Before Eleven O’ Clock” and Traxman’s “I Need Some Money” expressed a juke-plus style that highlighted the enduring relevance of dirty disco pioneers like Paul Johnson and Parris Mitchell. Dark Energy’s deepest cuts punch sample-shaped holes into this template, a reductionist move that underlines the drama of their clamorous polyrhythms. Hitherto, this tech-ier, harder sound was strictly parallel universe: neo-hardstyle oddities like DJ Diamond’s “Digimon” and Rashad’s “iPod” coming off like random gurning moments of pill-eyed experimentation. By concentrating her efforts on getting the most out of that style, Jlin taps into the historical power of root techno’s cyborg poetics, its narrative flair with a drum machine and a synth.

Sumptuous moments are scarce. The album lasts the drive from Gary to Chicago, but it will still lose listeners in the intricate alleyways of its programming. Exotic-sounding flourishes punctuate “Mansa Musa” and “Unknown Tongues” like pockets of air beneath a frozen lake. The voice, truncated into almost-absence, has become a source of pressure where it once provided release. The syllabic contusions of “Ra” cushion the impact of its snare-juddering wallop. Where meaning was previously distorted and rearranged, there remains only pulsatile traces, cooing — a distortion of a distortion, a second order of complexity. Holly Herndon guest spot “Expand” is closer to Gerald Donald than Dance Mania: all twitchy robotic funk, high-tension wind-downs, and nuclear see-saw phase riffs. A cheeky Enter The Dragon sample (“When it contracts, I expand”) alludes to the early history of street dance culture. Featuring a Chinese string orchestra and the voice of Shao Kahn, “Infrared (Bagua)” plays with a similar set of references. They fit well with the taekwondo patterns of its lava-thick bass riff. A brutal, elegant kind of chaos; wushu gabber.

The rise of dancer King Charles and the accidental death of DJ Rashad have demoralized those within the Chicago scene in different ways. One of the main takeaways from Tim & Barry’s I’m Tryna Tell Ya documentary is the animosity between the original generation footworkers and their younger peers, unwilling to learn the basics. The mood among the elders suggests that Charles, by making the dance palatable to a middle-market audience, has bastardized the style, diluted its spirit, and generally encouraged a bunch of foolishness on the dancefloor. The core paradox of Dark Energy, and its real strength, is its closeness to, and distance from, that scene and its politics. Jlin is close enough to reach out to RP Boo, DJ Diamond, and DJ Roc — as per an interview with FACT — but she’s not so close that her own aesthetic emphases could be construed as any sort of threat to them (and, besides, Roc and Boo at least know the worth of a good mentor, being themselves former pupils of DJ Slugo). In this sense, Dark Energy recalls Iain Sinclair’s observation regarding the psychogeography of London: “When the surface of the world is so overloaded with competing narratives […], there is an understandable impulse to go underground.” If the Chicago dancefloor is cluttered with contention, Jlin has provided us with evidence of veins untapped, an obscure map of zones still to be colonized in the name of the dance. If you care about footwork at all, you need to hear this album.

Links: Planet Mu


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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