Footwork has come a long way in the last five years. Since its inception as a high-energy style in Chicago which spawned a brilliant dance, the sound took only a few years to sweep the underground by storm. The genre was first brought into the UK limelight with the help of dedicated support from the label Planet Mu, whose Bangs & Works compilation introduced the scene in 2010 to the founding voices of DJ Spinn, RP Boo, DJ Diamond, and a certain key player known as DJ Rashad.
While Planet Mu went on to explore the boundaries of the footwork sound, pushing the new guard of Young Smoke, Traxman and Crissy Murderbot, it also introduced new qualities to the sound, notably the neon juke dystopias conjured by the likes of Ital Tek and Kuedo. Meanwhile Rashad continued on his way, honing and ceaselessly innovating his sound, and last year released one of the genre’s defining titles in the form of Teklife Vol 1: Welcome To The Chi. For his debut release on Kode9’s seminal Hyperdub imprint, Rashad contines to push the sound, here moulding his tunes with a polish and a melancholy edge that fit snugly into the Hyperdub canon. In the process, he has conjured one of the most original, exciting footwork releases of the past year.
All of the genre’s key features are here; the tunes slip past at an uneasy 160bpm, accompanied by cut-n-change vocal samples, nauseous melodic accents cut short and that frantic percussive bed that shifts like quicksand. Opener Rollin is a strong introduction to Rashad’s sound for the uninitiated, stuttered cymbal hiss pans across the speakers before settling into a busy, intoxicating blend of mournful pitched-up vocal snips, frenzied kicks and raw snares. If the title track acts as an introduction, second cut Let It Go is where Rashad really flexes his muscles, producing an EP highlight that startlingly portrays the genre’s untapped emotive potential. This track defines Footwork x Hyperdub; here rich strings tremble under heart-melting diva cries set on a lush backdrop of detailed percussive textures totally unlike the cheap, over-compressed sounds heard at the time of the genre’s birth.
The B-side offers a pair of collaborations with two more of juke’s top dogs, the most impressive being the aggressive rush of DJ Manny collab Drums Please. Here an unstoppable breakbeat onslaught introduces a squealing boogie synthline that gradually softens as the track wears on, offering instant-classic vibes with its spare arrangement and whirring synth loops. DJ Spinn’s contribution on Broken Hearted may follow a more generic template but retains that high-quality sheen, where Spinn’s trademark soulful vocals echo plaintively over exacting snare rolls and sine synth accompaniments. The timing for this release is perfect, as label-head Kode9 has his own footwork-inspired track out soon the future seems bright for juke in the UK, and Rashad performs his role as prophet to a tee, proudly exalting everything unique and impressive about the genre while showing more clearly than ever that there’s so much space left for it to grow.