Lee Bannon has always been a fascinating figure, consistently willing to reinvent and reject solipsistic limits on personal creation. January’s Alternate/Endings will go down as one of the year’s best albums and a quintessential piece of the ongoing reprisal of breakbeat-focused music. The tragic death of DJ Rashad brought attention to the United States’ myriad collection of jungle, footwork and drum and bass producers, specifically the way they blur and blend together in contemporary dance music. As a former (?) hip hop producer, Bannon understands the mediation between the forms, both past and present, better than most and recently got together with Teklife’s DJ Earl, one of the many promising youngsters in the effervescent global collective. A continuation of Bannon’s obsession with virgules, the result is titled “Deep/Future”, a fission-generated bomb of stomping kicks and belching pseudo-acid bursts. Like much of Bannon’s work, the song feels timeless without retreating into retro-focused malaise and Earl’s willingness to experiment with the TR-303 and left-field vocal manipulation is readily apparent. No clue on where or when this will be released yet, but the description notes “see you this winter” so a new project might be on the not-so-far horizon.
The collaborative spirit is strong in Chicago these days (as witnessed at this Boiler Room x Pitchfork Fest affair) and some of the young guns in the Teklife crew, including the unstoppable DJ Earl, recently got together to put together the serrated blade that is “Niterave”. Earl, Heavee, Taye & Sirr Tmo bring fucked up synths (I don’t use that lightly) and the huge, rapid-fire toms that have come to define the footwork sound on one of the more aggressive, unremitting 160 tunes I’ve heard in some time. Mid-range synths are much maligned in this post-post world of ours, but “Niterave” proves that when utilized correctly, they can add to the breadth of a genre.
In 2013, it finally looks like Chicago’s footwork pioneers are being given their due. Of course, footwork has been established as a global phenomenon for three or four years now, but the focus has always been on appropriation/mis-appropriation or on a handful of artists who have managed to transcend the scene’s insular facade. Teklife and its accompanying label/party Lit City Trax are seemingly on the tip everyone’s tongue these days and the crew is one of the hottest commodities in contemporary dance music. DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, and more recently and much belatedly, RP Boo often receive the majority of praise, but young DJ Earl is getting his much deserved due as well. With the exception of Spinn, there isn’t anyone who manages to weave perplexingly dreamy melodies into footwork’s dissonant rubric as well as Earl. On “SomeBodyySayYeahhh”, Earl works a noodling 8 bit melody into a jungle of muted toms, hi hats and snares, giving the song a certain ear worm quality without surrendering any of the confounding sonic effects that pervade so much of the Teklife catalogue. It’s Teklife or no life after all.
Earlier today, I was listening to the new Migos tape (again) and it struck me that I enjoy it for almost the exact same reason that I enjoy the footwork coming out of the Teklife camp as of late. They both rely on vocal cadence and timbre, intense repetition, expertly crafted beat work and forceful emotion (the unrestrained anger on “I Don’t Like”, the triumphant nature of “Versace”). In a way, Migos, Chief Keef and Rick Ross have more in common with RP Boo, DJ Rashad and DJ Earl than they with Mac Miller, Earl Sweatshirt and Chance The Rapper (although the latter does perform some truly amazing vocal tricks). Take DJ Earl’s update on DJ Roc’s “Ain’t No Coming Down” for example. Earl takes a few simple, seemingly innocuous Juicy J lines and lays them over a ruthlessly syncopated beat that makes Jordan Houston’s original seem pallid in comparison. In its stripped down simplicity, “Ain’t No Coming Down” is far more affecting than the original.