Chicago Scenius

Footwork crews battle at a community center in Chicago.

via jeffdenapoli's flickr

There is one thing I can say in this interview…all I got to say is, a lot of people used to come to guitar center when it was on 81st and Cicero. My actual R-70 was a display model. When I bought it, it was the last one there, I didn’t buy it new, I bought it used. So a lot of people in the world already programmed those sounds. You never knew who touched that R-70….but to the time I’d like to thank y’all for putting your work in…but you just couldn’t do what I did!

From Dave Quam’s interview with RP Boo,which is not on his blog at the moment, but was fortunately saved in my RSS reader. Dave’s been doing some sustained excavating of Chicago’s ghetto house/juke/footwork history, and it’s no simple task. Obscure underground releases rub up alongside circuitous oral histories, interwoven with memories of past slights and fantasies of future success. One difficulty I’ve encountered in similar work I’ve done in Detroit is the challenge of breaking scenes down into constitutive individual artists. This is, of course, the typical way music history is told — genius makes breakthrough, alters course of music 4-EVA.

This individualistic hard-working ideology is as pervasive as ever, and there is no doubt important developments in terms of individual records, unique personalities, and lots of thankless time struggling in the studio. But scene histories rooted only in individual artists fail to capture the whole picture. Not only are they inaccurate, but once the myth becomes reality and certain individual artists are cherry-picked by a globalized audience, putting out artist albums, their work often falters. Their genius was never completely their own. RP Boo may be the inventor of the footwork tom skitter, but a lot of people in the world already programmed those sounds.

Me and Rashad have always been cool but a lot of guys get us mixed up. I’m more of an originator when it came to samples. Rashad is the type of person to where I can come up with an idea and he can feed off of it. He can take an idea and turn it into a different version. He’s like a grimy version of what I am. I’ve been quiet for two years, and a lot of these cats out here right now are hungry, they are fucking hungry because they are waiting to see what I’m gonna do. Every time I do something that’s what they feed off of. They’re like pilot fishes, the pilot fishes are the ones that follow the shark and eat up his leftovers.

Inidividualized histories play down this type of collaboration which is often crucial to underground production. Independent artists struggle to make ends meet. They share their resources, material — acid house pioneers literally passing around drum machines — and creative. DJ Assault’s classic work, which helped to crystalize a specific Detroit sound, was really the dialectical tension between Assault (the grimy one) and his collaborator, Ade (the musical one). As increased wealth beckoned (particularly in the form of DJ gigs), Ade was cut out of the partnership. By most accounts from Detroiters, both men’s productions suffered. They fed off each other until they each fed off somewhere else. Music scenes are ecosystems that require the mutuality of shark and pilot fish to last.

Kayne West, I like him, but from what I hear, his style comes from listening to old tapes back in the day. … He studied the style. Basically I would say he studied the style but he didn’t copy me, I just gave him a source of reality. The man was fucking smart! I’m not gonna knock his hustle because it’s nothing to knock! He was just fucking smart. It’s a style of Chicago and that’s all it is. If you can feed off one, you run with it. If you can patent it, OK cool! I have no business about it. But when it comes time to it we still have different styles, and if I went into the rap business I could take a sample, and fuck him off the first one! But what is it? I’m not here to compete. I’m here to let it be known and share what it is.

Kanye, as pop star and celebrity, perhaps the apogee of the autonomous individualism type, is implicated in this. RP Boo gave him a source of reality, and he was fucking smart enough to take it beyond Chicago, a city in which he no longer lives. Boo won’t knock Kanye’s hustle, his ability to take production innovations outside a local scene to global pop artists. But Kanye is no longer part of Chicago — he can exist in a landscape in which Chicago does not register, although the city’s imprint may have influenced his technique (Kanye himself has credited NYC’s RZA and L.A.’s Dr. Dre as influences). Boo works a different register. He is here to let it be known and share what it is, to instantiate the energies and creative force of Chicago’s streets, channel them, to feed and let others feed off of categories labeled, by outsiders, ghetto house, juke, footwork. “The tracks back then didn’t have a name for it…it was just considered local artist’s music….and it never had a name back then.” They aren’t genres, not genres-as-marketing categories. Those reifications come later, when the music and the figures involved become export commodities. “It was just more of a saying of what the dancing or what the atmosphere of the party was like.” The genres are not sounds — they are social worlds themselves, assemblages of DJs, producers, hosts, dance crews, cameramen, promoters, hustlers, partiers formed through local infrastructure, global economics, and idiosyncratic technology. Structures of feeling. Atmospheres. This is the hardest part of writing this history: finding the subject.

10 Responses to Chicago Scenius

  1. davequam says:

    yeah, the hard but also fun part about being so interested in this music is that everybody has a different story, everybody will tell you that so and so did ( ), a lot of people hate each other because of money, and a lot of people straight up do steal each others music (so many songs especially the bigger ones like “Bang Skeet” were originally done by someone else”. But hell this is the case of many genres I guess. Most people however will credit RP for being the father of footwork, at least branching out a style that fit footworking like a glove. Obviously kids had been footworking forever to other music (some retards like to jump to the conclusion OMG AFRICAN DANCE MOVEMENTS)but he definitely gave it a new home. Most people even in Haterville in the community will admit that (and he really does have a trophy! )

    He is a SUPER nice and hilarious guy as well. An amazing passion for music of all kinds. I’ve been pretty much only been listening to his music for the past week. I had put the interview up in kind of a rush, and RP wanted to add a few things the claims is key information. Will be back up tonight or tomorrow.

    • Gavin says:

      Thanks for the comment. The work you’re doing, actually interviewing people foundational to this is incredibly important. I’m wondering if the fragmented and impressionistic vibe one gets from a series of blogposts is an effective way to capture this stuff or not. Have you read Simon Reynolds stuff on the first wave of rave? It’s really informing my treatment here (for example, the word ‘scenius’).

  2. davequam says:

    well it’s funny…I have been trying to finished some articles for various magazines, and even write simple pitches but I’m having trouble. I’ve written a few longer form pieces, nothing that anybody has read, but I’m having trouble forming a way to make it legible for any publication for the simple fact that there is NO journalism on this. There are a FEW articles (a sorta recent one in the Chicago reader that is one of the most poorly written pieces of shit. I was psyched to even see it in the reader (finally) at first…but taking a step back my god). I ether want it to be a damn book or spotlighting individuals ect. This is why I love blogs…it’s on going, your opinion can change, there is no commitment of length short or long. It works FOR ME and seems to work for a lot of outsiders that are interested in this stuff, especially people that aren’t able to physically talk to these guys or see the dancers. It’s really not this super mystical youtube thing like a lot of people think…AT ALL. It’s the same thing as any other scene from an internet point of view, in the fact that anybody can upload something onto the internet. The fact is, unlike bmore ect, it’s not as accessibly danceable to everybody. And a lot of the outsiders that like footwork like it because it’s weirdness (don’t get me wrong, a lot of it is very strange) but they like it for this mysticism that really isn’t there. Like Salem on this “we discovered DJ Nate he is god” so all these hip goth turds think he invented footwork. So now these people don’t exist, they are just a plane of the internet, when in fact this stuff has been alive for years and still is and much is distorted by the internet. And while all these white kids are trying to make their own crap with its influence (or non-white kids, BBU are the worst of it), these Chicago DJs will just change it up again, just like how house music has evolved into what it is now here in the city it came from. Ain’t no thang.

    Honestly at this point I think the only way to talk about footwork is blogging, the music as an actual genre coming from RP Boo is still very young, and if someone were to write a book right now on footwork music or whatever, it might be irrelevant in a few years. I like the format myself, and I love it when I find something new from an interesting blogger who has just discovered it themselves, and to watch/listen to their obsession evolve.

    Rant aside, I will continue to provide much more footwork information/interviews/music that is relevant and good. I already have a few more interviews to transcribe and more to come. I thought about doing some pitches about the subject but I don’t see the point in trying to explain this stuff to any magazine audience right now. I’d be down to do articles on specific people however. I’m busy working on a longer form piece about the internet vs footwork that could become coherent however. There will be an article in a UK magazine on it soon, we shall see how it turns out…based on the writer it could be good even though he lives out there (I will have some photos in it as well). BTW it isn’t the Wire.

  3. davequam says:

    oh yeah my grammar is due to being kind of drunk

  4. davequam says:

    also, thanks a lot for the props…I would love to check out some of your Detroit stuff. I am finally going to go there this summer.

    Also yeah I’ve read some of Simon Reynolds rave stuff…I just read his article on the hardcore scene the other day.

  5. Gavin says:

    Cool, thanks for the update. You’re doing good stuff… I think highlighting one’s own incomplete picture, how incomprehensible and ungraspable these things are is a way forward, rather than shoehorning the story into established genre cliches. Unfortunately what’s left of paying writing gigs generally lack room for the creativity and experimentation necessary — blogs do allow that freedom (with their own potential restrictions). Wish I were still in Chicago to lend a better hand!

  6. Neema says:

    Yoooo, i stumbled upon this while being lazy, and searching up rp boo dave quam wordpress instead of just putting the usual Basically, your article is fucking amazing! The only point I wanted to bring up was this:

    They aren’t genres, not genres-as-marketing categories. Those reifications come later, when the music and the figures involved become export commodities.

    While the music itself didn’t originally get a name, it did pick up its own name not based on commercialization, but through the integration of this music in chicago black society. The music and dance became so widespread, and so unique, that these people eventually had to come up with a name for it. It went from ghetto house, to people sayin, “let’s go jukin.”

    However, the point can be made that some figureheads did this to commercialize the music, however it wasn’t for an international audience. Chicago’s black populations is larger than a lot of countries…it’s a market onto it’s own. If the name got picked up because of commercialization, it’s very much so to do with trying to market the music to the Chicago black community instead of the international scene. There are people here who have never left the country, let alone the state, but consistently made over 20000 a month off this music through parties and such. It just happens that way!

    • Gavin says:

      Thanks for the comment, Neema. You make a great point that (global) branding strategies are deployed in local scenes BY locals, something my post overlooks. I’m interested in the gap between the two though — would you say juke/footwork is marketed/promoted differently in Chicago vs. the rest of the world? Even when I was in Chicago I couldn’t find too much about shows, but then again, they weren’t exactly marketing to me!

      I recently moved from Chicago, lived on the South Side for several years. I taught college classes and had a lecture devoted to Chicago house, in which my students always taught me a lot as well. Terms such as “deep house,” “juke,” and “footwork” were always up for debate and unstable. I first learned there was a distinction between footwork and juke from my classes, although there was lots of room for debate. None of my students ever referred to “ghetto house” (or “acid” for that matter, to name another Chicago style that has captured the imagination abroad). Also I had plenty of black students (of various ages) that were never into whatever permutation of house music was “big” in their youth. I guess part of my point is that this diversity gets quashed in the branding process — though I think there are still lots of gaps and slippages.

      I wish I was still there so I could continue to probe these things, but at least I’ve got Dave’s blog!

  7. davequam says:

    Oh shit, Gavin meet my homie Neema!

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