If footwork had a heartbeat, it would be a troubling arrhythmia. Refusing to rest at 70 beats per minute, it would gallop at a panic-inducing frequency, surging a stampede on your chest, threatening to burst out at any moment. Just as techno and house nestle their identities within the grid-like structure of a reliable kick drum, falling on every beat (or so), footwork bends and twists, manipulating any sense of regularity in placing its percussive core on a lurching axis. Innovators of the genre like DJ Rashad and his Teklife crew work a sonic identity into the stuttering hi-hats and compressed snares that bounce over their off-beat kick drums, but it is Jlin who continues to push the boundaries of footwork today.
Jerilynn Patton, aka Jlin, grew up in Gary, Indiana, 25 miles outside of footwork’s epicentre, Chicago. It is perhaps for this reason that Jlin’s interpretation of her genre sounds so unique; she was able to take an outsider’s view on the music, being within reach of the Chicago clubs and artists playing there, yet choosing instead to educate herself through YouTube videos of footwork dancers and bootleg recordings. Her debut LP, ‘Dark Energy’, released in 2015 on Planet Mu, was acclaimed for its intensity and latent emotionality, imbuing a music centred on the immediacy of the communal dance floor with the potential for solipsism and a complexity that could only be unravelled on multiple listens. Continuing in the same vein, Jlin releases her second album, ‘Black Origami’, this month.
On ‘Black Origami’, gone is the raw intensity of its predecessor and instead emerges a more subdued, yet similarly pensive and insidious record of two halves. Much like the practise it takes its name from, the opener and title track of the record, ‘Black Origami’, deftly folds percussive elements, arranged around triplet clusters, into and on top of each other. The triplet is a rhythm frequently encountered in footwork, yet Jlin has a unique capacity to make her skipping strings and hi-hats defy a sense of rhythmic regularity, instead pushing the track forward in anticipation of a crescendo that never quite arrives. Where she used game sounds and Japanese influences on ‘Dark Energy’, here Jlin takes up the percussion of the Asian and African subcontinents to widen her palette. She replaces the normally synthetic claps and snaps of footwork with undulating tabla on ‘Enigma’, Hindi vocal samples on the rumbling ‘Kyanite’, and an ensemble of djembe and African-influenced drumming on the low-frequency ‘Nyakinyua Rise’.
Whilst this inclusion of varied instrumentation is a fresh addition to the genre, the opening half of the record can feel like an insistent layering of percussion, trading off of rhythmic tropes. It is therefore welcome that as ‘Black Origami’ progresses it gets darker and more demanding. Marked by the sinister bass and plaintive, chopped vocal samples of ‘Calcification’, following tracks like the choral ‘Nandi’ and buzz-heavy aggression of ‘1%’ bring to mind the sonic assault of ‘Dark Energy’ highlights ‘Guantanamo’ and ‘Infrared (Bagua)’.
Ultimately, ‘Black Origami’ is a record of experimentalism and inventiveness that reaches beyond novelty. It showcases an artist widening her scope of production, whilst maintaining an ear and a place for the dance floor birthplace of her genre. The penultimate, trap-influenced ‘Never Created, Never Destroyed’, feels like a sonic homage to DJ Rashad in its tuned-up vocals and rumbling bass. Here, we have come full circle as Jlin nods to a pioneer of the genre, reminding the listener that footwork carries its own rhythmic identity — its own heartbeat — one that her closing track states is "to be continued”.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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