virtual programming: from ghetto house to juke: Chicago & Detroit’s burgeoning music story

Virtual programming: from ghetto-house to juke: Chicago & Detroit’s burgeoning music story

Ghetto-house nation

Over the last 20 years there has been a mutation within the Chicago and Detroit house scene. Our story begins with the birth of the Dance Mania label, started in 1985 by Jesse Saunders. The label quickly became known for its proto ghetto house sound, providing artists with a platform to release work that focused more on a raw, percussive and bass heavy sound. Early tracks such as The Browns ‘What’s That’ and House Master Boyz And The Rude Boy Of House – House Nation contained cut-up vocals and fast-paced drum work at the forefront of the tracks which became a huge influence upon the following wave of ghetto house. Early Dance Mania records were championed by many DJs such as Ron Hardy, whom himself was known to play a huge range of new and exciting records in the scene aswell as controversially playing records backwards!

Over the rest of America ears were beginning to prick as news of this new sound in house began to spread. However, whilst records such as M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up The Volume’, S’Express ‘Theme From S’Express’, Techtronic ‘Pump Up The Jam’ and in 1990 even Madonna ‘Vogue’, began to utilise this sound to commercial affect, producers such as Mark Imperial and Steve Poindexter didn’t stop furthering the minimalistic and ghetto flavours started by the Dance Mania crew, choosing instead to create their own strand of dirty house. In terms of the sound, the bass and percussion takes the forefront, with the addition of cut-up and sampled dirty vocals interspersed within them. This addition kept the tracks underground, purely due to the explicit materials, and helped maintain their native charm. Mark Imperial & Co’s ‘She Ain’t Nuthin‘ But A Hoe (Dissin’ All Hoes 46th Street Dub)’ from 1988  and Steve Poindexter’s classic yet underplayed ‘Work That Mutha Fucker’ from 1989 were two examples of the sound maintaining this vibe, and through the late 1980s and early 1990s such labels as House Nation continued releasing records such as these.

These early examples of vocal cut-ups and profanity symbolised black slang and early cross-pollinations of hip hop. While a lot of DJs cite early records like this as an inspiration to express naughty language, guys aren’t so excited about being able to say “bitch” on tracks anymore. One individual even mentioned subconsciously stopping this practice to some degree. I think that’s enough proof that it’s not just “mindless club music” as I’ve seen it referred to, and the strong experimental nature involved is a lot more risky in the booth than bedroom genres often labelled “conscious”.

Dance Mania’s influence

Dance Mania continued through the 90s to put out over 300 ghetto house 12”s. They began to track the start of the juke and ghetto tech sound from dirty house. DJs such as DJ Jackmaster, DJ Slugo and DJ Funk (who later went on to remix Justice) furthered the profanity-heavy and percussion focused sound explored by their contemporaries on the same label. 95 was a big year and artists such as DJ Jackmaster, Paul Johnson, DJ Milton and DJ Deeon were particularly prevalent during that time, each with their own signature sound which later contemporaries would draw upon. It was the beginning of a new era where artists really started to find their own way of producing something completely different whilst maintaining the proto ghetto house groove.

DJ Clent, a late addition to the Dance Mania crew, raised the tempo a little bit in 1998, paving the way for a new form of booty house quickly named as ‘juke’. ‘Jukin’ had been around for a long time finding its roots in the juke joints where people would dance to music around the early 1920s and onwards. It seemed a natural extension of this and juke quickly became the signature sound of underground Chicago. His 2004 anthem ‘Back Up Off Me’ became a cornerstone for adventurous producers willing to delve into the high-tempo genre. DJs such as DJ Assault began compiling mixes from the late 90s onwards exploring the new sound often blending them with early funk and disco tunes to make them more accessible and easier to listen to. However it soon became apparent that the sound was not easily transferable outside of Chicago or Detroit. The music often became closed and alien to the rest of the world and even America. Even within Chicago itself the north side didn’t even know much about juke or ‘footwork’.  Footwork dance crews were a lot more on the periphery than the DJs and the music. A lot of the dancers could do mainstream things and they would put in other moves to showcase their dancing. However they would localise their dancing and sound which would then not become as mainstream but would often ‘go better with the music’. The energy of the dancing is unexplainable and one must really search on youtube to see the full extent of it. Wala Williams is a choreographer and he videos events which he puts on and it goes far to explain what footworking is about. The contests are usually decided by the crowds who often know best who did the best ‘moves’.

Containing juke’s rhythmic infection

In contrast to New York City’s break dance crews, footworking focuses on the quickness and fluidity of the dancers’ legs, and less of spinning on the ground, back flips and the worm. Their heads and shoulders are often still and it’s hard to believe how fast their bottom half actually move. Occasionally there are outstretched arm movements and more often spins paying homage to African dance, but in general intense feet movement are what ‘wins’ battles. Within a battle each dancer gets about 6 rounds of 20-30 seconds to showcase his moves, pushing them to show their moves within the limit. The footworking goes hand in hand with the music. It is tense, fast paced and generally a natural extension from the ears to the feet. The rivalry between opponents is not only focused on the dance floor. A friendly rivalry between Chicago and Detroit is currently underway called Jit VS Juke. Jit is basically 98% footwork with a lot more arm movement. The main difference is that it is set to fast paced techno music, with a direct descent (like juke) from ghetto house. There’s a lot more combinations, structure and styling to the dance routines according to some of the main stalwarts. If you want to be a dancer to this music though you must be a slave to the rhythm and co-ordinate your movement to the sound of the beat. For example, if you hear a high snare you move you arm to that. It’s also natural when you think Jit, to think of the Jitterbug, the legendary six step shuffle. The Jit takes the roots of the dance but branches it off with high kicks, feet tapping, drops and floor work.  It’s true that both the music and the dance moves have come a long way to create this new form. But whilst other cities had break dancing and poppin’ and lockin’, Detroit and Chicago had more of a passion to create something new. It’s starting to show dividends too. The D-Party dance show on America’s equivalent of Channel 4 now has a ‘Jit’ Spot. ‘Footwork’ a new movie by Gabrielle Jones showcases both the jit and the juke. Also a Jit VS Juke battle was recently released on DVD, showing the profits that can be gained from the two.

It’s a long and lengthy discussion on the culture and dancing surrounding juke music, but it’s an essential and rewarding one. If you simply listen to one record then you aren’t getting the whole story and ultimately losing out on an exciting one too. In terms of trying to describe what you actually hear though its difficult but worth a shot. The beats themselves are always pushed over 140 BPM, given the rhythmic swing of hip-hop, and topped with minimal vocal loops. Imagine juke being the equivalent of ghetto-house, as what dubstep is (was) to drum and bass, a mutated descendent of a form of music already pushing boundaries. Upon first listen Footwork doesn’t feel like you could dance to it. The incredibly fast beats are often switched and changed and one couldn’t really put a routine together easily. The dark mood of the tracks also adds to the difficult listening nature, the complete opposite of a party track that is often danced to.

What’s with the music?

Artists like DJ Rashad and DJ Nate intersperse 4/4 house beats with standard hip hop booms whilst the timekeeping itself is left up to handclaps or out of place hi-hats. Whilst the rhythmic structure remains similar through most juke tracks, in order to please footworkers no doubt, the rest of the template remains open for artists to add anything and distinguish themselves from the rest. You might hear a faint synth line, a mutating bassline or any amount of too mainstream to be true samples (from Evanescence to Kanye West). With this last addition to the track footworking suddenly tells a story of any amount of urban youth situation you could imagine, complete with unnerving, non-stop movement. No wonder it’s a soundtrack to the fast paced lives of the youths that listen to it.

DJ Rashad – Drop Juke Out

The whole story may be a hugely interesting one but the sound will probably remain hugely inaccessible for a long time as it’s not to everybody’s tastes. The aforementioned DJ Nate twists R&B, hip-hop with his beloved juke, into 4/4 rhythms and quirky edits. It’s something that every music lover would consider hugely innovating, yet the overall sound may alienate purists. DJ Nate might be one of the first ‘commercial’ juke names you may hear in the UK, being that he has signed a deal with Planet Mu for an EP and album this year, but his sound remains niche. Every sound he uses in his first EP ‘Hatas Our Motivation’ jousts with one. You don’t quite know when one sound will persist and the other will start but it’s a nervous listen through each track.

DJ Nate – Hatas Our Motivation

The repeated vocals and the constant syncopation you hear initially appear lazy and haphazard yet throughout secondary listening there is an amazing hypnotic effect and by the end of it instead of rocking to each track you’re just nodding repeatedly. You can see by the end of it why this type of music is perfect for the hour long battles. There’s definitely a heavy relation to the movement of feet to the music, something that seems obvious in name, yet can only be truly felt when hearing the music and watching the best dancers. It’s at least a vibrant and interesting sound that owes a lot to its ancestry explored in the first half of this article. It’s important to realise the relationship, which is why I went about writing the article in that order.

Traxman – Dun Dun Dun

I’ve been trying to relate juke to UK music for a while now. It’s been totally exhilarating when something goes together that is so alien. Artists like Addison Groove, Ramadanman and Girl Unit have explored the nervy drum patterns used in their records and Addison’s ‘Footcrab’ is a direct descendant and homage to the juke scene. It seems as if the UK’s bass continuum is willing to take any ingredient from anywhere and mould it into their own culture. Few people will know that a brief trawl through Dance Mania’s back catalogue will lead you to probably the one sole record homage by ‘Footcrab’. Waxmaster’s ‘Footwork’ contains a similar drum pattern and almost identical repeated vocal refrain of ‘footworkfootworkfootwork’. It’s nice to know though that Addison Groove has transplanted this over to our seas, this has lead us onto a huge back catalogue that often gets un-noticed here.

Addison Groove – Footcrab

Girl Unit and Ramadanman on the other hand are focused on crafting new pieces that focus more on their artistic intent. Sure the fast-paced drum patterns are there and the insistent rhythm and nervous undertones are prevalent throughout the tracks, yet the sound is totally new for the UK.  Ramadanman’s ‘Work Them’ uses juke’s idea of a repeated vocal refrain to full extent, employing a pitched down vocal and quickly repeated effect that goes hand in hand with the head nodding drum patterns that decay now and again. The similarities with juke are pretty heavy yet the main difference is that tempo is right down to about 135bpm. This is in fact a stroke of genius as it opens the track up to be employed by a number of UK DJs in sets, mixes etc. One only wonders if some juke DJs slowed the pace down then perhaps there’d be more love for them overseas.

Ramadanman – Work Them

Further listening: Check out Mike Paradinas’ ‘Footwork/Juke Mix’ for more fast paced juke. Pretty essential entry into the sound :

Simon Kemp


4 responses to “virtual programming: from ghetto house to juke: Chicago & Detroit’s burgeoning music story

  1. Pingback: leatherface – the footwork chainsaw massacre | futuresoundstemporary

  2. I can’t believe more people don’t know about DJ Nate! He is the trak genius!!! Where can I find more of his music?

  3. all simply amazing trax:

    Here is a link to a nice dirty south remix of “Low” by Flo Rida – refixed by The Jerk Man

    Low (Jerk refix) by thejerkman

    download for free and enjoy. Happy Xmas
    DrumCunt x

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