THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 057
Good day, friends. Coming to you from an overly hip hotel in San Francisco. I'm here covering the latest Other Minds festival, which I previewed for the nice folks at KQED. The opening night was fairly incredible with pianist Myra Melford and bassist Mark Dresser scratching and banging out sounds to support a butoh dancer; William Winant playing a balloon; and a breathtaking elegy to life and loss performed by Jen Shyu. Can't wait to see what happens next.
Monday marks the start of XRAY's fall fund drive. I know I've bugged many of you about supporting this newsletter with a subscription, but I would like you to first spare a few dollars for the noncommercial radio station where I produce my show Double Bummer every week, and where I serve on the board of directors. Over the past seven years, the station has become a vital force for good in Portland, whether its holding political candidates' feet to the fire or filling the airwaves with incredible sounds chosen by our dedicated volunteer DJs.
I've once again started a personal fundraising page that I've pitched as competition between myself and the other DJs and board members. I want the bragging rights of knowing that I've stomped all over the work of other folks trying to raise money for XRAY. They deserve to be taken down a few pegs. They know what they did.
As an incentive, much like my newsletter subscriptions, if you donate $15 or more to the cause, I'll choose one of you folks to win a small prize package of vinyl records, handpicked by me. I will, of course, get in touch and work with you to make sure you get some music that you'll actually want to listen to. Sounds good, right? That's why you should give. Right now. Go do that, and then come back to read my interview with footwork pioneer RP Boo.
I love the way RP Boo's mind works. Over the course of our 45 minute interview, the Chicago footwork pioneer rarely answered my questions directly. He instead danced around the core of response, giving me far more information than I needed. That made transcribing this interview for the newsletter a bit of a slog, but it also made me appreciate how active and excitable RP's brain is. One simple ask sparks a trillion synapses in his brain, and a flood of details and memories and ideas comes pouring out.
RP Boo is one of the greatest global ambassadors for footwork, that banging offshoot of house music born in the clubs of Chicago and given a worldwide audience in recent years via UK labels Hyperdub and Planet Mu. RP—born Kavain Wayne Space—began his musical journey as a dancer, reigning over the clubs of his hometown in the ’90s with troupe known as House-O-Matics. But he soon became the crew's main DJ, spinning house and juke tracks to inspire their fleet-footed moves. As the decade wore on, Space started producing his own tracks, including the footwork template "Baby Come On," a pleading burner that sparks the joints and muscles. He continued to build his catalog of singles and fire up the crowds at clubs around Chicago until Mike Paradinas, the man in charge of Planet Mu, came calling. He added two of Space's tracks to the defining 2010 footwork collection Bangs & Works Vol. 1: A Chicago Footwork Compilation.
Even as Space has solidified his reputation among his hometown supporters and fans of dance music across the globe, there's a sense of playful defiance that is sneaking into his music. For all its dancefloor-ready intent, his latest full-length Established! feels like he's calling out any doubters amid his local scene. Their disbelief only seems to fuel his creativity. Or as the title of one of the best songs on the album spells out, "Haters Increase The Heat!"
Kind of. I switched over to writing and demoing using more Ableton. I finally got the hang of Ableton and really tried to see what that worked like. So a lot of the stuff off Established! was done using Ableton, and then some of the plugins was coming off of Native Instruments. ‘Cause me and Mike [Paradinas] talk about it a lot as he was noticing previously how certain sounds were not as warm as it used to be. It was different from working from an analog drum machine than typical software. I’m transferring between both. It’s working out and it’s helping me with different ideas. I’m adjusting as I’m going along, but I’m loving it.
How much did you learn about using Ableton between those two albums?
The album was already finished a year prior. It was finished in February of 2020. I was just sitting on one track that we decided to pull off and replace. So I replaced it with “Beauty Speaks of Sounds” this year. I could tell there was a difference. I could really play with lots of new trick and got a better comfortable. All this software that I had that I never really dug into. I used to be afraid to go dealing with software because I wasn’t software friendly. But all the sounds I got... I’m not even one-quarter into all the sounds I got and I’m like, “Wow. This is what I’ve been missing.”
You’re using some interesting samples throughout Established! I heard Barry White, Phil Collins, Leon Haywood. You’ve used Loggins & Messina in the past. Are you just pulling from records that you loved as you were growing up?
Yeah! A lot of those that I resurfaced... I see a lot of commercials and music come on, and Barry White comes on and I’m like, “I’ve been wanting to use that for a while!” But then I’d forget about it and work on another track and it just kept popping up. And this commercial came on and it was playing. So I was like, “Let me grab this and see what I can do with it.” The Phil Collins joint I had that set up like six years ago, playing around with it on an Akai S01, and then when I first got Ableton, I figured out what I wanted to do with it. One day, two years ago, I said, “Let me go ahead with it.” That’s when I started getting comfortable with the configurations working with Ableton and the MPC, and the way I was working on it was so different in the way I made it. It came out real nice. I guess it was not made for me to do it earlier.
With that track that samples Phil Collins, “All Over,” and a couple of other songs on the album, I get a feeling of hip-hop braggadocio—like you’re clapping a bit at other folks in the footwork scene. Was that how you intended it? Is there some friction there?
No, not at all! I just wanted to do something that was totally different. A surprise. And it just worked. I wanted it to sound a little bit different and be creative with how I like complement, and my way of complementing. There’s a track that I did called “Nightmare.” It’s not released, but the sample on it was the Jackson Five’s “The Boogie Man.” One of my favorite hip-hop joints is when Jadakiss did “Put Ya Hands Up.” It was the same sample. But the way I did it was totally different from the hip-hop version, but whoever produced that track for Jadakiss, if they heard my version, they’d be like, “How did you come up with that?” It is the same chop, but I chopped it and orchestrated to my liking that was better than the hip-hop version.
But reading up on you and reading up on footwork, you hear about footwork battles and some deep animosity growing within the scene. It doesn’t seem like there was any true friction there, rather than you were all trying to push each other to keep evolving and keep creating and one-up one another, musically.
That’s a loooong story. From the beginning of where I come from, we didn’t see the future. We didn’t expect it to come to the surface, meaning me, DJ Rashad, and DJ Clent. Everybody noticed that we had different styles. I had like six or seven years age advantage over those guys. But as the years went past, like 2002, the city started going down. Then in 2004, it resurfaced. But in that time, I was already where I needed to be at. Clent and Rashad came to where they needed to be. As the years followed, I always kept to myself. But with Beatdown and Teklife, the dancers, for some reason, started picking where they wanted to go, who they wanted to support of the DJ. Then it came all around to this animosity. You had this animosity, even with the dancers. Then they got animosity with the dancers. But I never entered into that. I could go into place where there’s this animosity and the whole place get quiet. We talk to each other. Because this affects everybody’s lives. No matter what genre of music you’re in; no matter what you do in your personal life, when the world or people can see you in this, it makes them skeptical. “Do I work with you?” Character really plays a part.
The footwork battles are all about throwing their opponents off. Sometimes it gets heated! But it’s calmed down. It’s like a whole different world now. For me, the world has it. I don’t think about Chicago like I used to. I live in Chicago. I love Chicago. I still got a lot of respect for Chicago, but it’s bigger than Chicago. Any genre is bigger than where it started from. It’s shared with the world, and whoever does their job and goes and survives and has a good time... It’s all about enjoyment for me. I love to see people having fun, but if they want to act a fool on the dancefloor, act a fool on the dancefloor with these tracks. That can help you create better music or a new style or a creative idea. That’s how it started for me. I watched the battles, and as I watched the battles, I’m feeding them and they like it. I’m saying, “Let me see if I can do more and more.” Every week, back in the early 2000s, every time I come to a new party, I would have at least four or five tracks that was totally new. They tell me, “We still haven’t got the other ones yet!” I say, “You guys keep feeling me, I’m gonna keep makin’ ‘em.”
Did that go for the music on Established!? Did you try these songs out in clubs and when you were DJing to see how they went over?
Legacy was a lot of stuff that Mike heard in the catalog and said, “We’ve got enough to do an album.” Fingers, Bank Pads & Shoe Prints was almost the same way. But when I did my second EP, The Ultimate, I learned this trick. I say a trick, but it’s something I learned from Rashad. As Rashad traveled, I noticed he would go to different places and do collaborations on his tracks. I was like, “My ideas can flourish while I’m away. I don’t know how long I might be gone, so I’m coming home and trying to get these ideas put in place.” What I did was bought MPC Studio, so wherever I go, I learned to use it how Rashad would do. To be able to make a track on the spot if there was something on my mind. From I’ll Tell You What!, those two was done on the spot, different locations when I made these tracks. Everything I did for this album was made at home because of the timing and going back and forth. I’m trying to see if there’s anything that I did... Naw, everything I did in the States.
Both Established! and I’ll Tell you What!, and some of the song titles on the new record, use exclamation points at the end. Where did that idea come from? Are you just trying to put a big enthusiastic feeling on everything?
I’ll Tell You What! is funny because I kept hearing it in conversations. “Oh, that’s something that nobody would do.” “Oh, I’ll tell you what!” That’s how that came. But with Established!, it was after I’ll Tell You What! comes out, reading the press and the writeups. One thing I believed in, years ago, is that you could have a conversation with anybody that can ask you how you’re feeling and you could tell them how you feel. I can only take that in and say if that’s something that I experienced, I can share something with it. And if I’m not sure, I won’t get into it. But when you’re writing something about any artist or, I’ll just use myself for example, something was said that triggered it. “This is what RP was probably thinking about when he was making this track.” I’m like, “Hold on. Wait a minute. How can you walk in somebody else’s body and tell them how they feel? You just can’t.” So to keep you from writing and to have a lot of writers now, I’ll tell ‘em, “Read. The. Name. Of. It. If you’re smart, it’s going to teach you how to read right. Be careful of when you’re about to say, ‘This what RP feels. This what he was probably thinking about.’ Naw! You didn’t create it! I did! I didn’t have to think about. I just did it. So enjoy the music. Let the fans enjoy the music.” Your opinion is your opinion, but learn how to write your opinion without having somebody else jump in on it. Either go against it or agree on it or whatever else. The more I thought about it, I was like, I’m already established. That’s why I named this Established! It was really supposed to be a longer title. It was supposed to be Established March 11, 1972, Now Go On Ahead And Mind Your Own Business. That’s the day I was born and the day I was established.
It feels like a reminder that you’ve been in this game for decades now. You’re established. You’re an established Chicago producer and performer and no one needs to question your bona fides.
Right! Everything is at the press of a button. You can look and see what’s going on. You like someone, you might not like someone. There’s stuff that I didn’t like and I learned to like it. Who am I to be the judge of this when these artists and these people are just expressing who they are themselves and they’re just sharing what their feeling is through their music. I enjoy all creativity. Even if it’s music I don’t listen to, I understand the message. And if this is a message that I don’t like, I’m not gonna support it. I will not play it. And I will not put it in my mixes because I know where I come from and I know how easy it is be trapped. That’s not my feeling. Some things is short-lived with some music that’s here in the United States. But that’s how some of these people make their money. You’re not gonna win everybody’s heart.
As you grow older, you get more mature. I had some crazy views. I’ve seen and I’ve lived a lot of this stuff but not in a bad way. Like I’ve lived in a neighborhood where there are people who were victims to this mindset that I wasn’t real cool with. But they look at me now and they say, “Job well done. You make us proud.” I can go into my old neighborhood and walk the streets and even the older elders in their 80s and 90s that saw me grow up are so happy. They can go online and see me over there in China, Japan, or anywhere in the world. I come home and come back into my old neighborhood and it’s like a parade. They say, “You know what? No one can go where you go, but you take us visually.” That’s why I share the music with the world. I come from these crazy, rough neighborhoods. The reason I was able to further was because I was able to change my mindset and my actions. I’m not trying to jeopardize myself, my family, or anybody else around me. This is a whole new life, a whole new world. Make the best of it. That’s what I do.
Does it feel strange at all to consider that it took British record labels like Hyperdub and Planet Mu to bring footwork and juke from Chicago to a worldwide audience? Even people in the States didn’t know anything about it until those folks started releasing your music.
Yeah, that was crazy. I used to work at this place on 59th and Western called Speedway [Lube Express]. Rashad came past. He knew what we we’d been through, trying to get our music out on Dance Mania, and Dance Mania happened to close down due to legal issues. Years go past and we’re still sharing music. Then MySpace comes out. This guy Jerome Williams, who was a classmate of mine back in 7th grade, created Wala Cam. When MySpace pops off, you got Wala Cam showing the footage of stuff that’s happening. That’s how Planet Mu got wind of it. Rashad came to the job and said, “There’s a guy that’s over in London and he’s got this label Planet Mu wanting to do a compilation.” Just because it was Rashad and I had a good relationship with Rashad, I knew this was an opportunity. I was like, “Yeah, why not?” I took the opportunity, did Bangs & Works Vol. 1 and Volume 2, and right off of Volume 1 that’s when I got the first proposal to do an album. And I declined. I was like, “Eh, not right now.”
So as MySpace comes on, the freshest thing that was being played in Chicago was footwork tracks as well as the dance. That was something new to the world. It was freshest thing at that moment. You didn’t see nobody from the ghetto house area of Chicago posting up like we was. That’s what caught their attention. As the years go, it just exploded. It was like, “What’s happening?” It’s still growing. There’s still a lot of places that it’s still not reached yet. The good thing about it is, it will reach it. Word got back years ago that if it ever dies down, it now has a place in people’s hearts and their folders. It will always be the main three people that will always be talked about: Spinn, Rashad, as well as myself. Even Spinn would talk about it. He would tell people, “Hey, this is one of the founders of it. The way he makes his tracks, he can go wherever he wants to go, but he’s going to keep you in the dynamics of it.” You got the right type of music to understand the dance steps. You will be challenged with the dance steps. There are points in there where you take the fundamental beats and sit there, but you don’t know it sits there. Spinn would say, “You guys catch the beat? ‘Cause if you don’t catch the beat while you’re dancing, you’re not going to look good.”
So this brings up the craziness of the past two years. It’s been really difficult for people to go out and party, and you weren’t able to tour through this whole time. How was that for you to be stuck at home, essentially? Where you able to get a lot of work done or was it a challenge?
Before it happened, me doing the touring, there were some things I learnt and some things I went through that set me up saying, “I need some time to be at home because of things I need to do at home to get set in place because I don’t know when I might have this chance.” I have my own company, but I can’t run my company and do touring at the same time. I said I wanted to take some time out to get things up and running with the company, and here comes COVID! We didn’t know how long it was until vaccinations would happen. I had five tours already lined up that I scheduled from starting in April all the way through June of last year. I was like, “Oh, I wasn’t anticipating this, Lord!” It was hard to go out. You couldn’t move around. No places playing music. Then I finished the album and l’m like, “What’s do do next?” It was playing this waiting game, hoping it would hurry up and be over because I was ready to travel again. I was six and half years out of working for myself and doing the tours.
But it was a lesson learned. Better take care of things. If there are things you were slacking on, tighten it up because you never know what might happen the next time. It taught me to get as much time with my family because the wife, she works for a bank, and me and her had a conversation. It was good that we were able to see each other. We realized that we really don’t see each other until the time when we have to rest before we go back to work. If I’m out on tour, I could be gone for weeks at a time. So we were like, wait a minute, this is the best time to get to really enjoy this time. Once it gets back to so-called normal, but in a new way, and you’re going back to work, you don’t know how long you might see each other again.
Is your wife a fan of your music?
Oh, she loves house music. She’s very supportive. It took her a while, but one thing that I did when I met her, I didn’t introduce her to the artist. I introduced her to the human. I found out she loved house music, and some of the house tracks that she loved, I already had on vinyl. Come to find out, some of her favorite DJs here in Chicago, I was like, “I know those guys personally.” When she found out, she was like, “Oh wow!” When it comes time for her to listen to my tracks, she’s enjoying it. But she’s just a house music fan. I told her, “There’s a difference from being a fan to being a producer. You see things totally different.” She’s very supportive. She’s the #1 cheerleader for me.
Where do you think the footwork and dance music scenes in Chicago go from here as you come out of the pandemic? Do you think the sound will change? Do you think people are going to change?
The sound will always change. The dance styles, it’s changing with people that’s from Chicago that don’t live in Chicago anymore. Those are the ones that are doing a lot of teaching. Teaching other people the basics, to know how to step on their own and don’t be afraid to expand and go beyond. The music is going to constantly be changing. Nothing stays the same. In Chicago, a lot of the footworkers, they nag and they beef. “What happened to the gutter tracks? These tracks ain’t like they used to be!” I look at him and say, “If you keep working at something it gets smoother. As it gets smoother, it’s going to sound different. That means it’s beyond where you’re at, and you’re just stuck there.” It doesn’t stop, it elevates. One thing I can say is that it’s not locked in. A lot of people want it to go mainstream. The only way I could see it going mainstream, it would be a watered down version of it. I’m like the most unorthodox person that’s ever to do it and am still at it and still blow people away. The elements of where I started from still sit there, it’s just the creativity of how I design it. I keep that same energy as where I started. I don’t change it. That’s another reason why the name of the album is Established! I’m established. People are like, “What is this? We don’t understand where you come from but you still bring the energy.” That’s what counts. The energy.
Wrapping things up with a reminder to check out my weekly Oregon Arts Watch column covering live music in Portland. This week, I spoke with Chris Slusarenko and Victor Krummenacher of Eyelids, and reviewed the latest edition of The Thesis, a vital monthly showcase for hip-hop.
RIP Pat Fish.
Back again next time with, if all goes according to plan, an interview with Ethan Miller of Howlin Rain. Love you all.
Artwork for this edition of the newsletter is from Susan Weil. An exhibition of her work, titled Now, Then and Always is on display at Singapore's Sundaram Tagore Gallery through November 20.