Chicago is an epicenter of electronic dance music. It’s the birthplace of house music, and like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Miami, it has its own brand of club music as well, the result of filtering house through hip-hop and other underground influences. Chicago house mutated into the stripped down style known as juke house (typified by Cajmere’s “Percolator”). In the same way, juke is giving way to footwork: music built for frenetic dance moves that are exactly what they sound like.
The fastest rising footwork DJ is wunderkind DJ Nate. The 20 year old Nathan Clark has been making footwork beats since before he could get into the clubs that play them. His stylistic trademarks are off-kilter drum beats and repetitive, pitch-shifted vocal samples, often with conflicting rhythms. A polarizing style, footwork rejects traditional dance music conventions like four-on-the-floor beats. For the uninitiated, it may sound dissonant and seem un-danceable.
Luckily, the folks at groundbreaking record label Planet Mu saw something in the young Chicagoan. Planet Mu released DJ Nate’s Hatas Our Motivation and will be dropping a compilation of Nate’s footwork tracks entitled Da Trak Genious (named after his (intentionally?) misspelled moniker) in September. Recognizing the confrontational nature of his music, the title of his EP is instructive. “Hatas our motivation” isn’t just a sample: it’s a mantra and a motto.
Throughout the EP, DJ Nate crafts beats that are exciting and new. The tracks sound like they will cause irregular heartbeats and seizures: elements collide into each other haphazardly, but when they sync up, it’s pure bliss. Looped R&B and hip hop samples practically become percussion instruments and lend a hypnotic nature to the music, especially on tracks like “We Can Work This Out” and “Ima Burn Him.”
The strongest track is the finale, “See Into My Eyes,” which brilliantly samples the goth pop of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.” Twisted and pitchshifted, a bizarro Amy Lee mournfully asks “How can you see into my eyes?” over increasingly chaotic drum fills. (The track can be heard at the beginning of this juke battle video).
Between DJs like Willy Joy, Rob Threezy, and now DJ Nate, Chicago is guaranteed to be central to dance music for years to come.