Litefeet NYC

It’s Friday afternoon on Union Square, NYC. There’s a guy in a gold crown holding a crappy handmade sign inked with the legend ‘Butt Man’. He makes half-hearted attempts to engage with the tourists and with the school kids zigzagging around with their backpacks but it’s no use. Something much more interesting is happening on the concrete flat that divides the street from the tree-dappled heart of the park: two dozen dancers have magnetically appeared, drawn by the power of a new Kid The Wiz joint barking out of some speakers and the impromptu Litefeet cypher that’s popping off.

Litefeet is a dance that was born in Harlem and the Bronx in the mid 2000s and is part of a family tree that includes the real Harlem Shake, the Chicken Noodle Soup and popping. Over the last few years it has been adopted and adapted city-wide, and there are Litefeet outposts in Conneticut, Virginia and Florida. It’s spread internationally, to London and to Tokyo where the XYZ Boys run battles and shows under the slightly mangled tagline: ‘Since 2010, Litefeet 4 ever!!’

I’ve come down because of a conversation I had at the screening of rare hip hop documentaries at the Sunshine Cinema. One of the films was Dian Martel’s awesome ‘Wreckin’ Shop Live From Brooklyn’, which shone a light on hip hop and house dancers including MOPTOP and Misfits, whose freestyle moves added extra swagger and verve to ’90s hip hop. Where’s that swagger and verve now, I asked panel member and MOPTOP founder Buddha Stretch. “Litefeet,” he said, suggesting I might find dancers riding the D train, or perhaps on Union Square after school. The former sounded a little unlikely– this Londoner reckons MTA subway experiences come to you, not the other way round – so I headed up to Union Square mid-afternoon on a sunny May Friday.

And there they were, hanging out on the southerly edge. The first five dancers I randomly collar all turn out to be YouTube fairly-famous. There’s Boy Aero, 18, from Brooklyn, Sha Smoove, 19, from Far Rockaway, Queens, 17 year old Lady Slic, 18 year old Sonic from The Bronx, and 19 year old WAFFLE crew founder Goofy (it stands for We Are Family For Life Entertainment). They all have water-tight rep online, particularly the latter, who also appears in mini doc ‘Getting Lite Under New York City’ and who just performed the original Harlem Shake at MoMa. “There might only be five or six crews,” says Goofy, “but there are hundreds of dancers. And there’s a lot of history behind us.”

Naturally, there’s bespoke music. Ruling producer Kid The Wiz makes ultra-raw tracks designed to provide sonic architecture for litefeet moves. Tracks like ‘Dark Gospel’ share a drilled down tuffness with grime or ghetto house whilst ‘Beverages Are Needed’ speaks to the comic side of Lite. “We have our own producers,” says Sha Smoove. “Adele, she got ‘Set Fire To The Rain’. We got our own version. We got Kid the Wiz, Tykestar, Krypto. We working with geniuses in the making.”

They dance, one by one, with the incrementally-growing circle providing vibes. There’s buffered popping and locking, balletic toe sweeps, contortion and cartoonish facial expressions. Dancer tip-tap their bodies, they slide and lunge forwards, dropping 1930s jazz moves and even tiny slivers of what looks like strobe-staggered vogueing. It’s a unique, beguiling combination of athleticism, physical comedy and serious groove.

“Lite feet is hip hop dance,” says Sonic. “It is hip hop.”

Litefeet dancers have a mean line in hat and shoe tricks, where outer apparel becomes part of the show. Dancers slide a sneaker down their chest like it’s on string, or catch a baseball cap on a perfectly-posed elbow, tricks honed as part of dancers’ sideline busking on the subway (there are thousands of clips online). “We’re getting more recognition,” says Goofy. “A lot of people are taking notice. Us being on the trains, it gets the whole city to know us.”

It’s a proper self-sufficient culture of dancers, producers and DJs, teams like WAFFLE, Brotherhood, 2Real Boyz and Teams Rocket and Demon, as well as YouTube entrepreneurs and community leaders who have created a vibrant and evolving world around impossibly wavy moves. And as ever, the dancers lead the way for new musical hybrids: like house, disco and jazz before it, this is music rooted in a rich conversation between feet and ears, dance floor and DJ booth, dancer and producer.

Back in Union Square, there’s an old dude watching as the dancers fall away and the circle reshapes into groups of teens just hanging out. I ask him what he thought of their skills.  “Got to keep the wheels on the wagon,” he says gnomically, and walks off.

This post appeared originally on the RBMA site as part of their New York stories series.

#RCFF

Without realising it, my week has ended up revolving around one three hour slot. Now you wouldn’t think that a three hour old school jungle show that starts at 11am on a Friday morning would be so essential, but honestly, if I’ve got to be out of my house for Uncle Dugs Old School Jungle and Hardcore show, I really miss it.

Like all Rinse shows, it’s always there on the podcast, but for me, I’ve got to listen live. I obviously need to get out more. The show has become part of my week to the point where I have to make sure I’ve got my work finished before the show starts because it’s so hard to concentrate when you’re being assaulted by hyper-energised lemon-facing amen breaks and drops that make you feel like you’re about to fall through the floor. I’m not alone: one twitter fan admitted that he’d “sent students out to lunch early so this tutor can tune in”.

Listening to Dugs rolling out old Slipmatt tunes (this one actually made my body go into some kind of involuntary freestyle shock out) or 1994 Krust records at a time of day when you’re usually in a very different zone makes it even more enjoyable and the fact that a Friday morning slot in the UK is Friday night in Australia hasn’t passed by some ardent Oz listeners.

The show’s been going since March 2011, and on his old station, Kool FM, before that, and has gradually become a focal point for an increasing interest in this period of history that laid the foundations for much of the UK’s music culture. You can hear jungle and hardcore sounds slipping back into new music, including the people that have figured that juke and jungle make excellent bedfellows, and there’s been a bubbling junglist sideline to UK club culture for a while: Zinc and Kode9 played jungle sets at last summer’s Deviation Carnival session, Mark Pritchard’s been playing jungle tracks in his Africa Hitech sets, and any savvy DJ knows that playing the odd jungle classic is a gold-standard guaranteed way to increase the vibes – or to paraphrase a Dugs saying: “vibes for miles”. If there aren’t at least a handful of old school jungle and hardcore sets smashing it at this summer’s festivals I’ll eat my radio.

Dugs been doing a weekly three hour old school show for time without running out of tunes, which tells you something about the huge volumes of music that was made by these artists between the late ’80s and mid-late ’90s. More importantly, the tunes sound just as powerful as they did back then – this really was music that hadn’t been made before born of technological, chemical and social alchemy that’s pretty much unrivalled nearly two decades on.

So obviously I like the tunes, and I like hearing three hours of music from one particular period of time: today was ’94-’95, last week was a birthday show covering ’88 – ’98, but he’s also bringing in key people from the time to chat over an hour or so, whether it’s the promoters behind Labrinth and Desire, or Dan Donnelly, who started Suburban Base. So it’s not just shining a light on important times and important tunes, it’s documenting a scene that was run by renegade producers, promoters and DJs who just did what they wanted, and set off a chain reaction of massive creativity.

Listening to Run Come Follow Friday reminds me how different life was back then. If you knew about this stuff you probably knew about all of it. If you were part of a more mainstream England, then you probably never heard any of it. There was no internet, no YouTube, just record shops and tape packs and people borrowing stuff off their friends. It might have been underground, but back then, underground meant thousands and thousands of people.

See you on the #rcff tour?

Interview with Juke’s DJ Rashad


I interviewed DJ Rashad for the ongoing footwork feature I’ve been working on, and have just finished. I’ll post it when it’s up, but in the meantime, here’s a short interview with the man behind tracks like ‘Itz Not Rite’ and one of my personal favourites ‘Teknitianz‘. It’s short, but that’s because after about 15 minutes he said he needed to finish packing and that we’d carry on the interview later. That didn’t happen, but it didn’t really matter cuz I’d got enough to get on with.

So can you tell me where you are?
I’m on my way to Atlanta… I’m good. I’m packing.

Are people taking notice of juke?
I think it is the case… why? Maybe cuz it’s something new to the people who haven’t heard it before. And maybe they want to juke.

Has something changed in your scene?
We’ve changed as well as the outside. We changed more. We matured in our music over the years. As far as me and Spinn and Gant goes, I think it’s us that changed. Plus the time and the generation as well. The newer kids coming up in the dance world. Music today kind of sucks in my opinion. The rap game has fallen off ain’t nothing really good coming it. I feel music ain’t what it used to be, R&B and hip hop. Jay-Z… today you could make a song about anything. It’s hard to explain. Maybe six years ago it was more hip hop, now it’s just about shooting everybody and hitting girls in the mouth. It’s not real any more.

Juke tracks are pretty raw…
Very raw. That’s the thing. Juke, the juke I make is more commercial. Footwork is more the raw. I express myself more in the footwork area and it more raw, there’s no law. Juke has to be DJ and radio friendly.

Can you break it down for us. What’s the difference between juke and footwork?
Juke is the music but footwork is the music and the dance. I was doing footwork from the beginning, but due to going out of town, people weren’t familiar with the one-clap, so we had to remake top 40 tunes, juke ‘em out. [Kanye West's] Flashing Lights or something we juked it out so people that were familiar with that song could get familiar with our songs, and get ‘em interested.

What are the main components of a juke track?
Depends. If it’s a remix it has to be a good sample, good nice, toms, nice hi-hat. I like to use synths and pianos. It all depends on how you feel. I just go in and go from the tops. 160 -150 bps, 160s the max.

What about footwork. What are the basic ingredients of a track?
It’s the same thing, only difference is I might chop the sample up a bit different or loop it a bit longer than for a juke remix. On a footwork beat the claps might like be half time instead of 4/4.

Can you give us a basic timeline of juke?
They stared calling it juke in 2000, 1999, cuz at first it was ghetto house. Then DJ Poncho and Gant Man came up with the word juke. It was something that was a word for ‘it’s going down’ or it’s jumping or popping. That’s how it came out, Then they came with a song called ‘Juke Dat’ and that was it.

What’s happening for you now?
I’ve gotten more parties over the last couple of months. We get a lot of pop to do out of town gigs. A lot of interviews, as well as in the US. It’s a good things. I’m glad people are checking us out and appreciating the music.

PICK N MIX SHOWS on Mixcloud

I uploaded the shows from the start of the month today, and I’ll upload the rest over this week til they’re all on my mixcloud page mixcloud.com/emmawarren. I need to sort out the tracklisting for each hour as I haven’t yet separated them out into the correct hour sections but I’m sure you’ll work it out in the meantime. This show was the first one since the NME radio hiatus and it was good to be back on air. The show had interviews with Diplo and Funkineven (the latter talking about his favourite acid track) and a really good carnival set from Joker who somehow has transformed from the quite serious heads-type DJ I used to see at FWD>> to a proper party DJ. Oh, and we started as we mean to go on, with the uncompromising, ear-twisting sounds of DJ Nate, straight from the hardcore heart of Chicago. All together now: “hatas our motivation, hatas our motivationa, hatas our motivation”. Or ‘hats are our motivation’ as Mike ‘Planet Mu’ Paradinas put it, when I interviewed him this week for the ongoing footwork/juke feature I’m seemingly endlessly engaged in.

Juke: Chicago Speaks

I’ve been trying to track down some of the Chicago juke DJs and producers for a few weeks now, for a feature for Hyponik. I’ve still got a lot of research to do but I’ve got a few sneaky bits from this interview with new Planet Mu signing DJ Roc (I’ve done half an interview with DJ Rashad but I had to call back because it was tricky to give me juke timelines at the same time as packing a suitcase for an imminent trip to Atlanta). I’ll put all the transcripts up when the piece is out.

Definitely check out the Wala link at the end. Some crazy dance moves there.

Over to you, DJ Roc…

People are taking a lot more notice of Chicago music again. Why do you think that’s happening now?
There’s a lot of activity in Chicago and a lot of talent. Chicago is the originator of a lot of things. We got history. Now people are paying attention. They giving Chicago a chance.

How connected is juke to Chicago’s history of house music?
I sit back and I wonder and I listen to the tracks that were made in the ’80s. It’s a big transformation to juke and footwork. Time just changed, people keeping up with new things. It’s more modern than it’s ever been.

What made it speed up?
The footwork. The dancing.

A lot of the old Chicago DJs started playing when they were really young. How long have you been DJing for?
I was always a speaker head. I would build my own speakers. I’m into electronics and I’m into music so I’d build my little system and put it by my window and have a little party outside my window. I’d use two Playstations, a four channel mixer, two 15″ woofers and I’d do my stuff out in the back yard and I’d throw parties in my hood. I was getting connected with DJ PJ, there was a lot of things going on.

Where did you start throwing parties?
This place we had, it was really no name, it was on 111th between Ebrook and Michegan. It was a hall There was a church on the first floor, we were on the second floor. It was a nice little space. That’s when we first at our peak, and filling the place up to full capacity, 400 people. It was super packed.

What was the vibe?
It was peaceful, everybody was dancing, you had footwork circles all around the place, hip rollers hip rolling to their favourite song, it was just fun. DJ Clent they was doing the same thing, Spin and Rashan doing the same thing at the YMCA right up the street from where we was doing ours. We went to their parties.

When was this?
Probably… I only went there a few times. I was a freshman at high school, probably ’98-2002, I’m not sure.

Where do you hear juke now in Chicago?
If you want to hear juke you got to go to a Wala event. That’s where they do footwork competitions and hip rolling. If you want to get a feel of the whole movement, what’s going on here, that’s where you got to go.

Juke

Just been commissioned to write a 1000 word feature on the history of Juke, in the wake of the ongoing madness around Addison Groove’s Footcrab (or Crab Foot, as Pokes told me someone called it, when I bumped into him on Monday). This is an exciting prospect, especially since it means reconnecting to some extent with some of the Chicago House that got me into all of this way back when I had my head turned by Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle - and finding out more about the local sounds of Juke proper.

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