Footwork gestated in its native Chicago for over 15 years before the rest of the world caught on. Now, it’s stage is global, and Traxman knows it, says Steph Kretowicz.
Cornelius Ferguson, otherwise known as footwork producer Traxman, trades on disparity. That’s not to say that his output is inconsistent but rather that in his extensive, though mostly obscure, catalog, contrasting elements are key. Take “Hold It”, from his latest Tek Life Vol 3.: The Architek LP, as an example: an erratic syncopated beat runs over a refrain of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho theme as a split-second vocal loop instructs its audience to “listen.” Not only does it pull you through a violent undertow of aural stimuli but it also finds a context outside of footwork and juke’s original, highly regional, birthplace of Chicago. Here, it’s not so much a call and response interaction between a producer and his ‘footworkers’ (or dancers)—where complex, barely graspable rhythms work with and against physical movement, samples sliced and shattered as bodies curl and contort over an arrhythmic kick drum, its clipped resonance recalling the style’s origins through ghetto house and juke. Instead, Traxman is making music for the mind that is conscious of its global stage.
30-plus years a DJ, 25 of those a producer and releasing only his second international record under his own moniker, Traxman—a father of four who has personally witnessed and experienced the history of the fiercely independent Chicago house scene into its footwork fracture—shares an omnivorous appetite for sampling with a trend that is at least partly responsible for footwork’s relatively recent surge in international popularity. Except that Traxman has been working in music since his ’90s ghetto house days with other Ghetto Teknitianz DJs Spinn and Rashad (each responsible for the two previous Teklife volumes and featured on The Architek), referring to his methodically ordered vinyl haul—reportedly spanning not only rooms but houses—with the ear of a jazz fanatic, while recognizing this new borderless platform for footwork beyond the school halls and shop fronts of its Chi roots. Keeping, as he says, “one foot international and one foot in your neighbourhood,” tracks like the uncommonly reflective album-opener, the Eastern-influenced “Buddha Muzik”, plus “Japan” and “We Can Go Anywhere” point to Traxman’s footwork-gone-global in their typically nervous fits of tumbledown musical assemblages. Same for the Michael Jackson-sampling eeriness of “Killing Fields”, where the late king of pop’s “Earth Song” is chopped and screwed to sound uncannily like a pitched version of Brandy’s “What About Us?” over the rumbling of a heavy bassline; a pop song’s bleak message recognized and reinterpreted within a new, dark and deep, context. Then it’s the futuristic synth delay and uncommonly regular beat of the hedonistic “2200 Acid”, before the nutty layering of pops, beats and glitches ends The Architek on an ever-optimistic note; a creative temperament of continual progress summed up in the title, “The Best is Yet to Come”. ~
Traxman’s Teklife Vol. 3: The Architek is out now on Lit City Trax.