Fancy footwork

DJ Nate is his name, pitching, layering and triggering hip hop and pop samples is his game

Chicago sampling king, DJ Nate, finally reaches the public with his debut EP.
Chicago sampling king, DJ Nate, finally reaches the public with his debut EP.

DJ Nate’s Hatas Our Motivation EP is the first commercially available documentation of Chicago’s nascent Footwork scene, an emergent strand of dance music with a rising international profile.

Footwork, itself a derivative of Juke and Chicago House, is built on fast, syncopated drum patterns, dubby bass swells and hypnotic vocal samples. Recorded to accompany “Footwurking,” a manic dance style that’s perhaps better Youtubed than explained, each track is a high-BPM firecracker.

Nate’s sound is defined by his use of samples. It’s unorthodox, even within the genre and will make or break the sound for most listeners. Nate lifts vocals from hip-hop and R&B and blasts them into abstraction, chopping and rebuilding them, pitching them up and down, looping, stacking and arranging them into unusual forms. They bounce freely around the tracks, rarely behaving as expected, often working against the pulse and clatter of Nate’s instrumentals.

Nate’s songs build and move unpredictably—it works precisely because it shouldn’t. The vocals grate against the drums and bass, and when they do align, it’s all the more satisfying. “Hatas Our Motivation” is the first track, and it sets the tone with sci-fi synths, seething bass and a menacing vocal (“hate is our motivation”) that’s turned inside out as the song develops.

“Ima Burn Him” is a mellower cut. Nate eases you into the track with a bubbly bass line then lays an airy vocal over nimble drum patterns. It’s the EP’s deepest and most fully realized groove, recalling mid-1990s UK garage.

“We Can Work This Out” has Nate toying with listener expectations. Two stuttering vocals play off each other, building up to a monster bass drop that never arrives.

Taken out of context, these songs (and the whole Footwork niche) can be a bit vexing. They were made to score dance battles in Chicago basements, and it’s tricky to assess them outside that environment.

“Make Him Run” is relentless, an aggressive, distorted sound-bomb that’s so chaotic it verges on irritating. It’s not meant for headphone listening, and in this way resists critical interpretation. These tunes beg to be heard on their own terms, at gut-rumbling volumes. Within the context of a larger DJ set, the pace and energy of these songs could be irresistible. Nate’s making forceful, innovative dance music and it’s unlike anything being produced right now. It recalls other genres and producers, but Nate’s style is unmistakably his own.

Championed by the influential UK label Planet Mu (they’ll release another collection of Nate’s work this fall) and exposed to an ever-expanding audience, it’ll be interesting to see where Nate’s sound goes from here.

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