With over two decades under his belt, Traxman is a well known name in the ring of Chicago producers. He co-founded the Geto DJ’z clique and is a member of DJ Rashad & DJ Spinn’s Ghetto Teknitianz, purveyors of various types of urban house music out of Chi-city. Traxman is additionally something of a makeshift torch-bearing, crate-digging historian for the city’s unique brand of house music and all of its offshoots. His tracks often sample early Chicago house tracks and he will occasionally drop mixes online that act as almost a musical history of the scenes he’s worked within since the early ’90s.
Traxman is also one of the leading producers of “footwork” — a jittery hybrid of “juke;” which is something of a more foul-mouthed, urban version of its house predecessor. Technically, footwork is designed for a specific kind of dance but doesn’t seem to lend itself to that in any traditional, dance-club sense. Footwork tends to unwaveringly chug away at a 130BPM with a raw, mechanical sound of spitfire drum programming. Interspersed soul vocals are often sampled, but footwork rarely uses them like house music or any of its electro-cousins. The samples are spliced and are speedily injected, sometimes reminiscent of a skipping CD. At its best, this busy concoction finds the rail and hits a steady groove, striking a balance from what can partly sound on the verge of falling apart into a cacophony of drum-machines gone awry. Footwork doesn’t have crescendos either. Instead, it finds emotional resonance in what it takes away from the constant, frantic uneasy forward movement of the track. Suddenly, the beat lets up or the bass disappears and there is a moment of release and your hooked into its busy soundscape.
Throughout Mind of Traxman, the producer it’s named after proves to have something of a Midas touch in finding the delicate nuances of this off-kilter style. What proves most impressive, though, is Traxman’s versatility utilizing these details to take the LP to surprising places. Opening track, “Footworking on Air” is spatial, almost ethereal affair, pairing the sounds of a Kalimba with acid lines from a 303. Elsewhere on tracks like “Itz Crack” and “Chilllll,” Traxman samples jazz stanzas, pairing them with brief, chopped up hip-hop vocals, stringing together a musical history of Black America with surgical expertise. These tracks showcase Traxman’s production dexterity, playing off footworks’ improvisational-like energy but softens its blow with subtle coats of strings, keys and emotive staccato soul. Other tracks like “Rock You” and “I Need Some Money” elicit a similar vibe, maintaining footworks ceaseless movement with sporadic MPC 2500 bass thuds but coupling it with sampled strings and vocals from ’70s disco and R&B for an unusual, but excellent, match. Elsewhere on “Conq Dat Bitch” and “Calling All Freaks,” Traxman channels juke with repetitive chopping of ghetto house samples and unapologetic tick and slap of the thin percussion.
With 18 tracks, Mind of Traxman does a surprisingly solid job corralling all of the elements–double-time drum programming, sudden start-stops, chopped up soul and hip-hop samples — into a cohesive whole without growing tired. Just when tracks like the raw, minimal stutter of “Slip Fall” seem nearly overwhelming in its intensity, “I Need Some Money” kicks in with head-bobbing speed and looping funk. “Going Wild” begins with a plucky and frantic beat under two sporadic chopped up vocals before suddenly breaking down to nearly nothing but the serenade of a foreign-language female vocalist. It is tugs and pulls like these, that take you to the edge and then let you down quickly but softly, that showcase the heart of what is most appealing about footwork and the genius of Mind of Traxman.
Footwork doesn’t seem to be very flexible, given the minimal, raw aesthetic of its sound. Mind of Traxman proves that the style contains at least some elasticity. Despite the balance and engaging sound, the style of footwork likely will remain mostly a curiosity outside of Chicago. In no way does it lend itself to the club and it offers little to less adventurous fans of house, EDM or any of its offshoots. Footwork exists on the fringe and will likely stay there. That doesn’t mean that the craftsmanship, creativity of Mind of Traxman and its ability to deconstruct and rethink electronic music can’t be appreciated for what it is. In fact, it should be.