It is fitting that RP Boo uses a list of footwork’s essential qualities as the title of his second album. The DJ and producer is revered by his contemporaries as an innovator, and widely regarded as the genre’s founder. Despite this, his recorded output is comparatively slight and he has not toured to the same extent as peers such as the Teklife collective. As consequence, Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints feels fiercely localised to his native Chicago, nowhere more so than on Bang’n on King Dr. The sampled vocal repeats the el train route through south Chicago, invoking networked transit through urban space. It speaks directly to the contrast that exists in footwork between containment and interconnectedness. Here is a music that developed within a few close neighbourhoods, gestating in a hothouse of small clubs and community centres, before finding wider, worldwide popularity. As consequence, it is a music which has a clear, idiomatic aesthetic, resolute in presenting itself as a genre untarnished by the fickle pressures of fashion despite its global appeal.
The music can be extremely claustrophobic at times, its purpose being for footwork battles between dancers. Drum patterns bullishly pulse with little change, growing intense in their repetition. Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints is an album of tracks that serve that singular purpose with few variations from the formula. While DJ Rashad’s seminal Double Cup made concessions to its listeners by drawing from a broad sonic palette of other electronic music, Boo’s album feels like it is committed entirely to presenting Footworks in its purest form. For instance, the minimalist sub bass menace and spiralling opera sample of Sleepy is pure battle material, and leaves you longing to see someone dance to it.
RP Boo’s template, the syncopated drum pattern and chopped vocal samples, can feel oddly stationary to a new listener. For example, Kemosabe delivers the majority of it component pieces in the first 30 seconds, holding little else back for the remainder. The elements drop out and reappear, but it comes over shallow and two dimensional. Contrast this, however, with Finish Line D’jayz where the lack of variance actually serves to ramp up the intensity of the track, and it becomes apparent to what ends the formula can work.
It’s an album for the initiated, but also one that shows off the thrilling capabilities from one of the genre’s great producers.
Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints is a difficult album for sustained listening. The tracks would sound best as part of a mixed continuity, and having them separated out on an album becomes a little fatiguing at times. Having said that, it is worth remembering some key things. The vast number of YouTube videos of footwork battles are enigmatic, codified on a variety of different levels, and can be compelling watching. In its best moments, Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints represents the gladiatorial nature of these battles, the strutting intensity that is far less collaboration and more open contest. The looped line on I’m Laughing, the bounce of cheap electronic keyboard on Suicide, the taunting sped-up chant on Heat From Us – all of these elements point towards how the music serves to build a foundation for the dancers.
As a producer RP Boo knows his genre, and does everything to reinforce its singular appeal. The album presents a series of great footwork tracks that would sound fantastic in the midst of a DJ set. Its unwavering repetitious nature is to allow dancers to showcase their work, and in that sense it is difficult to criticise Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints for doing what it set out to do. It will not be an easy place for new listeners of footwork to start, but with plenty of compilations available (such as the vital Bangs & Works series) it would be churlish to complain. One for the initiated, but also one that shows off the thrilling capabilities from one of the genre’s great producers.
Words: Andrew Spragg