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DJ Nate - Da Trak Genious

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Artist: DJ Nate

Album: Da Trak Genious

Label: Planet Mu

Review date: Feb. 4, 2011

Is DJ Nate truly the track genius? Kinda, yeah. The most prominent exponent of Chicago’s newly-publicized footwork scene, he is here given a sprawling introduction to the world at large. Over 20-plus tracks, listeners can go extra deep with his inspired mania, a production style so startling and fresh that whole swaths of dubstep, funky, or whatever else you were into might suddenly look a little grey and flabby in comparison.

If you tuned in for the Bangs & Works comp, prominently featuring DJ Nate, and didn’t pay much attention to the track list, you would be forgiven for not being able to easily pick out his work. The footwork aesthetic as a whole is so local, specific and alien to outsiders, simply dropping your jaw in an awed WTF would be an understandable reaction. Da Trak Genious thankfully allows one to easily pick out his trademark touches, to decode his language a little.

His average song combines some or all of the following: stuttering bass drum, R&B or rap vocal samples (which he slows down or speeds up with no regard for bpm continuity), slow claps, and…. that’s about it. Nate is not a synth guru, does not cop acid’s squelch or juke’s raunchy baselines. He is essentially making a weird, lo-fi musique concrete/IDM, conjuring up a universe of smeared samples and freaked out percussion that is only danceable to footwork insiders.

It’s a cliché to compare repetitive music to Steve Reich, but Nate finds a striking parallel to that composer’s groundbreaking tape works, "Come Out" and "It’s Gonna Rain." Both use cut-ups of young, black men, exaggerating and blurring the contours of their speech through crude sampling. Both find layers of meaning in their sources, even as they disrupt the source to the point of unintelligibility. And both suggest the anxieties or yearnings of their times through their borrowed material.

But where Reich kept things somber and relatively political, DJ Nate sounds like the spastic Twitter feed of Chicago’s collective unconscious. A "turn back time" or "what you do to my soul" sample is so altered and damaged as to transform into a grotesque caricature of erotic longing. Melodies that were originally imbued with heartache and passion are slowed, so as to be out of synch with the beat; many of these songs sound like a skipping Vanessa Williams LP playing on the stereo while your stoner roommate tries his best Aphex Twin on a shitty Alesis drum machine.

The other go-to for Nate is the violent aggression of rap. "Hate is our motivation" is a startling sentence to hear over and over again, but it quickly blurs into a specter of itself, a series of syllables whose meaning is lost in the flurry of music. I’m curious if this is Nate’s motivation, a pop-art commentary on his sources, on media saturation, on the dream life of young America. It would add up … but on the other hand could be totally off the mark. Footwork is a highly specialized scene, an underground dance community that has formed organically outside the periphery of the music it references and samples. Ergo, the music operates according to the needs of a tiny sliver of the population, one that probably has a wholly different read on it than I, or most outsiders, would. It’s a testament to its power that Nate (and Co.) is able to call so much into question, to suggest so much, all in the guise of a couple bootleg dance cuts. The next few years will show whether he truly is the track genius or just a fluke; for now, he’s off to a brilliant start.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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