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Traxman - Da Mind of Traxman

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Artist: Traxman

Album: Da Mind of Traxman

Label: Planet Mu

Review date: Apr. 10, 2012

It seems fitting that footwork music’s ascent from local curiosity to the focal point of current dance music discussion should be capped off by one of its originators. For years the provenance of predominantly black kids on the South and West Sides of Chicago, footwork took the gathering storm of juke and let loose as an au courant buzzword with the already-mythical first volume of Planet Mu’s Bangs & Works. As a rabid fanatic of the sound, label head Mike Paradinas spearheaded efforts to round up the usual suspects and bring them to an unsuspecting wider audience. You know the ripple effect by now: Addison Groove, Machinedrum, Sully, Sepalcure, any kid out there with a computer and dreams of ankle-breaking 160+ BPM.

For Cornelius Ferguson, the chatter is an opportunity to contextualize what he’s tried to do for the scene and the sound. The West Side DJ known as Traxman has been in the game since the early 1990s both as part of the long-running Geto DJz clique and, more recently, as one of the three key members of the Ghetto Teknitianz. As a living link of generations, Ferguson remains an avid record collector in pursuit of new grooves who also spins classic house mixes on the regular. He loves Kraftwerk. He’s also an avid jazz fan. “My part in footwork,” he insisted to NPR’s Wills Glasspiegel, “is to bring the soul back.”

The aptly titled Da Mind of Traxman is, then, a window not just into the head of the man behind the beats, but also his heart. It can’t be coincidence that this album marks the end point of Chicago footwork from a largely social endeavor (high school gymnasiums, cassette mixes, YouTube videos, one-off mp3s for Dave Quam) on to inconsistent compilations and EPs through to the primarily private mechanism of the full-length. We’ve visited this conversation before with DJ Diamond’s Flight Muzik last year, but Da Mind of Traxman marries the soul of the past with the bangs of the future so fluidly that the sound’s innately harsh nature has been marginalized, making for an all-around enjoyable experience no matter the location.

That fluidity is the key to the album’s success, but that it sounds so fresh also says something about Traxman’s ear as a producer to know where past and future mingle. Opening track “Footworkin On Air,” for instance, has existed for well over a year and still sounds ahead of the curve. “Slip Fall” sounds equally forward-thinking. The off-kilter acid track “1988” even calls out a year, but it’s two decades ahead of itself.

One of the primary aspects of footwork’s appeal was its rawness, the dangerous unpredictability of a song to switch up 40 BPM in an instant and then cut out after less than two minutes. It’s how you could tell RP Boo from Carrier. Like Diamond, Traxman straddles a confident middle ground; because he’s been doing this for so long, he’s also an accurate barometer of how far footwork has come in the last few years. Da Mind of Traxman‘s most pointed statement is that you don’t need sonic terrorism to achieve the same end result. Transitions are noticeable but hardly ever jarring, “Callin All Freaks” to "Slip Fall" early and "1988" to "I Must Deadly Killer" is about as disruptive as it gets. Otherwise, it’s smooth sailing between Mizell Brothers samples and vocal house clips, early rave rhythms and AC/DC. The smartest moment might be the Prince sample from Purple Rain’s “Let’s Go Crazy” that forms the core of finale “Lifeeeee is For Ever.” It’s hard to think of a better source to let linger.

The initial shock of hearing footwork has been replaced by a slew of artists trying to cut away at its heart and merge its aggressive rhythms and samples with anything else they can find. What the pack is missing is that fusion of "something futuristic and something soulful." The most telling moment in Glasspiegel’s short documentary is when Traxman slows his torrent of thoughts to look at the camera. “Do it from here,” he says, hugging his heart. With Da Mind of Traxman, he’s opened it up for us to find that electric word, life. And you know what that means.

By Patrick Masterson

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