Jlin - Black Origami
Like any strand of electronic music (see: house, juke, IDM, ambient, dubstep, and the dozens of other splintered genres quickly attached to young SoundCloud experimentalists), footwork has evolved thanks in large part to the sharing based nature of our “age of information”. Considering such a vast number of modern electronic musicians build from reconstructed, remixed, sample-based works of fellow artists, it is refreshing to consider where a particular sound came from before morphing into a Frankenstein-like monster of micro-genres. With regards to footwork, compositions stem from the backing tapes of Chicago-based improvised dance battles popularized in the 1990s, a cultural scene feeding into a beatmaking trend feeding back into the scene.
A YouTube dive of prominent footwork artists will likely navigate you toward DJ Spinn, R.P. Boo, and DJ Rashad as pioneers of the genre – composers who stripped away all excess fat, leaving only bare essentials and tweaked conventions. While footwork plays a major role in the Chicago underground dance scene as compilations like Bangs & Works from the Planet Mu label have garnered critical acclaim, few artists have gained even quasi-mainstream notoriety for their uniquely captivating take on the sound.
Enter Jlin: a Gary, Indiana-based producer who quickly stormed onto the electronic dance music scene with 2015’s Dark Energy. While staying true to traditional footwork-like compositions through a focus on danceable, fast-paced percussive rhythms, Dark Energy was also steeped in twisted, tonal darkness evoking empty cities, rattlesnakes, and slasher films. Jlin doubled down on this dentist-office terror trip tone with horror film samples cutting into the most intense version of footwork fathomable. “I am NOT one of your FAAAAANS!!! Who do you think you’re talking to?!” from 1981’s Mommie Dearest sliced into the opening of “Abnormal Restriction”, just to clarify her mission. The album was fresh-faced and bold as hell, earning Jlin high critical praise, including a listing as Wire’s “Album of the Year”. With sophomore LP Black Origami, Jlin retains the sharp-edged aggression of Dark Energy while deepening footwork’s compositional complexity, shuffling obscure rhythms and textures at a breakneck speed.
While harping on accessibility and limitations in a recent profile in Pitchfork, you can’t help but sense that Jlin upgraded her toolbox when getting back to work. Production is airier and instrumentation more organic, nearly live. But tracks click at a pace too rapid for human ability. If aptly titled final track “Challenge (To Be Continued)” with its cymbal crashes, snare drums, whistle-blowing, and hilariously clipped applause don’t seem to beg for a cover by a marching band or drumline, then I’m bad at guessing the intent behind track titles. “Hatshepsut” is easier: with a mighty build the track displays mammoth-like power, coursing through its phases while resting easily atop its throne as the album’s centerpiece.
This energy manages to carry across the entire 45 minutes of Black Origami without wearing out. Perhaps this is, in part, due to the varied instrumentation and frequently shifting sonic passages that give the album a distinct arc of progression. Perhaps the tracks consistently engage to the point that you wonder if Jlin is suddenly one of the best dance producers this era. Or, perhaps, you simply realize you have been moving the whole time. For my first listen of Black Origami I was out on a run. Once home, at a point in which I typically stretch while drenched in sweat, I continued to dance around my apartment for the twenty minutes the album had left, even continuing on repeat before reminding myself to shower. That Jlin yanks this intrinsic human desire out of your system while implementing boldly dark textures is a testament to her skill and originality as a producer.
Original is the emphasis here. Apparently when learning to construct footwork beats that could feed into nearby Chicago footwork, Jlin presented some sample-based work to her mother who replied, “It’s cool to sample, but what do you sound like?” That was the revelation that led into two fearless LPs, one evolving from the other. And then toward the end of the album we plunge into “1%”, a track that echoes the could-have-soundtracked-Saw vibes of Dark Energy, “You’re all going to die down here”. She hasn’t entirely forgotten where she came from. And while it’s any of our guesses where she will go, we do know that with Black Origami, Jlin has quickly placed herself at the forefront of footwork and among some of the best electronic producers working – who might be shaking in their boots. Jlin just calls it dancing.