Available on: Planet Mu LP
Cornelius Ferguson is one of those rare beasts: a scene veteran who’s still got some fresh ideas up his sleeve. Google the name ‘Traxman’ and you’ll find his discography dates back to the mid 90s, with releases on legendary Chicago label Dance Mania. Fast forward to the present day and he runs with the Ghetto Teknitianz, footwork’s foremost clique. It would be hard to find a more concise symbol of footwork’s direct links to the Chicago house music of the past 25 years.
It’s probably no surprise, then, that Da Mind Of Traxman is so rich with reference and reverence – though that’s not to say it’s stuck in the past. Granted, there’s the odd moment of direct homage (‘1988’ hangs its skeletal frame around the acid gurgling of a 303), but for the most part Ferguson’s approach is much subtler than that. The caricature of footwork that you might have absorbed through fleeting contact – particularly if your route in was, say, DJ Nate’s Da Trak Genious – is of a pulp modernism not unlike UK hardcore: trashy, disrespectful, iconoclastic. In short, the kind of music where Evanescence is deemed fair game for sampling. Da Mind Of Traxman thoroughly dispels this misconception – or at least confirms the old adage that there’s always more than one way to skin a cat.
Threaded through this record are impeccably selected, masterfully deployed samples making explicit the music’s deep origins in funk and soul. The twitchy percussive energy of ‘Chilllll’ is neutralised by the urbane smoothness of its sampled chords – a trick repeated in ‘I Must Deadly Killer’, where tiny chunks of audio are stuttered, looped and layered into a dense, granulated texture that demands close attention. Ferguson has a knack for drawing out the timbral sweetness in the interstitial spaces of his source material – chords with their attacks lopped off, the tail-ends of notes – as in the mellifluous rhodes/cymbal/sax loop of ‘Itz Crack’, or opener ‘Footworkin On Air’, where a gorgeous kalimba solo is intricately refashioned over airy, dislocated horn chords.
That’s not to say Traxman is some kind of “intelligent” (ugh) footwork producer – he’s clearly still got one eye on the dancefloor at all times. ‘Let There Be Rockkkkk’ is pure sampling-as-pantomime – a well-executed trick that nonetheless feels a bit like a cheap joke until it drops and all is forgiven. At points these tracks are a little too lean, not quite amounting to more than the sum of their parts: ‘Sound Filed’ trades in a slightly tinny, unsatisfying synth loop; the single erratically pitched melodic line in ‘Slip Fall’ – there’s a definite whiff of keyboard-mashing about it – is likely to test the patience of all but the most committed footwork buff.
But the undisputed highlights here are when Ferguson drops into a halftime that finds its closest relative in hip-hop but quite simply kicks like nothing else. ‘Rock You’, ‘Lady Dro’, ‘I Need Some Money’ – these are masterful constructions that perfectly balance the precision-tooled grooves of footwork’s inheritance with its urge to spin off into the syncopated void; its cheap, digital abrasiveness with the full-bodied warmth of black music past, to jaw-dropping effect. To put it concisely, this is the best footwork album released by Planet Mu to date, and sits comfortably in the upper echelons of their discography. Traxman has set the bar incredibly high – it’ll be interesting to see if anybody else rises to the challenge.