Litefeet: Sound of the Subway

FACT TV presents Litefeet: Sound of the Subway, a documentary on the music and dance style dominating the New York underground.

Like footwork and Baltimore club, litefeet is both a genre of music and a style of dance: 100-BPM tracks that soundtrack an acrobatic take on b-boying and popping that has found a home in the New York subways. Despite police cracking down on the scene, its music continues to flourish, finding fans in the likes of Mixpak and Sinjin Hawke, while the dancers have been on America’s Got Talent and worked with brands like Nike.

Litefeet speaks to elders of the scene such as Chrybaby, as well as its key producers (Hann) and dancers (Kid the WizWaffle), to find out about the genre’s history, its on-going battle with the police and more. Following a screening in New York, we today release the full documentary. Watch it above, and below, read a Q&A with Ezra Marcus, who co-directed Litefeet with KJ Rothweiler.

Whats Litefeet about?

Last summer, a friend from Europe asked if I’d ever heard Litefeet music before. When I told him I hadn’t, he seemed surprised — “You live in New York, and you haven’t heard Litefeet?!”

When my friend played a few tracks I realized that, in fact, I had heard Litefeet. Hundreds of times. So has everyone else in New York who takes the train. The beats were immediately recognizable from the acrobatic subway dance performances you see daily on the train, beats blasting from cheap blue radio amps. I’d always wondered about it — the music recalls a number of recognizable touchpoints (Jersey club, Timbaland and Swizz Beats particularly), while still sounding new and alien.

I dug into the scene online. There’s a wealth of amazing tracks on Soundcloud and Youtube channels filled with stunning dancers and battles. Like footwork, Litefeet music and dance evolved in close tandem. The tracks are built for and by, dancers, with close attention paid to incorporating space and building tension in a way that facilitates movement. I was amazed — here was a world existing right under the noses of New York’s press corps which had never been meaningfully documented.

The media love to proclaim that New York is “over,” that the city’s devoid of engaging new sounds, that it’s become a graveyard for bland corporate spaces and recycled nostalgia. RIP 285 Kent, etc. It’s true, except when it isn’t. Litefeet is a culture with history stretching back a decade, which is a comparatively recent development in the rich tradition of dance and music in Harlem and The Bronx. These areas typically exist outside the purview of the city’s music journalism infrastructure, even when the evidence is blaring out of a blue amp and swinging around a subway pole in plain sight. Very little accurate data about this scene could be found anywhere online, especially not the music (shoutout Mike Steyels, the only journalist who’s written substantively about it) despite music media’s constant hunger for new subgenres to “expose”. We felt that this scene deserved a visual document of its past, present, and future.

In summary, Litefeet is about a tradition of dance music and performance that continues to develop in New York, despite the city’s reputation as a stagnant wasteland of luxury developments with a culture-squelching police force. Starting last December, we interviewed members of the those from the first generation — Hypegirl, Kid The Wiz, Chrybaby —and torch-carrying representatives of the new era, like Hann Beats.

What’s the future for Litefeet?

Litefeet is on the brink of a major moment. Waffle Crew have been making waves outside of the subway, recently flying to London to film commercials for Topman and Nike. Hann Beats dropped a mix for Mixpak last month and are preparing a new EP for release soon. We expect it will make a splash.

That being said, we ask that producers and fans online and around the world be considerate of this vital culture. Litefeet shouldn’t become anyone’s flavor of the month, a new #genre to play with once your Soundcloud followers get bored of your watered-down Jersey cub and footwork. Like those scenes, litefeet comes from a real physical community full of brilliant kids struggling to make their voices heard. They face serious adversity from an overbearing police force trying to shut down dancers and a media environment that often neglects black music from Harlem and The Bronx.

Outsiders: look, listen, dance, share, but remain respectful of where and to whom litefeet belongs.

Anything else?

Ask anyone in the city about the subway dancers and you’ll get one of two responses: “Those kids are amazing, who are they?”

Or, and this is a direct quote from an acquaintance, “When you’re taking the subway every day and coming home from work the last thing you want is some randoms blasting music and doing flying kicks inches from your face.”

If you tend towards the latter, ask yourself this: would you really be happier in a city sanitized of risk and noise? Bill Bratton pledged to crack down on subway performers, and he’s done so — a lot of these kids risk serious fines and even jail time by dancing. Does this make for a better city? You might find subway dancers annoying, but consider how talented these kids are, and what the subway provides them. Many different individuals told us how the subway gives an escape from the gangs and violence plaguing their neighborhoods. They can make money pursuing their passion. Is it really your place to tell them not to dance because you’re bothered by a few flips? It’s their city as much as yours.

If it’s not obvious from the documentary, our official position is that Bratton should scale back anti-dancing laws on the subway and direct police to start prosecuting real crimes, instead of focusing on harmless, easy targets in order to fill Broken Windows quotas.

Were there challenges when it came to making the film?

Not really — everyone we spoke to was so helpful. They welcomed us into their homes and shared their experiences. This is our first time making a documentary of this depth and we found the process fascinating. The hardest part was editing down all the incredible footage we shot, from 12 hours to 20 minutes.

Did it turn out how you expected, then?

Honestly, we had very loose expectations going in, and let the content shape the form. In many cases an interview with one person led to an interview with someone we hadn’t planned on speaking to, as the subjects about their influences and pointed us toward new voices.

We encourage others to hop on the train, visit a battle, and document Litefeet as it happens — the scene is only getting more exciting, and it’s right here.

HannBeats – ‘Willy Wrap’
Kid the Wiz – ‘The Ender’
Webstar & Young B – ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’
Webstar – ‘5000’
D. Cole feat. Nino MAn – ‘Come On’
HannBeats – ‘Keep it Locked’
Lil Live & Kid the Wiz – ‘Do it for the Vine’
Paul Gee – ‘Neva Gon Leave (Unstoppable Prelude)’

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