Akeem Pennicooke tells a story of dance culture and gang culture on Footwurk: The Legacy.
Footwork is a style of music and dance that originated in Chicago in the 1990s. For the decade that followed, it was rarely talked about outside of its hometown, bar the odd forum thread where keen fans tracked uploads on peer-to-peer service Imeem. The late 2000s saw it gain traction outside of Chicago. Planet Mu released a series of records by DJ Nate, DJ Roc and Ghettoteknitianz – the crew that would later become Teklife – as well as the Bangs and Works series, which documented various footwork artists. Soon, the likes of DJ Rashad and Spinn had played European tours, and artists like Machinedrum and Addison Groove had adopted footwork as key inspirations for their music, helping these artists’ profiles spread further.
Director Akeem Pennicooke’s films focus on telling “the unique stories of people whose voices are not heard”, where he usually uses untrained non-actors, as they “project genuine emotion”. In this case, the film stars footwork dancers MikeyRockz (from the Heat Squad crew) and Rashad Harris (from Tribe National). He immersed himself in footwork to properly understand the community, and made the tracks for the film’s music (under his musical alias, Londy), which fall into the long-standing footwork tradition of using half-time soul and Motown samples with triplet drums. Despite dealing with freezing temperatures (it’s Chicago in winter) and police harassment while filming, the film is heart-breaking and inspiring at the same time. Watch it above, and read our Q&A with him below.
What’s the background of Footwurk: The Legacy?
I was inspired to learn why people footwork and why it’s such an important part of so many people’s lives. Instead of gang banging, selling drugs, and killing, many choose to footwork instead. I asked Rashad (of Tribe National) how many fictional films were made about footwork and his response was one, Juke City. Many films that follow Chicago footwork have been made, but most of them are documentaries. I did not want to create a documentary. I wanted to create something more realistic, something that mirrored real-life events. I wanted to create a piece of realistic fiction that told the story so many people in impoverished communities have experienced. My goal was to capture the footwork culture and to expose it to a larger audience, all while paying respect to the footwork community.
How did you discover footwork?
I discovered Footwork in December 2013 at a party featuring a DJ named JQuest. He played a song called ‘I Will’ by Taso, which sampled ‘If I Ever Fall In Love Again’ by Shai. I was attracted to the sample, and was inspired to do research. I discovered more songs and began to create my own. While researching, I also discovered the dance that accompanied the music. This blew my mind! As a producer, footwork music was different than anything I’d ever created. It gives me the freedom to share stories without boundaries.
Did you make the music with the film in mind?
Yes, absolutely! For example, track two, ‘The Legacy’ from the Londy in Chi/Town EP, was influenced by Michael Johnson [Mikey] dancing under the L tracks. It was really cold that night and filming this scene pushed Mikey to his limits. The dramatic tempo and energy change from the beginning of the song to the end reflects the growing intensity Mikey experiences while dancing. The lyrics are sampled from Mass Production’s ‘Keep My Heart Together’ and say “I’m keeping my eyes on the light in the sky” – this track really sets the mood of the film for me.
Tells us about your background?
In high school, I became interested in game design and animation. After research and watching plenty of videos, I taught myself to animate and develop games. Upon graduation I was accepted to The Cleveland Institute of Art and pursed video as my major instead of game design. I was emotionally attracted to film – it was different from my passion for games. In 2012 I bought a Canon 60D and shot my first video for a school project. I’ve been hooked ever since. I recently graduated from CIA.
Londy – The Legacy
Londy – Next Life
DJ Rashad – Let Me Bounce On Yo Face
Londy – Chiraq