Jlin: Dark Energy
Planet Mu Records (2015)
I can’t pretend to know a huge amount about Chicago’s Footwork scene. I’m aware it started in the 80s and revolves around frenetic rhythms and a hyperactive dance style that occasionally looks ridiculous to me. I also know that the scene’s figure head, DJ Rashad died of a drug overdose in 2014.
Yet I was intrigued when Jlin topped numerous 2015 end of year lists with her record Dark Energy. Search for ‘Chicago Footwork’ on YouTube and you’ll get endless footage of macho African American men ‘battling’ each other on dancefloors. But here was a woman, from outside of Chicago blowing the minds of Footwork fans everywhere. I was compelled to find out more.
Jlin – aka Jerilynn Patton – hails from Gary, Indiana home of the Jackson 5. Though, she doesn’t trade in soul or funk. Jlin seems to draw inspiration from the industrial sounds of the steel mill where she does shift work. Multiple machines whir, clank, clash, stamp and hiss out of sync with each other to build an intricate network of rhythms.
The drum machine is central to Dark Energy, but Jlin never relies on its ability to keep a repetitive beat. Her drum patterns are a rich tapestry of bongos, tom-toms, timpanis and snares blown out into reverb drenched gun shots. They stumble over each other and occasionally sync up into a moment of clarity before collapsing back into jittery madness.
High hats trickle and then spill into fits. Synth melodies are clipped beyond recognition and arranged in mind melting drop-repeats that become zen transmissions from the digital ether. Bass is only present in subsonic vibrations and erratic kick drum effects.
Despite the frenetic nature of Jlin’s production, her music carries a compelling androgyny lacking in production by her peers. There’s a sense that Jlin wants to connect with people in a realm outside of dance battles. Her tracks are littered with strange spoken word samples that imply a narrative layer. “When I contract, I expand” a mad scientist claims on Expand, a collaboration with Holly Herndon (another female producer doing strange things with dance music, but for my money Jlin makes music that is 100 times more interesting than Herndon).
Strangely, I find myself turning to Dark Energy as a soundtrack for sleep. The rhythms might be glitchy and erratic but once the record’s internal logic reveals itself there is something meditative about the intense, intricate swirl of beats. Jlin makes dance music for the brain, and rises above the machismo of Footwork in the process.