The evolution of Jlin in 5 tracksBack to
A frenetic hybrid of house and hip hop, Chicago footwork is dance music powered by seizure-inducing beats and waves of sub bass. And it’s produced with one goal in mind: to soundtrack battles between fleet-footed dancers.
It’s a super-niche regional genre with a profile that’s been on the rise in recent years, helped in part by the music of Jerrilyn Patton (aka Jlin – pronounced ‘zhlin’), whose 2015 debut LP Dark Energy collected a coveted score of 8.5 from Pitchfork.
But while her sound evolved out of the footwork scene, she doesn’t like being referred to as a footwork artist – if anything, Jlin’s sound is post-footwork, or future-footwork.
Patton may have been born in Gary, Indiana, just 41 miles south of Chicago, but she didn’t develop her sound by throwing down at footwork parties. Instead, like so many artists in the SoundCloud age, Jlin developed at a distance, taking the tropes of footwork and bending them as she pleased in her bedroom studio.
Dark Energy stripped footwork back to its brutal, menacing framework of stuttering waterfalls of beats and bass, programmed with exacting care. Meanwhile, 2017’s Black Origami took the sound even further into abstract experiments. Pitchfork called it “a pure exercise in sound-as-power, music that has no specific agenda beyond simply making itself felt.”
Jlin brings her brain melting sound to Sydney for the first time next January, debuting her live audio and visual show at Carriageworks, with support from China’s Howie Lee with Veeeky & Thoiid. Beijing-based producer Lee's intense live AV and music performance combines wild, abstract visuals and electronic music at the midway point between Vangelis, Aphex Twin, Hudson Mohawke and Fatima Al Qadiri’s Asiatisch.
But before you test your ears and your feet at Carriageworks, dive in below for a swift five-track trip through the evolution of Jlin’s sound.
1. Erotic Heat – 'Bangs & Works Vol.2 (The Best Of Chicago Footwork)' (2011)
Encouraged online by footwork pioneers RP Boo and DJ Rashad (RIP), Jlin submitted this 2010 track to IDM innovator Mike Paradinas (a contemporary of Aphex Twin and Autechre), who was compiling the second instalment of the seminal Bangs & Works footwork compilation.
Paradinas liked it so much he made it the second track on the record, and Erotic Heat was later picked up by fashion’s goth prince Rock Owens for a 2014 fashion show.
2. Battle Trak – 'Footwork Frenzy EP' (2013)
True to its name, this beast of a track is custom made for dancefloor battles, with clattering toms and snares, sharp vocal stabs and a menacing, growling bassline. But it also stands out among the other battle tracks on this Footwork Frenzy EP for switching ideas rapidly over its 2.5 minute run time.
3. Unknown Tongues – 'Dark Energy' (2015)
Vaguely Middle Eastern percussion and the wail of a Chinese erhu violin; disembodied, staccato vocal samples; an unrelenting back beat; and a complete lack of conventional rhythm make this a footwork experience unlike any that came before it.
4. Black Origami – 'Black Origami' (2017)
Pitchfork named Black Origami ‘Best New Music’ when it came out, saying it, “turns the tools of footwork into an overwhelming piece of musical architecture, an epic treatise on where rhythm comes from and where it can go.”
Jlin generates all her samples herself, like the off-kilter plucked strings that open Black Origami, before giving way to menacing high-pitched strings and arrhythmic finger drums – it sounds like a panic attack, in the best possible way.
5. Autobiography soundtrack (2017)Contemporary dance maverick Wayne McGregor – whose experimental collaboration with Jamie xx and artist Olafur Eliasson, Tree of Codes will be at Sydney Festival 2018 – recruited Jlin to produce the soundtrack for his new work Autobiography, which uses McGregor’s DNA sequence as its source text.
“Wayne totally let me experiment with what he knew I could do,” Jlin told The Fader. “He knows me quite well creatively — he throws out something and then I'll snatch it and run with it, and vice versa.”
The soundtrack hasn’t been released yet, and only teaser snippets have been posted online since the work premiered in early October in London. But judging from the teaser trailer below – and the fact that the choreography is coming from the man who taught Thom Yorke how to dance for the Lotus Flower film clip – you can expect something brain melting.
Catch Jlin’s live DJ and AV show at Carriageworks on Friday 19 January at 8pm, with China’s Howie Lee in support. Tickets are available here.
Photo: Mahdumita Nandi
Nick Jarvis is a journalist, copywriter and Publications Editor at Sydney Festival and Sydney Film Festival. He's written for Vice, Time Out, inthemix, Junkee and various other online media and street press over the years.