“Alien music is a synthetic recombinator, an applied art technology for amplifying the rates of becoming alien. Optimize the ratios of eccentricity. Synthesize yourself.” – Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than The Sun
The UFO has landed. A majestic chrome craft sits before you after gently touching down on earth. The ship’s flap opens, a thick green fog billows from the cracks and consumes you. All you can hear is “Havoc Devastation” pounding from a throbbing, pure-white Funktion One stack. A dreadlocked man ghosts his way out of the fog and offers his hand with a sly smile. “Welcome to Area 72,” he says. You take his hand, never to be seen again. “Legacy“ will take you to another planet.
RP Boo, aka the suitably cosmic Kavain Space, is regularly cited as the father of footwork, holding a mythical status in the scene as the creator of the sound. Of his very few widely available tracks, 97’s “Baby Come On” and 99’s “Godzilla Track” are incredibly important to footwork’s formative period, often referenced as the blueprint for the genre’s wonky rhythmic psychedelia. This is a collection of tracks that have a sense of magic about them, a vibrant aura that distinguishes them from anything that came before. This is the new alien sound. “Legacy” is a Galapagos island of mutant ingenuity and insanity, of humble beauty and spectacular wonder. To put it simply, we love this album. Way, way more than we already knew we would. “Legacy” fits into a tradition of space inspired alien music that is ubiquitous in what Erik Davis calls the black electronic. From the afro-futurism of Sun Ra, Lee Scratch Perry, George Clinton and Afrika Bambaataa to the Kraftwerk informed revolutions of the Belleville Three, who birthed dance music as we know it, this extra-terrestrial vibe is marbled throughout the black electronic, throughout the futurhythmachine, to borrow an excellent term from Kodwo. “Legacy” embodies this alien sound, which is omnipresent in the culture that itself gave rise to footwork – it is the legacy of the black electronic. Yet, despite Space’s loyalty to Chicago’s rich history, few releases in the footwork back catalogue hit as hard, and none, despite some of these tracks being a decade old, sound so arrestingly new. But to call this album a gamechanger would be silly – Space’s effects on music have been felt and fittingly appropriated for more than 15 years. Nonetheless, with this RP Boo’s first widely available release, hearing him in unified, high quality form for the first time is nothing short of amazing.
“Legacy” must also be seen in the context of a series of releases on Planet Mu that seem to be consciously canonising the movement. Mike Paradinas, the Planet Mu label head, has likened the emergence of footwork to jungle: “footwork reminded me of when hardcore started mutating into jungle, those more ‘what the fuck?’ moments in sample usage“. Planet Mu seems to be cultivating a perception of footwork that recalls the perceived new beginning jungle once promised, of genuine deep running roots and futuristic aspirations. It could be said that Planet Mu’s conception of footwork is, like jungle, a freeform recombination of roots that has seemingly endless possibilities. “Da Mind of Traxman” certainly seemed to imply, through Traxman‘s quixotic crate-searching miscellany, an infinite sonic space for footwork, an infinite territory yet unexplored. The following LP by Young Smoke also honed in on footwork’s inclination toward the infinite or, at least, recalled the Kraftwerkian desire for a new musical beginning. Also pertinent is the comparison of “Legacy” to another footwork insta-classic of 2k13, DJ Rashad’s ‘Rollin’ on Hyperdub. Where Rashad succeeded in rollin’ the genres’s worldwide outposts into one beautiful whole, Boo brings it back to basics, albeit in a completely idiosyncratic way. Though, as evidenced in interview, aware of what’s happening in footwork worldwide, Boo is here completely uncompromising in developing his own vibe, in pushing the Chi sound to its outer limits. In this light “Legacy” is the most otherworldly, the most “what the fuck,” the most alien sounding of any of Planet Mu’s footwork releases.
“Steamidity” tears the album open, it’s menacing string sample accompanied by Boo’s trademark deus-ex-machina spoken word commands. The track sets the tone for the rest of the album, exemplifying Boo’s unique and multiplex approach to sampling. Ransacking everything from religious sermons to hard-bop to film scores, it’s rare to hear such jarring and tense yet magically congruous concoctions. “Battle in the Jungle” is a fine example in its pure battleground coldness, it vine-swings from sparsity to dense, melodic climaxes. Flute flourishes, a Tarzan sample, preaching smack-talk and Boo simultaneously vie for attention yet manage to amalgamate into a single synthesised cacophany. The complexity of the tracks is also unusual, their intricacy and detail straying from footwork’s minimal formula of bangs, drums and sample. Take “187 Homicide” – an RnB Frankenstein built from decomposing fragments of Timbaland and Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River“, it’s Boo at his densest, reminiscent of that confusing moment of realising you’ve got five different tracks playing at once in different windows, but it works. We hear at least 12 samples, half of them vocal, in energetic flux throughout the track – stuttering on a syllable, detained in loop then released, protruding at points, hiding away at others. The Timbo deconstruction doesn’t stop there with “The Opponent” ripping apart “Try Again“, the lush beat mutated into a squelchy, acidic undertone, Aaliyah shackled in her breathy first line, only a throbbing sub undertow holding together a track that otherwise feels completely fractured.
While Boo’s erratic sampling, complexity and layering are suitably other-wordly, perhaps the most salient aspect of the producer’s alien style is his emphatic emphasis on, and fascination with, sound. “Legacy” insights intense excitement about sound for sound’s sake, elucidating the philosophies of Russolo’s Art of Noise, Stockhausen, musique concrète and 4’33”. Sounds are taken for what they are, glued together as schizophrenic, Dadaist collages. Boo takes this explosiveness to dizzying heights on “Havoc Devastation“, a track that truly lives up to its namesake. What sounds like Dizzy Gillespie’s shrieking trumpet is pitted against a spine-tingling religious sermon, a transcendental gospel harmony and, of course, Boo’s battle-ruling vocals. Everything overlaps and interplays in erratic surrealist reciprocity, climaxing in something completely overwhelming and just straight next level. The moments of incongruous brilliance we were speaking about before are again beautifully exemplified when that screaming trumpet blazes through the track, setting off brutal sonic clusterbombs and lifting the track from minimal squalor to beatific rapture. But the most explicit illustration of Boo’s preoccupation with sound is another highlight, “Speakers R-4 (Sounds)“. If most of the album sees Boo at his most complex, ‘Sounds’ is far more spartan and functionalist. It’s a skeletal bang and vocal workout, only offset by tumbling drum explosions, which creates space in which we can truly revel, with firm direction from Boo himself, in what is firing into our ears. “Sounds,” he announces prophetically, not music, not songs or melodies, are “what the speakers are for.” Simple as that.
You play Bach to a plant, it leans towards the speaker, blossoms, grows stronger. You play Hendrix to a plant, it leans away, shrivels and dies. We imagine that if you play RP Boo to a plant, it would mutate into a triplet-throbbing orb of galactic mucus. As we mentioned before, there are aspects of this album that are simply unexplainable. We have done our best here, but in the end the real beauty of this record, independent of historical, structural or philosophical concerns, lies in its ability to take you up into that UFO, even for just that hour, to take you outside of yourself, outside of humanity, blissed out, zoned in and alien-ated. Yeah, you know what? Fuck everything we just said, roll up dat loud and we’ll meet you in Area 72.
Stream: RP Boo – Legacy (Planet Mu)
“Legacy” is available now on Planet Mu Records.
Written By: Tobias Shine and Oscar Thompson.