Footwork doesn’t exist in a void.
Your disbelief will be easily forgiven if Jana Rush’s origin story seems a little too good to be true. According to her bio, she started her career by calling up her local radio station and asking how she could be a DJ. She was tutored by the guys behind the boards, including footwork legends like Gant-Man, and became a prodigy at no more than 10. She released some singles in the early days of footwork, but then real life got in the way. She became a firefighter, pushed music to the side, and is only now releasing her debut Pariah, a record with more in common with micro-genres like witch house than the work of old heads like RP Boo.
Her story mirrors that of Jlin, the steel-mill worker who only recently shot to underground stardom after shopping her tracks around in the footwork underground for years—and so does her style, which eschews bits of black pop for synthesized sounds made from scratch. Could she be a well-timed hoax like Ursula Bogner, the computer-music pioneer Jan Jelinek invented to cash in on a surge of interest in synthesists like Laurie Spiegel, or Jürgen Müller, the fake German kosmicher who was actually from Seattle?
Almost certainly not. It’s easy to find her old work on Discogs if you look hard enough and have enough money. But it’s astounding this is the work of a member of the genre’s old guard, from when footwork was still a Chicago phenomenon and hadn’t yet been co-opted by hipsters. It’s smoother and less disorienting than most of its ilk, and it’s in fact rather soothing at times, especially during the nearly six-minute “Divine.” “Midline Shift” uses the same breathy, filtered bits of feminine vocal Purity Ring made popular post-witch house. And to answer the question posed in the title of “??? ??”: it’s basically flute rap.
Footwork doesn’t exist in a void, and it’s not unlikely Rush has spent her hiatus immersing herself in the latest trends in electronic music. But compared to the purist approach taken by other members of the old guard whose reemergence coincided with footwork’s global boom in popularity this decade, this is an astonishingly modern record.
What’s more is that Rush shines when she embraces latter-day sounds. The more classic-sounding tracks like “Old Skool” and the acid-worm “No Fuks Given” (could the title be a reference to Jeremih’s “Giv No Fuks?”) seem crude compared to the astonishing wash of “Divine,” which obscures stabs of plaintive keyboard behind a dense, almost shoegaze wall of sound, or the circulating robo-noise of “Beat Maze.”
Pariah doesn’t have the visceral thrill of an RP Boo or DJ Rashad release, nor is it as single-mindedly consumed with atmosphere as, say, DJ Earl’s LiveLoveTeklife. Nor is it as sonically beguiling as Jlin’s recent work. It mostly just floats. To discuss such strictly dance-centric music in terms of listening is always tricky, but most of us will never take part in a footwork battle. Still, I’m not sure how hard I could work my feet to this stuff. I might prefer to stay on the bench, just listen to it for a while, and let it wash over me.