From footwork to infinity: Jlin is an era-defining artist

today22/03/2024 1

share close

Jlin sometimes talks about the first track she ever made, a flip of a Sade sample that has never been released. It’s rare that she’s ever actually worked with a singer. But she does so on the opening track of ‘Akoma’. Sort of. Listening to ‘Borealis (ft. Björk)’ for the first time, you’d be forgiven for assuming the Icelandic iconoclast’s contribution must have been in production.

“So, um, she sent me vocals and, like, some instruments,” Jlin says. “I used the vocals but by the time I got it the way that it sounds now, it’s like its own language, because that’s just how I write.”

Listen again and you’ll hear Björk’s spangled voice buried beneath layers of snow, cooing wordlessly about God-knows-what while Jlin does her best to rupture the eardrums of whoever’s listening. They first met in 2018, not long after Jlin had remixed a song from Björk’s ‘Utopia’, when Jlin was booked to play Sónar in Reykjavik. You can see Björk watching the show in a cute snippet of online fan footage.

“She came to the hotel to pick me up and give me a tour of Iceland,” Jlin says. “We were just walking and talking, really getting to know each other. She took me to a café. We had tea and we were just talking about life. That was real. Her supporters would come up to her and ask for an autograph and she’s like, ‘No, not today.’ And they wouldn’t get upset. They had such respect for her.”

Of course, Björk is as much a singer as she is a master of what we still doggedly call “electronic music”. Jlin has said “we’re all electronic musicians” in the past, but she herself has rarely cited the greats of house or techno or any such club sound as an influence on her own work. This forms the third and most complicated chapter in the story of Jlin’s musical bildungsroman.

The appearance of Philip Glass on an album by someone you might expect to see interviewed on the web pages of Mixmag will remind some of the time he reworked Aphex Twin. If you Google Jlin’s and Aphex’s names together, you’ll find a corner of the internet entertaining a theory that they once made a track together.

“Um…” Jlin pauses. Eight seconds tick past. “That’s not something I talk about.” Laugh.

Better move on. I wonder if she ever listens to club music these days.

“I never did,” she says.

Presumably footwork is an exception?

“I never saw footwork as club music though. Footwork, to me, has always been very tribal. There’s a spirituality happening there that a lot of people don’t realise. But as a Black person who is a creator, I know it’s a tribal thing. I’m watching their feet, because I can look at them and then I can look at a Barundi drummer and see the exact same thing, or a dancer in Johannesburg ballet and see the exact same thing, and then it being transferred into Memphis jookin and buckin.”

Read this next: Chicago footwork legacy: DJ Clent, DJ Corey & DJ Noir in conversation

She doffs her hats to the Chicago greats. “I think about all these pioneers, DJ Clent, RP Boo, Traxman, DJ Thadz, Deeon … and this is just me speaking, because they may feel totally different, like, ‘Yeah, it’s club music.’ But for me, when I make it, I’m not just looking at ‘Oh, I just want you to dance.’”

She says she doesn’t consider herself a footwork artist, but the sound’s imprint is clear on ‘Akoma’ track ‘Iris’, for example.

“It’s not for me to say,” she demurs. “I don’t dictate my work.” She identifies the album’s penultimate track ‘Grannie’s Cherry Pie’ as a piece of footwork and says she “literally just made” another that has recently come out, but she’s “not going to tell you where it is. You got to find it.”

Before he died, footwork’s most immortal son DJ Rashad briefly took Jlin under his wing.

“I met Rashad through Myspace before I even started making anything,” says Jlin. “I loved his remix of ‘Flashing Lights’ and I asked him to send it to me and he sent it straight away.” When Jlin started making music herself, she would message Rashad for advice. “He hadn’t even taken on music full-time yet. He was at work and he told me he would call me on his break, and he did.” She asked him what kind of gear she should get. “I wasn’t even Jlin — I changed my name three times — I think I was DJ Skip at that time. And I remember him telling me ‘You go for what works for you.’”

Rashad told her he knew people with no equipment who made quality music, and people with great equipment whose music sucked. So Jlin made ‘Dark Energy’ with no gear except for a computer and a $100 pair of JBL speakers.

“That just stuck with me when he said that,” she says. “Rashad is actually the person that told me, when I was first making stuff, he said, ‘You different. You gonna be different … I love that you don’t live in Chicago, cos it’s gonna give you your sound. It’s going to turn you into your own person.’”

Written by: Tim Hopkins

Rate it