For the past year or two, the cool dance-music subgenre among music-critic types has been Chicago footwork — a bizarre and organic homegrown house-music tributary where the berserk hi-hats seems specificially programmed to send skilled dancers into cardiac arrest. I wish I liked this stuff more than I do. To my ears, footwork is too skittery and decentered to work as dance music, too removed from the central basic foot-stomp pulse of old-school house music. At the one footwork-related event I’ve been to, a DJ Rashad set at a Swedish music festival last summer, the assembled Scandinavian massive could not figure out how to move to this stuff, and neither could I. But then, I’m spoiled, because I grew up around Baltimore club music. Club music — the raw, feverish, melodically shameless form of black house music that actually gets play on rap stations in the 410 — has a few things in common with footwork: The intense local isolation, the jacked-up BPMs, the corresponding dances, the total disregard of copyright law. But club music never disappears down some theoretical rabbit hole, and it never loses its central beat. It’s party music, music designed specifically to be fun above anything else. And I don’t think it’s only hometown pride speaking when I say that on a pure adrenal level, club music doesn’t just bury footwork; it shits all over D.C. go-go and Detroit ghettotech and every other example of hyper-regional dance music that this great country is currently producing. And despite a few flirtations with critical respectability and crossover national commercial success over the years, it seems clear, at this point, that club music will always remain a fiercely local underground phenomenon. As DJ Angelbaby is happy to demonstrate, that suits the music just fine.
Exactly one year ago, Angelbaby, a DJ who sometimes plays records on Baltimore rap station 92Q, released her Get Pumped Vol. 1 mixtape, an energetic and deeply satisfying survey of everything that was happening in club music at the moment. Like its predecessor, her new Vol. 2 mix includes about 40 tracks, most of them in quick one- or two-minute bursts, that show where club music is headed at this particular historical moment. I’m hoping this becomes an annual tradition that we can count on. After all, the Ravens just got done with the season from hell, missing the playoffs for the first time since John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco came to town; it’s be nice to have one Baltimore franchise that can reliably repeat past successes.
Musically, Vol. 2 presents a harsher, choppier take on the basic, unchanging club sound than what Angelbaby collected on Vol. 1. With last year’s tape, I was struck how the smoother, slicker sounds of the day’s pop music had effected Baltimore club; it was still rough and all-over-the-place, but producers were sampling spacey and Auto-Tune-happy pop songs like Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” and some of that sheen was bleeding through. Vol. 2 is, by contrast, much rougher and seamier; it practically sounds duct-taped together, and I don’t know why that is. Even though the club producer Matic 808 released a full-on remix of all of Yeezus earlier this year, I don’t think that harshness is a Yeezus influence at work. Kanye was a popular sample source on last year’s tape, but he’s nowhere to be found on Vol. 2. Instead, the producers are undertaking the time-honored tradition of making crude club bangers out of the songs that were big rap-radio hits this past year, some of which work as club fodder (Future’s “Sh!t,” Wale’s “Clappers”) and some of which don’t (Rich Homie Quan’s “Type Of Way,” French Montana’s “Aint Worried About Nothin”). DJ 695 deserves special quick-turnaround points for turning Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love” into a feral banger only a few weeks after the song came into existence. Other producers pull the unexpected move of remixing ’90s R&B classics (Bone Thugs’ “Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” Baltimore native Sisqo’s “Thong Song”), and I almost can’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to use TLC’s “Creep” as the basis of a club track; it works perfectly. And for the moment, Future has replaced Lil Jon as the preferred disembodied voice of club producers, which makes total sense. But none of that explains why this years tape would sound so much choppier than last year’s edition.
Here’s where, I think, the choppiness comes in: This is the year, for better or worse, that club producers discovered the medium of viral video. In retrospect, I’m sort of surprised that didn’t happen years ago; I don’t think anyone ever made a club track out of the “boom goes the dynamite” guy, but that would’ve worked amazingly. As it is, the producers here sample the hell out of Vine/Worldstar stars like Terio and Sharkeisha, and when DJ C-Him’s version of “Harlem Shake” shows up halfway through, it feels less like a remix of a dance track and more like a remix of a meme. The reactive immediacy of those viral videos fits club music beautifully. And it represents one more evolution for a form of music that continues to twist and evolve without losing its shape. In recent years, club music has spread out to form the basis of micro-scenes in Philly and Newark, and just like last year, Angelbaby includes producers from out of town along with the Baltimore kids. When Diplo and his peers discovered club music a decade ago, it seemed like that was its future: DJs and producers slowly joining the DJ jet-set class. That hasn’t happened, and instead, club music is growing slowly, spreading geographically, remaining a style of music that’s by kids and for kids. That’s probably the best thing that could happen to it.
Download Get Pumped Vol. 2 here.