About halfway through Chicago footwork legend RP Boo's set at the Compound on Saturday night, he took a sudden turn from the propulsive, anyone-can-dance-to-it linearity of such classics as DJ Deeon's 'The Bomb' and swerved right into the high-BPM footwork territory he helped bring into existence. The gyrating, the pogo-ing, and the half-hearted dips on the dance floor all of a sudden froze up, as if Boo had suddenly transported the room to the most time-space-dilated level of "Inception."
The predominantly white crowd (myself included), living it up at a collective show space in a still mostly ungentrified area, briefly hit a wall in a way that suggested this particular brand of black dance music, after the whitewashed legacies of disco, house, and techno, was much harder to colonize. See, Chicago footwork, built on a rhizomatic layering of beats at 160 beats per minute, spawned an equally complicated form of dancing that looks like an acrobatic rendition of a blitzkrieg. Fittingly, not one person in the building had any idea of how to even half-ass it (again, myself included). Then, after a few moments, a recognizable thread in the beat appeared, crossover hits such as the late DJ Rashad's 'Pass That Shit' spun into orbit, and the entropy reversed back into gyrational normality. Curiously, this was the most dancing that took place all night.
To be fair, the dance floor was hot, so maybe that's why people weren't dancing. Summer was landing its last blows on anyone daring enough to brave the Compound's hot-box interior, a surreal cross between Noah's half-finished ark and the neon-lit meat locker from the opening of "Blade." And while the breeze outside did offer refreshing hints of oncoming fall weather, Jana Hunter’s DJ set offered a real utopian vision of the future, built out of the Baltimore of now. It was cool to see Hunter, in a warehouse opening for RP Boo, putting praxis to principles set out earlier this year in her Pitchfork piece with Abdu Ali that called for more integrated show spaces and white accountability. Though only three people were inside for it, the set made use of Baltimore club's martial stomp as a whirlwind of rallying cries to shake it to, it being either your body or the system. Unlike Win Butler's laughable DJ Windows 98 and other indie rock DJ projects with desperate stabs at rap-inflected cache, Hunter remains a local fixture whose method of resistance is distinctly grassroots.
One of the openers, Thug Entrancer, was an unfortunate reminder of the late aughts Salem/Witch House controversy, the last time juke and footwork were vulnerable to colonization before buzz cycles waned and general incompetence reduced the whole thing to cultural ephemera. Given he was a white guy, real name Ryan McRyhew, the name Thug Entrancer came off less like Young Thug in Ibiza and more like a crossover of "Trancers" and "Death Wish." To McRyhew's credit, stage name aside, his approach was far more respectful of the spaces he's operating in, barely registering as such given that his relentless tweaking of his Roland TR's rang out of the Compound like acid house-drenched signals picked up by SETI.
Leading up to his set, RP Boo, real name Kavain Space, was unpretentious as an elder statesman, vacillating between supportive spectatorship for openers on a nearly vacant dance floor and working on his laptop amid the crowd outside. Boo's policy of not talking during his set was a lot less restrictive than that would suggest, as he posed for photos while mixing turntables, rapped along with the audience to Spinn and Rashad's 'Double Cup' as well as his own 'Bang'n on King Drive,' and even took a video of the moment for Instagram.
Something like 'Bang'n on King Dr,' where a word like "bangin'" is evocative both of Boo's raunchy early work (well represented as an ongoing soundtrack to coupling in the club) and of the violence around Chicago's Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, becomes revelatory in a setting like the Compound's. The track, featured on RP Boo's album "Fingers, Bank Pads, & Shoe Prints," takes America's unusual tendency of having names associated with civil rights past show up in areas whose infrastructure it either neglects or antagonizes, and then with a simple refrain, poignantly refracts fucking, fighting, partying, and protesting into a larger scheme of urban coping mechanisms, footwork included.
In an interview with Thump, Boo once explained that, uttered in a certain way, his name sounds like "our people" and to an extent the communal entrenchment that phrase entails was in full force Saturday night. Despite his being a relative stranger to Baltimore, Boo's footwork resonated with this city's historical schism between systemic inequality and the inherently political nature of clubbing in spite of it.