If listeners can immerse themselves in the repetition, let go, and stop fighting it. The results can be transcendent.
Repetition is perhaps the defining feature of electronic dance music. It is a deal breaker for many people. Whether or not a listener can embrace the repetition inherent in the genre is probably the deciding factor in making fans of techno or drum and bass music. Nowhere is the repetition factor more significant than in the footwork genre, particularly in the music of its originator RP Boo. There are moments in RP Boo’s second LP Fingers, Bank Pads, and Shoe Prints that reach almost Phillip Glass levels of maddening repetition. Listeners feel like they are trapped in some demented brain loop brought on by bad drugs or psychosis. These moments, and indeed entire tracks, can be downright punishing to listen to, testing the listener’s patience and sanity. But as with the aforementioned Philip Glass, if listeners can immerse themselves in the repetition, let go, and stop fighting it, the results can be transcendent.
Part of the issue here is that this is, first and foremost, dance music. Every time I listened to Fingers, Bank Pads, and Shoe Prints this week, I was sitting at home, stone cold sober, listening to it on my headphones, which is not really the intended context for RP Boo. This is music designed for wild, sweaty clubs at 3:00 AM, for people who forgot how to stop dancing hours ago. The looping, ceaseless quality to this music probably sounds very different to someone dancing frantically, bathed in sweat, mind hopelessly disassociated by bumps of K.
The mere fact of repetition is not the only thing that makes this record challenging; the added fact that much of the repetition is so hostile adds a few extra levels of difficulty. How many times can I hear someone snarl, “Motherfuck your favorite DJ!” before I start crying? Seriously, track seven “Finish Line D Jayz” is a slice of warbling minimalism with this line repeated over, and over, and over for four plus minutes. I suppose I should feel grateful that “Finish Line D Jayz” is only just over four minutes long; Philip Glass could have drug that one out for thirty or forty minutes. The hostility in the vocal samples is clearly part of the intended effect, being connected with footwork’s tradition of battling, but that does not make it any easier to listen to for the causal listener.
Interesting, artistically sophisticated music does not need to be easy to listen to. Indeed, maybe it should not be. There are times on Fingers, Bank Pads, and Shoe Prints that almost seem like the inverse of harsh noise artists like Merzbow. Whereas harsh noise immerses the listener in pure abstraction with nothing to hold on to, BP Boo forces the listener to endure repetitive, often monotonous loops that give her very little room to breathe or gain orientation. Although nothing on Fingers, Bank Pads, and Shoe Prints quite reaches the screeching, ice pick to the head experimentalism of Merzbow, the relentless, whirling, vocal samples push you almost to the same level of endurance. I am sure RP Boo is not for everyone, and I have not quite decided if he is for me yet, but this is a very bold, self-aware piece of work. Other examples of footwork, like Machinedrum’s elegant, entrancing Room(s) flow over the listener like summer rain. Fingers, Bank Pads, and Shoe Prints is a much harsher, more trying listen, but well worth the effort, at least as a frame of reference.