In the shadows of major electronic music genres, the footwork scene lives on through the internet and local events. We spoke with Hesk, one of its most significant Ontarian flag-bearers. A quick conversation about producing in a small scene, promotion in the music industry and what’s to come.
Footwork is a tiny scene, it feels like few scenes in dance music are so community-based …
These days with the internet it feels like nothing is local like dubstep kind of was at one point, before it went into the US. Footwork just never broke into the mainstream. And you also have some genres that never went mainstream and just died. Footwork may not be as big as it used to be, but it’s still happening. And it’s happening in different parts of the world, with scenes which are now almost bigger than Chicago, which is kind of funny.
It feels like footwork has stability other smaller genres never had. Do you feel like you have a scene to count on to keep producing?
Totally. For me the more conventional platforms to put music out there don’t seem to do it. It takes a lot of communication, marketing, stuff like that … While I can just hit up a couple of groups on Facebook, or just post on Facebook period and reach the real core of the footwork scene.
Current formats of promotion in the music industry aren’t adapted to smaller scenes?
Definitely. Like I don’t have my music on Spotify, there might be something there from a label, but I didn’t put anything up. So, I don’t think anyone really comes across footwork unless they actively search for it. Which I guess might be somewhat different from the early Soundcloud days but I’m not sure.
Unless there’s like a Noisey article or a Fact article showcasing footwork, no one’s really going to listen to it. But if I send a track out to twenty people I’m close with, I know it’ll get played at parties or different dance events. It’s a lot more meaningful.
So you’ve been making footwork for a while, how do you get into a scene which receives little attention?
Yeah, I actually first made a track in 2011. Someone on my Facebook posted a footwork battle video, just one single video. And after seeing that initial one, I just spent a couple hours on Youtube watching more of them. I was really into dubstep and I had a blog at the time, and when I found footwork, it had a lot of the elements I was somewhat missing in dubstep without knowing it. So it just sort of clicked.
After I started making tracks, DJ Rashad was playing a gig in Montreal, I think it was in the winter of 2011. I met up with him and played him some of my tracks. He was totally open to me and another musician who goes by Paveun. He was just ecstatic that someone was making this too.
How did you get to meet him and send him tracks?
It was kind of early on, I’m not sure if his Planet Mu release was out yet. He had just dropped a project called Just A Taste which was on Ghetto Files I believe. A lot of the things that helped him blow up happened after that. I knew the promoter of the party, and I told him I wanted to interview Rashad, but really, I just wanted to chat and show him my tracks. I saw him behind the DJ booth and signalled him. So, we hung and right away he was open and telling me to send him stuff. It was cool to be accepted so fast into that community. It’s things that don’t happen at all elsewhere.
This acceptance feels like a scene specific thing …
It has changed a little bit, there are some people gate-keeping and trying to say what is and isn’t real footwork now. Which is a little weird, I don’t think everyone agrees with that. I always enjoyed the community aspect around it. I had a hiatus during which I didn’t release anything, and the main reason to come back wasn’t to blow up with music, but really that vibe, I felt like I was knit in that community.
Speaking specifically about Toronto, do you feel like there’s a footwork community or are you completely dependent on the internet?
It’s still very internet, but there’s definitely more footwork here, now than I’ve ever had before, living in Montreal or wherever. People aren’t just like “oh, I like footwork I’ll play a track or a set once a year”, there are actually a few guys here such as Fil Jackson and Eytan Tobin, who are listening, DJing and making tracks. But it’s mainly still an internet thing that’s for sure.
I’ve noticed you dropped a lot of tracks last year. Is this mass production specific to footwork?
I don’t know if it’s specific to footwork, but it’s 100% there. It might have something to do with smaller scenes. When I started DJing it, I couldn’t really find anything online, there wasn’t much to download or even buy legally because it was in such small circles. So, the only solution was really to make our own tracks. And I think it was the same for other DJs, which I didn’t realize then. A lot of these guys are playing a lot of battles, so they want stuff that’s fresh. Quantity is really important. Some people slowed down and started going with bigger labels for important releases. But some of us realize these big releases isn’t where it’s at. If you get them it’s good for promo, but if you’re making 100 tracks a year easily and only putting out 20 of them it doesn’t really make sense.
So you’re looking for a way to get as much stuff out as possible in order to help the scene?
100%. If we were limiting releases the weekly dance events would get really boring, really fast.
And is that something you want to continue for the future?
I sort of unintentionally slowed down at the beginning of this year, but I still have a lot of stuff I can release whenever. And I also feel like some things are too good for Bandcamp, so I don’t want to just put them out like I do with quick remixes I often make. But at the same time, I don’t just want to sit on it for a couple of years, when really it could be a nice little spark for the community to keep things fresh.
Interview by Victor Goury-Laffont