David Davis, aka Young Smoke, is one of the rising stars of Chicago’s footwork scene which, as the name suggests, is all about throwing down fancy footwork to 160bpm rhythms in all out limb-flailing dance battles. What makes Young Smoke stand out from other footwork producers is how he takes the classic footwork framework and playfully merges it with a variety of influences like soul, techno and ’90s hardcore. Add in a healthy dose of computer game noises and you’ve got his enjoyable and energetic debut, Space Zone.
From the title and artwork, Space Zone could well be an instalment in the Contra videogame series; even when you get to the music, things aren’t entirely cleared up. The opening track mixes blissful, starry bleeps with vocoder vocals to conjure up a distant sci-fi adventure. This theme runs throughout the album, particularly on tracks like Destroy Him My Robots, enabling listener is freely indulge in their own sci-fi narrative. But despite the sci-fi feel this isn’t a record that’s looking forward, for Space Zone instead is steeped in nostalgia. The future it presents is a retro-future, one as imagined in the ‘80s. Young Smoke uses a range of synthesisers, pulsing klaxons and warped vocals to create this feel, reminiscent of other artists riding the wave of nostalgia like Washed Out‘s use of old commercials, or Zomby‘s send up of the ‘90s rave scene.
Most of the record flies along at a high pace with lasers, robots and hi hats all used with reckless abandon. This can make for an aggressive listen, but when Young Smoke slows things down, he displays a lighter touch than more traditional footwork producers. Space Muzik Pt 2 moves into a more ambient territory and heady downtempo beats thud in the background, calling to mind the dreamy disorientation of Boards Of Canada but with a playful twist. The odd bleep is still present, reminding you that, yes, you still are in ‘80s space so don’t get too comfy, because the klaxons are about fire up again. Coming back up to speed then feels a bit like a rude awakening, and towards the tail end of the record, the sirens you hear may well be a warning that something is about to burst in your head.
Young Smoke is clearly a precocious talent, and his ability to take the footwork format into different territories makes for a fun and exhilarating journey. Those familiar with the footwork will find it a great listen, but to newbies it can be grating at times, as Young Smoke has a tendency to add more and more in. Nevertheless, this is a solid record from a talented producer who is well worth keeping an eye on.