Chicago Juke and Footwork Find a Home Away From Home in Little Tokyo

A dancer shows off some footwork moves at Rocksteady.
A dancer shows off some footwork moves at Rocksteady.
Photo by K. Farquharson

Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” is the best dance song ever recorded, maybe even the best song ever recorded. Upon deployment on any floor, dancers and wallflowers alike compulsively blurt out George Clinton’s wordless pre-chorus. Whether they’re familiar with the original version of the song, or De La Soul’s sample of it on “Me Myself and I,” the song is a surefire burner.

But you haven’t really heard “Knee Deep” until you’ve heard Swisha of L.A.’s juke/footwork music collective Juke Bounce Werk play a chopped-up footwork remix of it at the weekly Rocksteady night at Tokyo Beat in Little Tokyo. 

Juke and footwork are styles of dance music that evolved out of Chicago house music. Increasing the tempos of classic Chicago house songs, and manipulating samples from all over the musical spectrum using techniques pioneered by hip-hop producers, kids in Chicago created a new style of music that’s nothing short of game-changing.

“When I first heard RP Boo’s ‘Eraser,’ I was just like, ‘What is that! That doesn’t even make sense.' But I just loved it,” says Sonic D, a DJ, producer and co-founder of Juke Bounce Werk, the 11-member deep collective of DJs, producers and photographers that puts on Rocksteady.

“In about April of 2013 I was at Respect, one of the largest drum 'n' bass music weeklies in L.A.,” Sonic D continues, “and I saw DJ Noir and JDrago, and we just started talking and we discovered that we all had a love for juke and footwork, and I was like, 'You’re the only people besides myself that love this music as much as I do — why don’t we try to do something?'”

Determined to nurture the culture of Chicago footwork in Los Angeles, the trio first created a collective of footwork/juke DJs and producers called Juke Bounce Werk, to host like-minded juke/footwork producers from all over the world and release their music online under the collective’s name. The second step was finding a venue for a weekly showcase of juke and footwork DJs in Los Angeles, something that had never been done outside of Chicago.

DJ Kush Jones, part of the Juke Bounce Werk collective.
DJ Kush Jones, part of the Juke Bounce Werk collective.
Photo by K. Farquharson

After a couple of false starts at other venues, Juke Bounce Werk found a home in the intimate Tokyo Beat, a ramen/karaoke bar in Little Tokyo that on Tuesday nights turns into juke/footwork’s home base in Los Angeles.

“We really try to encompass the entirety of everything that goes on in footwork,” says JDrago, another of Juke Bounce Werk DJs and co-founders, “from the attitude, to the dance, to the music, to the people.”

“To the performance,” adds co-founder DJ Noir. “The camaraderie, the bringing people together, the community, trying to bring a positivity to it, while still being involved with everyone from Chicago. We are involved with the people who made this music, we are together, bridging, and together moving the culture forward.”

Soon juke/footwork dancers from Chicago who had recently settled in L.A. started coming out to the Rocksteady nights and showing L.A. how to footwork. 

“You really can’t just admire the music from the Internet,” says JDrago. “It’s not fair to the music, to the culture of it, to just sit and watch it on the Internet. You really do have to come and see the dance, which is an important part in the music. Many people have come up to me and said they didn’t really understand footwork until they saw footworkers dance to the music — then it clicked for them.”

As the name of the music might suggest, footwork is a complicated and energetic dance that involves moving one’s feet in what looks like a cross between breakdancing and rollerskating without roller skates. You should just watch a video of Chicago dancer King Charles to really experience the sheer joy of it. 

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But not having footworking skills should not deter anyone from coming out to Rocksteady. The intimacy of the room and the small, independent nature of Juke Bounce Werk breeds an atmosphere of hospitality and community that’s sometimes sorely missing from L.A.’s club scene. Even the security guard out front of the Tokyo Beat proudly reps Juke Bounce Werk stickers. Plus, it’s just the most refreshing, most experimental, most fun, best damn music that’s happening right now.

“I’ve said from the beginning,” says JDrago, “that this music, this culture, all you gotta do is present it to people and they’ll get it. Period. Because I just don’t think a lot of people have heard it.”

Juke Bounce Werk hosts Rocksteady every Tuesday night at Tokyo Beat, 319 E. Second St., #205, Little Tokyo. Visit Juke Bounce Werk's Facebook page for more info.


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