Greenlight, the fifth release from Chi-Town’s Teklife Records, comes courtesy of DJ Manny aka Manuel Gaines, one of the footwork scene’s leading figures. Following releases for labels including as TAR and Hoko Sounds, Greenlight is either his second or third album, depending how you’re counting, and it finds him discovering a distinctive voice.
Born and raised in Harvey on the South Side of Chicago, and footworking since the age of 10, Manny is not just a fine producer but also counted as one of the best dancers on the scene. In much the same way as MCs who also produce often seem to find the pocket just that little bit easier, so Manny understands the architecture of these beats inside out, whether sat in front of a computer tapping drum hits onto a screen or twisting his limbs into battle mode.
That’s one part of what helps Greenlight stand out, but it’s not the most important one. Footwork is usually a sample-heavy genre, and often in an interesting way - producers contort their samples to try and wring out every last drop of emotion, but there’s rarely if ever any snobbery about their original sources. However, true to form, Manny is more inclined to hop on the mic and lay down his own vocals, and this lends the record an engaging character.
Broadly speaking, the album is divided into two halves, the first of which focuses on softer textures. Opening track ‘Way You Move’ is a gorgeous end-of-summer pop song and a clear standout, with Manny’s lovelorn vocal accentuated by treble-y synths darting around like fireflies. Sucia guests on ‘You Looking Good’ and her sultry voice dovetails perfectly with Manny’s horny come-on over a bed of lush keyboard pulses which eventually fall into a call and response motif that echoes that of the two vocalists.
‘Like That’ is a very welcome breakbeat cut with an unexpected and stomach-lurching drop, while ‘Zancrash’ acts almost as a bridge between the two halves of the album, combining glossy textures and zoned-out ambience with minor key nastiness and pointillist bleep riffs. It’s worth noting how well the tracklist has been constructed - tracks seamlessly jump into each other in order to keep the energy flowing, and there’s a real sense of progression throughout.
‘Boop Me Down’ marks a hard pivot towards functional battle track territory a la Traxman - for most of the runtime there’s nothing but brittle drums and low bass, although a mention should also be given to the cheesegrater effect Manny applies to his vocal. ‘Ghost Out’ is similarly stripped-down but with a huge UK influence, both in that bleep riff and the dubstep wobble.
Other than DJ Manny, the other major production voice on this record is that of fellow Teklife member DJ Taye - best known for a pair of EPs on Hyperdub - who contributes to five of the tracks and helps shape the back half of the album. ‘I’ll Hurt You Baby’ is a frantic dash to the finish line and perhaps not the most memorable track here, but ‘Life In This Bitch’ doubles down on the weed smoke paranoia with a chorus of taunting voices. ‘If U Want It’ is mainly notable for an extended synth jam, while the energetic title track is sure to be a favourite among juke dancers.
Older footwork releases occasionally folded under the sheer weight of tracks, but Teklife seem to have adopted a ‘less is more’ policy with their albums. Ten tracks in just over 30 minutes is all the introduction you should need if you’re not already familiar with DJ Manny, and if you are, then you’ll be pleased to hear this stands as his strongest release to date, with no real duds and a handful of absolutely killer tracks.
Greenlight is out now on Teklife, grab a copy right here.