Footwork: What Is It, and How Do You Make It? **UPDATED

Like so much dance music in the world today, Chicago’s footwork style owes a big debt to house. Sure, it may not sound anything like the deep-and-soulful vibes of classic Marshall Jefferson or Frankie Knuckles tracks, but the hyper-paced sound (and its attendant culture) shares a similar lineage with so many house subgenres, having worked its way through multiple scenes within a scene, providing the soundtrack for dance crews to battle it out on the floor, and becoming a worldwide phenomenon in the process. Here’s what you need to know about what it is and how to make it.


To start, footwork is primarily a dance music style that pays homage to Chicago house and hip-hop—but manages to sound unlike either. Due to its off-kilter time signatures, skittering snares and kicks, and frenetic tempo, it isn’t the easiest music to dance to (at least in the conventional club sense), but for an experimentally inclined ear, footwork explodes with intricate drum patterns, crazy sample programming, and a truly raw, DIY aesthetic. Much like hip-hop, footwork isn’t just a style of music—it’s a culture that brings together music production, eye-popping dance moves, and a playfully confrontational battle vibe.


The term “footwork” is often (incorrectly) used interchangeably with “juke,” the style’s closely related cousin. Truth is, the two genres do have a lot in common: both are direct descendants of ghetto house (a rougher, tougher, faster strain of house Chicago that was popularized in the late ‘90s), both run somewhere in the 150-160-BPM range, and, confusingly, both have associated dance styles of the same name. Where footwork and juke music differ is that the former is a bit more frantically paced—slightly more aggressive, and utilizing an abstract, hip-hop-styled approach to production (ie. pitched-down vocals, more sample-focused)—whereas juke is essentially a grittier, dirtier, faster version of house, made more for grinding than gettin’ fancy on the dance floor.


To take a long look back at footwork, it’s worth starting with some of the Dance Mania label’s most prominent artists, like mid-’90s ghetto-house kings DJ Deeon, DJ Slugo, and DJ Funk—who had already sped up house’s traditional tempo to 140 BPM—to see how the sound evolved.

By the early 2000s, folks like RP Boo and DJ Clent were taking the foundation laid by Dance Mania and turning the sound on its ear, speeding it up even more, but, unlike juke, messing with its straight-ahead 4/4 groove to give footwork its signature rhythms.

Today, in the Windy City, DJ Spinn, DJ Rashad, and Traxman are some of footwork’s most well-known purveyors, but, with the attention paid to them by UK labels like Planet Mu and Hyperdub, their influence has spread all over the world. Artists like Machinedrum and the UK’s Addison Groove have also put their own spin on the sound.


Short answer: Yes. But it takes some serious speed, flexibility, and practice—especially if you’re gonna step to the circle, which is where the battle is waged. Crews like Wolf Pack and Terra Squad regularly spar with one another on the dance floors of teen centers throughout Chicago, and because of dancing’s huge role in the footwork scene, producers (many of whom are or were also dancers) make tracks specifically for the intricate, quick-paced, leg-twisting manoeuvres that characterize the style.


Like pretty much every form of dance music, there is, at the very least, a template for plotting out a general beat for the style. Point Blank has developed a quick lesson on getting the basics down for a juke beat with 808 kicks, which will get enthusiastic Ableton producers on their way, and below Computer Music has assembled a similar tutorial. They’re not explicitly footwork tutorials—but that’s where you get to put your own spin on it. For the old-school method, Traxman knocks out a sample-based beat on his MPC in the video below that.

Have you experimented with making juke and footwork tracks? Have a tip to share? Let us know about it in the comments below.

We’re sad to report that footwork pioneer DJ Rashad (aka Rashad Harden) died yesterday, April 26, in his hometown of Chicago. According to the Sun-Times, Harden was found dead of a suspected drug overdose. He was scheduled to perform later that night in Detroit with collaborator DJ Spinn, who commented: “It’s just a tragic loss of a great musical genius.”

New information was revealed today that DJ Rashad died of a blood clot in his leg, not of a drug overdose. The drug paraphernalia found near his body was marijuana-related, says The Guardian.

Rashad’s new EP, We On 1, was set for release on Monday. He was 34 years old.

Addison GroovechicagoDance ManiaDJ ClentDJ DeeonDJ FunkDJ RashadDJ SlugoDJ Spinnfootworkfrankie knucklesghetto housejukemachinedrumMarshall JeffersonRP BooTraxman
Comments (61)
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    Everyone who likes trap right now is about to go hard into Footwork/ Juke by next year Im calling it. And I’ll bet you Skrilly will make an attempt at it.

  • middleWave

    I recently had the pleasure to attend a footwork night in Detroit featuring a bunch of Chicago DJs, in a gritty warehouse studio. I’m glad I got to experience the scene, it was very unique. The dance battling was really fun, and made me think of what bboying back in the day might have been like.

  • Jan Hansen

    Fantastic! This is what dance music culture should be all about; dancing and producers making music for the dancers! Not giant crowds in stadiums staring at a superstar DJ waving his hands in the air and pretending to mix the top 40 EDM crap.

  • Foldable

    Jumpstyle, anyone?

  • DJ_ForcedHand

    I like (and support) creativity and exploration, but I loathe people trying to pull a fast one on people, this looks exactly like… a swindle. Does anyone else feel that this “new style” is the Emperor’s new clothes… for music?

    Fast, slow, soulful, rhythmically-droning, people want music that speaks to who they are right now, but they love music that speaks to the core of who they are.

    Make music people fall in love with instead of a flash-in-the-pan fad… this looks like a “live fast, die young”, hyper-elitist, drug-clique, a group of people are trying to package for a record company to buy them out of.

    BTW, Gabber has been around for years.

  • Tyler Snow

    A bit dated, but the French LOVE juke.

    also here in Denver, we’ve been having parties consisting of a mix of juke and baile funk for years and years.

  • Ewan Collins

    RIP DJ Rashad, an Icon of the Footwork genre. He was reported dead yesterday.

  • technicaltitch

    I’ve read pretty much every DJTT post for a few years now, one of my favourite sources for DJ tech stories, but this goes way beyond tech. Even more impressive is choosing a genre like footwork which, as the comments prove, is a genre on the cutting edge that takes some open-mindedness to appreciate. I would love to see many more articles like this. It needn’t necessarily be genre based, although that worked beautifully here – you could trace a particular sound or technique from birth through evolution, such as the distorted LFO dubstep sounds or Dillah’s teasing timings. This is the stuff that creates threads, layers, coherence and movement in DJ sets. Absolutely spot on thanks DJTT.

    • technicaltitch

      PS. Phillip D did some superb footwork jungle whites that I think are classics, 3 volumes of 4 tracks each. He was trying to remain anonymous but was outed somehow. This is typical – very simple, but absolutely gets it:

      • Voodooman

        Philip D Kick is actually an Om Unit 🙂

  • Groove Gifter

    Something from Africa… Pantsula

  • Ztronical

    Dance and music are not something anyone will ever be able to make pure.
    I don’t like all music or dance but as an artist I try to take what I can from all. To have knowledge of it all will help me be more creative.

  • Sean Cvtter

    Dance Tech Tools.

    • Richard Schmidt

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    So DJTT has resorted to talking about dance moves… smh. Seriously, outside of Chicago NOBODY does this. So what relevance does it have the DJs who aren’t there and the producers who have no desire to produce it? How about some DJ topics that don’t focus on the same thing DJTT’s has been doing for ever….try scratching, serato, mix vibes, DJ entrepreneurship, branding, video Djing…. there are a ton of topics that DJTT just dodges.

    • Ken DJ TechTools

      Beyond DJ tips, tricks, tutorials, and gear reviews, we also like to shed a bit of light on regional dance-music cultures, too. What we think is cool about footwork is that it IS such a regional thing, and that others outside Chicago may want to learn about it as well. That said, we try our best to provide all sorts of DJ-related resources, like the Serato and DJ-biz sorts of stories you mentioned. In fact, the editors here are constantly scouring these comments and our forum for ideas of what our readers would like to see. So, no dodges intended! Let us know what you want to see, and we’ll do our best to make you happy.

      • Kutmaster TeeOh

        I see your point I just rather have more DJ oriented stuff. The dance scene has tons of their own media outlets for that stuff. I have made my suggestion, as well as seen many others doing so, on these comments. Many of which go unanswered. The tips, tricks, and tutorials are narrowed usually to Ableton or Traktor. I love AL but there are other things. I’ve even sent reviews of gear, tutorials, and various other things to Ean. Nothing Traktor based. The same ones end up published on DJBooth, DJWorx, or what have you. It has always been a Traktor focused website but it’s gotten more and more narrow over the years. I used to read DJTT every day.

        • Toontown

          You realize nobody is forcing you to read this free original content right?

          • Kutmaster TeeOh

            And you realize no one asked for your input right? It’s an open forum. Open for reading and comments, positive or negative. Quit trolling.

        • gigglekey

          DJing is defined by dancing. If you’re DJing and people aren’t dancing, you’re not a very good DJ.

          • Kutmaster TeeOh

            WTF does that have to do with making an article about dancing? Nothing. Troll on.

    • jzatopa

      I’m sorry but your blanket statements were just to ridiculous for me not to respond to. You go back to the 80s and you could say, ” outside of Chicago nobody dances to house music”. Or go back to the 70’s and “nobody outside of London listens to punk”. The whole point of Djing is to get people to move, enjoy the music and experience something new. Why would you not be interested in what is moving people, no matter where in the world it is. You can already hear tiny elements of this music style creeping into other styles. If you don’t want to learn about something new, then don’t read the article.

      • Kutmaster TeeOh

        Creeping into other styles? What are you talking about. This style came from the combination of other styles like JIT and breaking. There is no way in hell this dance would be done in Cali or Atlanta.

        • flip the skript

          I disagree. Footwork was the first to come out before any of that. It came from stepping. It used to be, where you found house music, there was footwork.

          • Kutmaster TeeOh

            Came out before breaking, jukin, and JIT? Don’t think so.

          • Shawn L Sinyard

            nope…footwork was going on in the early breakdance seen in 1983-85…

            I know because I was there doing it, AND IN ATLANTA

  • what?

    Are we f….n serious?

    • TheLastExile


      Much like talking about NY and Chicago’s influence on electronic music, Detroit gets forgotten, when the Jit and Juke dance styles are fraternal twins.

      • Ken DJ TechTools

        Very true—jitting and juking go hand-in-hand, for sure. Definitely wasn’t trying to gloss over Detroit’s synergistic musical relationship with Chicago (which goes waaaay back, obviously); just wanted to shed some light on footwork specifically, since it does warrant its own attention. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

        • TheLastExile

          Sorry, shouldn’t have been as much of a criticism, but more trying to make and additional note that the footwork thing is a Detroit/Chicago thing.

          More about the origin of the dance in Detroit:

          • ?The Other Denzel?

            Its also hard to mention footwork without talking about The baltimore club scene, The Memphis Jook Scene, The Los Angeles Turf scene, or my home town New Orleans Bounce Scene. Pretty Much every area with a large african american population has its own unique dance/music subculture

  • filespnr

    so let me get this straight, per the first video(the brazilian one is somewhat different)
    footwork is music with no discernible rhythm, and to dance to it, you do a bunch of moves that aren’t on beat? if you arent dancing “to” the music and on time with the beat, then why have music at all?
    to me, this is another example of the “failist” generation, who instead of striving towards a goal, and through hard work and perseverance, achieving, just takes the silly nonsense they can do without having any rules, and acts as if that were their desired goal.

    • 1nfinitezer0

      haters gon hate

      • filespnr

        “hate” and “pity” are two very different things. i mean, they aren’t as different as dancing and “flailing around with zero rhythm or timing” , but they are different. i love music and dance. what i don’t love is watching people who can’t do something “invent” a world with no rules, and therefore no failure. to be good at something, there must be some chance of being bad at it, and in dance, being bad at it means being out of time.Just like a dj mix that is off-beat ???? this “dance” has chosen to not adhere to the most basic rule; “to move with the music, in time with the beat” it’s participants haven’t chosen this because it is their preferred way of dancing. they chose it because They Can’t Dance, simple as that. if somebody wants to “Train-wreck” their feet to the beat, go right ahead, but please don’t try and convince me it’s cool.

        • 1nfinitezer0

          see saying the equivalent of “their actions don’t conform to my preconceptions and I don’t like it” is not the same as “it takes no skill and is inherently of less value”. so…
          yeah, well, that’s just like uh, your opinion man.

          • filespnr

            running a jack-hammer takes skill, too, but just because someone might wear headphones while they do it, don’t make it dancing.
            and again, “skill” in dance means at least some conformity to a beat.

          • Ken DJ TechTools

            I definitely see your argument, but the best dancers are actually dancing on-beat. Naturally, it’s difficult for it to really click visually when you’re watching YouTube clips of the battles, but check out this video below (or above) and it becomes a bit clearer. Also worth noting: Sometimes the moves are timed to the thrumming kicks and toms rather than to the snare’s snaps.

        • Ezmyrelda

          I think you also forget that styles like this aren’t meant for people like you.. Black people, youth or not; Have had their forms of art appropriated and turned against them for generations.. I find no fault in black disadvantaged youth continuing to create new forms to call their own.. If you don’t like it.. It’s your issue.. Your inability to enjoy something takes nothing away from their happiness.. I imagine there are even quite a few people in their scene that don’t want you to like it because you aren’t them.. You don’t live their reality and wake up in their community.. They don’t do it to please you.

          I also don’t think you see where the failure or lack thereof is in this format.. They battle.. Therefore between themselves there must be a type of failure.

    • Kid Kasper

      Missing out on some cool tracks. Pawn creates some absolutely crazy productions.
      Slickshoota is also pretty crazy.

      Just like every musical subgenre there is going to be some questionable tunes, it’d be no fun digging if every track was killer. I myself couldn’t dance to this stuff but some of the talented guys are definitely on beat and I hardly think it’s an example of a “failist generation”, it has a beat it’s just a not the usual 4/4 time stuff.

      • psy/OPs

        love that Pawn track! sounds like a fusion of jungle and trap to my ears. wicked dark styles 😀

      • technicaltitch

        Thanks, good shout!

    • Martin Wilson


    • JRed

      facepalm , what an idiot .

    • Ezmyrelda

      You sound like me bitching about gabba and hardcore… But just because I’m not fond of them doesn’t mean they aren’t valid artforms and are impossible to enjoy by their fans.. Just because you can’t see or perform the steps being on beat doesn’t mean they aren’t.. It just means that it’s an artform that caters to youth.. Personally, I hate hardcore because it gives me a migraine and makes me feel winded after half a song.. I fully recognize the right of young people to enjoy it though. But you are completely wrong if you think there are no dancers that can perform it with the rhythm needed to execute certain moves or that there is no discernible rhythm to catch hold of.. It’s abundantly obvious that the rhythms used in this style of music are derived from more african tribal and traditional rhythms. If they don’t move you.. That says more about your ability to understand rhythm than it does about the artform or people who enjoy it itself.

    • flip the skript

      this music and dance was created by chicago southside kids who come from poor income families. they created something out of chicago dance music influences. I’d rather have them juke and footwork than gang bang.

    • ?The Other Denzel?

      Soooooooo you’re one of those people who would rather stand and look at the dj/light show with his hands in the air… right? Juke and footwork are much older than “This failist generation”

  • Acker

    As much hatred Brazilian Funk gets (I love it), it has a subculture of it’s own. Even with it’s “Footwork”, called “Passinho” here…

  • killmedj

    Once again DJTT drops fresh knowledge on me.
    I had no Idea this even existed!

  • Deksel

    First of all, big ups to Traxman for that crappy behringer mixer in his studio set up (I should know, I got it two).
    And yes, I’ve been experimenting but to no positive effect yet. Having a hard time creating that smooth, deep yet poynding (sub)bass + kick combo. Without that, you got nothing….
    Hope these tutorials help!