Footwork is defined by movement. That movement is often captured in dizzying rhythms and dance battles, but what’s just as important to the Chicago genre is its constant evolution. Teklife’s DJ Manny has lived by that sense of movement as a dancer, a producer of distinctly woozy footwork mentored by the late DJ Rashad, and now one of the present-day champions of the scene. Punctuating a relentlessly creative year marked by a string of self-released EPs, the new album Signals In My Head feels like a culmination, a record where Manny stays true to footwork’s spirit of movement by taking it somewhere new.
Manny has long favored smoky, subdued sounds, but he goes further on Signals In My Head, rewiring footwork as something intensely intimate, even romantic. Tracks like opener “Never Was Ah Hoe” and “Wants My Body (ft. DJ Chap)” create melancholy atmospheres, while the highlight “You All I Need” is pure lovestruck tension, drifting on warm pads and a bright synth loop that reframes the battle-ready drums at its center as a pounding heart. Flowing alongside the footwork highlights are stylistic curveballs, like the breakbeat-heavy title track, house banger “Club GTA,” and the DJ Phil collab “Havin’ Fun,” which flings zany vocal samples and a vertigo-inducing sub bass.
Signals In My Head is Manny’s debut for Planet Mu, home to footwork touchstones by greats like Traxman and RP Boo; but Signals calls to mind an entirely different release from the label: grime legend Mr. Mitch’s 2014 breakthrough Parallel Memories. That glassy, paradoxically delicate album shattered notions about what the hard-hitting UK genre could be, and as Manny layers his drums over the heavenly organs of Signal’s awe-inspiring closer “At First Site,” there’s a similar sense of possibility. It’s one of the great footwork albums of this new decade.