The temperature in Queens, New York is a sweltering 90F degrees, and DJ Manny is on his way to spend the rest of his afternoon at Rockaway Beach. After a tough year in the US, Manny’s taken solace in the outdoors; the park he’s speaking to us from is teeming with people eager to celebrate their (relative) freedom to roam. He dips into a nearby store for water, thanks the cashier with a huge smile, and as our phone signal crackles, he makes his way back out into the fresh, open air.
Regarded as one of the pioneering artists of the Chicago footwork genre, DJ Manny has been “low-key” for some time. Over 10 years since his first release, ‘Kush On Deck’, the Teklife co-founder has been doling out bangers with the intention of breaking new sonic ground. This summer, his career hits a high note, as his latest album, ‘Signals In My Head’, is released on British label Planet Mu, who have championed footwork since 2010, with their ‘Bangs & Works’ compilations. With his big, warm laughter, DJ Manny sounds like he’s naturally at ease, a Black man ready to meet his moment.
“I feel great about this! I like how it feels for people to finally get to know who I am,” he says with a sigh of satisfaction. “I wanted to take time to get my life together, as well as my sound. I’d been making R&B remixes a lot, and I decided I could just do original tracks like that too. That’s my style... the R&B, footwork and jungle stuff with everybody repping, but there ain’t a lot of footwork music for women. There’s been a lot of music out here that’s about bashing women, you know. I wanted to make something that was for them to enjoy too.”
Born in Chicago and raised in Illinois, DJ Manny now lives in New York, and has seen first-hand how their respective dance scenes have evolved and inspired him. “I’ve been here for years, but the dance scene is way bigger in New York now. I love that footwork is catching on all over — in the States, in different countries, everywhere. To go out in New York City just to hang and to hear your music playing is like — dang!” he says with sweet surprise.
“It makes me feel so good to know that it’s not just us making this anymore,” he says, of his fellow Chicagoans. He missed the warehouse parties where footwork music first blew up, but recognises that’s in the past now.
“They were a lot more DIY. Now it’s mostly clubs, which is fine, but it’s not the same feeling of everyone dancing and doing their thing. Back in the day, it wasn’t as straightforward,” he continues, of the core, multi-layered roots of the footwork style and scene. “We’d go to house parties and they’d move through R&B, hip-hop, then footwork and juke, but now you go out and they play footwork all night. Things have changed a lot.”