Chicago’s relationship to its eastern neighbor, Indiana, is one of selfish convenience. For starters, gasoline is basically free in comparison to the nearly $3 per gallon you pay in the city. Those living on Chicago’s South Side never shy away from flocking to the border—anywhere from five to 30 minutes from home—to fill up their tanks for the upcoming work week. It’s a Sunday ritual for many, along with snagging a few cartons of cigarettes, since they, too, are cheaper on the other side.
But there’s another tradition Chicagoans have, one that causes them to make a special trip across the state line at the height of every summer: fireworks. In Chicago, pyrotechnics are banned for consumer use, though it never truly seems like that in the weeks before and after the Fourth of July. Just take a ride through any neighborhood on the South or West side, and you’re likely to be startled by militant booms. “One monkey don’t stop no show,” as the saying goes.
There’s a plethora of colorful billboards lining I-94 in Indiana, guiding you to fireworks stores the size of supermarkets. Jerrilynn Patton, the 29-year-old producer from Gary, a city just 30 miles outside of Chicago, witnesses this pilgrimage to her home state every year. In her three-acre backyard, we can hear them going off in the cloudy distance. Since it’s legal to buy and shoot firecrackers in Gary—a once-booming steel town with a declining population of about 77,000—it’s not out of the ordinary to hear them on a random Wednesday like today.
“People’s obsession with fireworks in this area is insane,” Patton says. Her childhood home, where she still lives with her parents, is secluded in a suburban-style subdivision, about 15 minutes south of downtown Gary. Patton appears to be one of those “obsessed” people herself. Dressed in cargo shorts and a black hoodie—with a black bandanna to harness her dreadlocks, which she’s just gotten retwisted—Patton smiles while reminiscing about the time in 2014 when she bought $200 worth with a paycheck from one of her first jobs, at US Steel’s East Chicago Tin Mill. She popped them all herself, too.
Known across the world as Jlin, Patton is one of the biggest risk-takers in dance music. She got her start with a couple of tracks on the 2011 Bangs & Works Vol. 2 compilation from Planet Mu, pushing footwork beyond its traditional function as the soundtrack for skilled street dancers to something more moody and expressionist. Chattery vocal samples and asymmetrical kick-drum patterns are staples of the genre, but Jlin’s take somehow felt even more blistered and broken. Her 2015 debut album on Planet Mu, Dark Energy, wasn’t completely removed from her frenetic footwork roots, but its physics were weird, as though she were breaking open the very grid on which footwork was built.
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