The Chicago producer on footwork's evolution, how to become part of Teklife and his sublime new album 'Double Cup'.
“We feed off the energy and we go back and make tracks about it back at the studio,” DJ Spinn told me in April 2011 for a footwork feature on Dummy. He was talking about the weekly Sunday night footwork battle event he’d been running with DJ Rashad since 2008 “for the kids”. Those "kids” ranged in age from 14 to guys in their thirties for whom footwork had become their life. The event was held in a daycare centre and the deal was the dancers would pay a nominal fee on the door, and that money would go in a pot and be awarded to the best dancer. As well as providing a place for young people to hang out, it was a chance for Rashad and Spinn to try out new material. “We got something fresh and new for them every week. Just like the dancers come with something fresh and new, we come with fresh, new music.”
This is how footwork has always worked, as an exchange of energy. A back-and-forth of ideas and motion. So it’s interesting to see that, as Rashad and Spinn have found themselves increasingly away from Chicago on tour this past couple of years, they’ve sought that energy exchange elsewhere. Rashad’s new album ‘Double Cup’, out this week on Hyperdub, not only crystallises the inherent duality of footwork (as represented by the ingredients of the titular syrupy drink: the blunt slowness of codeine and swift sharpness of sugar) but demonstrates its flexibility by reaching out to other forms. “Fucking with jungle and trap and everything was just something that was necessary for us. It just made sense,” he explains over Skype from a Chicago doctor’s where he’s receiving treatment for a fractured hip that forced him to cancel his recent EU tour. “I’m not sure that’s what people want but that’s what we like to do. Try to open up new doors for footwork and the tempo itself, 160. That’s that something that as Teklife we love to do as well anyway, fuck around with other genres and mix it up with our stuff because we appreciate those things over here too.” He mentions that he and Spinn will be joining Chance The Rapper on his US tour once he’s done recuperating. “Hopefully we can get him the studio and make a song. Acid rap and all that, it should work.”
While in 2011 the footwork scene was well into its second decade in its birthplace of Chicago, it was brand shiny new to the UK and Rashad and Spinn were very much its ambassadors. Two years on and its influence can be heard all over the world, from Barcelona to New York to Shanghai. Rashad’s evolution and popularity as a producer has picked up pace with every release. While in the past he focused on one area of footwork - the soul-searching side with the ‘Rollin’ EP on Hyperdub and its frenetic restlessness on ‘Teklife Volume One’ on Lit City - on ‘Double Cup’ he unites the two to get at something more powerful than the sum of its parts. As Mark Fisher noted in his excellent recent essay on Electronic Beats, “Rashad articulates the impasses of our 21st century condition with a precision and a compassion that few others can match.”
How are you doing, Rashad?
DJ Rashad: “I’m at the doctor’s office but I came outside to talk to you for a quick second.”
Oh damn. What the hell happened?
DJ Rashad: “I was in a car wreck. Pretty much someone just ran the light and ran right into me. I woke in the hospital with a fractured hip, three bruised ribs but I’m alright. Happy to be alive, I should say.”
What are they saying in term of getting on the mend?
DJ Rashad: “Well, that’s the thing. I’ve just got to rest and not put any pressure on my left leg. That’s kind of what I did. Instead of sitting out for the Hyperdub tour in the States, I went and did New York and Boston and I wasn’t ready yet. I should’ve sat out for a little bit longer. But I’m healing up now and I should to go back out in a couple of weeks.”
Good to hear. I’ve spent a lot of time listening through to ‘Double Cup’ and then hitting play again right from the top. The full range of footwork is represented, from the soulfulness to the abrasiveness.
DJ Rashad: “That’s what I was trying to do with this one. You know how the other albums have been more high-energy, weird, crazy shit. I tried to show the other side of what’s going on and the stuff that we’ve liked and embraced over the couple of years being in the UK and other places we’ve been around the world.”
The last time we spoke was in spring 2011, when footwork was relatively new to the UK. Was there a moment when you thought, damn this has gone global?
DJ Rashad: “No, I can’t say damn. It was more like, YES! You know what I mean? We’ve been a part of this for a minute and just watching it grow and seeing new people do it as well is just a blessing. We’re loving what we’re seeing and hearing. It’s a good feeling.”
Are there any places that you didn't think would get it but did?
DJ Rashad: “Russia. St Petersburg and Moscow, they got it. They’re on it. I was surprised.”
"We’ve been a part of this for a minute and just watching it grow and seeing new people do it as well is just a blessing." DJ Rashad
Were people getting into the dancing?
DJ Rashad: “Not the dancing. They’re more about the songs and singing and chanting and shit. I didn’t expect it. The first time I went was earlier this year. I went by myself. Then me and Spinn went again in July and it was nuts. Everybody knew the songs. It was just real good. They know, so.”
Could you tell me a bit about the making of ‘Double Cup’ - when did you write it?
DJ Rashad: “Most of the songs earlier this year, say February till about end of May.”
You’ve got a reputation for writing six or seven tracks a day and your output would suggest that’s the case but what is the reality for you?
DJ Rashad: “Well, the reality is that as much as I love to work fast I’ve learned a lot over the years since I’ve been making music. Now I have to sit there and put each sound in individual tracking lines and shit. I didn’t do that back in the day. So the sound’s probably a little bit more crisper than on my other albums as well because I took the time out to individually line up the sounds and put a nice mix-down over them and shit. So I learned that. That also takes more time - if you get it right it could take anything from a day to master it right. Now I could probably could get four or five songs down in two days compared with how I used to do it. But it’s properly done and I feel good about it this way."
Your Teklife collaborators Spinn and Manny are people that you’ve been working with for some time but there are some new faces on this record. Like Addison Groove and Taso - how have these collaborations come about and how are you working together?
DJ Rashad: “I’ve been wanting to collab with Addison Groove since '09 when Footcrab came out. We linked up and hung out, did a couple of shows together. Maybe a few months back I had a couple of days off in Bristol where he stays at and I stayed with him and we pretty much hung out, labbed, did some music together there. Pretty much how it went down was that we were both in the studio giving each other input and that’s how it happened. As far as Taso, he’s a member of Teklife as well. He’s from San Francisco, he’s been in the group for about a year now. Same thing, San Francisco, me and Spinn had a couple of shows there so we stayed at his house for about a month and did records and whatever we could do - lab out. I kind of wanted to introduce him. A lot of people haven’t heard of him. That’s what I was trying to do with a lot of the collaborations on ‘Double Cup’ this time. Spinn and Manny, try to get other people from Teklife involved as well. I tried to get everybody I could on the record. Introduce them a little bit more and help people understand that it’s not just me.”
"I tried to get everybody I could on the record. Introduce them a little bit more and help people understand that it’s not just me.” DJ Rashad
How does somebody, like Taso, become part of Teklife?
DJ Rashad: “It’s a voting thing from the whole group really. And a try-out thing that you have to do. He passed the try-out and he passed the voting system. That’s pretty much it, man. You don’t have to be in Teklife but people ask. We ask in return, make music, don’t just try to use us. We’re really just a crew. Nothing more than that, nothing less. That’s how it pretty much started.”
How much of your life do you spend digging for samples? Do you have this massive collection of samples that you’re waiting to use for something or is it very much in the moment?
DJ Rashad: “Most of the samples on this record have been... We got a vault of samples that Spinn, Manny and everybody uses. We just go through the vault. I could be on tour and listen to some songs and think about what I want to do. Or be in the studio and come up with something. But as far as this, I didn’t plan it, it was just in the moment at the studio with the collabs. It was nothing really planned.”
I’m imagining this vault with a big gold lock.
DJ Rashad: “It’s like gold for us, definitely [laughs].”
When you were starting out and beginning to spread the word of footwork, the dancers were so crucial to the making of the music. How is that relationship now considering most of the time you’re not in Chicago?
DJ Rashad: “It’s still just as crucial. It’s just a shame we can’t bring the dancers as much on the road. We want to because that is the other part of the music. It wouldn’t be footwork without the dancers. But they still have footwork shit going on in Chicago, they still have battle grounds and all that stuff we talked about the last time. It’s just a shame that I can’t be at all those events the way I used to be because, oh man it’s still good and it’s still going down. They have progressed and it’s growing and it’s getting bigger and things are working out. I would like to see them come overseas though.”
When Lite Bulb [one of the dancers who features in Dummy’s footwork film] was at the big Hyperdub show at Koko, that was incredible.
DJ Rashad: “When we do sets together, me and Manny, or me and Spinn and Litebulb, it’s almost like a whole other set opening up. It’s almost like a show. It opens us up to do more things as well, on the music side and for the footworking as well. Yeah, they need to see both sides really. I think so.
Okay, promoters: sort your shit out.
DJ Rashad: “Sort it out. We’ll take a pay cut. Bring ‘em.”
"As long as we’ve been making footwork tracks we’ve been sampling slow R&B songs, something kind of sad but not sad if you know what I mean." DJ Rashad
There’s a sadness to a lot of juke and footwork that feels really central to the sound and you often do it more movingly than anybody else. Where is that coming from?
DJ Rashad: “I don’t know [laughs]. I think it’s just the songs; I like ‘em. It’s just the mood at the moment. As long as we’ve been making footwork tracks we’ve been sampling slow R&B songs, something kind of sad but not sad if you know what I mean. I think that’s just the protocol that it just came out to be. It’s not just me - Spinn, RP [Boo], everybody does it. I don’t know if it’s a group thing or what. But as long as I can remember it, we’ve been doing it. Something that caught our ear, I guess. The songs that we choose are pretty much something we might listen to or used to like as a kid. I don’t know, honestly [laughs].”
The songs might be sad to begin with but you make them sadder. Whether it’s the way you’re flipping a sample or stretching it or looping certain refrains. It definitely accentuates the sadness.
DJ Rashad: “Ah well, most of the times in those samples it’s pretty much how I felt. It only made sense to get those parts of the samples. In my life anyway - or Spinn’s life or Earl’s or Manny’s or whoever made the track at the moment. Pretty much try to break it down to how you feel or what you’re trying to say at that moment, that’s probably it.”
Do you have a favourite on ‘Double Cup’?
DJ Rashad: “I have a top three. I’d probably say Feelin’, Double Cup and Let U No.”
"The whole idea with ‘Double Cup’ for me was to show, instead of the hyper other shit that I normally do, something more smooth. Screwed up Rashad." DJ Rashad
Is double cup a drink Teklife are really into?
DJ Rashad: “I can’t say...nah, we don’t live on it [laughs]. It’d have taken forever to get it done. But the whole idea with ‘Double Cup’ for me was to show, instead of the hyper other shit that I normally do, something more smooth. Screwed up Rashad. That was the point of ‘Double Cup’, to show the soft slow side.”
Where do you want to take footwork next?
DJ Rashad: “I don’t know yet. I just want to see how far this train can take us right now. I’m just happy to see it go as far as it came. If it doesn’t even go anywhere tomorrow, I’m happy for what it’s done so far. I really don’t have a certain goal for it anymore because it damn did pass all the goals I had. Now, it’s just like, yeah okay. But hopefully it continues to keep going and we have more people come out and make it even bigger.”
Hyperdub released DJ Rashad's new album 'Double Cup' on 22nd October 2013.