Where next for footwork? Three years after DJ Nate, the Chicago sound is still a niche concern, admired by Kode9 and Scratcha DVA as one of the few genuinely future-looking prospects around, but plain puzzling or just too extreme for everyone else.
Seemingly aware of this, DJ Rashad's 'Double Cup' opts out of footwork’s usual prizing of rhythmic pressure for an album more interested in atmosphere, dispensing with the genre’s kinetic syncopation in favour of heavy vibe. One of the biggest exporters of the sound, there’s a sense here that Rashad is itching to move beyond it. So where his past albums seemed like simple producer compilations, 'Double Cup' is Rashad out to show he can conceive an album proper. If footwork has previously been built for its teenage dancers to let loose to, 'Double Cup' seems like it might soundtrack their nights in.
Rashad’s most diverse outing yet, he takes on gurgling 303s on Acid Bit with early footwork adopter Addison Groove, hip hop-friendly footwork (think a juked-out 9th Wonder) on Drank, Kush, Barz and Show U How and dips regularly into drum 'n' bass. A virtual charm offensive for D&B heads, it’s Rashad granting a wish to all the hifalutin jungle-footwork theorists, as if to court both ageing junglists and young D&B producers in search of new 160bpm inspiration. So Feelin’ and I’m Too Hi bookend the album with amen bursts, Let U No is a vibey throwback to souled-out jungle via footwork frameworks, while further jungle echoes (think: film-sampling singles like Original Nuttah) seem to have wormed their way into the rippling I Don’t Give A Fuck, the tensest moment here next to Reggie. If these sprinkles of D&B are both pleasing and suspicious, they also look a little like Rashad unnecessarily playing catch-up with the footwork hybrids being done by producers like Machinedrum or Mark Pritchard. It puts a bit of a dent in his modernism, even if they do show that Rashad can open footwork’s customary insularity up to outside influences without losing his Chicago bearings.
But if 'Double Cup' sees Rashad occasionally wondering outside expected genre lines, the bulk of it takes a lover’s-juke shape. It’s footwork relaxing into a bubble bath of slow jams. The genre’s usual forward thrust is more or less stripped right out for an exercise in restraint. Restful rather than ruffling, the oak-thick, sturdy sonics result in a muted pace that will likely take anyone who’s spent time with the genre a while to acclimatise to. As if to show Rashad is more than meets the eye, it’s all been fastidiously pored over, forming a successful rejoinder to assumptions of footwork as aggressive, frenetic and cheap by taking the opposite tack. This is soft, stripped back and lustrous, quietly testing the boundaries of what footwork actually is. An album of extreme mellowness; it’s what Questlove might make if he hung out with Ghetto Teknitianz instead of Elvis Costello. But with most of Rashad’s energies focused on creating a blanket of glorious luxuriance, the moderation and golden glow can start to feel sluggish half way through; a cul-de-sac of muggy mellowness. It’s hard to resist the sheer warmth of Every Day of My Life, but it could do with a few rough edges. With all specks of dust and disruptions to its perfectly sheened surface absent, 'Double Cup' is polished to a fault.
Deeply considered and lovingly made, 'Double Cup' is footwork grown up, made generously spacious and kinder on the ear. Considerate of soulboys, hip hoppers and D&B heads, it’s the sound of its maker exhibiting a newfound awareness of the world outside Chicago, opening a fresh entry point into the genre for novices. It inevitably misses the edge that made footwork such a breath of fresh air – the genre has rarely sounded this soothing or calm. But in its own way, that’s what makes it gently radical.
Hyperdub will release 'Double Cup' on the 22nd October. You can currently stream the whole album over at Pitchfork Advance.