If you know footwork, you know DJ Rashad.
Former dancer, principal GhettoTekz member, breakout producer, globetrotting evangelist – Rashad doesn’t just bleed footwork, he pumps it around his body at 160bpm. Rashad’s long-term association with Hyperdub has recently firmed up into an official partnership, with the label providing a home for his exceptional Rollin’ EP and its follow-up I Don’t Give A Fuck.
Next in line is full-length Double Cup – a miscellaneous selection of footwork confections, variously pilfering from R&B, jungle and acid. With the album due next month, we sat down with Rashad, with perennial brother-in-arms DJ Spinn also within earshot. Topics of discussion with the pair: drill, moving away from Lit City – and why you call their music ‘feminine’ at your peril.
How’s your trip been? London must be coming something of a second home these days.
Rashad: [Laughs] It’s been good man, the trip’s been good, everything’s cool.
Spinn: It’s been great.
What’s the plan over here?
Rashad: We about to leave now. This our last week, we’ve kind of got a little downtime till Thursday – then we hit Copenhagen, and Lisbon, and then we go back to the US for the US tour. We busy.
Are Europeans starting to get the hang of the dance? I’ve seen enough ‘How To Dance Footwork’ tutorials in the last few years…is the world starting to compete with Chicago?
Rashad: Umm…certain parts of the world, maybe.
Spinn: There’s little pockets of that, but the people that come out to the shows, they mostly come out to rave.
Rashad: Yeah, they come out to rave and have a good time and shit.
Rashad – you’ve thrown your lot in with Hyperdub this year. What attracted you to the label in the last 18 months or so? There’s evidently a big connection there.
Rashad: Well, what attracted me to the label…I have a big amount of respect for Kode9 and everybody over there and what they’ve done in the last couple of years. I was a big fan of Hyperdub as well. It works for me, pretty much – everybody’s safe over there, and I’m a big fan. I met Kode a couple of years back, and we kind of just clicked.
The last few years have seen Hyperdub expand its sound and the sort of acts its been signing – it must be a very creative and fertile place to be involved with.
Rashad: Definitely, definitely.
Are things still tight between you guys and Mike and the Planet Mu lot?
Rashad: Oh yes, definitely, everything’s all good.
The Hyperdub album feels like your most diverse, your most varied album…
Now that you’re a couple of albums deep, has your approach to the album format changed?
Rashad: Yeah, I wanted this album to be a bit different to your regular DJ Rashad album, and just have fun doing other things, and just trying new shit. So is everybody else, it’s not just me and Teklife, we got other people in Teklife as well as me doing that. I just tried to have fun with this one, rather than it just be serious footwork shit all the time.
Obviously, you’ve made very concise records, like Just A Taste, and more sprawling records too…do you try and test the album form?
Rashad: Well, not really. Maybe Welcome To The Chi was a test, but all the other ones, the people really liked the tracks and then picked them up, so I didn’t really have a say-so on those albums, besides Welcome To The Chi. But nah, I don’t think it’s a test – it’s only Welcome To The Chi.
Welcome To The Chi was quite a forceful and aggressive record, compared to Double Cup, which is much more soulful, and sultry, at least in parts.
Was that a deliberate shift – to try and make something a bit more feminine, maybe?
Rashad: [very raucous laughter] Feminine! I don’t know about feminine! Is it feminine?
Spinn: Not fe-mi-nine! Maybe geared towards the ladies.
Rashad: Lady-pleasers! [more raucous laughter]
It’s definitely a softer feel – more soulful.
Rashad: Yeah, just trying to do something different from what everyone expects – not just the hard aggression shit, trying to show the other side to Teklife.
The jungle influence that has really come to fore in your work. When did you guys first get turned onto that sound?
Rashad: Really years ago, but we started embracing it in our music maybe about to years ago. We were fucking around with it, and we might play it out at parties. But I have to say, Welcome To The Chi is the last time I put something out with jungle in it – and it was ‘Bakk Off’, that was the first one. It went really well. It’s fun, man, and we had us so much respect, and we found out…like, jungle is definitely the same shit. People have educated us, and played shit from the 1990s that we never heard before that they sample and we sample. And it’s like, “Wow, this shit is fucking nuts!”
What sort of stuff have you been listening to?
Rashad: Lemon D, Goldie…
Spinn: They been playing us all the classics.
Rashad: All classics! Shit, I don’t know man. We love it though.
Two or three years ago, lots of UK artists operating at 140/160 were taking inspiration from footwork, whereas now things have come full circle. You guys are now quite explicitly pulling influences from UK sounds. There’s a circularity there, I think.
Rashad: Yeah, and it’s cool actually, really.
Spinn: It’s dope, especially with the producers that are doing it. These ain’t no kids in the house – these are producers who’ve got a lot of respect, and they been doing their thing. It’s our honour, really to have these guys mess around with our sound, and they like what we do, and we like what they do.
Rashad: Everybody embrace each other, so it’s cool.
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In the same vein as the political ‘special relationship’, is there a ‘special relationship’ between London and Chicago?
Rashad: [thinks] Yeah…
Spinn: Right now, yeah!
I mean, you’re here, I suppose.
Returning to Double Cup, you really flirt with acid sounds in a way I haven’t heard before in your music. Is the classic Chicago acid sound something that still matters in the city – or is it just something in the past?
Rashad: It still matters to us. It might be in the past for certain people, but everyone still loves acid I think in Chicago. And everywhere. That sound is just the shit.
Has it always been a part of footwork and ghettohouse’s DNA?
Rashad: Yes, yes definitely. From Day One.
What drove you to do something as explicitly acid based [as ‘Acid Bit’]?
Rashad: I dunno man, it wasn’t planned. it was just something that me and Addison Groove were just doing in his house. We had a 303, acid drum machines, and I was like, “Oh my god, we got to play with it!”. And that’s kind of how it just happened. We definitely use acid sounds in our tracks, but he had the real 303 and shit, like, we used the modular and shit. And that’s what turned me into that, pretty much.
On the topic of Chicago sounds, taking things up to date a little – I know that in the last year or so, there’s been a lot of attention on Chicago’s drill scene. Is that a sound that you guys are interested or engaged with?
Spinn: To be honest, we been on tour since August a couple back, you know what I mean, and we DJ’d around the city – that’s what we’d do for years. So to see the guys trying to come up finally coming up, it’s cool, but we haven’t been there to be there with them and experience it. So it’s a lot of new cats who come out, and they a bunch of youngsters.
Rashad: I respect it, because I’m from Chicago and I’m going to rep the city, but like he said – us being on tour, we know some of the people, but there’s a lot of new people ,a lot of little kid faces that we’ve never seen. I still respect it. Although some of that shit might not be right…[laughs]
Spinn: The content…
Rashad: The killing and the content and all that shit, but besides all the negative shit, there’s some good shit that comes from those rappers out there, you know?
I’ve always had the impression that the footwork scene you came up in seemed to be quite a positive and constructive one…
Rashad: Yeah, definitely.
…and the drill scene is often figured as negative and nihilistic?
Spinn: Yeah, yeah of course.
Rashad: But then a lot of hip-hop today is like that, and rap. You know what I’m saying? We make dance music and shit, so it’s kind of different, but there’s some foul dance music and shit! [laughs]
Spinn: It ain’t about killing nobody or nothing though.
Rashad: Most rap is about killing, selling drugs and fucking bitches anyway.
Last time I spoke to you, Rashad, Lit City was just kicking off. How do you feel the label’s developed over its lifespan?
Rashad: I think it’s doing well, actually. We’re no longer with Lit City, though.
Rashad: I’m just doing Hyperdub at the moment, me and Spinn. But Traxman is still on Lit City. I think it’s doing good actually, it’s definitely grown since Welcome To The Chi, and Volume 2. Louis – Visionist – has got an album out right now, called I’m Fine, i think that’s doing real good. Traxman comes out on Tuesday, so I think they got some new artists as well, I’m not really too sure, but from what I know they’re doing alright.
Can you see yourself re-engaging with Lit City?
Rashad: For an album release? Probably not. [laughs]
Particularly now you’re over here, and I imagine you’re being exposed to things on more of a UK flex, what sort of sounds are you listening to at the moment?
Spinn: We been going out to all of these parties and checking out everybody man, from the Swamp81 camp to…man, who else have we checked out?
Spinn: Machinedrum, Slick Shoota, Symbiotic Sound…
Rashad: Dawn Day Night…
Spinn: Yeah, Dawn Day Night, that guy man, he’s dope.
Rashad:Who else have we been listening to, shit? That’s really all we’ve been listening to!
Bearing in mind what were talking about, a lot of those acts mash together different influences in new and original ways. It’s part of this process of constant synthesis and collision.
Rashad: Definitely, most definitely.
Spinn: We’ve been saying that since about four years ago, this and the hip-hop scene, and we got a chance to start coming over and touring, and we just starting seeing the mesh. Just a lot of genres. But that’s our tempo!