“I didn’t believe it could ever be like this.”: DJ Taye talks Teklife, Hyperdub and new EP Break it Down

Dante Sanders wants to make one thing clear: he’s actually 21, not 20.

“I had a birthday for a reason!” he firmly says as our interview began to wrap. That’s not to say Sanders, better known as Teklife’s DJ Taye, doesn’t have the experience. There’s already one year of college under his belt, and Taye hopes to go back at some point to study sound design. But for now music takes precedent over everything else. Why wouldn’t it? He’s been producing and DJing for the better part of the last ten years, and his work is only getting started.

Despite the amount of tracks, EPs, LPs and remixes that have been rolled out to date, most of his work can’t be found anymore. Before the run-up to the EP, Taye made the move to take most of his work offline himself, the reasons being, for one, “the people who’ve heard these tracks obviously know me already, and have them,” and two, so that newcomers to Taye don’t get overwhelmed, confused, and stricken with archive panic. It’s a smart move, and points towards Break it Down, Taye’s first Hyperdub release, being a hard reset.

It’s also a mission statement for Taye’s direction as a whole. At this point, his palette is well known: 70s jazz, Father and Future, Chicago/Detroit house and Jay-Z courtesy of his dad. “Before I could even talk my mom was making me listen to 2pac,” he says. “Playing video games, Super Nintendo soundtracks… having all of that stuff [as inspiration] is weird, but it made me. Everything around me, really.” By his own admission, by the time Taye was 14 he was already a tastemaker and party DJ, with the urge to produce just starting to take hold.

“After Rashad’s death we had to do a ton of work just to catch up and match up.”

In 2007, he and other friends caught word of Ghettotekz (now Teklife) and its cast of characters: DJs Manny, Earl, Spinn, and Rashad. Juke and footwork were becoming big enough to get airplay, if only for ten minutes, on Chicago radio. Before long, his school friends were footworking:
“They would bring tracks around, footwork in school, we would go back home and trade things we made.” Taye started hanging around at battle grounds and posting up tracks of his own. He tells me, “I was just wondering to myself, ‘Why isn’t this music more popular?’ Because this is the best shit I’ve ever heard. That drove me to make it.”

There’s got to be some kind of book out there waiting to be written detailing how, in the late 00s, MySpace helped forge musical connections and develop new subgenres of electronic music – footwork being no exception. At the time, the streaming service on the site was a more intimate goldmine to network and show off your tunes. Since juke and footwork was so tightknit and homegrown pre-Bangs & Works (Planet Mu’s influential compilation), eventually Taye’s tracks started to get some eyes and ears from Ghettotekz, prompting the young producer to finally reach out and try to land a spot in the crew. “I hit up Rashad and just straight up told him I was a big fan of Ghettotekz, and he hit me back with ‘Yo, holler at Manny, he’s GT OG.’ [Soon] Manny hit me and said they were holding try outs. And I’m like…” Taye pauses for five seconds, and smiles. “Fuck it. I’ll do it.” Rashad and Spinn wheeled his tracks as soon as they got them.

Taye’s position in Teklife is a unique one. Despite being a part of the crew for this entire decade, he only really began playing out regularly once he finished his first year of college. And there’s the slight advantage of footwork’s surge in prominence and popularity amongst underground dance music heads since Planet Mu and Hyperdub gave the genre and its musicians a one-two punch up into the ears of non-Chicago natives.

“When I first joined Teklife, I didn’t see it as Teklife and footwork being an actual show,” Taye continues. “Back in the day, juke parties were just music being played, circles started, and that’s it. That’s all it was. Addison Groove told me before Rashad and Spinn had ever came to Europe, he would play tracks and he would force them on ’em. They weren’t dancing to it.” Of course with the amount of traction footwork has gained since and with the tenfold expansion of Teklife members and affiliates since, Taye’s timing on the EP couldn’t have been more fortuitous. The contrast between his early days and now is obvious. “The party atmosphere now, of course, is just crazy,” he says. “I didn’t believe it could ever be like this. Now this is the time where it just feels so good that so many people are willing to even hear the footwork sound.”

Teklife and Taye especially have more than applied themselves now that Rashad and Spinn have built the foundations for Taye and the others to follow. “After Rashad’s death we had to do a ton of work just to catch up and match up,” he says. “He and Spinn were doing a lot of work for the entire group to even get to where we’re at today. It’s all about the work.”

There’s that, and the progress that came via enormous support of Hyperdub, a connection that Taye acknowledges shaped both his work and the rest of the Teklife’s. “I listened to the early Hyperdub catalog – Sine of the Dub, Burial, Scratcha, all of it – and just went ‘damn, this is the same type of thing we were on.'” And I listened to old Rashad and was blown back by the rawness of the sound. You could just tell something was going to happen. Hyperdub and Teklife were already in the same lane.”

Part of footwork’s immediate appeal to listeners who get it – aside from being raw and invigorating even at its most soulful – is its elasticity. Describing 160bpm as a production “sweet spot,” Taye notes that it allows for almost everything to be thrown into the mix if the fit can be made. “The sound selection, what to use and what not to use, is important. I don’t want to recreate anything or anyone either, just mix up everything and do it organically.”

Break It Down can be firmly divided into two halves, both of which put this practice up front and center. Soul, jazz and R&B samples dominate its first half, with drums and melodies that blow up in starts and stops – decades’ worth of samples locking into a groove. Each tune on the second half starts off sparsely, before pads and synths smooth things over. Of course, since Teklife is a family affair, four of its members feature on the EP, with most-frequent collaborator Earl chipping in on the second side. It’s some of Taye’s most accomplished work to date.

And this is just the beginning: “I got plenty more with Teklife, and I’m working on a flip of ‘I Serve the Base’ by Future right now. Stuff with Addison Groove, Machinedrum, Taso too. Whenever I can link up with anybody that’s when I like to make tracks. Oh, and I’m working on an album for Hyperdub.” He pauses again, puts an L up and then points, and I’m not sure if it’s to me, you or everyone who reads this. Then after a second, he just looks off and smiles wider. “Yup.”

Break It Down will be released on October 16 via Hyperdub.



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