Release Date: Oct 22, 2013
Record label: Hyperdub
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance, Bass Music, Techno Bass
It's easy to dismiss footwork as a flash in the pan, a product of the global hype machine that hungers for new styles to deconstruct, over-promote and then disregard completely. Footwork is the product of a musical lineage that stretches back to the warehouse parties of '80s Chicago, which gave birth to the whole house genre. Like hip-hop, its spiritual twin from the East, it takes its cues from the samples of the past, but has its eyes firmly fixed on the future.
To varying degrees, genres like Jamaican dancehall, banging techno, ghetto-tech, and even hip-hop live and thrive outside the album format. Their primary audience consumes the music through live DJ sets, mixes on radio, mixtapes, mash-ups, and all sorts of mixed whatnot, and with the hyper dance music out of Chicago called "footwork", the bpms are so fast and the music is so minimal, a kinetic mix set in a club is the genre's best listening environment. DJ Rashad's previous work fits easily in this category, with his remix of "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" and his hit track "Teknitian" both being examples of pummeling, hectic, sample-packed miniatures.
Ever since Planet Mu introduced Chicago footwork to the world with its Bangs & Works compilations, DJ Rashad has expressed an enthusiasm for redefining the margins and bringing his music to a larger audience. Although he stayed loyal to the practices and aesthetics instigated alongside DJ Spinn in the 90s, it’s possible to map an alteration in the way outside influences gained prominence in his material, while the frantic clatter of the dance battlefield played a lesser role. Last year’s Welcome to the Chi was steeped in footwork tropes (160bpm, skew-whiff vocal samples, spasmodic hi-hats), but it also pilfered from jungle, house, and dnb, which are part of the lineage but are not always so demanding in their impact.
Over his three years in the spotlight, footwork ambassador DJ Rashad has carefully developed his sound from a strictly Chicago niche into an international force in its own right. Take the opening track of Double Cup, "Feelin"—produced with fellow Teklife members Spinn and Taso, it's a subdued update of the opener from Rashad's last album. The jackhammer basslines have been smoothed out into a soulful arc, and the vocal samples are well considered, no longer the roughly-hewn edges that defined the original Bangs & Works compilations.
Rashad Harden’s rise to the top of the juke/footwork scene is worthy of a Scarface-style biography: a dancer at 12, he and his friend DJ Spin plugged away, recreating the sounds they were obsessed with (Chicago house, jungle, dubstep, wailing vocal samples) to become princes of the footwork scene. After a pair of singles on Hyperdub earlier this year DJ Rashad’s fifth album and first physical LP is a well timed, perfectly presented collection of tracks to take footwork to a global audience, and give anyone who can cope with the bright synths and spray of drums a fast-moving, genre-busting party. Pharmaceuticals play an important role on Double Cup, whose title is slang for an old hip-hop high: Sprite mixed with codeine cough syrup.
It’s not often you encounter something completely new – and exciting, to boot – in music these days. Except, that is, when the new music in question is footwork, the Chicago-born dance genre. Not only is it the world’s most future-predicting musical form, but it’s one that’s constantly evolving and manically experimental, and reinvents itself on an almost weekly basis.
2011’s Bangs & Works, Vol. 2: The Best Of Chicago Footwork was a remarkable compilation of tracks from a Chicago dance and music scene that had already been thriving for years. But that compilation was the first many outside of Chicago had heard of the nationally burgeoning footwork scene. Now, one of the scene’s heads, DJ Rashad, has just released his debut album on Hyperdub, the label home to a sub-genre-transcending electronic classic (Burial’s Untrue) as well as other diverse strands of electronic music or electronic-laden music (like King Midas Sound, L.V., Jessy Lanza, and Laurel Halo).
Chicago producer Rashad Harden's instrumentals feel like cars hydroplaning toward brick walls – somehow both weightless and brutally powerful. Blending a local style of dance music called footwork with contemporary trap-rap, Double Cup is a dense, dizzying album haunted by soulvocal loops and high-hats tapping out Hail Marys in a kind of frantic Morse code. Between the crisp top layer and blurry sub bass is a silence blacker than the dead of night.
The bright lights sparkling along Chicago’s lakefront serve as a dedication to DJ Rashad’s Double Cup. It’s his heart and inspiration. The grid depicted on the album’s cover is the home of footwork, a street genre that quakes the concrete underneath dance battles. With the assistance of other hometown mixers Spinn and Taso, DJ Rashad proves that laying down a formula for competition is easy, but distinguishing such rhythmic schizophrenia requires a confident mixture of virtuosic precision and raw enthusiasm.
In an age of globalised electronic networks, it is somewhat reassuring that many genres of music retain a fierce loyalty to a regional or parochial pride. There’s something gloriously perverse about Skrillex giving a shout-out to Croydon at the 2012 Grammys (not least for the smattering of faint applause upon mention of that particular London suburb). It could be argued that this is partly because music tends to grow up within a community of club promoters, DJs and musicians, developing a form of grass-roots populism that lingers long after the music reaches widespread appeal.
Speaking on his second official LP, Chicago’s DJ Rashad explained that he was intent on collaborating with his Teklife crew. In particular the influence of DJ Spinn, who co-produces no less than eight of Double Cup‘s 14 tracks, is huge on Double Cup. The immediate consequence is that Rashad’s first LP on Hyperdub is drastically less abrasive, less intense in tone and more leisurely in pace than is customary for Rashad.