Stop the presses: Dance music in Europe is now “too fast for feet.”
That’s what The New York Times said in an article this month. At the trendiest and darkest of German nightclubs, DJs are bumping up tempos once again from “nice steady jolt” to “Energizer bunny” levels, leaving black-clad dancers in disarray. In the piece, writer Thomas Rogers quoted Hector Oaks, a Spanish DJ who says he’s thought a lot about how the faster tempos are changing the way clubbers dance.
“Music played at a higher speed, he said, causes dancers’ hips, rather than their feet, to resonate, fostering a movement more akin to hovering than dancing,” the article reads.
Though it is true that club music has sped up in recent years – especially in Europe – Rogers acknowledges that fast music itself is nothing new. Last decade, another group of Europeans became hooked on a hyperspeed genre known as footwork, and they found it via a crew of DJs, producers and dancers based in Chicago.
DJ Rashad was their ambassador, and Double Cup – released 10 years ago this Sunday – was his Rosetta Stone. In 14 blistering tracks, Rashad delivers an ode to his city and flies it overseas for all the hypebeasts and trendsetters to know. The message? Not only did Chicago do it first, it’s light-years ahead of where you think music is.
Double Cup was a cultural touchstone that cemented footwork, Rashad, and the Teklife crew as major influences in underground dance music history. Fusing drum ‘n bass, acid, and jungle with the precision of a sushi chef, Rashad dished out a vision of electronic music that was universal and all-encompassing. Looking back now, it glimmers like a utopian near-future we’ve yet to reach.
Ten years later, it’s easy to see Double Cup preceded and predicted the massive popularity of fast and frenetic club music. The album stands as one of Hyperdub’s best and is a definitive example of not just footwork but of the profound influences of Black house and techno in electronic music. Somehow, it’s still faster and more intricate than what most DJs in both North America and Europe are playing these days. Double Cup stands the test of time; in fact, the rest of the world still hasn’t caught up.
For DJ Rashad – born Rashad Harden – and the rest of the Teklife crew, the music captured on Double Cup is just what came natural. He started spinning when he was a child, jumped between parties in West and South Side Chicago, and stayed in tune with local trends as they progressed from jacking house to profane ghetto house and high-energy, minimal juke. In a sit-down interview with Red Bull Music Academy in 2011, Rashad and his partner DJ Spinn list off artists including Cajmere, Gant-Man and the late DJ Deeon not just as favorites, but as their forebears, all part of a local lineage that led their sound and culture to take shape.
“That’s probably where it came from, really, the dancer side of us,” Rashad, gentle and reflective, tells the RBMA fellows about footwork’s origins. “Dancers from Chicago really like space, claps, something crazy, something unexpected.”
Footwork’s drill-bit percussion and relentless speed – 160 (or 80) beats per minute – was the soundtrack to battlegrounds and parties Rashad and Spinn would throw together. It didn’t exactly translate to the clubs, where people came to shake and bounce all night to juke or house. A definitive piece by music journalist Meaghan Garvey details the knotty relationship that Chicago’s dance music creators have with the city, where respect means everything and nothing.
“There are stretches of Chicago full of people who have, in all likelihood, never heard a footwork track in their life, completely cut off from the genius coming out of their own city,” she writes.
It wasn’t until UK label Planet Mu reached out and released Bang & Works Vol. 1 in late 2010 that the underground became acquainted with footwork. The compilation showcased artists who would become household names in the genre: DJ Rashad, DJ Nate, RP Boo, Traxman, and, in a second volume, Jlin, DJ Earl and EQ Why. Supported by Mu and Hyperdub – the label home of another revolutionary producer, Burial – Rashad was able to finally put out the music that he and Teklife believed in.
With a couple of years of anticipation built through the Bang & Works tapes, Just A Taste Vol. 1 and TEKLIFE Vol. 1: Welcome To The Chi – the latter released in 2012 to critical acclaim by Tiny Mix Tapes – DJ Rashad released his first album on Hyperdub. Double Cup came out on October 22, 2013. A bird’s eye view of Chicago, its long streets lit up gold in the night sky, spreads across the album cover.
Rashad was always presented as the leader of Teklife and of the glorious, rhythmic frenzy that is footwork. Double Cup cemented that legacy, partly because it acknowledged and complemented other dance styles, both in Chicago and abroad. It’s as if Rashad figured out how all dance music – from disco and soul to techno and jungle – could be connected.
All but two of the album’s 14 songs list collaborators, most of whom were part of the Teklife crew. DJ Spinn, the lankier, more talkative of the two, features on more than half of them. Rashad, a masterful producer who worked blunted and patiently, approached Double Cup with a zeal for all the different syncopations and variations footwork could offer.
“Though this music was unmistakably Chicago,” Garvey wrote, “it invited the world to join, with a generousness the city rarely shows its own people.”
While the album is unmistakably a footwork record – the tempos, battery and vocal samples are proof of that – Rashad is less concerned with genre purity and more with execution. As such, Double Cup is lean and muscular, moving quickly between songs and ideas and including brilliant little bits of sound design and production work along the way.
“Feelin” sets the mood with a lavish horn sample from Roy Ayers, the same one Rashad used to open Welcome To The Chi. At the crack of a snare, the song and album are off to the races. “Show U How” is another example of Rashad upping his game, a breakneck composition that goes through multiple rhythmic passages. The vocals are pitched, cut and treated as percussion themselves, a dizzying display of production.
The experimentation featured in much of Double Cup still confronts listeners today. “I Don’t Give A Fuck” remains one of footwork’s most menacing cuts, a murderous sample from the movie Juice set to beeping alarms flashing a frantic Morse Code message. The title track bursts open with a squelching synth bass that picks up intensity as drum machines clatter underneath. Other songs, like “Acid Bit,” a collaboration with Bristol dance producer Addison Groove, and “I’m Too Hi,” the album’s closer, excel at balancing the maddening-yet-irresistible appeal of the genre.
Hip-hop builds the foundation for a couple of the songs on here – nothing new for fans of Rashad who had previously heard him sample rappers like Ye and Chamillionaire. “She A Go” and “Pass That Shit” feature call-and-response vocals, head-banging drops, and smooth synth lines signature to West Coast rap production. “Drank, Kush, Barz” is another party-starter, with a half-time breakdown that rushes into Rashad’s drum ‘n bass workout. Every syncopated clap, snare, kick, and hi-hat interlocks into place, moving right on time together before their next configuration a few seconds later.
The end of the album includes some of Rashad’s most reflective arrangements. “Leavin,” his collaboration with DJ Manny, chops up an early Isley Brothers single. “I know you’re leaving me behind,” the vocalist moans. A Floetry sample bounces over bass kicks in “Let U No,” constantly skipping to remind you: “There is only one.” It’s hard not to take these samples, these messages, as autobiographical. Rashad knew the footwork life was fast and ephemeral, that he and his crew and the young Chicago dancers at the battles were just doing what felt right to them. These simple messages, delivered over the constant churn of drum machines and manipulated vocals, give these songs and the rest of Double Cup a timeless and triumphant quality.
The European label connections, the throngs of supporters and dancers in Japan, France and elsewhere, ushered Rashad in quickly and with devotion. Speaking to Red Bull a couple of years before Double Cup came out, Rashad was grateful and energized to see his music gain followings around the world.
“It felt good, you know, to have another whole side of the world hit me up to put out a record,” Rashad said. He witnessed the history of Chicago dance music, mastered his own take on it, and shared it with the world with the generosity and mentorship Garvey identified.
Rashad’s victory lap around the world ended abruptly. In April 26, 2014, less than a year after Double Cup beamed footwork to the underground masses, Rashad was found dead of a drug overdose at an apartment in Chicago. He was 34.
Rashad was immediately commemorated after his death; Spinn, Earl, Manny and other affiliates continue to play the tracks that elevated footwork and put them on the map. Yet his presence and vision remain sorely missed. To me and many others, it felt like the universe ripped him from us. That without him leading the way, there would be nowhere else to go.
It was one of my closest friends in college that introduced me to DJ Rashad. One night near the end of freshman year, we stayed up all night, and she filled up a hard drive full of albums she had on her laptop. One of those was TEKLIFE Vol. 1: Welcome To The Chi. The night Double Cup was released, we played it loud from her apartment balcony. What a treat it was to hear those horns again in “Feelin,” only different. They were cleaner, smoother, deluxe.
When Rashad and Spinn were opening up for Chance The Rapper, hot off Acid Rap, we drove from Phoenix to Tucson to see them. Chance’s crew treated them more like house DJs, having them play rap to pump up the pulsing crowd instead of the footwork we knew them for. When Chance’s show ended, Rashad and Spinn hopped back on the decks. Nobody but the two of us and another break dancer stuck around. “Tucson ain’t ready yet!” my friend shouted as they wrapped up their short set unceremoniously. Rashad cracked a smile as they turned around and left the stage.
I was sleeping when news broke that Rashad had died, four months after we had seen him in Tucson. I woke up to messages from my friend telling me what happened. The next night, we snuck some of his songs in a playlist at our friends’ college party. We posed with a vinyl copy of Double Cup for a photo by the kitchen corner.
We’ve grown apart over the years in a future without DJ Rashad. I’m saddened by that, by never knowing the course Rashad would’ve charted had he just a little more time at the helm. By seeing dance music described as being “too fast for feet” and wondering what he would’ve said to that. Maybe he would’ve shrugged it off. Maybe he would’ve chuckled and gone back to doing his own thing. In reality, his answers still lie inside Double Cup, waiting to be discovered.