Over the last decade, a new genre of electronic music has risen up from the Chicago scene. It's called footwork and it's born from a style of Chicago street dance of the same name. Known for its frenetic, high-speed tempos, footwork is a fixture of the Chicago underground. But producer DJ Rashad is taking the sound international with his critically acclaimed LP Double Cup released on influential UK label Hyperdub.
DJ Rashad will join fellow footwork producer DJ Spinn as the opening act for Chance the Rapper's Dec. 4 show at Old National Centre.
NUVO: I've read several recent reviews and articles referring to you as the "ambassador of footwork." How do you feel about that title?
DJ Rashad: It's a good feeling, but I'm just one of the ambassadors. I can't say I'm even the top, it's me, DJ Clint, R.P. Boo, DJ Spinn and Traxman. We're the original footwork guys that got it started and we're all carrying the sound on. DJ Spinn and I have been putting in a lot work, that's gotten us the exposure we have now. But we want to use that exposure to put a light on the other guys on our team as well.
NUVO: Footwork developed as an offshoot of juke music. Can you explain the differences?
DJ Rashad: Footwork and juke are almost the same thing. They're both around 150 to 160 beats per minute. The only real difference is the juke songs are more like Top 40 shit. Juke is more DJ- and radio-friendly. Footwork is just raw and dirty, fucking in your face, crazy, weird, bass-heavy shit. There's no limits on the footwork sound.
NUVO: There are dark textures in the footwork sound. Where did those dark or "weird" influences come from?
DJ Rashad: It's influenced by the aggression of the dancers. They like that dark, weird, crazy shit. We didn't intend to create a style like that, it was just how we were feeling at the time. It kind of stuck and became part of the formula.
NUVO: The dancers are a huge part of the footwork scene. Do you have any dancers traveling with you on this tour?
DJ Rashad: In some cities we link up with dancers, but for the most part it's just me and Spinn. I have family and friends in Indianapolis that footwork. If they can work out their schedules, they will be dancing at the show.
NUVO: You're currently on tour with fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper. I heard you first met up with Chance in London; I was curious if he was aware of the footwork scene prior to connecting with you.
DJ Rashad: Spinn and myself used to DJ parties on 47th Street in Chicago and Chance and his guys used to come. So he's been footworking and juking for a long time. It's funny because Chance actually reached out to us last year to do some tracks for his Acid Rap project. But we thought it was a different Chance - the one from that Flavor of Love show, so we didn't pay it no mind. But when we were in London we got up with Chance's DJ Oreo. He invited us to their show and I was like, "Damn this shit is hot." We met up, he asked about Spinn and I doing the tour, and we said "Hell yes."
NUVO: The variety of sounds on Double Cup are really rich, everything from jungle to acid house. I was curious what you've been listening to that influenced the direction of album?
DJ Rashad: I listen to everything from rap to R&B, jazz and rock. If it's good music I'll listen to it. If you heard my last album Welcome to the Chi, it was more footwork oriented. With Double Cup it was about trying something different. I love acid house, trap and jungle. I thought it be cool to mix those styles with our sound. It made sense because that music is similar to what we do. I wanted to show a smoother side on Double Cup. Some of the stuff is real chill, you can smoke or drink to it.
NUVO: Was there a particular style of music you heard as a kid that made you want to make music?
DJ Rashad: Yes, it was Chicago house music. I have to say Cajmere's "Percolator" really brought me into the scene. I was in 5th grade when I heard it. After that it was DJ Deeon and DJ Milton. Those guys are my idols and they're ghetto house music legends. They made me want to stop dancing and start producing and become a DJ.
NUVO: Your new album and tour are introducing a lot of people to footwork for the first time. Where do you want to take the footwork scene next?
DJ Rashad: As far as I can. But right now it's all about working on the States. In Europe and Japan they got it, they're on footwork. The U.S.A. really needs to catch up.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features tracks from the Chicago footwork scene.
1. DJ Rashad - Let U No
2. DJ Elmoe - Whea Yo Ghost At Whea Yo Dead Man
3. Traxman - Killing Fields
4. DJ Spinn - Horn Chemist
5. DJ Rashad - Show U How
6. DJ Trouble - Bangs and Works
7. Traxman - Off Them Bars
8. DJ Rashad - I Don't Give A Fuck
9. DJ Diamond - Ready Motha Fucka
10. Traxman - Chillll
11. DJ Spinn - What You Need
12. Rp Boo - Invisibu Boogie
13. Traxman - Funky Block
14. The Pope - When You
15. Traxman - 2200 Acid
16. DJ Rashad - Double Cup
17. DJ Rashad - On My Way