On 26 April 2014, footwork pioneer DJ Rashad passed away in Chicago at the age of 34.
On Wednesday 19 March 2014, I had interviewed Rashad on the phone for a ‘Turning Points’ feature – a breakdown of significant points in an artist’s career – which was published in the April 2014 issue of Crack. Due to space restrictions and the nature of the feature, only a select few quotes were used for the article. Here is a transcript of our full conversation.
Hi, how’s the tour going?
It’s been going really good, wonderful, wonderful. Finally got the day off, and tomorrow back in Canada. Everything’s been great.
Great. So basically, this interview is for our Turning Points feature, where we get artists to pinpoint a few of their own turning points, or specific events that have shaped their career so far. The first thing I wanted to ask you about was discovering your passion for footwork. When did you start dancing, and what did the dance crews mean to you?
I want to say fifth, sixth grade in school, I had to be like 10, 11. But I didn’t know what I was really dancing to at the time because house music in Chicago was on the radio everywhere. It was just like rap. So my cousins were playing it, friends. I got involved with the house music scene at a young age, as far as producing music I think that might have started happening in like eighth grade, I was about 11 or 12. It first started for me just wanting to be a DJ as well as a dancer. It looks easier than done, put it like that!
So I saved allowance money and got a couple of turntables. They weren’t the top turntables at the time they were Gemini BD-10’s, they were like a starter kit for DJs. The goal was to get Technic 1200s, but I couldn’t afford them back then. That started my career as far as me wanting to be a DJ or whatever, but the next turning point was saying ‘look, I want to make this music as well!’ I had a couple of friends that kind of knew how to go about it – one of my friends today as a matter of fact, DJ Gant-Man – we used to do a college radio show for teenagers called WKKC and we used to do Saturday mornings together called Soundwaves. He was the same age as me, we were about 12, 13 at the time.
He knew Paul Johnson, who was a legend to us, still is today. And he said yeah man you just get a drum machine and you get a sampler and then you just take it from there. And I was like is that it? It’s that simple? He was like yeah man, it’s that simple! But it’s not that simple, to get that at that age and point, those drum machines or the one that I wanted specifically was like 400 quid or whatever, dollars for us. So I was like, ahhsh! I had to save up for that and once I got it… it wasn’t as easy as he said. I didn’t know how to control a drum machine, of course I imitated the stuff I heard first to get some kind of dial tone from it, to know whether I was doing it right or not. Of course it didn’t come out right but I just stayed focused man and just kept messing around with it until I finally figured out the drum machine. From there I started playing it out to a couple of friends around the circle who would give me their honest opinion. Like, ‘is it really good or y’all just telling me ‘cause we friends?’ type thing. They were like ‘nah man it’s cool, we’d dance to this.’
So from that point we wanted to upgrade to an MPC 2000 XL, that pretty much had everything we needed like a sampler and a drum machine in one. And we saved up for that, and that definitely was a turning point in my career because I was able to create stuff that I couldn’t do before. From there, I stopped dancing because people, they didn’t take me seriously as a DJ. In Chicago it was very competitive back when we were coming up. If you couldn’t mix on turntables and you didn’t have vinyl you wasn’t considered a DJ, and me doing both it was like ‘Oh this guy just wants to come to the party to get in for free to dance’ or whatever. So, I felt like I accomplished everything in dancing and stopped and went forth in DJing and producing. That took a turn for me as well because people took me more seriously, like ‘this guy ain’t playing around, he’s really trying to do something’. My main goal at that time was just to gain respect from the DJs that I admired so much. People like DJ Deeon, DJ Funk, DJ Milton, Paul Johnson, Eric Martin, Jammin Gerald, pretty much the Chicago ghetto house pioneers at that time.
"My proudest moment has been the intake on everybody else outside of Teklife that’s been doing footwork"
Do you remember where you were when you first heard the ghetto house sound?
What opened my ears up to it at the time, I don’t think it was really called ghetto house. They just called it trax or just house. It was the Percolator, of course. That’s what made me say, ‘Oh shit, I have to get involved with this’. That had to be in ’95, ’96, I might have been 12. Buying records at that time at the record shop they would tell you what’s new and what to get and what not to get and I was on it. Whatever was coming out I was buying it from the record stores. Ghetto house came shortly after that, Milton and Deeon and so on were making their own tracks and finally Dance Mania started releasing the shit they were doing, so we got our hands to the unreleased stuff that we were hearing at the parties. That was a changing point in my life as well, when Dance Mania started releasing ghetto house I wanted to be a part of that.
I wanted to talk about the birth of Teklife, when exactly did Teklife emerge?
I would have to say two years ago. Before that we were called Ghetto Technicians, and pretty much what we wanted to do with Teklife is that instead of it being Chicago based it can be people involved all around the world. And this is like a lifestyle we live as far as music, making tracks and DJing and we just wanted to change Ghetto Technicians to Teklife because a lot of people wanted to get involved with Ghetto Technicians and we felt like it was just a DJ crew, let’s start something fresh and take it to the next level. And incorporate it not just in Chicago but wherever and whoever if you down to make tracks y’know, do shows, collab and network, this is the move right here. But we had no idea it would turn the way it turned out to be, originally it was just a DJ crew with people from outside of Chicago.
In the beginning, what brought all of you together?
The music of course! [laughs] Of course, the music. But me, Spinn, Earl, Gant, Traxman, all of us was together as Ghetto Technicians at first. Meeting other people once we started Teklife such as Addison Groove, Machinedrum, Ashes57, people from overseas, it was just one big group. We yelling at people like ‘Yo this is what’s up and we want to do this’. That’s how it went and that’s how it’s going today. It’s like a family if you will. No one’s higher than anybody else and everything is a vote. And, yeah… [laughs]
And how about your relationship with Spinn, how did you guys meet?
I met Spinn officially in school but I knew of him through dancing and we knew each other from the places we used to go to. But due to the groups we were in we weren’t the best of friends. We formerly were introduced in ’94 and he told me he was a DJ. I’m like ‘Oh really? You a DJ huh? Let me hear some of your stuff?’ But he wasn’t a DJ at the time, back in the day people used to make tapes of other people’s tapes, cassette tapes, and I kind of called him out on it. But after that I took him under my wing, showed him the ropes and we did the shit together. DJing, I had to show him a thing or two, but we both started producing music at the same time. We grew together.
Can you tell me a bit about the parties you used to throw in Chicago?
Man, the parties was wild back in the day! I could tell you a lot, it used to be phenomenal. We were so young though. The thing was for us, it wasn’t about the money or none of that we just wanted to DJ or be a part of the party. Unfortunately, a lot of these parties that were going on, they were successful but a lot of fights and shootings were happening after the party which made a lot of these spots and clubs close down. And so now we have to rent out warehouses or little private spots where we can throw only footwork events, due to the violence that’s in Chicago today, y’know, it sucks. But we had a good time when we did have parties. Ronnie Sloan, from House-O-Matics, the president of the dance group that me, RP Boo and Spinn were in together, used to book us for these parties. That was a big turning point, being part of the group. I got introduced to RP Boo, DJ Deeon, I got to finally meet him and DJ parties with them.
I wanted to talk about Teklife Volume I, which was a big turning point for you in terms of getting wider attention. What did you make to the response to that album?
I still can’t believe it. Spinn gave us number one dance album and Traxman got number two. So it was a big year for us, for Teklife. I didn’t know I was going to get the responses I got, I was confident but I was just overwhelmed from all the love and support I got from Teklife Volume I. So that made me change and think again what can I do to get the crowd involved and take it to the next level.
So when did you start to realize that footwork or particularly your own take on it was blowing up?
Probably 2009, with Mike Paradinas, Bang & Works, when it got more global. Due to Planet Mu my career kind of took off from there. Before that, Addison Groove when he was Headhunter hit me up in 2008. He was telling me, ‘Mate, we love your music out here, send me some music I’ll send you some’. I can honestly say he was the first person really playing our sound, until Mike Paradinas, so big shout out to both of those guys for embracing the sound we do and taking it to the next level.
I wanted to talk about Double Cup, how did you first get involved with Hyperdub?
Touring overseas, we met Kode9 at Boiler Room three years ago. From there he invited us out to a Hyperdub night to play, I think it was at KOKO and from there he invited us to play for Hyperdub radio. Then I started sending him songs. He was ‘like would you be interested in releasing some stuff for us?’ I was like, ‘yeah!’ [laughs] So Roland came out and from Roland it just kept going. Then he asked me ‘do you want to do another EP, I Don’t Give A Fuck’, I’m like ‘yeah!’ Then the next one was, ‘do you want to do an LP?’ ‘Fuck yeah!’ I’m a big fan of Hyperdub and what they been doing. Everybody over there is so safe and its just an honour for that to happen, so that’s a big turning point for me right now. Being with Hyperdub, being able to release and hang out and collab with so many geniuses out there. It’s great.
The album feels like a huge collaborative effort.
That was my idea, instead of just me I wanted to share and, if you will, introduce the Teklife guys, let them know there’s more than just Spinn and me. Also try to do different takes on other genres that we like as well, like trap, jungle, acid house, a little bit more soulful. That’s why I called it Double Cup, because compared to Volume I it was more uppity or hyper, this one was more relaxed, screwed up, like the drink.
I wanted to talk quickly about the car crash you had last year. Has that affected how you look at things?
Definitely affected how I look at things. I’m blessed to even be here today. You never know so you just got to do it and appreciate things and don’t take things for granted. It told me slow down, even though it wasn’t my fault, just count your blessings and appreciate life and do what you got to do ‘cause you never know. It was an eye opener as well.
Yeah, we had booked you to play in Bristol in October  , we were all really shocked when we heard the news.
The funny thing is I had no idea how serious it was until I left the hospital because I was so pumped up on drugs and shit [laughs]! But I had a fractured hip and two bruised ribs and shit and I’m like I’ll be okay I can go on tour! And, nah, that wasn’t happening, I had to sit down for a couple of months and go to therapy and chiropractor and stuff. But I’m alright, I’m back and better than ever, feeling great! And I thank god and thank everyone for praying for me and glad to still be here.
That’s good news. So, in becoming one of the prominent figures in the footwork explosion, what has been your proudest moment so far?
My proudest moment has been the intake on everybody else outside of Teklife that’s been doing footwork such as artists from Japan, like DJ Fulltone, Booty Call Records, Machine Drum, Addison Groove, everybody who’s embracing it and taking it and not widening it but taking it and doing their own style with it and flippin’ it and making it go further. To see that happen and to see it grow is a feeling that I cant even explain. It feels so good to hear and see other people react and take it on and embrace it. It feels good!
Awesome, thanks so much for talking to me.
No problem, thank you!