In his wonderfully titled essay, ‘Ghetto Thermodynamics’, the academic Dhanveer Brar analyses the presence of the producer in footwork, namely footwork’s biggest producer DJ Rashad. He begins by stating that "footwork has never been made by producers. Footwork is the outcome of pressure created by the movement of dancers. What is heard in footwork is the force of dancers’ movements within the circle" creating some kind of sonic imprint on the DJ/producer. He goes on, however, to posit that "footwork is the outcome of producers pressurising movements from dancers. Rashad drove the kineticism of their limbs as they battled", not issuing them instructions on movements but merely "compel[ling] dancers to battle". This back-and-forth continues throughout the piece, making it clear to the reader that footwork is not merely a musical genre, but indefinable cultural phenomenon with specific and deeply-engrained roots in the Chicago dance battles which spurred on the music’s production and ultimate exposure to the world.
It was the late DJ Rashad’s label Teklife which can be said to have most significantly disseminated the unique sound of footwork, its frenetic kick-drums, rumbling subs, pitched-up vocal samples and machine-gun hi-hats. Not merely a label but a community of like-minded producers who adopted a collaborative approach to their releases, Teklife operated in the intersection of the footwork dancers and producers’ worlds, uniting them to create a socio-cultural commentary and, foremost, a "frenzied manufacturing of vibe". Following in this vein, Teklife alumni Taso has just released his debut LP, ‘New Start’, as the latest offering of new productions for the label.
Taso keeps in the collaborative spirit of Teklife with almost every production on the seven-track record featuring a label mate, including his long-time DJing partner Spinn, DJ Earl, who recently released his own LP ‘Open Your Eyes’, and even posthumous features from Rashad himself. On first listen, though, it is immediately apparent that Taso’s footwork productions have undergone a shift from the dance floor focus of Rashad’s earlier work. While the eponymous opener featuring Rashad himself keeps in the jittering half-time spirit of footwork’s most recognisable sounds, pairing a high-pitched vocal sample with a wash of reverberating synths and pulsating kick drums, as the album moves forward it weaves through jungle breakbeats on ‘Bussin’, the hefty muscularity of UK dubstep on ‘Murda Bass’ and trap stylings on ‘In The Green Room’.
The record is most effective when it merges classic footwork sounds with these other generic references, such as the switch from high BPM dance-friendly rhythmic loops to a half-time trap on ‘Don’t Get Mad’, and the slow burning soul sampling of ‘AM Track’. In this way, Taso pushes the boundaries of footwork to incorporate different sonic palettes without compromising its unique integrity, or merely creating a different genre of track altogether.
Of course, there is no rule that Taso must produce tried-and-tested footwork productions, and ‘New Start’ is, as its title suggests, part of a movement towards a fresh type of footwork sound, incorporating global musical developments as footwork itself has evolved from its Chicago origins. While this experimentation might falter in places, it is a necessary and important addition to the growing Teklife catalogue of releases, prompting future collaborations, discussion, and the honing of that coveted vibe.
Words: Ammar Kalia
- - -
- - -