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DJ Rashad: Footwork’s Bright Star Bends Genres and Brains

DJ Rashad / Photo by Ashes 57

Who: DJ Rashad, a producer from Chicago’s thriving footwork dance scene whose stuttering, chaotic tweaks of other local styles like juke and house has helped create a manic, experimental type of global party music. In June, on his label Lit City Trax, Rashad released Teklife Vol. 1: Welcome to the Chi, the scene’s most cohesive and imaginative release yet. “I wanted [Teklife Vol. 1] to be raw, fun, fresh, footwork-ish, juke-ish, a little ghetto-tech-ish, a little jungle-ish, you know?” Rashad says excitedly. “I wanted it to have everything.” Rashad’s productions are more like compositions than utilitarian tracks made exclusively for rubbery, rapid-paced dance moves: “A lot of DJs just do the same ol’ patterns and the same ol’ repetitive shit, so I try to stay a little bit fresher and different and keep you listening.” On “Bakk Off,” jungle’s trademark rushing “Amen” break falls to the wayside and the song is taken over by a patch of drunken synthesizers; “Fly Spray” lurches and hisses like industrial rock. Hiding somewhere in the background of many of these knotty productions are quiet-stormy atmospherics. Think: Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” with half a dozen different records skipping over it at 160 bpm.

D.I.Why Not: Planet Mu’s branding and connections were instrumental in moving footwork out of Chicago clubs and giving some context to all that amateur footage on YouTube — in the video site’s formative years, it was overrun with kids grooving to this music — but Rashad felt restricted by the record label, which cherry-picked tracks for compilations and even dictated how he produced: “[Mu label head] Mike Paradinas as much as told me to do a track a certain way, and if I didn’t do it this way, he didn’t want to do the project at all. And I was like, ‘Well, fuck it then, I don’t have to do the project.’ ” This helped inspire the long-gestating idea of starting his own label, Lit City Trax, with fellow footworkers DJ Spinn and J-Cush.

Dance Locally, Think Globally: “Now that I’m playing to crowds that don’t footwork a lot or just started to footwork, I try to make them feel welcome,” Rashad explains, thrilled with all the outsider interest in the scene. Wisely, he’s begun branching out, blurring bleeding-edge dance-music borders by remixing Shangaan Electro and giving U.K. juke enthusiast Addison Groove the subgenre-bending Rashad treatment. “You don’t have to footwork to the music,” Rashad says, adding a dose of PLUR to a notably wild scene. “As long as you just get out there and have a good time and jump around, it doesn’t matter.”