I’ve just woken up to hear the sad new that DJ Rashad has died, aged 35. Born Rashad Harden, DJ Rashad was instrumental in bringing Chicago’s footwork style of dance music to a global audience.
Turn the clocks back to 2011: that was the year Bangs & Works, Vol. 1 was released by Planet Mu Records, whose founder, Mike Paradinas, is relentless in his quest for new sounds.
This was the first widely available compilation of footwork music released in the UK. For the uninitiated, footwork pits sharp, repetitive samples of soul, hip-hop, and reggae against warp factor five drum machine loops. It also encourages its own style of dancing, a frenetic mix of super fast breakdancing, Irish and jazz moves.
Footwork is not a new phenomenon. It has been slowly evolving and developing in and around Chicago for over 17 years now. Producers and DJs include DJ Nate, Tha Pope, DJ Killa E and DJ Rashad and Spin’s crew Teklife.
One of the artists on the Bangs & Works Vol. 1 album was DJ Rashad.
Rashad’s first major full-length album Teklife Vol.1: Welcome to the Chi was released on Lit City Trax the following year.
But his big breakthrough occurred in March 2013, when he made his debut on Hyperdub with the Rollin’ EP. It featured the astounding “Let It Go”, a game-changer of a tune, with its 160 beats per minute drums and an evocative vocal sample.
A few months later he followed it with another stunning Hyperdub 12″ EP I Don’t Give a Fuck.
In an interview for the online magazine Quietus DJ Rashad said:
My goal is now, that you don’t have to footwork or dance. As long as you get into it and enjoy it, that’s cool. You don’t have to know certain moves to get down with the music. Just have a good time. That’s what I’m trying to have and get across to people. As long as you feel the rhythm and the bass, just vibe with it, you’ll be alright. It’s for everybody, not just footworkers.
At the end of last year he released the album Double Cup, again on the label Hyperdub. It is a totaly original, complex and uplifting album. Its melodic samples are chopped into tiny unrecognisable snippets: looping, repeating and colliding with each other until they take on new disorienting forms.
It should be no surprise that Chicago is the birthplace of footwork. The city has been one of the great creative hubs of music.
Between the First and the Second World Wars the US witnessed the “Great Migration”. Poor black people from the South flocked to the industrial cities of the North to find work and escape the violent racism of the “Jim Crow” South. Chicago was a key destination.
These new migrant workers brought with them jazz and blues music which was modified and adapted to represent city living. Notable blues artists included Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and the jazz greats included Nat King Cole, Gene Ammons and Benny Goodman.
During the 1960s Chicago produced some great soul musicians and singers including Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, the Staple Singers, and Rufus and Chaka Khan.
More recently the city was central to the development of house music.
Earlier this month the “Godfather” of house and Chicago legend, Frankie Knuckles, died. Yesterday it was one of the most promising and original DJs.
April 2014 has been a bad month for dance music.
DJ Rashad: 1979 – 2014