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Adam Wray is eyeing up your name ring

To speak generally about footwork in 2014 is reductive at best – about as useful as taking your ‘09 Civic to represent the entire field of automotive design. What began in the late 1990s as an off-shoot of ghetto house has grown into a subgenre with tremendous depth. Footwork can be jagged and smooth, gentle and pummelling, absurd, disorienting, and steeped in pathos – sometimes all in the same track. It’s fast, it’s frenetic, but at the end of the day, it’s still house music, the latest iteration of a proud Chicago tradition, and no one repped it harder than the late DJ Rashad. Over the past half-decade, the genre’s found receptive ears worldwide, thanks in large part to the work of DJs Rashad and Spinn and the Teklife family. They toured relentlessly, collaborated widely, and put out a steady stream of ever-more adventurous tunes. When Rashad passed suddenly last April, it was in the midst of a wildly productive period, on the heels of Double Cup, an LP many feel is footwork’s high watermark. Double Cup is a bonafide masterpiece, and the further we get from its release, the clearer that’s become. For Rashad, it sounded like a culmination, a checkpoint, like he’d paused to take stock of two decades of work before clearing his caches, tying it all together. It’s Chicago to its core but far from insular, pushing the sound forward by folding in global influences. Which brings us to Next Life.

If the purpose of a compilation is to provide an overview of a sound, Next Life is as big a success as you could hope for. Released by frequent Teklife collaborator Hyperdub, it’s a tribute to Rashad’s memory, with all proceeds going to his son. With contributions from the genre’s founders, the next wave of Chicago producers, and affiliates abroad, it captures footwork’s breadth, offering past, present, and hinting at the future.

Vets like Traxman, and RP Boo stay in their respective lanes – Traxman’s contribution is smooth and spacey, while RP Boo’s is typically fractured and recursive. Unsurprisingly, Rashad’s closest collaborators’ tracks bear his influence most obviously. Earl and Taye’s “Do This Again” sounds like it emerged from the Double Cup sessions, all chopped soul and breakbeats, while Taye and Manny’s “The Matrixx” and Manny’s “Harvey Ratchet” share Rashad’s fondness for pairing tough drums with soft pads. Spinn and Taso’s “Burn That Kush” is a curveball and a standout, slamming a Polish jazz-pop vocal up against thudding, choppy chants and sub-bass.

Comparing offerings from the younger artists here to Rashad’s work, I suspect he’ll be remembered for helping footwork embrace stability. Early footwork was so glitchy and rugged you wondered if your mp3s weren’t corrupted, but Rashad, especially on his Hyperdub joints, smoothed it out, blunted its sharpest edges. You can hear that legacy even in the wilder cuts here, like DJ Paypal, Feloneezy, and Jackie Dagger’s “U Should Know” – it’s all over the place, but never feels out of control.

Footwork and the jackin’ house of the 1980s may not have much in common at first glance, but they’re part of the same sprawling, 30 year-long conversation. With Rashad’s passing, that conversation lost a distinct and beloved voice, but it continues unabated, reaching well outside Chicago to embrace its global audience. As the Teklife crew expands, the sound of footwork warps and deepens, forks and branches. It’s Teklife ’til the next life, and further still: we’ve no idea what’s next for footwork – in Chicago, in the UK, worldwide – but we can be sure that whatever form it takes, it will have been touched by Rashad’s work.

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