Live & Direct is a series in which we explore the relationship between DJs, the clubs they play at and the crowds that become immersed in their sets. Next up, footwork specialists Spinn & Taso at Mad In Belgrade during their European summer tour
Teklife is the crew synonymous with footwork, the frenetic dance music that was born in Chicago and has spread across the world. Right now, it's clear that its squad - comprised of Spinn, Taso, Earl, Manny, Taye, Traxman and more – is spearheading the sound, the movement, as it speeds round the globe.
Their status as leaders was crystallised recently when Teklife co-founder DJ Rashad passed away unexpectedly. His death left dance music in a state of shock, with tributes coming in from all corners of the community – artists and fans alike were united in their love of him and the belief that his music is the work of genius. His 2013 album 'Double Cup' was critically acclaimed (we gave it 10/10) and the best LP footwork has produced to date. Having nailed tours with Chance The Rapper and remixes for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Rashad was hitting the peak of his career and putting Teklife on the map. But he's now written into electronic music history as a true pioneer and has left behind a crew that's ready to bloom.
We caught Teklife co-founder (and Rashad's best friend and longtime collaborator) DJ Spinn and Greek-born, California-based team member Taso out in Serbia during a stop on their European tour. Given that the festival they were playing at, Mad In Belgrade, took place just a month after Rashad's death, they were in high spirits, happy to be travelling and airing their incendiary catalogue of tracks. The night before they'd been at Fabric, bringing the ruckus to Hyperdub's 10th birthday party at Fabric and the next day they would fly to Bristol, to play a set at Love Saves The Day that would be so good that some in attendance reckoned it was the best set they'd ever seen.
Though tragic, Rashad's death has given energy to Teklife. Spinn and Taso say they are determined to carry on his legacy, determined to continue taking Teklife to the world. They talk of "the takeover" and of wanting to inspire not just dance moves but artistic impulses too. When they arrive backstage at Mad In Belgrade, they're greeted as heroes by local crew Mystic Stylez, who are official affiliates of Teklife and a key part of the Belgrade party scene and musical underground. Donning Teklife tees as allegiance and tribute, they swarm around Spinn and Taso, handing over bottles of liquor, cracking jokes and posing for countless photos. It's a scene that epitomises just why Teklife has crossed so many borders. From Bristol to Belgrade, they touch down, make friends, collaborate on tracks and smack parties. From top producers like Machinedrum, Om Unit and Addison Groove to grass roots gangs like Mystic Stylez, they have created a footwork network. Locals Feloneezy and Jackie Dagger tell us of 10gb packages of unreleased Teklife music they have stashed away, like seeds blown over from the Windy City that have developed into deep roots. Global pollination in full effect.
On stage, the pairing of Spinn and Taso also speaks volumes. On the one side, the elder, the pioneer, who drops hard, fast footwork full of chopped ghetto vocal samples and unravelling spools of acid. On the other, the newcomer, the hotshot, one of the only Teklife members to come from outside Chicago and one who has introduced a distinct influence that comprises half-time rhythms and booming trap bass. Taso's signature is all over the first half of 'Double Cup', pumping Rashad and Spinn's sound full of insatiable swagger. When Spinn and Taso play, two worlds collide as high speed kicks slam head first into fat billows of sub-bass.
During their show, one takes control of the turntables while the other grabs the mic and hypes the crowd. Surrounded by Mystic Stylez members, they swig from bottles, pass round fat joints and go batshit crazy. It's definitely a party.
We caught them to talk about going back-to-back, keeping Rashad's legacy alive and strong and the evolution of footwork.
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Why do you enjoy playing together?
Spinn: It’s organic, know what I mean? There’s a lot of people I could DJ with but it wouldn’t be the right vibe. As soon as we met, vibes were on point.
Taso: So was the chronic!
Spinn: Yeah, the chronic.
T: And the studio, too.
When did you first meet?
T: In San Francisco in 2012. We played a show at the Salt and I was hitting a trippy stick and Spinn was like, “Is that a trippy stick?” and I was like, “Yes sir!” The rest is history, man. Six months later, Spinn brought through Rashad and they were maybe 15 minutes late to play. So I was warming up the decks, I didn’t even have my laptop, just some of my tunes, so I met both of them at the same time. Then they came back to the apartment, where the studio is…
S: ...And we made ‘Double Cup’.
T: They came through in March and July, two two-week sessions. Shit got real. It’s like, you don’t know someone until you live with them; live on top of each other. It was cool.
Those studio sessions were quite intense?
T: If you consider 18-hour days intense…
S: …They was real intense to be honest. We got fucked up!
T: Honestly though, when someone fell asleep, someone else would wake up. We were not on the same schedule but we were, know what I mean? When we did ‘Pass That Shit’, I fell asleep after I did my vocals and my edits and my drums and then Spinn got up and started doing stuff. Then Rashad fell asleep and we were both working on it.
Spinn, as the co-founder of Teklife, you seem to be really good at meeting people around the world, like out here in Belgrade.
S: Yeah that’s our crew right here. They Teklife. They official.
T: They were in before me, I just found that out myself. Big up my Serbians, that’s from a Greek motherfucker. Big up Mystic Stylez, without them we wouldn’t be here; we wouldn’t be talking to Mixmag.
Why do you think it’s important to go out and meet people?
S: Being from Chicago and being so isolated for so many years, for people to gravitate to our sound and really appreciate it, really accept it as a new genre of music – that’s what makes us do it. I did it to inspire kids in the ghetto but then it got to a bigger cause, to inspire the world. Once the world was listening it was like, “OK, now we gotta play some shit for them.” This ain’t just about Chicago. That’s where I’m from, where I was born and raised, but I want to touch the world. I think a lot of people who do music want to do that.
T: It’s a blessing rolling with these guys. One of the biggest things in my life was linking up with Spinn and Rashad. Damn, I ain’t even met half of Teklife but with all the Skype and Facetime, when I went to Chicago, it was like I knew everybody. A lot of crews don’t have that glue to stay close to each other.
In your experience, what’s the difference between footwork parties now and 10 years ago?
S: 10 years ago we weren’t overseas. So, in retrospect, it’d be a room of footworkers who just wanted to dance. Not much of an audience. There might be 30-50 people. Now, we get to do festivals with thousands of people; we get to do arena shows. It’s amazing. Even going on tour with Chance The Rapper last year, that was an experience for America because we’ve never toured the country like that. That was the best tour ever; I’m sure we might get close to that, but that was the time of my life, right there.
Were people receptive to it?
S: People hadn’t heard of us, so if we could have got 10 people to step, we’d have been happy. But we had packed rooms. Places we had never been, they stayed, they were like, “What is this music?” and they started following just like that.
Obviously footwork is music for battles. Do you mind that when you play to audiences abroad, they aren’t doing that?
S: I don’t care, man, I just want people to vibe. We want to inspire people with music more than anything. We want to make people think outside the box. If you think you couldn’t do it and then you listen to our music and say, “Man it’s so different, it’s leftfield” and then you go and do something different – even if it’s not footwork. I got people emailing me saying, “I got back into writing, artistry, painting, because of your music” and that’s what we want to do, we want to inspire people from all angles.
The footwork stuff that Teklife specialises in now is more raw than what was coming out in 2010. You’re really opening up to different styles and the production sounds better.
T: The sky is the limit. You’ve got 140bpm stuff and below and jungle up at 170bpm so I feel like us, at 160bpm, in between the tempos and styles, we get to incorporate a lot of other things and that’s a blessing. The tracks ain’t never going to stop. And the metamorphosis from it being raw is technology.
S: Technology gives us the power to make things a lot more prestige. We been there since the beginning, we did raw stuff with samplers and drum machines, but quality was always an issue. We want to make quality tunes, whether it’s underground or ghetto or whatever, we want to make quality tunes just like everyone else to show that we can do that too.
Has the aim of Teklife changed since Rashad passed away?
S: It’s a bit weird because it’s something I wasn’t thinking about at all. It’s one of those things that makes us work harder, because that’s all he wanted us to do. He just wanted us to make new music and shit on the game.
T: I didn’t grow up in footwork battles but I grew up battle rapping, battle DJing. Shit, battling for girls, whatever. Rashad was basically the main instigator of striving to be better. He’d holler at us on some whole takeover shit. There wasn’t a time when he wouldn’t speak of the takeover. I believe in the spiritual realm, whether people critisise that or not, and I’ve been seeing him everywhere.
S: Yeah man.
T: In the clouds.
S: In my dreams.
T: In my life.
S: He’s here.
T: Right now, he’s supposed to be talking into this cellphone, so right now I feel like he’s speaking through me. Rashad’s a god right now. And he always will be.
S: Always will be.
T: I studied at the school of Rashad and Spinn. Peace to the dude.
So he was driven?
S: He seen this shit and he was preparing for this shit in a way that I didn’t even know. And I’m his best friend. We did everything together. He was just trying to school me, “Bro, bro, we need to take advantage of this shit now! If we don’t do it today, we might not have another chance to do it.” So that’s my sensei, my Mr Miyagi. I said this before, everything I do is dedicated to Rashad. I don’t speak blasphemous but that’s the god of motherfucking footwork, for real.
Did you realise how big his influence actually was? Tributes to him came from all over dance music.
S: I was there first hand so I seen it. Before this tour even happened we were talking about how we were sold straight after this tour; we’d be able to put our record company together, put Teklife wear together – everything was going to be done after this tour. It’s so sad and unfortunate that he can’t be here for this so that’s why we’ve got to go hard. Harder than ever before. It’s our life, it’s Teklife, we’re living it.
T: That’s all you can take to the grave with you. You can’t take the money, you can’t take the bitches, none of that material shit. All you can take is what you made.
S: It’s been 18 years. I can’t see it going anywhere other than up. No offence to anyone out here doing their thing, but we’re here to crush and destroy.
T: It’s a friendly competition! There ain’t no hate here. But our job right now is keeping Rashad’s legacy on track.
S: it was hard for Taso to come on tour because he was supposed to be in Asia. I wanted some of the other crew members to come but due to situations and time, I had to call him. For real, it was an OG call, I was like, “Taso, I need you!”
T: I never had a brother who told me, “I need you”. The last time I heard that, someone needed to be bailed out of jail. When you hear that you have to drop everything.
Do you feel nervous replacing Rashad on this tour?
T: I did, but Spinn kicked that shit out of me in LA. LA was emotional because that was the first show we did for the [Rashad] foundation; we raised $4200 for the Harden family. We did Fabric last night and I knew what I had to do; there was no stress at all.
Do your respective styles ever clash?
T: It’s all hip hop at the end of the day. We all fuck with the MPC. We all fuck with hot records, obscure records, we’re on the same level. In terms of production, [the Teklife crew] gave me the drumkit, once you hear that snare you know what you’re listening to. I didn’t fuck with that snare for a year because I didn’t want to milk it and I’ve got my own snare! But what’s an honour for me is that Spinn’s got my kit on his computer. For us it’s more of a fusion than a clash. The only thing that can come of it is bigger and better production and a more rounded approach to this combination of fast house and hip hop.
Why do you always travel as a pair?
S: It’s like a chemistry. We work as a unit, it works better when we’re together.
T: Once you play a show with these guys, you can’t go by yourself.
All photography by Ashes57. For more information on Mad In Belgrade, head here