One might have assumed that with its breathless pace, demented vocal sampling and rough, DIY nature, the Chicago-born juke sound wouldn’t have the staying power of some of clubland’s more considered genres. Yet since its inception nearly twenty years ago the style has shown no signs of slowing down, and following its arrival on UK shores a few years ago juke has gone from strength to strength. Much of the genre’s appeal lies with the prolific nature of its key practitioners, many of whom ally themselves with Chi-town’s Teklife crew: an outfit who trade ideas and collaborations at breakneck speed, spitting out explosive tracks at a dazzling rate, many of them certified club-weapons.
Footwork’s success can in many ways be accounted for by this community spirit and creative fertility. Yet of all of Teklife’s members, it’s Rashad Harden who has proved most exciting sonically over the past few years. A US transplant now based in London, DJ Rashad’s two EPs for Hyperdub this year have shown a keen interest in genre cross-pollination, and it is this embracing of generic mutations which has placed his productions a cut above the rest, on the likes of jungle-indebted tear-stepper Let It Go or the menacingly abstract I Don’t Give A Fuck.
With Double Cup, DJ Rashad introduces a range of new sonic influences to his malleable footwork mould. Soul is still a major touchstone, from the dreamy bliss of opener Feelin to the breathily sensual Let U No (whose Floetry sample will be only too recognisable to fans of Eats Everything’s anthemic Entrance Song). Yet the softness of these tracks is new: Rashad eschews the jagged edges of footwork’s vocal cuts for a smoother ride, resulting in a more polished, accessible collection of tracks. Yet dancers need not fear: Rashad is still concerned with the ‘floor, and the astounding vocal and percussive acrobatics across the album make for a constantly-shifting tapestry of engaging, foot-twitching sound. The remarkable vocal manipulations in Rashad’s work are particularly striking, from the pitched-down trap references of Drank, Kush, Barz to the manic snips of First Choice-tribute Every Day Of My Life.
These funk-soaked moments are certainly beautifully constructed, but Rashad’s reliance on his Teklife team of collaborators at times feels as if he’s retreading old ground – some of the Spinn collaborations in particular sound like lost cuts from Rashad’s last LP, Teklife Volume 1 . These are still solid tracks, but for the sake of novelty the LP’s less predictable moments consistently prove its best. I Don’t Give A Fuck is as striking now as it was when first released over the summer, its ominous test-tone lead making for one of the album’s most blistering moments. The only other solo offering from Rashad, Reggie, is another strong moment: a disorientating string sample searing a bed of jittery, ever-shifting percussion.
Of all these exciting experimentations Addison Groove collaboration Acid Bit is the strangest cut of the lot, and whether the listener finds the fiery acid lines storming or tracky will depend on individual disposition. Later the LP’s closing collaboration with Earl also offers an interesting diversion, as a fantastically listless vocal sample is run through a blender over simmering chords, insistent synth stabs and frenzied breakbeats. Here it sounds as if Rashad’s thrown as much as he possibly could into a single track, and it’s a credit to his artistic ingenuity that it all works so well.
As with any hour-long collection of club-focused music, particularly one at such a hyperactive pace, Double Cup can be exhausting to listen to all at once. Yet as a survey of the current status of footwork – its soul-indebted past, its hip-hop-inflected present and its uncertain, hybrid future– it’s an invaluable, remarkably coherent statement.