'It’s vital in creating footwork music to always keep the dancers in mind, because if they’re not feeling it, they’re going to let you know,' LA-based producer and Teklife member Taso
tells us. 'And when they move a certain way to your music, it’s like the physical translation from the sonic realm, from electrical and mechanical energy to motion, so it’s beautiful. To me, it’s art.'
Taso’s 2016 record New Start is the latest big release from globally renowned label Teklife. But to understand why the crew are where they are today you have to go back to mid- 1990s South Side Chicago.
Two DJs, DJ Spinn and DJ Rashad, were starting to get noticed for their high-energy sets of glitchy, chopped-up house music that was around 160bpm, and the crazed dance crews that would battle at the end of their shows. The music they and their contemporaries played at these parties didn’t have a name initially, but soon it was known as ghetto-tech. By the late 2000s it was being called footwork and was starting to attract a following from across the US.
'On Friday nights in Boston they’d have house power blocks, for all the people that didn’t go to the clubs or the raves, so basically all the nerds and the kids,’ Taso says. 'I was listening to a lot of ghetto-tech growing up, my sister showed me all these things from Detroit and it wasn’t until I started hearing names from Chicago that I was aware of what was going on.'
Spinn and Rashad went on to found Teklife, now one of the world’s hottest underground labels not only because of the footwork sound they helped create but also the popularity of their Teklife t-shirts and hats, which you’re likely to see around on any given night at Dada
Born in Greece and raised in Boston and San Francisco, Taso grew up totally immersed in music, playing multiple instruments in multiple bands – 'everything from punk and ska to thrash and hardcore'. But it was his production skills that impressed DJ Spinn after they met at a San Francisco club in 2012, thanks in no small part to his degree in audio engineering and sound design. 'I remember seeing the low-budget commercials [for the college]. I was like "Wow, there’s a school where you can nerd out on music all day? They’ve got all the knobs on the boards? Oh I gotta go there." And now I use it every day for my job and I couldn’t be happier.'
Teklife productions are known for their collaborative nature – only one track on New Start is a solo effort. And Taso says that being a team player is just how their best music comes about. 'I’d like to attribute myself as a well-rounded producer by now, but as a collaborator I feel like I’m at my strongest and I’d say Teklife is always at its strongest, as far as when we make [music] with each other in the studio, we get a lot of good results, because everyone’s good at something different but we’re all good at Teklife. I know which [tracks] at the club or the party translate best on the speakers and the subwoofers and the vibe and the dancer element, and it’s always the collabo tracks, always. Almost 100 percent of the time those are the ones that go off the hardest. And the best part is no one else has [some of] these tracks. When we play them, that’s it, some of them never get released.'
The family feel of Teklife is partly why DJ Rashad’s death in 2014 has loomed large over Taso and the whole crew. When Taso released New Start he dedicated the album to Rashad and his family.
'The tune "New Start", we wrote that years ago, and I always knew I wanted to use it as a foundation for an album, I just didn’t know how, where and when. I think about Rashad every day, but when you play the album with him on track one on the A side and track one on the B side as well, it’s hard not to dedicate the
whole album to his family and him.'
Listen to the whole New Start album here [VPNs on].
It feels like Teklife are capturing an underground movement, or at the least offering something that clubbers and music fans around the world are inspired to get behind. And Taso celebrates their commitment to making music that’s come from the bottom rather than the top. 'You’re getting handmade goods from us you know, all organic, no GMO,' he says. ‘This is from the ground up and this is what we love, we’re not going to change for anybody, and if people like it then we’ll keep making it for them.'
And when we mentioned the Teklife fans right here in Beijing, Taso had a final message: 'Thank you to any [fans] in Beijing or China from the bottom of my heart, I’ll see you soon, and I’m about to f**k your guys’ subwoofers up.'
By Tom Clark