- Next Life has a lot packed into its 20 tracks: it's a tribute to DJ Rashad, a charity benefit for his son and an all-star showcase of the growing Teklife roster. As a wide survey of footwork, it's most easily compared to Planet Mu's foundational Bangs & Works compilations, even though it lands on Hyperdub. Those two scene-spanning discs, from 2010 and 2011, showed the world footwork in its relative infancy. Next Life outlines the genre in its cosmopolitan, world-conquering adulthood. Overflowing with new talent and continuously gobbling up any influence it can find, footwork is no longer a strictly regional phenomenon—which is in part due to Rashad Harden's prolific work as the genre's de facto ambassador.
When we first encountered footwork, it was defined by rudimentary production values, a speed demon rush and trippy, free-floating basslines. As it's mutated and intertwined with jungle, drum & bass, trap and grime, it's grown into more of a feeling than a genre proper. Next Life stretches footwork past its breaking point several times over. Sirr Tmo's noir-ish "Live In Chicago Subways" barely even sounds like footwork, taking the genre's obsession with weed to its most paranoid, claustrophobic conclusions. Earl and Taye slip jungle breaks into "Do This Again" with the kind of precision usually reserved for surgical-grade drum & bass, while Tre's "DNB Spaceout" reinforces its foundation with fidgety, Fracture-style drum layering.
Production values mark the biggest difference between Teklife then and now. Many of these tracks have velvety tones and lustrous textures. Even Traxman, famous for his crude cut-ups, seems inspired by the lusher side of Chicago house on "Sit Ya Self Down." The core Teklife members, meanwhile, continue to grow more soulful and funky. Rashad makes his only appearance on the four-way collaboration "OTS," a powerful tune that embodies footwork's sea change.
But the core crew's turn towards polished sounds is only one part of the footwork story. There are plenty of no-nonsense, straight-for-the-jugular tunes, too—DJ Manny's "Harvey Rachet" presents the genre at its most elemental, RP Boo's "That's It 4 Lil Ma" is typically brash and Boylan's "He Watchin Us" feels almost like a legacy track, repeating the word "ghettotech" as if to remind us of footwork's roots.
All of this makes for a pretty jumbled listen, especially when you throw in nearly-unrecognizable twists from the likes of Durban and Heavee. There was a moment when Teklife was associated with just a few core artists and one identifiable style, but over time the stable has ballooned into something porous and open-ended, much in the same way the footwork scene has looked beyond Chicago towards the rest of the world. The sound is a fitting and powerful legacy for one of dance music's brightest minds to leave behind in his wake.
01. DJ Spinn & Taso - Burn That Kush
02. DJ Earl & DJ Taye - Do This Again
03. DJ Taye X Heavee X DJ Phil - The Matrixx
04. DJ Phil - Godz House
05. DJ Tre - DNB Spaceout
06. Traxman - Sit Ya Self Down
07. Sirr Tmo - Live In Chicago Subways
08. RP Boo - That's It 4 Lil Ma
09. Gantman - Jungle Juke
10. DJ Manny - Harvey Rachet
11. Boylan - He Watchin Us
12. DJ Paypal - Fm Blast
13. DJ Earl & DJ Taye - Wurkinn Da Bass
14. Rashad X Spinn X Taso X Manny - OTS
15. Heavee - 8 Bit Shit
16. Tripletrain - Never Could Be
17. Durban - I'm So
18. Taso - Drop That Thang
19. DJ Chap - Glacier Bae
20. DJ Paypal X Feloneezy X Jackie Dagger - U Should No