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DJ Earl is Carrying the Torch for Teklife's Next Generation

"We're still executing Rashad's vision to this day."

by Eric Zaworski
Jan 7 2016, 5:00pm

Nowadays it's impossible to talk about footwork without bringing up Teklife in the conversation. Since the passing of the collective's brightest star in 2014, the remaining apostles of the late DJ Rashad have been hard at work spreading his musical gospel. Once a loose band of neighborhood kids in Chicago operating under the name Ghettoteknitianz, the collective now includes over two dozen members in cities worldwide

Only 24 years old, Chicago-born, New York-based DJ Earl is proudly carrying the torch of his predecessors. In September, he put out the seven track EP Live Love Teklife, and was featured on fellow Teklife member DJ Paypal's song "We Finally Made It" off the recent album Sold Out. Like Rashad, Earl also plays with sombre, longing themes masquerading as party jams, and his affinity for samples and deep basslines makes him an artist-to-watch.

With a full-length album on the way this year, we caught up with him before a show in Toronto last month to discuss his late friend's legacy, footwork's global acceptance, and how he plans to take his live performances to the next level.

All photos courtesy of author

THUMP: 2015 must have felt like the fastest moving year in Teklife's history.

DJ Earl: I think after Rashad's passing, a lot of things started running together. Bookings, timing with records, tours, staying productive. Spinn had a kid, I moved to New York. A lot of us are making actual moves in our personal lives. It seems like we all interact and stay in contact, but everything just like happened really fast. It was a really crazy year.

How did your time with Rashad affect you?
I remember I saw Rashad and Spinn at [Chicago venue] Battle Groundz. I was just a random kid in the neighbourhood, and I just walked in and heard this crazy ass music and was like "what the fuck is this?" And I just thought, these dudes are the truth.

I haven't experienced death too many times in my life where it affected someone close to me. So when Rashad passed away, it made me realize how much of an inspiration he actually was in my productions and everything I do. He is still in all of us. So him passing away, it was a weird moment for me. I'm 24 now, it hit me weird. I had writer's block for months.

What strikes you most clearly thinking about him?
We're a part of his legacy. I remember the day Rashad called me and was like, "Bro, I'm finna quit my job. I just wanna go hard on tracks, I think we can get on." I was like "you think you can get enough gigs to pay for yourself?" He was like, "Yeah, bro. I think we'll be all right, I think we can really do this shit." I told him "Do it!" I didn't see any reason not to. You gotta get it in while you're living.

The crazy part is the vision that he had, that we're still executing to this day. His music was getting on this whole other vibration, not too many people are really there. I hold Rashad to be a legend, next to people like J Dilla.

When did you have that "a-ha" moment where touring started to make sense?
I had it in 2012 when I did my first European tour. I was playing [music venue] Turkish Delight in Oslo, Norway, and I just sat for a moment and thought about where I was. Just, like, geographically. Basically, I'm very fucking far from Chicago. I'm like, damn, I'm here to play music, do what I'm passionate about. The light switched on for me, personally. If I take my craft a bit more seriously, I could become a professional.

Is it hard for you to make music on the road?
Not really. Getting to the studio, that's different though. But for getting inspired, nah. I'm pretty inspired on the road. Different venues every night, you start to pay attention to how people respond to your sets, and experiment based on what reception you got. It's like refining a process. Just keep testing out new stuff every night. Keep the vibe up, keep the production super fresh. When I release my album next year, I wanna play more of a set.

Watch on THUMP: Black Dance Matters: A Documentary on Chicago Footwork Collective The Era

What are you listening to these days?
Drake, Future, Death Grips. I actually listen to a lot of Roy Ayers. I try to switch it up a lot. I was randomly listening to some System Of A Down. Some Beach Boys. I listened to Gravediggaz's 6 Feet Deep on the plane today.

Tell me about your decision to move to New York.
Can't speak on the major reason why, but I have a pretty big project on the way. New York is a really central place to be if you're an artist. I wanna change up everything about being in clubs with big stages. Don't get me wrong, I love playing the clubs, it's fun, but I want to create my own experience. Multi-platform, visual art, bring out dancers as much as possible. I'm gonna be curating some shit in New York soon.

That's what Teklife is trying to do, we want people to get more exposure to the music and the culture, so they get the full experience. All from Chicago, it all started from house, ghetto house, to juke, and now footwork. It's crazy the music and the dance is actually getting more exposure. I'm working on some crazy audio-visual shit now, and I'm working with a couple artists on secret things, so it's like we're trying to really flex my creativity to its fullest potential.

DJ Earl is on Twitter // Facebook // SoundCloud

Eric is on Twitter.