Music by VICE

Meet the Chicago Juke Producer Who's Headed to the Olympics for a Different Kind of Footwork

World-class triple jumper Troy Doris talks about the unlikely connections between running track and making tracks.

by Colin Joyce
Aug 2 2016, 2:20pm

All photos courtesy of the artist

On a late July afternoon, Troy Doris is gleefully relating the details of a recent monthlong stint in Europe. The Chicago-based producer makes house tracks as Good Junk and footwork as allblack, but his stops in Greece, Norway, Sweden, and Finland weren't to play DJ gigs or even to make tracks. He wasn't really spending much time in any clubs at all. Instead, he was indulging an even faster-paced lifestyle—participating in a few final final warm-up events for the 2016 Summer Olympics, during which he'll compete in the triple jump for Guyana, where he's a naturalized citizen.

When we speak on the phone, Doris is just a few weeks from heading to Rio de Janeiro, the big August 5 opening ceremonies creeping ever closer like Christmas. His voice rises and breaks a little when he lets it slip that he's just read in a Guyanese newspaper that he's meant to be the country's flagbearer in the opening ceremonies. He's yet to receive confirmation through more official channels, but still he's ecstatic, bewildered even. He's basically trying to ignore just how weird it is that his lifelong dream is actually happening. "I think it's probably gonna hit me when I get on the plane, it hasn't set [in] yet," he says with a laugh. "It's unreal. The weirdest percent of the world are Olympians. How did I just fall into that category?"

Doris, now 27, was born to Guyanese immigrant parents in Chicago, where he's lived for most of his life. As teenagers, he and his brother became obsessed with track and field, filming themselves making triple jumps and then sitting down each weekend to critique each other's performances. He went on to study political science at University of Iowa—where he was an All-American track and field star—and eventually spent three years at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center near San Diego.

All the while, he was also nursing a parallel interest in dance music. "I don't want to sound cliche and say 'Electronic music was born in Chicago, it's in my blood,'" he says. "But ever since I was young, it's just something that's always intrigued me." Then, about seven years ago, he befriended a resident DJ at Smart Bar, who quickly got him more involved in the Chicago scene and inspired him to focus harder on his own house and footwork tracks. These days, he's on something of a musical hiatus as he works toward Rio, but in spare moments he still flips samples from old records as a fun diversion from his intense athletic career

Doris is a fanatical tinkerer, equally likely to spend hours digging through records and futzing with a synth sound as he is watching video footage of his latest jump and looking for inconsistencies in his craft. His success in both fields stems from his knack for zeroing in on invisible minutiae and slowly perfecting his form until the result soars. In the final lead-up to his biggest moment as an athlete, THUMP caught up with Doris to talk about how he got into track and making tracks—and why the two are more connected than you may think.

THUMP: Tell me about your relationship with footwork, has it intersected at all with your athletic career?
Troy Doris: The whole footwork culture is competitive: Who's the best DJ? Who's the best dancer? Listening to really dirty ghetto house and footwork while I'm about to compete makes me think I'm at a battle. That's all I listen to when I warm up or when I'm practicing. I've never had the opportunity to tell the artists here in Chicago that what they do has really helped me in my track and field career, simply through [listening to their] music.

Do you have any go-to footwork tracks that you listen to when you're warming up?
Just to name the pioneers: DJ Rashad, Traxman, everybody in Teklife. I have a few friends here that are making footwork tracks also.

Have you gotten any of your teammates into footwork?
Being from Chicago, we're like our own world. Not everybody messes with this music. If you don't know the progression of this Chicago of music and how it came about, you're not really gonna like it. It's either the feeling of "Wow, this is really good I've never heard anything like this before!" or "uh I don't get it."

I'm interested in your dual path into track and field and how did you get into electronic music. Are the two stories intertwined?
Electronic music just always been interesting to me. When I got old enough I started buying equipment. My older brother was making hip-hop beats and I immediately started making house music. It wasn't the best.

Do you remember how you first heard house music as a kid?
I've always been into a lot of different styles of music. I'd say my taste is pretty eclectic. But [I remember] listening to tapes of juke mixes or house mixes and just liking it. When my family moved here they moved to the south side of Chicago. Dance music culture was prominent—that's just what you listened to. It was in the air when I was growing up.

Were you going to shows or clubs as a kid?
I have to give a lot of credit to Garrett [Shrigley]. I [met him when] I was 21. I was in junior college at the time. He's a resident DJ at Smart Bar and he invited me all the time. It wasn't that I needed to go there and DJ, just being in that realm of the people and seeing him do his thing was a euphoric feeling. I also used to go to his house and we'd just make music for hours. It really taught me a new appreciation for something that I [previously] saw as a hobby.

The big immersion into the electronic scene happened for you in college, and I imagine getting into sports was long before that.
The same brother who taught me how to make music, was also the first of us three [kids] to run track. He was the catalyst. It's great to have a big brother as an influence; I wanted to do what he did. He's 33 now, so we never went to high school together, but I went to high school with my [other] brother who is only 18 months older than me.

We taught each other how to triple jump. Anything we do, we invest in it for some reason, it's an obsession. We just decided to start filming ourselves triple jumping, and sit down on Saturdays and critique each other. What kind of 15 and 17-year-old kids do that?

Is making music less regimented than your approach to jumping?
They're both very analytical to me. Once you get good at anything, it's gonna become natural, but you still have to be very analytical and aware of what you're doing.

I'll start with the music, I really like the whole process of taking random sounds, manipulating them, and listening to the minute details of a song. Finding what normal people don't see in a song, going through that whole detailed process, and creating something that's four minutes and thirty seconds long is amazing.

It's the same thing with track, when I'm watching videos and when I'm practicing I like to be very analytical. Not the point where I just paralyze myself, but you need to know very specific details when you're jumping. You start back 130 feet and you have to step on a six-inch board without stepping over a certain mark.

Have you been playing out at all or is your music-making mostly at home?
I know how to DJ and make tracks, and that's never gonna go away. But being an athlete you can't really live that nightlife.

Do you have the chance to go out when you're at home or are you strictly focused on training?
I was just at Smart Bar last Sunday, I went to see Garrett. I still try to live a normal life. It's an escape, as if I wasn't an athlete for the day. When I was in San Diego [for training] the nightlife is different. You're just gonna hear trap or oldies hip hop, there aren't any clubs that focus on solid house music, which I really missed.

When you're down in Brazil, do you have any intention of checking out clubs?
One thing I want to do for sure is go record shopping. I definitely want to find some hidden gems, get some real deal bossa nova or some Caribbean flavor to bring back to the States. I definitely want to check out the nightlife. I want to see what the music scene is like, and how different cultures have fun.

Follow Troy Doris on Twitter and Instagram as he heads down to Rio this week. You can check out more of his tracks on Soundcloud.

Colin Joyce is THUMP's Managing Editor. He's on Twitter too.