Harden deserves his prominence. As a chief member of the Teklife crew, he's been one of footwork's most fearless innovators—while the rest of the world has been absorbing the style, Harden has made a lateral move away from its cliches, taking in new sounds on his frequent travels. Despite being so closely associated with one genre, Rashad is an adventurous soul, greedily absorbing new influences and ideas and helping to redefine what footwork can sound like in the process. This year he signed to Hyperdub with two EPs of genre-busting material, and he's currently fresh off the release of his first full-length for the label.
Easily the most accessible record to his name, Double Cup sees Harden incorporate jungle, trap and house into a smoothed-out spin on the footwork blueprint. Now he's set on bringing his friends into the spotlight—as he'll insist, footwork is a family affair. Double Cup is as much about its many co-producers as it is Rashad, and he uses his platform to promote his extended family of musical partners—he's currently helping DJ Spinn with an upcoming album on Hyperdub. With a tour of Asia set as his next milestone, Harden sounded spirited and inspired during our conversation, in spite of a life-threatening accident he suffered only a few weeks before.
How are you feeling after the accident?
Much better, much better—glad to be alive of course. I was taking it day by day, one at a time, healing. I'm doing much better, man. I think I've got another week left of physical therapy. And then I'm cool. I should be back at 120%, ready to go.
What happened, anyway?
I was on my way to the airport for the Hyperdub North American tour. I got hit from the back. The impact pushed me into oncoming traffic. I got smacked both ways.
I got a fractured hip and three bruised ribs but I was lucky to be alive, and it's cool. I made it through that situation.
You've been on tour constantly for the past three years. When did that start?
I'd have to say probably around 2011, like full on, all year-round tour. But, like, late 2010, I've been touring since, non-stop.
So around the time of the first Planet Mu stuff?
Yeah a little bit right after that, a couple of months right after that maybe. After the Itz Not Rite album. Kinda just took off from there.
How did you first get in touch with Mike Paradinas?
It was simple actually. Mike just sent me an email like, "Yo I'd like this tune, and this tune. Would you be down?" A simple yes. And then the rest is history from there.
Were you surprised that you were getting attention from the UK when it first happened?
Oh yeah, I was hysterically happy, man. It was a big moment for all of us over here. So it was a blessing for him to even consider to take the time to listen to our music and shit. It was cool.
And as you've been traveling around the world the past two or three years, how's the reaction been to footwork, especially in Europe? And has it changed over time?
I can't say it's changed. The reaction's been remarkable; it's just been great. Plus, you know, us going there a lot, we've adapted some of their sounds as well. [Like] Jungle. It just makes sense to what we're doing and, you know, I can relate to what they're doing, and I guess they can relate to what we're doing since it's so similar.
It seems like there are more and more international labels that are really interested in footwork. I know that you and some other Teklife guys released on a French label called Moveltraxx a while back. How do you feel about the Europeans getting really interested in, and even releasing, the music? Do you feel like it's inauthentic?
Nah, I think it's cool, man! Like I said, to even give us a shot, and then for some of the producers over there to just embrace it and put their own sound onto it is awesome for us. It helps the movement and makes it grow stronger, so I'm all for it.
Our movement is the Teklife movement, but also footwork in general. Just getting the sound noticed properly and introduced right is good for us.
Do you ever feel disconnected from what's happening in Chicago, or what was happening in Chicago when you first started, because you're on the road so much?
Yeah, at first, but I kinda got used to it. But I'm in tune with people even though I'm on the road. I still talk to a lot of people and they keep me up to date with what's going on. And when I do get home, you know, I check shit out or participate or get involved with shit when I'm around. For the most part, Chicago ain't going nowhere [laughs], so it's cool to go other places for the moment. I've been here all my life.
How has the footwork scene changed there since the international attention started?
It's definitely spread out and gotten wider. The only thing that's really changed to me is that we're not there. So the little guys from Teklife or Earl, they're holding it down. It's still going strong as if we were there, so I think it's still doing good and hopefully it'll get even better.
Is it still a local and supportive community there?
It's more than local, but due to the spots and places and the politics that goes on we can't really do it at the right venue, so sometimes we do it at some of those warehouses and shit. But until we can get the right license, like alcohol licenses and all this other crazy shit, we have to keep throwing them there for now.
What are the issues with venues?
Well, if we're just trying to do a footwork thing it's kinda different because of the age limit. You have certain kids that come out there that are like under the legal age, and then you have older people as well, so that's why we do it at the warehouse—so everybody can come out and do it. But if it's a party for 18 and up, then it's just like a party with footwork music and some rap and whatever else. When we throw straight footwork events, we try to throw it at places where everybody can come. At least 15 and up. But due to the liquor licenses in clubs and things and shit, we have to go 18 and over, or 21 even. So it's just easier for us to do the warehouses and the other places that we do it.
Could you tell me a bit about Teklife? When did you start the collective and why?
Teklife is just a crew of DJs and producers. Originally we were together as Ghettoteknitianz. But Teklife is more like... not just in Chicago. People from San Francisco, Serbia, London, New York. You know, just a crew that produce and make music and have fun with it and shit. That's Teklife. It's a group thing, and nobody is bigger than the next. Everybody's the same over here. It's just a little DJ crew.
And who are the members?
Me, Spinn, Manny, Boylan, Earl, Taye, fuckin' Tre… shit we got too many. Let me see, I don't wanna forget them, alright DJ Tmo, Tony Moondoctor, Lacey Fresh Till Def, Feloneezy, Jackie Dagger. Shit. That's the main guys right there, on the table, for now. That's everybody.
What unites you all?
For me it's special because it's just like a brother/family thing and we all do shit together. Produce, collaborate and just learn from each other. Make shit happen as a team effort. So it's everything to me, it's just like another family, if you will, for me. It's my family.
So when you signed with Hyperdub did you feel at all like it would conflict with Teklife?
Oh no, definitely not. Hyperdub actually embraced Teklife as well, so it was a big move for Teklife—not just me signing to Hyperdub. It was good for the whole group, in a way. Because Hyperdub was letting us express ourselves and letting me collaborate with all the guys. For example, we get everybody from Teklife heard, besides just me and Spinn and Manny.
How did the whole Hyperdub thing happen?
Well I met Kode9 for the first time, I would say, late 2011. Like officially met him. I was a big fan before, of course. Did a couple of shows, just sent him some tracks over the months. Kept some tracks, did a couple more shows. Did a radio show with him. It kinda just happened like that. Me sending tracks in, and they liked what they heard and gave me a shot. I haven't turned back ever since.
Did you know Hyperdub and the music that they released before you met Kode9?
Oh definitely! I caught on in maybe 2008 to what they were doing with the whole dubstep movement and everything. I've been in tune with these guys since then and been supportive and thought they came out with amazing shit back then. Burial and all those guys.
So you guys have been following dubstep since well before it was popular?
Yeah, in 2010 Addison Groove put me in tune with it when he was Headhunter. He used to hit me up, and asked me for tracks and he kinda introduced me to what it was then. I caught on from there and just did my research and seen other shit and got in tune with it that way.
Did being exposed to that stuff at that time affect the way you thought about footwork or made footwork?
I can't say, cause I kinda didn't take it seriously then. I didn't know America was gonna catch onto it and blow up the way it did and go mainstream and whatever. But yeah, I can say not just dubstep but UK music in general influenced me to change shit to the way I do it now today. Like UK funky, grime, even. And of course jungle, drum & bass and everything that I've heard over there has definitely become a part of what we do now.
Some of your recent stuff has had a lot of jungle sounds in it. When did you discover jungle, or did you know jungle all along?
I had heard of it. I can say I actually got really educated the proper way in 2010, maybe. I knew jungle but I thought jungle was something else. I thought it was trance back in the day [laughs]. I really didn't pay any attention to it when we went to raves and shit, I just thought everything was the same, but I did my research and definitely got put in tune with the right people, like Goldie and Lemon D and those guys. And kinda went back and seen that they were doing this shit in 1994.
And when you're incorporating all these outside ideas and genres do you worry that people back home won't like it? Or does the footwork scene in Chicago embrace it?
They embrace it, but they also know that we're on the move to other places and that we're not just playing for the footwork community like we used to. I haven't had any complaints. Maybe they're just being generous, I don't know. But everybody seems to dig it and respect it, so it's been cool so far.
And the other thing I've noticed is that your sound has become a little more—a little more professional, for lack of a better word.
Thanks! Yeah I've been taking the time out to record properly and write. Instead of just recording shit I take the time out to track out everything and make sure everything's right and get shit recorded the proper way, because it just sounds better when you take the time out to do it the correct way, instead of rushing and just putting shit together.
Has your studio setup changed in the past three or four years?
Not too different, I just picked up a couple of other things along the way. Just the programs, really—like Logic 10 now, might have changed it from Logic 8 to Logic 10. Ableton 9 from Ableton 8, not too much different. Still use the MPC2500 and the Renaissance. I got a Moog. That's pretty much it.
And going on the idea of polished music. I read at least one review criticizing you guys for making footwork too polished and almost sanitizing it.
It doesn't matter to me because at the end of the day I know it's right. Some of [the new stuff] might take a little bit of the dirtiness from it, but at the same time, man, when you're playing on these soundsystems in places it just sounds better than the unpolished fucking foggy shit. I've been doing that for a long time, and it was time to change it up. I really don't care what people say about it. I knew it was the right thing to do.
Do you still consider yourself a footwork artist?
Yeah, to a certain degree.
Because the new album is a lot more than just footwork. It's kind of all over the place.
Yeah I could say I'm still a footwork artist but I'm just trying new things, and trying to please the other audience that I have now instead of just my footwork audience. That's pretty much it. We just want to show people that we don't just do footwork, and if we do we can put our own little twist into whatever we do with it so… that's all we tried to accomplish with Double Cup.
Did you make the tracks for the album with the intent of making an album, or was it pieced together from different tracks you made at different times?
No, every track that we did was definitely for the album. Every way we went was exactly how we wanted to go with it. A little jungle, trap, soul, everything. A little laid back compared to the hype shit that I normally do. That's pretty much why I called it Double Cup, cause it's more like the screwed, slow-it-down version of Teklife that most people never normally get to hear.
The album is also heavily collaborative. What is it about collaborating that appeals to you so much?
Collaborating is everything because it's like education. You get to learn from them, when you collaborate with different people you learn different methods and maybe you get more input that way. If something's not right the person you collaborate with could tell you "maybe you could change it this way." And most of my albums or EPs or whatnot have always just been me and Spinn and Manny. I tried to collaborate with everyone from Teklife that I could at the moment for Double Cup, and just tried to introduce the world to everybody else besides the regular three guys standing at the front.
What is it about the partnership between you and Spinn that works so well?
We've been working together for the last 16 years. Spinn's like my brother. I don't know, we just got that vibe, I guess, and we've always had it. I'm glad everything goes the way it goes. It's pretty good, the relationship we've got, on the musical side anyway.
How did you meet him?
I met Spinn when I was in seventh grade at a couple of roller rink parties we used to go to and dance and shit. We kinda just met from there, from dancing. We weren't the best of friends at the time. Maybe high school, freshman year, we officially became friends because we had all these classes together. Getting to know each other a little bit more aside from the competitive dancing shit.
Obviously in the US there's the whole EDM thing happening and even smaller movements, like trap, which are really getting big in the US. How does that affect you guys and footwork?
It doesn't affect us, if anything we embrace it as well! We've been doing trap beats in footwork for the longest, just never used the Lex Luger kit or anything like that, but we fuck with trap. Like Zaytoven, who produced Gucci Mane's beats and all the old school down-south Atlanta shit like Lil Jon back in the day—all that shit was trap to us. Young Jeezy and shit.
What's coming up for Teklife?
We got DJ Earl and Heavy D's new album coming up next month. DJ Phil just released an album this week as well, on Booty Call records. Shit, we got Manny coming up, Taso, Fresh Till Def, everybody on the list got something coming up in the next couple of months, man. 2014 should be crazy for Teklife, hopefully. We should have shit going down.
And I mean, you've had quite a career in the past three years. What's been your proudest moment so far?
Proudest moment? Probably was me and Traxman getting on the SPIN Magazine top records of the year list last year. Me going to Russia and DJing out there twice this year was awesome. Shit, man, I can't lie: every day has been dope for me. Everything I've done so far has been the shit.