I’m a music history buff, or a music history nerd if you prefer. There’s an allure to learning about past musical events that make you wish you were there when they occurred. The experience of seeing The Ramones or Talking Heads play CBGBs, or experiencing the Belleville Three spin Techno in Detroit in the 80s, would be amazing to witness as both events shaped their respective genres. However, we view those events as important in hindsight. We now know that the Ramones proved that Rock doesn’t need fancy guitar licks and long tracks to have power. And we now know that the Belleville Three helped shape EDM into the powerhouse it is today.
Part of the job of music journalism is to sift through the chaff and figure out what is important and influential now and what will have a lasting impact. Not every album or show will alter how we view music and it’s hard to have the foresight to determine what we will reflect on in 20 years with reverence. However, there seems to be one musical development from Chicago to which many in the music press afford their attention.
Footwork is a spinoff of the electronic genres Chicago House and it’s descendent, Juke. Its frantic and fast speed has leant to a type of dance of the same name that pairs hand in hand with the music. The prime progenitors of the genre are a collective known as Teklife. They’ve become the faces of Footwork and within the past few years have become a global phenomenon, mostly after the release of DJ Rashad’s seminal 2013 album, Double Cup. While he tragically passed away the following year, the ravenous growth of the group has not abated.
Last Friday, DJ Spinn and Taso, both of whom collaborated heavily on DJ Rashad’s masterpiece, brought the sounds of Teklife and Chicago to the Sett. It was a magnificent experience. Opening up for them was Daily Cardinal’s own Jake Witz, playing under the name Contraboi. His music owed deference to the the brand of Footwork that Teklife pioneered and his excitement for playing before them was obvious. The crowd had started to trickle in at this point, but it was highly disappointing to see a crowd of maybe 50 for the show. But when Spinn and Taso took the stage, they still played a wonderful set as if they were playing to a packed audience. They were able to jam in crowd favorites such as “Pass That S**t” from Double Cup or “Dubby” from Spinn’s Off That Loud EP.
The two had not only brought along the hits, but also the Era Footwork Crew, further proving that the dance and music and inextricably linked. The three dancers exhibited manic yet intricate foot movements that could not better compliment the music. It was certainly a sight to see and, as some of the audience had proved, difficult to replicate successfully. The show was definitely brought to another level with their dancing and they were able to get the crowd highly engaged to a performance that’s essentially someone turning knobs and buttons. Oftentimes, energy and excitement of a large crowd helps the engagement of electronic shows, but the meager audience needed an extra boost from the dancers.
Besides the small audience, the other major disappointment was the overall quiet music. The Sett was not a great venue for this performance because of the lack of capability to make it loud. I had left the show still really wanting to be moved to the core. The bass in many of those tracks calls for you to feel the rhythms in your body, but that feeling was just not there. I left disappointed and unfulfilled. Granted, WUD Music works with what they have, but that lingering itch to hear “Double Cup” in my bones is still there.
For what it’s worth, UW-Madison students are historically adept at booking shows on campus that in hindsight seem almost legendary. Few students may now realize that Neutral Milk Hotel played in the Rathskeller just before they recorded the seminal album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1997. This Teklife show belongs in the same category. Their brand of Footwork will in years time be looked back upon highly, and the few who did come out can proudly boast that they were there when DJ Spinn and Taso played in the Sett.