Interview - Deejay Earl
CIRCO guest Deejay Earl takes five with Dani Marsland.
WTF? WTF? WTF? WTF? TEKLife Just Sent It Up... The Ghettoteknitianz are a formidable clique of footwork DJs based in Chicago, led by Spinn and the recently passed Rashad, and whose crew includes Traxman, Gant-Man and younger producers like DJ Manny and Deejay Earl. Earl is one of the more interesting figures in the crew – at only 22, his emotive footwork more than measures up to that of his mentors, and progresses steadily in quality with each release. Earl has an excellent understanding of rhythm and stands apart for his exploration of the slower, soulful aspects of footwork; with a more leftfield approach to sampling (his release Audio Fixx’ vocal subjects include Imogen Heap and Sade). Earlier this year, Earl unleashed an hour of some of the dopest, freshest shit we’ve heard, during his Boiler Room SET in LA, where he shared the bill with Djemba Djemba and Hoodboi. Beyond excited to see that same fire live in Perth when Earl throws down at CIRCO Festival (WEBSITE HERE) in a matter of weeks.
Congrats on your latest release, AF 2.5 The Awakening - it's beautiful, super spacey. The soft brass and jazzy piano on the DJ Taye-featured Miles are nice touches. You also created a track for the Roy Ayres Project last year. Are you a bit of a jazz-head?
Yeah, I took that piano from a Miles Davis sample. I’m not a major jazz fan, but I’ve been playing instruments since I was in fifth grade. I used to be in a concert band, a jazz band, and a marching band!
Marching band, yes! What did you play?
Percussion instruments mostly, although I always wanted to play the trombone…you know, I think my history playing percussion in a marching band is really what led me into doing all this drum-pad work now… I’ve always been intrigued by rhythm.
You used to be a footwork dancer when you were a teenager, before you moved into producing. Were footwork battles events that went on regularly in the area you grew up, what was your initiation into this scene?
I got into juke music when I was around 13. At that point, I was hanging around with an older crowd, so I probably got into the scene earlier than most. I used to see footwork dancing happening around my neighbourhood, hear the sounds drifting through the streets, but I didn’t know what it was. I also used to hear footwork music on the local radio every now and then. There would also be block parties with different dance groups practicing and versing off to the music. Or otherwise they’d happen at skating rings, that’s where the dudes I was hanging with from my high school would always be dancing and working on their choreography, I eventually joined them.
Were you a good footwork dancer?
In the very beginning, I actually wasn’t that great at it [laughs]… I still think I’m a particularly average dancer! Eventually, though, I caught on. I’d say I got the basics down after the first six months… I could do a few little things. The first group I was in was a group called ‘Creations’, and we did a lot of performances, a lot of travelling, so you had to know the choreography, you had to be versatile.
Do you remember your first dance battle?
I don’t, honestly! I really didn’t get too deep into becoming a full footworker, once I got a bit, ‘skilled’ I guess you could say, at the dancing part, I got into the music almost immediately. I danced for a couple of years, then I realised that I liked making the music more. I’d be dancing myself and I’d have all these ideas for the music, and I’d be like, man, I should start making tracks! During 2008 and 2009, you could go to the battlegrounds and the DJ slot was pretty much open for anyone, I used to watch people DJ in those slots and then once day I just tried it, and then I started going round to the battlegrounds and DJing.
What do you like most about making footwork and juke?
I really like watching the dancers go crazy, I like the reaction people have when they hear a really good footwork track.
Are you surprised so many people really get into juke and footwork, even if they've never been to a battle, or seen footwork dancing... but are listening to the music in a club, or from a computer, completely divorced from that original context?
There’s definitely a difference, hearing the music in the clubs or out on the battlegrounds. It was weird at first to hear footwork in clubs. Sometimes, the response you get when you drop a raw, straight up tracks in the club, that’s surprising, it's like “you like that?” [laughs] But at the same time, it’s really rewarding. Footwork music has a lot of different influences. It’s more than just music emerging from the Chicago ‘ghetto’ – that’s the perception most people have of juke. If you talk to someone whose not ultra-familiar with juke, they’ll say “Oh I know, yeah, it’s like house music, right, or that ghetto stuff from Chicago?!” and I’m like, it’s more about the ghetto side of it. Footwork music, well, it’s music – it takes influence from all the genres, from all avenues. It’s more than just Chicago.
GhettoTeknitionz leaders Spinn and Rashad have been your mentors for a while now. How is the community holding up right now? The death of Rashad must have hit pretty hard...
Rashad was a mentor, a friend, a big brother… I guess I could say, it’s almost like it's not real. I had just talked to Rashad the night before it happened... The only way I can put it is, when can you ever be ready for someone’s death? Even when you know it's coming. I don’t think we’ll ever get over it, but every day it gets a little easier. We all know Rashad’s vision – we’ve all come onto the scene recently, I’ve only been going for a couple of years, Rashad’s had the bigger picture for our culture for a long time now, he’s been going for decades.
I’m sure Rashad would take comfort in knowing you will carry his vision confidently into the future, as the next generation of TEKlife.
I think myself and the other members of TEKlife are ready to take on that role. The music helps so much for us in all this… it keeps us positive.
Mad excited that you’re coming to Australia for the first time! What have you got lined up for your set at CIRCO Festival?
I don’t even know how to describe what I’m going to be playing! Some footwork, some jungle… you know what, I’m going to be playing some FORWARD. THINKING. MUSIC.