“It’s about spreading opportunities for everybody”: Teklife’s DJ Spinn is Off That Loud

For Morris Harper, better known worldwide as Teklife mastermind DJ Spinn, life is in a state of flux.

His new EP Off That Loud, due October 2, is a treat for new and veteran footwork heads alike, and his full-length album is finally on the way. The Teklife roster continues to expand, so much so that Spinn has finally turned what was formerly a collective of producers and a life philosophy into a fully-fledged label. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the album won’t appear in its original form, after Spinn’s laptop was a stolen during a stop in Lima, Peru, earlier this summer.

“Man, they was on it or something,” he laments. After walking around the town and soaking in the festival, Spinn and the rest of the crew wandered backstage to cool out and grab a couple of drinks. “I sat my bag down and I got distracted for, say, five minutes. Then my bag comes up missing. I thought, ‘my bag gone for real,’ and I know nobody grabbed it on accident.”

“I almost want to make a genreless scene, but people know what footwork is when they hear it now, and that’s the whole point right there.”

The newest material Spinn had been working on for the forthcoming LP was gone, and since most of the stuff hadn’t been backed up, Harper had plenty of material he just couldn’t replicate: “I’d have to go get with these people that are playing these instruments or, you know, certain ensembles, singers, and rappers.” Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Spinn to realize that the only thing to do, at least for him, was to “do [the album] over and do it better.” Having Teklife fans out for blood once word about the laptop got out helped, too.

DJ Spinn doesn’t like to call them “fans” anymore. “We’re family now,” he says. “We go places, we stay at people’s houses, meet their parents, and eat food.” Spinn was ready to take the laptop “as a loss” and get back to business as usual, but then the family got involved. “Once word got around about the laptop I got a lot of love from around the world. [Before] they were anxious, like ‘Yo, Spinn, where’s the album?’ Then once they heard about the computer they were like, ‘we’ll find ’em and kill the motherfuckers!’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Teklife has been focused on being all-inclusive since before it was even called Teklife, but the idea was cemented around the time of Rashad’s seminal Double Cup, which was built deliberately as a posse record. 2015 has already brought new additions to the fold, like Nadus from New Jersey and Slick Shoota from Norway. “The plans have kind of always been up to me and [Rashad], to be the masterminds of what’s going on,” Harper says. “I know what the plan was, so I’m just sticking to it. We just want to expose everyone that’s on the team, and man, we’ve just been working.”

Bringing more people into the circle and spreading the word about footwork whilst at the same time making everything tighter has already been Teklife’s priority, all the while allowing time for each member, from Tripletrain to PayPal, to find their niche. If you have Teklife parties and Teklife members both inside and out, why not also have a Teklife label?

“We everywhere,” Spinn says. “That’s why we started the label, ’cause it’s so many of us and we want to put all of us on one label. Even if we spread out on other labels, that’s all good. But we really need a foundation in Chicago to put out the music from all the guys because everybody has stuff [they] want out. If it gets to be too much of a big money thing, we can at least put out digital downloads. But we’re doing it right, no matter what.”

There are multiple obstacles in the way, even if they’re all good ones to have. With half of Teklife touring while the others are “where they at”, pulling off collaborations, getting releases prepared and finding the time to work on your own tracks is a hard balance. The second stumbling block is more practical: “We just have to figure out the order because there’s only 12 months in the year,” Spinn says, pausing to laugh. “We know everybody probably can’t come out next year, but at least the majority of the team, and get the opportunities for the other guys that’s not known and heard of that much so that they get booked.” The compilation is set for release first, then it’s Gant-Man or Heavee D.

“There’s nothing like getting out there and playing your music,” Spinn continues. “Every time I get back to the country, to the States, the customs are like, ‘who are you?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m a DJ. And they’re like, ‘who do you DJ for?’ I’m like, ‘myself.’ And they can’t ever believe it. Like, ‘what do you mean, DJ for yourself?! Do you DJ for a rapper?’ It’s about spreading opportunities for everybody, man. Get a chance to do at least something different every once in a while. Some of the guys got a chance to go out to LA and they ain’t been on a plane.”

If all of this sounds like it’s setting the bar pretty high, that’s where it needs to be. When you read up on footwork these days, you can expect to see a measure of how things were back in the day, when the genre was still very much a hometown thing versus its current global reach. Spinn himself was in band from third grade to sophomore year, making the move to DJing in 1996 before finally committing to making music and DJing full time in 2007; the only reason it took 13 years was that he still needed to make his paper at the end of the day. Back when he went full time, by and large the best place to hear footwork was at a battle ground, but in 2015, with more textures being thrown into the mix, a lot of fans and producers have picked up on how good footwork can sound on headphones.

DJ_Spinn_Ashes57-2
Photography by: Ashes57

“That’s what I came up from,” Spinn says, explaining that he wants the record to sound like Funkadelic – and not the post-Mothership Connection Parliament-Funkadelic, either. “Just grooving out, starting a jam session at 160 [bpm], then switching to half-time then 140, see where we end up. I’m working with various keyboard players, bass players… my guys from LA and NYC and Chicago, just all up-and-coming dudes who are doing their thing on the road.” If the chemistry pops off just right, you get some magic.

Case in point: Spinn & Taso’s collaboration with Jessy Lanza, released earlier this year. “Oh man, that thing is beautiful,” he says. Most of the process was actually initiated through Hyperdub and Lanza, and Spinn wasn’t expecting it to be as comfortable a fit as it turned out to be. “I was expecting to just vibe to it on the slow groove. I couldn’t even mess with it ’cause the vocals were so good. Then Kode9 hit me and said, ‘Yo, this is actually 160.'” That gave him the spark to start pushing for more long vocal takes and instrumentation on future tracks.

Despite the stolen laptop and having the whole of Teklife to run, he’s been making good progress on the album. “I’ve been working with Chance the Rapper, Ty Money, and Freddie Gibbs,” he says. “Whenever a rapper [hears] a producer want to do something for him, they think automatically it’s going to be something crazy, and they can’t spit to it cause it’s fast. But instead it’s like, ‘nah, let’s sit down, have a couple sessions.’ We’re going to vibe and see what we come up with. [Teklife] does more than footwork production, but I want to keep that element always to what we’re doing.”

Off That Loud is more or less a dry run leading up the the LP. Two of the tracks, ‘The Future is Now’ and the title track, are brand new jazz vamps that sound like studio blueprints. ‘Throw it Back’ and ‘Dubby’ both date to almost to two years ago, and exemplify both Spinn’s approach to recording and his selection process works. “That’s the good thing about releasing music – you can actually put out tunes that you thought was going to break later, and still have that cushion. Just be like, ‘Oh, this will work a year, two years from now.’ They don’t know what they want until you give it to ’em. And you still have to keep it to current. If I want I can just chop up Migos.”

It’s probably a foregone conclusion for most Hyperdub and Teklife fans, but there’s still a slew of Rashad and Spinn tracks in the archives, and in addition Spinn wants to re-release some early tracks, like ‘Girl Bust Down’, later in 2016. It’s pertinent to mention this because there hasn’t been a proper footwork full-length on Hyperdub since Double Cup, so the stakes have been more or less maxed. But Spinn’s not worried, just ready to put in more work.

“I’m most excited to bring a sound that I’m comfortable with, that I’m proud of, and it’s going to be the successor to everything that Teklife has worked for. We have to set that bar pretty high for what we do, and I want to turn a lot more heads. Get all the genres involved. I almost want to make a genreless scene, but people know what footwork is when they hear it now, and that’s the whole point right there.

“We can put these worlds together, and just make happy people.”

DJ Spinn is performing with Kode9, Taso, DJ Paypal, Cooly G and more at London’s Corsica Studios on November 7. To grab tickets head here.

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