Art by Harry Gassel and Eric Hu.
You might think you'd know what to expect from a new DJ Earl album on Teklife—the famed Chicago footwork collective and label responsible for many of the genre's most treasured artists and releases. But on the artist's latest full-length Open Your Eyes, released August 19, he pushes forward the style's insatiable impulse for innovation, staking a claim to an ambitiously expansive definition of the genre. "I wanted to explore all possible avenues of what Chicago footwork can sound like," Earl told THUMP over email. And that's surely what he did, enlisting six collaborators ranging from his label cohorts DJ Manny and DJ Taye, to New York experimentalist Oneohtrix Point Never. The resulting record is fittingly uninhibited in its many twists and turns—melting together textures from jazz, to dread-fueled funk, and synth psychedelia, all the while propelling forward on mercilessly precise drum programming.
Following fellow Chicagoan Hieroglyphic Being, Earl is the latest talent to deliver a THUMP Mix and his entry is as unrelenting and formally sweeping as the album he just dropped. Dubbed "OPEN UR EYES," the mix starts with each of the album's tracks mixed in order, proving just how well they work out in the field (as well as your headphones), before it catapults into a blistering sprint that nods at everything from acid, to grime, jazz, baltimore club, and marching band drum fills.
Check out the mix below, and read our interview with the producer after the jump, where he talks about Teklife's global ambitions, the experience of working with Shepard Fairey on the album's cover, and his own musical upbringing.
THUMP: How are we meant to enjoy the mix?
DJ EarI: I feel like that's a loaded question. I want everyone to enjoy the mix and have their own experience.
What's the perfect setting?
Somewhere relaxed with speakers that have nice bass.
Is synesthesia a real thing and if so, what color is this mix?
I think synesthesia is real most definitely and the mix would be all sorts of colors. I think it starts off green and ends dark red.
Where did you record it?
I recorded this mix at Red Bull Studios New York in Manhattan.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
Nothing specific really, just be open to all sorts of styles of Chicago footwork.
Do you have a favorite moment on the mix?
Yes, specifically this one transition in the mix from this track titled "All INN" feat. Suzi Analogue to a track I made called "Hollowgram." I made this track while in San Antonio at my good friends and album collaborators MoonDoctor and FreshtilDef's studio. We were up from like 6PM to 6AM when i made this track. It was the first time I really got to work with a Moog Sub 37 & MPC side by side.
Open Your Eyes is the second release on the Teklife label, following the inaugural DJ Rashad tribute compilation Afterlife. How would you characterize the current state of Teklife, and what are the crew's plans for the future?
I think Teklife is in a great position right now, we're at a all time high level of productivity in general. We're running a radio show with RBMA Radio, crossing platforms with some major brands that resonate with what we're doing—cant speak on who that is right now :) I would say Teklife is very high spirits right now and we plan on keep going hard on the releases pushing the brand and doing more exclusive merchandising for the supporters. We're also doing more in-depth shows and tours together in groups.
What was your mentality putting this record together, considering that it's your first high-profile, full length release? Is there an underlying concept, or something in particular you wanted it to reflect?
My mentality when writing this record was to explore all possible avenues of what Chicago footwork can sound like. I used to play in band in grade school and high school so I played with orchestras, jazz bands, and marching bands. As I got older, I was being influenced by footwork at the same time as playing in bands. It gave a perception that footwork can sound like anything.
What was it like collaborating with Oneohtrix Point Never? Were you ever in the same room, or were you sending files back and forth?
Collaborating with 0Pn was a different kind of experience then what I was used to. He's a very far out/left-field type of producer in my opinion and his perception of music in general is very unique. We met a couple times at a gig and in New York but the actual collaborating happening sending files back and forth studio to studio because of our conflicting touring schedule. Big shouts out to him for getting involved.
Can you say a little about the title? It has an ominous title, and Shepherd Fairey is known for the political nature of his imagery.
The title stemmed from the same concept of this mix—to be open to all styles of footwork. The album was originally gonna be called "Torodial Flow" but as I was writing the record I made one of the demos that didn't make the album called "Open Your Eyes." I felt [the title] resonated more with the message I was trying to get out with the album. Also once I spoke with Ashes 57 & DJ Spinn who helped curate the record as well they also agreed that Open Your Eyes felt like a stronger album title. The Shepard Fairey connection was completely something Ashes 57 brought to the table. We were discussing ideas about the album art and she said she had an idea. About a week later she got back to me and said "Hey. I have a surprise but it's a secret, Shepard Fairey is gonna work on the album cover." I was totally caught off guard and I knew the album would be something special, the fact that my album resonated with Shepard Fairey felt like we had accomplished something great. Teklife Records is gonna be something that the globe can get into.