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Bring on Da Funk
by Matt Crawford on Aug 28, 2009
Funk is alive and well with Dam Funk, a L.A. cat who got his music industry chops in the 90s working with artists in the then-thriving G funk scene. Now solo, the keyboardist is putting his own stamp on funk with breezy, electric instrumentals tailor made for the Bay Areaís Indian summers. Dam Funk returns to San Francisco for a set of original material and classic funk at Poleng Lounge on September 11th. He spoke with SF Station during a phone interview from L.A.
SF Station (SFS): When did the funk come into your life?
Dam Funk (DF): I like everything, but funk has always been the base -- from Curtis Mayfield and the Superfly soundtrack, to the Ohio Players to Slave. That is the style I was influenced by mainly but, later, I also got into metal because I was always searching for something new and I liked visual things. Kiss was one of my favorite groups, along with Rush and others -- a lot of the kind of groups that would take you somewhere else. Instead of music now, where everyone is trying to keep it real, it was an escape and a fantasy. That is what I am trying to bring back, to a certain extent.
SFS: That escapist theme was also in funk with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelicís mother ship fantasies.
DF:Yeah, exactly. At this juncture, I basically just want to continue where funk left off before the hip hop era. We are a part of the hip hop generation, but I consider myself a funkster within it. I worked with a lot of hip hop cats, but I was always into trying to continue from when funk was forgotten about by major labels after acts like Run DMC came out. Iím trying to continue with a presentation that is somewhat new.
SFS: What makes your sound different?
DF: I donít know if it is different. I would say it is more concentrated. I donít think about radio or what will make some boardroom at a record label happy. The modern funk Iím making is picking up from the cues of P Funk, Slave, early Prince and those kinds of artists. Itís just continuing the lineage.
SFS: Your songs almost always have a heavy melody. Do you approach your tracks with that in mind?
DF: I start with the drums because that is where the heart is, and then I go to the chords. I follow that with the bass line, and that is where I start hitting my groove.
A lot of the songs that are popular on the radio now have a lot of bleeps and blips and 808 bass kicks. Drums are important on those tracks, but you donít hear a lot of chords. You just hear a lot of synth stabs. Iím trying to bring chords back to show people that you can still be urban and have a steeze about yourself and still like beautiful music. That is what Iím trying to inject in the scene right now.
SFS: How did you get into the G funk scene in the 90s?
DF: One of my mentors got me into working as a session musicians, doing keyboard sessions on other peoplesí tracks. Later, a friend of mine was on Hoo Banginí Records, which was owned by Mack 10, and I was on a lot of those tracks. I was getting paid, and getting credits on the tracks, including a lot of production with MC Eiht on his album Tha8tís Gangsta.
I wanted to make music without that type of stuff on it and experiment with instrumentals with different instruments and tempos, and I wanted to bring it back to the genre of funk and take it somewhere else. That is where I am at now.
SFS: You often discuss funk from the 80s. What is it about that particular era that interests you?
DF: I liked the recording process form that era. It wasnít pristine and clear -- I like a little bit of hiss -- but there was a lot of warmth, too. Mtumeís ďJuicy Fruit", for example, is such a fantastic song because it has a melodic vibe, but it is still hard. A gangsta can walk to that track and the prettiest lady can love it at the same time. Thatís the kind of music Iím trying to do.
It doesnít have to be head-banging club music, east coast rap, or the hardest strip-pole song. I want to bring some beautiful stuff into the mix, as well. There are people that like a certain sound that are not being acknowledged, and Iím trying to reach them. It can be a song that you can play while driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, without it being smooth jazz.
SFS: Youíve done gigs all over the world. Is there a particular area where you are seeing the most interest in your music?
DF: Europe knows whatís up. The U.S. is still slow to catch up. San Francisco, to be honest with you, is my second home where people embrace me after L.A. San Francisco and the Bay Area were very quick to understand what Iím doing.
Maybe itís the weather. There is similar weather and the music I make kind of connects with sunsets and warm vibes. Itís definitely California-based music. The rest of the United States seems like it is stuck on everything that is current and easy to digest. They donít search for a lot of the incredible music that is out there.
Dam Funk performs at Poleng Lounge on September 11th. Tickets are $10 and doors open at 10pm.
by Matt Crawford on Aug 28, 2009