Peanut Butter Wolf, master beat maker, vinyl aficionado and head man at US label funky, hip-hop, breaks label Stones Throw also has another not inconsiderable string to his bow. Not content with consistently delivering a fine menu of top-notch head nodding records in his own right, he also possesses an unnervingly fine talent spotting ability. Like a hip-hop Simon Cowell, but with taste, Peanut Butter Wolf has expanded his empire over the last year to include a string of releases from the best in leftfield underground beat music.
Latest member of the Stones Throw stable is veteran LA sophisticate and all together cool individual, Dam Funk. Responsible for the recently released concept album ‘Toeachisown’, Dam Funk is something of a California legend, having been involved in both crafting funk fuelled missiles of his own, and running legendary LA club Funkmophere for the best part of the last decade. The man himself recently touched down in the UK to brighten up the English winter with his funky flavours, and we were luckily enough to catch up to find out a little about what makes the man.
Dam Funk’s music has a smooth polished electronic edge that recalls the best of the early eighties boogie scene, tightened to perfection with a modern electronic edge. Lazily pigeonholing his style as retro however brings short shrift. “ My shit isn’t exactly what you call old fashioned you know? I like to think of my style as a continuation. Back to the times before hip-hop became what it is, where different ‘urban’ if you want to call it that, styles existed side by side. “
Pushed on the point Dam becomes animated as his smooth Californian drawl takes an almost urgent edge. “ The way I explain it is this, I want you to think about a different world, parallel universe if you like. A place where those cats that were listening to these funky joints didn’t hide those records and claim they was B Boys or something all of a sudden. Imagine if the record companies hadn’t just decided they wanted badass rappers on every record. Imagine that the funk, and I mean the REAL funk, was allowed to grow and do what it waned to do? That’s where I come in. Shit I love those old boogie joints and so forth as much as anybody, but what I’m doing is carrying on that tradition, so all those funky people don’t have to just listen to these records, in private, driving about in their cars or whatever. This is music for now and its music that means something in this day and age, you know what I mean?”
Listening to the Dam Funks productions and this idea of a parallel funkosphere starts to make sense. Tunes such as the title cut of his latest release echo the electronic funk masterpieces of Roger Troutman’s Zapp, or George Clinton’s more contemporary work, but it’s the modern sensibility of production and innovation that stop them being mere pastiche pieces.
Never shy of experimenting himself, he recently remixed art rockers, and fellow Californians Animal Collective, in a move to some that may seem outside of the realms of the typical urban music scene. “ The thing is the scene round here is so fertile at the moment. There are a lot of good people doing a lot of good things and that’s something I really dig you know? I don’t care about labels or whatever, if I like it then I want to get involved. Simple as that. “ So, are there any more collaborations in the pipeline? “ Hell yes, I want to get n the position where say, Talking Heads were in the early eighties. They used a lot of funk and disco producers on what was essentially a rock band, and if you listen to that you know that it worked. In fact my next record is going to be a cover of a Human League track, but filtered through how I see things. And I tell you what, it’s going to be the business man.”
Name checking both Talking Heads and Human League may be surprising for a man who posses a Californian drawl so horizontal there are times it barely breaks out of a whisper. So making any assumptions about his style turns out to be particularly misguided. The man reputedly throws a legendary live show, but not quite as you might expect. “ I’ve been doing this live thing for a few years now, its party time for me when I’m up there doing my thing. I got a band I’ve been on the road with for a few years, and we want to make sure that everybody is enjoying themselves as much as we are.” A bit like Parliament then, that sort of vibe? “Shit no, that style is old you can’t be saying I am getting up on the stage with a load of cartoon characters dressed up in nappies and stuff. My band aren’t a load of clowns.”
Any possible tension, is quickly relieved however by a drawn out baritone chuckle, and you have to admire the man for not getting hung up on the past, especially a past with so much influence. So what is your show like then? “We are tight man, I may have a lot of people up there but my style is more like Gary Numan you know. That kind of icey robot thing. “ Have you ever seen Kraftwerk I wonder? “ Yes, that’s the kind of shit I’m talking about, keeping it neat, no messing about, just the music.”
For an artist wit such an undeniable talent, located in the midst of a town so rich in musical heritage, Dam Funk’s attitude is not only surprising but also extremely refreshing. To have the vision to create your own version of a musical story that has been retold so many times it is ingrained in the very psyche of a generation, is brave to say the least. But it’s this vision that makes not only the man, but also his music so special.
Sit back and listen to debut long player, ‘Toeachhisown’ and the beauty is the sound of California Soul mixed with the best of European pop. Sound familiar? Well that’s because it’s the blueprint to the best popular music of the last century, a transatlantic fusion delivered by mavericks like Dam Funk who deserves the last word. “People tell me that the funk is a feeling, but its more than that. My music is a lifestyle, and if you choose to live that life then you aren’t ever going to be disappointed. Trust me, and come along for the ride.”
You know what? I think I will.