Funk's not dead.
A lot of time has passed since James Brown first rocked a stage in a sweat-drenched suit, or George Clinton and Parliament's mothership touched down on an unsuspecting America. It's taken on many forms since then, be it slathered in bright and shining synthesizers by The Gap Band or Zapp, or sampled beneath gritty West Coast gangsta narratives by Dr. Dre or DJ Quik. And most recently, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' recent single “Uptown Funk” has dominated the Billboard charts.
Funk lives on, generations after its renaissance in the '60s and '70s, and few artists have done more in recent years to keep that pocket deep than Los Angeles musician Damon Riddick, better known as Dâm-Funk. Since releasing his “Burgundy City” single in 2008, he's been on a prolific streak that's seen the release of his debut album box set Toeachizown—which comprises five separate EP-length records—as well as a lo-fi compilation of his early tracks called Adolescent Funk, and a collaborative record in 2013 with Snoop Dogg titled 7 Days of Funk.
Riddick's form of funk is a far less commercial approach than what an artist like Ronson does. While Dâm-Funk's '80s-inspired synth-funk is a much more eccentric, and far less commercial take on classic grooves, he says in a phone interview from his L.A. studio that he welcomes the mainstream's acceptance of a sometimes misunderstood genre.
“I always liken [funk] to the cousin, if you will, of metal,” he says. “Metal is like the black sheep of rock, and funk is like the black sheep of R&B and soul. Some of the doors had to be kicked in by some tracks by Mark Ronson and what have you. And I never hated it, because if people are starting to talk about funk again, I'm not going to be that asshole that says, ‘That's some commercial-ass bullshit.' You have to start the process somewhere.”
By comparison, Dâm-Funk's new album Invite the Light—out Sept. 4 via Stones Throw—is a bit avant garde, but a whole lot of fun. Where pop music is about the hook, funk is about the groove, and throughout the album's sprawling 90 minutes, that groove never ceases. Sometimes it takes on an ethereal form, like the free-floating sound of “Floating on Air.” And sometimes it gets dark and nasty, like on “The Hunt and Murder of Lucifer.” But it's always—always—funky.
For an album with so much movement in the hips, though, Invite the Light is pretty heavy on emotional content, whether it's in the melancholy “Missing U” or “It Didn't Have to End This Way,” or more upbeat and inspirational, as on the verses of “We Continue” (“No matter what life does, don't give up on your dreams”). For Dâm-Funk, Invite the Light is not just a new set of songs, but a summary of five emotionally-charged years.
Dâm-Funk plays September 4 at The Casbah.
“I had to deal with a lot of people passing away and different friends that I met along the way, afterwards, were turned into certain types of people. And I gained new friends along the way,” he says. “It's just a record that's loosely based on what was going on, but I wanted to keep it more general so it wasn't just a jerk-off fest for myself.
“Some artists can jerk-off a little bit, though,” he adds, “like singer/songwriters. So I'm just trying to put a little bit of that singer/songwriter vibe into funk music. I'm trying to take funk to a more experimental level, where you can get serious and it's not some kind of Rick James joke.”
Invite the Light is no laughing matter, though Riddick definitely keeps it light in certain places (see: “HowYouGonnaFuckAroundandChooseaBusta”). Still, with 90 minutes of material, Dâm-Funk's latest is a pretty colossal set of songs. And that, coupled with side projects and a massive Soundcloud archive comprising dozens of otherwise unreleased songs, accounts for why it took Riddick six years to follow up his equally epic debut album.
There's also the fact that nothing is looped on the record, except for drum machine beats. When you hear a Dâm-Funk song, you're hearing it performed live to tape.
“I don't loop or sample or sequence,” Riddick says. “That's one way I feel my sound is a little bit different from some of my peers. If it's a nine-minute song, I'm recording for nine minutes. It's not just a loop that runs for nine minutes. I enjoy playing live. I like to hear the slip of a finger, and notso pristine performances. I grew up in the era of the '80s and '90s, so I'm used to hearing human interaction on a song.”
Between his prolific solo output, and collaborations with artists such as Snoop and Ariel Pink, Dâm-Funk is single-handedly keeping funk vital well beyond its first wave. And with Invite the Light, Riddick is on a mission to show people just how alive it is.
“I want people to take away from this album that there's funk continuing, and not just some retro, slapstick, bootyshaking vibe,” he says. “Funk can continue into new frontiers. Funk never stopped.”