Amen, hallelujah and you’re absolutely goddamned right: Damon G. Riddick AKA DAM FUNK is spot on in both his diagnosis and proposed curative to the modern malaise of mundanity rendering so much of what we hear from our decks and speakers so resolutely, tediously stuck in the here-and-now. His latest shot to your decaying system, the astonishing ‘7 Days of Funk’ LP is a full-phat curative to any tendency for 2014’s music to tie itself down to the lumpen and customary.
In collaboration with Snoop Dogg (rechristened Snoopzilla in a neat homage to P-Funk/Bootsy Collins-style characterisation) ‘7 Days’ is the year’s first true masterpiece, a record that will engross and engulf and enrapture you in equal measure, even as it’s also seductively loosening your brain and booty .
The 42 year old Pasadena-native (now based in L.A) has been producing his unique brand of forward-looking funk for well over a decade now (check out the stunning ‘Adolescent Funk’ collection for a fantastic précis of his early work), working odd jobs to support himself and his music, never changing his game or chasing the transitory illusion of ‘crossover’ or commercialism.
Hooking up with Snoop (after Mr. Broadus was impressed with DF’s DJing at an exhibition by sleeve-artist Joe Cool) on opening track ‘Hit Da Pavement’, both realised what they were on to was way too good to simply be a one-off, and they lashed down the pocket supernova of ‘7 Days’ quickly, naturally, as free from radio-friendly constraint or concern as they could be when one of the players is one of the biggest superstars on the planet.
“The thing is, Snoop, above all, is a music fan, a listener, a lover of music, a major fan of the funk,” regales Damon. “He didn’t HAVE to do this, ‘7 Days’ is a total labour of love. I couldn’t believe how hard he works, how involved he got, how he seems to be able to work so hard all the time. He’s never not working. I remember riding on the freeway a little while after the album was completed and I got a call on my phone. 'Hello?' 'It’s Snoop' 'What’s up?' 'Look to your left'. I turn to the left and HE’S THERE, IN THE CAR DRIVING NEXT TO ME, smiling! He can be everywhere at once. He doesn’t need to be so hard-working but he is because he still loves music so much. As someone who grew up listening to him, it meant so much what he did on ‘7 Days’. Snoop was the first rapper who sounded like he was from OUR world. To work with him now was really a dream come true.”
‘7 Days Of Funk’ may well, because of that Snoop connection, get racked and filed with hip-hop releases but DF’s relationship with rap is a little more nuanced, tangential and problematic than that (hence Stones Throw being his perfect home). “Well, when I was growing up, and WHERE I was growing up, in the golden era of rap, Eric B, EPMD, Slick Rick was going on. We loved that stuff but there was something about it that in a way didn’t suit our environment. Many of us were still bound up in the funk, in the warmth and openness of music on Prelude Records, Loose Ends, Egyptian Lover, D-Train. “ Why do you think that kind of rap didn’t quite fit with where you were at?
“It’s to do with environment, the climate, and the culture. LA is hot, blue skies, palm trees. It’s a CAR culture, so bass was more important to us than anything else. New York, and don’t get me wrong, we loved a lot of East Coast rap, is a walking culture, block to block. LA is a driving culture, freeway to freeway. It just needed a different type of music, and a different type of lyricism and delivery. People like Snoop gave us that, but hip-hop still, when it came to funk music, seemed to borrow from a very limited range of sounds and influences.”
All those golden-era James Brown/Meters samples you mean? “Yeah. I loved a lot of it but it was as if funk was being thought about as a music that had stopped happening or moving on. Almost as if it was considered a joke. The way funk started to be seen, through commercials and movies was as a stereotype, as something that essentially was a throwback...”
...Afros, flares, big collars... “Exactly — that kind of retrograde vision of funk, as, I think, writers and some musicians liked to promote, pushed other styles into the background and for me that was a real shame and a misrepresentation. For a lot of us, funk wasn’t some music that stopped with disco or ended before the '80s. For me, nothing sounded as forward-looking and innovative as '80s funk, things like Zapp and Prince, and I saw that as music that hadn’t been picked up on or experimented with or continued. So I decided to do it myself.”
Recovering that sense of funk as futuristic music is at the key of what makes Dam Funk and ‘7 Days’ so compelling. Using a mix of analogue and digital technology Damon crafts music undoubtedly touched by the sounds of those '80s funk avatars he’s mentioned, but crucially it’s a unity of SPIRIT with that music that makes DF’s sound above and beyond just the sum of its parts.
There’s a track on the album that sums up what Damon demands of himself, and how as listeners we respond. ‘1 Problem’ features Steve Arrington (of Slave and solo fame — whaddayamean you’ve never heard ‘Just A Touch of Love’? Go do so NOW) and is the strangest most compelling love song I’ve heard in years. Even though the surfaces have that divine mix of pristine filth and squelchyness you want from the best funk music, there’s a wonkiness to it, an improvisatory feel to the arrhythmic vocal that initially startles you, then tutors you, ends up being all you ever want to hear. A reminder of funk’s umbilicus back to jazz, the black science fiction of Sun Ra, Earth Wind & Fire, Miles Davis, absolutely not metronomic, absolutely filled with feel. After a while you stop thinking about how it was made, wander in the sound as pure musical universe. It’s engulfing in a way you might have forgotten in the world of quick impact and rapid moving on. You can’t move on from ‘7 Days’. You don’t want to.
“Thank you man. That human aspect is because everything I make is played live in the studio, I don’t use loops or sequencing. I record it live all the way through. The only thing I programme or sequence is the drum machine. That allows that human feel to come through, even though the sounds are synthesised — it’s the way I’ve always worked.
And for me it’s important I create with those limitations because it makes you work harder to get the sound you’ve visualised. For me, that’s why that '80s music is so crucial to me. That music was blacker, it was totally futurist and forward-looking, often down to the difficult times that the '80s were, that urge to escape, to bring the future, bring the light into dark days.”
Do you see sound? “Yeah, I’ve always seen sound, seen people or scenes when I’m making music. A blue sky, a swaying tree, looking out my window, it’s how I get ideas. And then I try and reflect those feelings. It was important to me and Snoop that the album went on an emotional journey, wasn’t just a musical thing. The lyrics and the feelings behind each song are really important to what makes ‘7 Days’ work.”
BUILT TO LAST
Indeed. And for anyone who thinks they’ve heard everything Snoop has to say, listen to the gorgeous ‘Let It Go’ or the sumptuously dazzling ‘Faden Away’ to hear a tenderness, fragility, vulnerability and sweetness you might not suspect. It reminds me of how Ice-T once told me — real gangsters don’t listen to gangsta rap, they listen to Stylistics and Teddy Pendergrass...
“Exactly! They listen to things they can listen to with their lady, their families, things about love and heartbreak because that’s real toughness, that’s what’s really real.”
Is that why the album’s called ‘7 Days Of Funk’? Because in a pop world obsessed with blowing people away it’s a much rarer, more precious thing to create something that can become interwoven with everyday life. I listen to ‘7 Days’ in the car with the kids, in the bedroom with the missus.
“That’s it — It’s become a habit for young musicians to think that they have to create something that will be hot, that will take off straight away. I’m just not interested in that because I know that’s the kind of popularity that will pass by fast, will be gone quickly. I’m thinking way down the road, making music people can live with and grow up with. I’d rather have made something that will stand the test of time, years, decades from now, like the music I love, than try for some radio-friendly hot track today. The title of the album is really down to how long it took us to make it. I’m not someone interested in tweaking everything I make forever. Once it’s done it’s done. The key is recording in a relaxed, natural way, that’s everything. If you do that then humanity, and personality, can come through.”
‘7 Days’ is picking up major plaudits everywhere it’s heard, and DF finds himself in 2014, after so many years ploughing a lonely furrow on the margins, as an in-demand DJ and producer. Is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
“Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout. I’m such a massive fan of his. I’m keen to explore other kinds of music. When I was growing up I was into everything from Todd Rundgren to '80s British electro-pop to metal bands like Iron Maiden, Rush, Sabbath, Crue, Kiss. Like metal is to rock, funk to me has always been like the dirty relative of R&B and soul, the dark room in the house where all those genres get mashed up.
It’s not just a genre of music, it’s an attitude and a way of life and a way of thinking. I had posters all over my wall as a kid of all these artists and that’s how I listened to music, looking at the posters, looking out the window, escaping. I hope people can feel the same way about ‘7 Days’.”
Thee best launchpad out of here and far out there you’ll hear all Spring. Get some Dam Funk in your trunk and consider yourself armed for the future from the best of the past. No looking back. Looking UP.