The Ghetto Funk Allstars duo grew out of a blog and a label a few years ago, and they've been rocking festivals and parties ever since with their bass-heavy funk music. The guys now have a whole team running tings in relation to all things ghetto funk.
We've been hearing a lot about 'ghetto funk' recently — but what is it? DJ Mag caught up with Will Streetwise (far right in pic above) from the Ghetto Funk collective to talk about the gestation of the sound...
Hi Will, so first of all, for the uninitiated, can you tell us what ghetto funk is?
Will: “Ghetto Funk is a blog (www.ghettofunk.co.uk) we launched in late 2009 for people who were making and playing mid-tempo party breaks. It was a hub for people to find new music and artists. We then launched a label in 2010 under the same name, to releases the music our artists where making.”
How would you define your role specifically within the ghetto funk scene?
“I came up with the term 'ghetto funk' to describe bass-heavy funk music in early 2009. I then approached Slim Goodgroove with the idea. We discussed that the scene needed some direction and focus to really grow. He also had a fan-base from his Goodgroove Records imprint to do something really exciting with. So the idea of ‘ghetto funk’ as a hub for this style and sound was born off the back of those meetings. We then went on to set up a blog, label and brand of the same name.
“My role now is more based on the management of the artists we look after and curating what we do as a business. Along with our team we run all our labels, social platforms, blog, agency and events from our HQ in Bristol. We work with existing artists as well as new exciting prospects and spend our days pushing the sound in every way we can.”
How long has Ghetto Funk been recognised as a genre?
“It was first used by us about five years ago to describe the sound we were making. Before that you had 'nu-funk', which took more influence from traditional funk and hip-hop sounds. I guess you would say it was less aggressive. What ghetto funk did was open up the style and draw heavily on the bass-heavy sounds that were coming out of dubstep, bassline, even breaks and drum & bass at that time.
“As far as it being a genre, I've never called it that. To me it would be like calling all vacuum cleaners Hoovers, or all rolling papers Rizlas. It's a brand. It always has been and always will be. If people want to call it a genre, that's down to them. I used to spend hours every day telling people that 'they can't use the name ghetto funk, it's not a genre, it's a brand — a brand owned by us'. After a while, we just decided to let people use the term. Who are we to fight against what people want to do and, after all, it's all good promotion for us in the bigger picture.
“I think Soundcloud classed it a 'sub-genre' soon after we launched. Back in 2010 they had it as an option in their genre categories. So officially I'd say in winter of 2010 it became a 'genre' in the eyes of the general public.”
What other genres have the biggest influence on ghetto funk?
“It has to be hip-hop. It is the fundamental route to all modern dance music. Also, we love what hip-hop stands for. We try and work on the same ideas they did when they start. We believe the five elements of hip-hop transfer into our scene, style and sound effortlessly. It's something we try and explain to the younger artists that climb through the ranks in our scene.
“To us, it was as much about lifestyle as it was the music. The five elements covers all those bases. DJing, MCing, breakdancing, graffiti and finally — and the most important — knowledge. As the sound has grown and taken influence from so many other sounds, knowledge to new artists is the most important thing. You need to know where the music came from, the styles, the techniques and pay respect to the people who did it first, the pioneers.”
What are the specific sounds, BPM ranges and production techniques that make a record sit within the ghetto funk genre?
“That's a tough one as we release tracks on our labels from 90bpm right up to 180bpm. But the sound really is defined by tracks around the 110bpm mark. That's the tempo that seems to work best for our style.
“Also I guess bass is important, a good bassline, little bit of wobble on it and you're there. I'm talking proper deep bass, not the mid-range bass that has been exploited a lot recently in the modern dubstep/EDM sounds. It's also got to be funky — we like our percussion with a little swing.
“I think of it this way: imagine getting a rubber-band stretching to as far as you can, then flicking it so it vibrates. We want that sound, that wobble you get from it. It's about being organic and not being militant on the production, it sounds more human that way, more... well... ghetto funk.”
Who would you say are the original artists?
“Featurecast, Nick Thayer and A.Skillz. But mostly Nick Thayer I think, well, to me personally anyway. Nick was the first person who introduced me to the style and sound. He was doing what others were doing but adding his own huge basslines to it, and his vocals were always a little more aggressive... a little more in your face, which I guess was what I personally liked as a producer and a DJ.
“A.Skillz played a massive part in this scene developing, his early work on Finger Lickin and on his Insane Bangers label really showed what was possible in terms of bass-heavy funk music. Also, The Captain.”
Which artists are at the forefront of the scene today?
“Featurecast and A.Skillz I think still dominate the top spots. You can’t fault either for their productions or DJ capabilities. They know how to rock a crowd. Canadian Stickybuds has grown with us into a huge artist. When he started working with us he had a proper job, a few releases out, that was it. He embraced the sound and worked really hard at it. Now five years later he is on his winter tour doing 28 shows in 35 days. I'd also say Slynk — a great producer and wicked DJ.
“There are heaps more, some really exciting guys like Tonic, Howla, WBBL, Father Funk & B-Side. They've all been blowing up on the production front and getting names as party-rocking DJs. These are the ones to watch, the new blood.
“The final one I guess is JFB. He started off in the hip-hop/drum & bass world but soon got hooked on our sound and style. He is now representing what we do on a global scale, festivals, BBC Radio 1 and even The Olympics. He is also one of the best and most technical DJs that I've ever witnessed.”
Are there any other artists who've appropriated your name?
“There are so many people talking about and hyping about ghetto funk at the moment that it can only be a good thing. People use the term to describe a style and certain sound. I personally think that's a cool thing, as long as what they're calling ‘ghetto funk’ fits with our definition, then the more the merrier.”
Which countries have the biggest ghetto funk followings?
“Canada. Hands down. The main reason is due to the country being so bloody big. You can send an artist out to tour, they play 20 shows and each one is rammed. I wish we had those kind of numbers in England.
"However, like its predecessors drum & bass and dubstep, I would say ghetto funk is an English sound — and I would go one step more and say it's a Bristol sound. The Bristol bass scene has been very well documented over the years and rightly so, look at the legends that have come from Bristol. Having moved operations here in the last few years, it's totally embraced us and what we do and in its own special way we have embraced it too. The talent locally is a notch above the rest of the world! Yeah, Canada might be 'big on ghetto funk' but Bristol is 'big in bass music', and that's why we fit in here and why we have amassed such a large local following.”
There was a headline recently 'Ghetto Funk Is The Next Big Sub-Genre of EDM' – your response, please?
“I don’t know about this. I agree that we are very young still and we are continuing to grow as a scene all the time. Will it be the next big thing ? It's a double-edged sword really, I’d love to see us kick open the doors of the music scene and give these big guns a run for their money but I also love the fact we are small and close-knit. We are like a family, everyone knows everyone and we're all kind of working for the same end goal. All I know is if it does blow up, we are in a pretty strong position and we own the name.”
How do you find the time to look after everything?
“I don't. Slim and I own Ghetto Funk, we run it as a partnership. We have an amazing team that we have hand-picked over the years. Slim takes care of all the branding, style and overall visual representation of what we do. It's his skills as a designer that really cemented the Ghetto Funk brand.
“Sammy, aka Sammy Senior, has come onboard this year as label manager. He is responsible for all the labels that we run; liaising with all the distributors, producers, vocalists and remixers. Adam (aka Detta) is in charge of our roster. His job is to secure, confirm and manage all the external performances for our artists. I spend my time managing the artists that we look after and taking the lead on the large scale events. But the success of our team is in the flexibility of what we all do — when a job needs doing, everyone helps. We are like a family in that way, we all pitch in to get the job done. We wouldn't be where we are today without our team!”