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Is Funk Dead? Depends On Who You Ask.

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Parliament

Let’s face it. Funk music is truly a lost art. The powerful blasts of funk that we enjoyed when Parliament hit the airwaves with Flashlight, Rick James‘ launched Superfreak into our drab lives, Sly Stone smacked us with Thank You with all of their thumping bass lines are pretty much liner notes in our memories.

So the questions still remain; Is funk truly dead? Will our live musical ventures moving forward simply be rehashes, recreations and reunions? Are there no bands who can recreate that all encompassing sound that sucks you in and becomes an important footnote in your life like the songs of old? What were those songs able to accomplish that newer artists and bands find impossible to replicate? Let’s deal with them one by one.

Is funk truly dead?
In the form of old funk style, it appears to most that funk definitely is dead. Many of us who live and breathe funk know that there are many bands that keep the flame lit. Bands like Orgone, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, and amazing projects like the Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown, Rock Candy Funk Party and others. But the fact remains that radio could care less about funk. Society is so busy being spoon-fed garbage by top 40 radio that they’ve almost become numb to anything with any musical value (In the top 40 realm). Most people only musically consume what they’re provided by radio and in that regard, funk is dead. But for those of us who are willing to delve into the depths of regional acts here in the states, there are many bands to choose from to quell that funky beast, but they fall off like flies as they suffer obscurity and lack of funds. Overseas in Europe, funk is thriving.

Will our live musical ventures moving forward simply be rehashes, recreations and reunions?
It’s disturbing, but once again, it certainly feels as if our funk fixations are kept alive by Parliament Funkadelic, Earth Wind and Fire, and Ohio Players reunion and “we’re still here” shows. And our bells and whistles scream joy when we hear about Sly Stone and The Time reunions.  However, we’re only presented with the hits and while they’re great to hear, it only serves as a reminder that nothing new or truly praiseworthy has come to the forefront since. A lot of great music and collaborations have come out, but they fizzle and die quicker than a flash. Which leads us to…

Parliament Mothership Connection

Are there no bands who can recreate that all-encompassing sound that sucks you in and becomes an important footnote in your life like the songs of old?
Yes, absolutely there are.  The missing piece is that the funk of the 70’s and 80’s was about “the show”. It wasn’t just about the song. It was the boots, the Mothership Connections, the afros, the bellbottoms, the groovy-ness.  Bands nowadays place the weight and probability of their success solely on the music. What bands lack now is the marketability. There are so many bands pushing out amazing funky music, but there’s nothing to grab the public’s attention. Nothing that makes the public say, “Did you see that?” And how could that even be possible anymore?

We are living in world of visual stimulus where not only can you create some amazing visuals to go with your funky song, but it can also be disseminated light years quicker than the word of mouth travel that the bands of yore had to work with. The only way another individual was going to experience or see what someone else described to them was to wait for an official VHS tape to come out or go see it themselves. Now your message and “visuals” can be sent across the world in minutes to be seen by millions.

Prince - Bikini

What were those songs able to accomplish that newer artists and bands find it impossible to replicate?
This all goes back to marketing and it’s not just funk. All music suffers from the same problems. Think of any artist that has attained notoriety and fame and you’ll find someone that has not only mastered their marketing strategically, but brought something different, unusual, new, or gawk-worthy to the table.

It wasn’t just great music, but something else for people to really talk about. Prince? The androgynous, bikini brief wearing, sex fiend ploy comes to mind. Parliament? The entire space alien mothership connection. Lady Gaga? Crazy outfits and meat dresses.  Elton John? Over the top fashion and huge glasses. And if they weren’t doing something off the wall, their voices were unlike anything else on the airwaves. Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, The Cure, Robert Plant, Barry White, and the list keeps going of vocalists that sing or deliver unlike any others.

So bands must ask themselves. Even if we have amazing music with the best chord changes and songwriting ever heard, what do we bring to the table? What do we do differently than anyone else that no one will be able to replicate without being seen as a copycat to me and my efforts? What’s your shtick?

The short of the story is that there are many great funk bands out there and if your’e in one of them, you need to decide what you bring to the game. Just having great artists and music simply isn’t enough anymore to make it out the muck and be seen outside of the riff-raff. There’s too much noise and you have to bring it.

Morris Day and JeromeEven as an interviewer, I was asked by my colleague the other week, what do you do differently? Anyone can pick up the mike and interview someone as long as they ask intelligible questions. How do you separate yourself? Starting with my next interview, you’ll probably want to note the change that’s coming.

People love funk. They hit the floor in droves at the first drum beat of Brick House or guitar note of Play That Funky Music. It already has its talons in society’s backbone, but nothing new can manage to penetrate the eardrums of mainstream radio.

We have new funk music in spades, but no one is hearing it. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what you’d like to see and your ideas about how we can change the landscape of funk. Not for any specific band in particular, but as a funk collective. What can we do to revive it? Or is the current state of music and radio too overwhelmed with garbage for our efforts to even make a difference?

Talk among yourselves.

 

21 thoughts on “Is Funk Dead? Depends On Who You Ask.

  1. To bad there are few bands that remind us of bands from the past, but watch for Brandon Jarod. He has a new sound and force that will bring back the old forces.

  2. FRR,

    Very nicely done article, asking the question. The American Funk n’ Brass Foundation is now responding to the cause. We are developing a funk community on line and in the clubs of San Diego, resuscitating the funk.

    Our band, the Full Strength Funk Band, comes complete with a full horn section, vintage keys and lots of percussion. We are playing covers currently, but we are also writing and diversifying the funk into a smaller funktet and hopefully a school-based brass band. We have choreographers, dancers and we are writing dance moves to our funk tunes. We hope to bring this into the schools as well.

    We are bringing the funk back as an art form, but we need radio play, exposure and community support. So get involved any way you can here at Funk Republic Radio or with us. A funk force to be reckoned with.

    We appreciate your funkiness and your support.

    Cheers,

    Robert Swats Wishner, DVM
    Executive Director
    The American Funk n’ Brass Foundation

  3. Funk is seeing a resurgence, but it never was a hugely popular genre anyway. So, unfortunatley it still won’t be on the radio. Check out the bands, Turkuaz (an NYC funk band) and The Styletones (a San Diego funk band). It’s good music and they put on pretty good live shows.

    1. Dewbert,

      The Styletones and Stevie and the HiStaxx and Full Strength Funk and the Euphoria Brass Band and many more to come, in San Diego alone. The American Funk n’ Brass Foundation will help connect, drive and inspire funk and brass band music, as it resurges, or on account of AFBF. Looking forward to doing a lot, bringing funk back. Swats

  4. They say and keep saying one era in the other out. Base upon all genre Funk is new and sophisticated edge twisted hang on high , face book , twitter, pintrest , Yahoo, Google, AOL ed, you name it , it still Funk up.. Funk base on my mentors and my predecessors it just that funk riding in all forums now. You cannot bring back the yesterday but you can make yesterday today funk, funk,,…. O K why criminally accuse bands in the late 60’s 70’s 80’s and to day for a era never to repeated again. But will surface with a new round of funk, its that saying what goes around comes back around to make sure you did not miss anything.Funky.loll/// . Since we been out of sabbatical for well over 25 years and fresh in the skillet of hot funky grease bass slapping funk. We see the demise. Its the Industry. Pop is popular music they cover over the melodic with treble bass lines. Smooth Jazz brings it out. R&B masquerade the melody with vocals but the Hook is funky. Rock loves it in everything they do now, It went west were it started but lied low in the east with just hooks. Now Europe copies but reinvent tech sound Funk music for the Clubs . And The D J’s around the world hurl it through the Funk sphere where funks live infinitely. So we see it feel it growing and now we can Help encourage bands do your own music , and they will. But funk Lives in all of us. And it will be successful now and years to come . But not like the patent era it started in the 80’s It still the party of party sounds of today to tomorrow. I am what I am a funk master student of Lords of the Funk Clinton,Duke,Hancock,Graham,Wooten,Miller,Clark,Chic,T.O.P SlyStone,Rufus,Chaka,Franklin,Q,Gardiner,Johnson’s,Wonder, M,Gaye, you name we do it.. It lives in the soul funk, can not stop the funk to realms unknown.

  5. As long as I’ve know it “Funk” has been an adjective.
    It used to be a noun. It used to have legs and hips in its own right. And they used to walk wherever they damn-well wanted. I don’t want to judge whether the change is right or wrong. It is, in effect, only sign of the times. But for the feeling we get from the classics to remain alive in the wintery aural-climate of today, the funk must walk again. It cannot come as a throwback. It demeans the genre to historical kitsch.

    The funk will not be wearing glittered platform boots. The funk will not arrive by Mothership. The funk will not be fined for failing to shine its shoes. The funk WILL still hit that nerve.

    Most importantly, like the best of the fore-funk, the funk of tomorrow (today) will have something to say. “Flashlight”, “Thank You Fallettin me”, “Say it loud” – they each gave you a dose of the truth under the coat of a groove. Today it ‘aint about civil, it’s something new.

    Don’t look back for the funk, and don’t look in the ground.
    The funk is alive and its got a new pair of shoes.

    JL

  6. I agree with JL…you can learn from the funk of the past, but in order to move forward, musicians have to try to create new sounds in new ways. Part of creating something new requires taking some risks and embracing your vulnerability. When you put your funk out there it might stick and it might not, but you have to take risks and put yourself out there if you want to move the genre forward, hit that nerve and make a human connection.

    Coco

  7. el funk es futuro , palabras del mismo george clinton .´por ese motivo e creado el museum of funk en tributo a las mas lejendarias bandas de este genero musical en esculturas de metal

  8. There is 1 aspect you left out…ENDURANCE. Tell me which bands from 2005 on do you think will STILL be around touring ALL over the world like Parliament..Lakeside.. Ohio Players (rip sugar) PROPS TO MY BOYS ..ZAPP..(whom you didn’t mention)..and MANY MANY OTHER FUNK GROUPS straight outta Dayton Ohio…Techno will not be hot forever..personally it doesn’t move me…I want music with HEART…And were 40 plus years later and Funk is STILL GOING..We got a FUNK HALL OF FAME were trying to establish in Dayton Ohio now..I assure you its NOT DEAD !!!!

  9. No, Funk is not dead. Commercial radio is now trend followers, no longer trend setters by their music picks. DJ’s can’t do that any longer, only corporate suits can do that. We wonder why record sales are down ? Its not just the Internet.

  10. Thanks for the list of active funk banks (Orgone, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, the Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown, and Rock Candy) I have some research to do 🙂

    1. Check out Turkuaz (a Brooklyn-based funk band) and The Styletones (a San Diego funk band). They’re a couple of my favorites.

  11. Saw a great VH1 show about funk last night called “Finding The Funk.” Catch it if you can. They mentioned a whole slew of old funk bands I never heard of. They went by so fast. I need to get that list somehow. And, Sly Stone didn’t look too good. It was pretty sad.

  12. Shifting trends support death of the artist as the mainstream of the pilfering process. No matter the supporting cliques of supporters, this ‘market’ – like punk – is either a) a ‘genre’ (and I don’t believe that) that reached it’s peak with the audience it was designed for or b) could not be marketed to the extent that corporations have steam-rolled the mainstream for. Like with reggae and dub, even country – it’s all been rick-rolled into a KFC ‘Cheesy Bucket Bowl’ of consumerism – it’s like the media is just waiting for the deaths of stars that defined their audiences – to capitalize off their catalog(s) and defend percentages and profit margins to justify revenue sales. Music has lost so much of it’s power and primal purity in replacement for advertisement & brand logo marketing ploys (the latest shoes, the latest phones, the latest drinks, etc) and cheap theatrics distracting the audience from any real talent or creative spark. Even movies have lost the true inspiration of the director controlled by corporate revenue interest in product. What chance does this viable raw energy stand when you got a bunch of disinterested fuckwads thinking of a buck? I don’t want to go on and on – but it’s just the new face of the loss of freedom we’ve all ‘click to agree’ terms and conditions may apply

  13. Like u said something to look at with today technology u can do alot..somebody has to have a vision.

  14. To m, funk is = groups like : Atlantic Starr, Bar-Kays, Brass Construction, Cameo, Central Line, Chic, Con Funk Shun, DeBarge, Delegation, Dynasty, Earth Wind & Fire, Fat Larry’s Band, Gap Band, Imagination, Instant Funk, Kool & The Gang, Lakeside, Mass Production, Midnight Star, Ohio Players, One Way, Shalamar, Side Effect, Skyy, S.O.S. Band, Switch, Sylvers, Whispers, Womack & Womack …etc. ; then : YES, funk is definitely DEAD, and since the late 1980s it is ! And since most of these groups are no longer active (and probably never will), there’s little chance for a revival. No, really; funk was a genre from the 1970s & 1980s (just like New Wave and Heavy Metal for instance); today, it’s all about electro and shit-hop; well : funk is dead, and let the past be the past !

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