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Dâm, That Was Funky!
Time traveling from the lo-fi/sci-fi futuristic ’80s to once upon a time called right now, Dâm Funk makes people move
Dâm Funk deejays funk and plays funk and records funk and collects funk and named himself Dâm Funk because after so many years, he had to acknowledge that he has practically become a being of pure funk. TheNew York Times called him a “passionate advocate of ’80s funk,” and even that doesn’t go far enough. He has abandoned age (“I say I’m timeless! I don’t even remember my age”) and birth name (although if you’re the kind of person who prefers Clark Kent to Superman, the information is out there) and possibly even solid food. He feeds on funk now: “You can live off music. If you got the right sounds on your CD or iPod, you can go the rest of the day and survive!”
He’s known informally now as the “ambassador of funk,” a title he accepts with humility. “It’s an honor to be known as the ambassador of anything,” he says. And he’s known internationally for a series of unexpected remixes. Baron Zen’s “Burn Rubber” was his breakout, and Animal Collective’s “Summertime Clothes” splashed him into a whole new audience this spring. That’s what got TheNew York Times’ attention.
But funk has been his life as far back as he’ll tell the story—back to little Dâm Funk growing up in Pasadena. He was left alone a lot then, he says. He’d play his drums and listen to the neighbors playing slick funk hits by Slave and Pleasure (both of whom he still loves) and watch strange, strange things on pre-cable TV. He’d soak up outré horror films such as Phantasm and rubber monsteramas with Godzilla and cheapo loud-noise/bright-color cartoons such as Scooby-Doo, which is still his hands-down favorite, he says. Later he’d session on keyboards for many of the best in West Coast gangsta rap. “Real gangstas don’t have to lift a finger,” he says. “That’s the background I come from.” But the pure and true expression of Dâm Funk was then—and remains now—that lo-fi/sci-fi sound of the futuristic ’80s.
This isn’t the stripped-down funk of James Brown, machined to meet the Godfather’s legendarily precise specifications. Instead, this is “modern funk,” the triple overlap of disco, Kraftwerk and Parliament that spent years neglected by collectors: garish glowing synthesizer melodies and an absolutely pugilistic rhythm designed specifically to aid smooth movement on the dance floor or the street or in perhaps even-more-romantic places? (Nothing so perfectly soundtracks a slow pan from two lovers entwined as modern funk.) It’s slick and suave and otherworldly. And the shock of the kitsch—for this is music almost hermetically, affectionately sealed into its time and place, like ’77 punk or ’67 California country—dissipates instantly before Dâm Funk’s confidence and commitment. It’s escapism, he explains. “I don’t want to say, ‘Keep it real.’ I wanna say, ‘Keep it fantasy.’ Too much is real,” he says. “You know what I’m saying?”
He’s a Gemini, he says, “not to be so hung up on astrology.” His two sides are Dâm Funk the DJ—the resident selector at his weekly Culver City club Funkmosphere, at which he shares all his favorite songs—and Dâm Funk the original musician, who started puzzling together his own Prince-inspired boogie as a kid and who (after a setback when his laptop full of masterworks was boosted from his car after a party in LA) will finally be releasing a staggering five-LP box set called Toeachizown in October on LA’s Stones Throw. The cover—featuring Dâm Funk in the sunglasses that time forgot—looks like The Terminator meets Mantronix. He’ll also be releasing a selection of teenage Dâm Funk tracks with Stones Throw, as well as further personal oddities on his own label. It’s more funk than any normal man could stand, but—as an ambassador—he’s got to make sure he’s made enough for everybody.
“[My music] is for riding around or just listening in your home or dancing,” he says. “That’s a taboo word sometimes, but I like the music I play to make people move. I want it for people who aren’t going to just network the whole night—but then again, it is for the guy at the bar who came solo and just has a drink and nods his head. I do music for blue-collar people and people who are in the know. Not just beat fanatics. I like seeing people in regular tennis shoes and people in the latest styles—I try to bring everybody together!”
Dâm Funk with special guests at the Continental Room, 115 W. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton; myspace.com/thecontinentalroom. Tues., 9 p.m. Check website for cover. 21+.