Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I have heard so much – too much – UK funky that I absolutely love this year, to the point that I could name more funky tracks I love from 2009 than all the other music I love from this year combined. At this point, funky is not merely the music dearest to my heart currently, but ever: increasingly, I’m convinced that it’s the closest thing to a skeleton key for my entire enjoyment of music that I’m likely to come across.

Such revelations call for epic thinkpieces, and assuredly there will be one.

But for now, I want to share with you the funky tracks that have made my year-so-far. The plan is to talk about one hundred of them, in no particular order, though I'll probably save the best for last. Hoping you get something out of it.

Cooly G – Dis Boy Part 4
At this stage I’m only planning to talk about Cooly G once, but I probably split this three ways between “Dis Boy Part 4”, “Ya Instrumental” and “Love Dub”. “Ya Instrumental” is the disorienting track perfect for MCs, all discombobulated bass burbles, stuttering kicks and unidentifiable vocal samples like a small child being strangled. “Love Dub” is the romantic, atmospheric number, MJ Cole’s “Sincere” on mogadon (a great idea btw). “Dis Boy Part 4” falls somewhere between the two, simultaneously lugubrious and light as a feather, its strobing synth chords and restlessly sweeping hi-hat patterns evoking images of a rave in an iron lung, the e’d up vibes shrunken to a claustrophobic shell. “I know dis boy from round the way…” the singer sighs ambivalently, “he says he wants to run away…” She doesn’t sound too happy about it, and I have to say that refusing to see the joy in things is kinda Cooly’s modus operandi: all her tracks have this nervous, desiccated vibe that probably prevents me from liking her more than I do, which is somewhere between “a lot” and the slavish fanboy devotion she seems to inspire in others. If funky is so often about a kind of fierce joy in rhythmic excess, Cooly G’s vibe is pure pre-millenial tension. As a result she can occasionally come across as funky for dubstep fans (her first proper vinyl release is on Hyperdub, go figure), but if we must have such a thing it’s difficult to imagine it being done better than here.

Moony – Donnie
One micro-narrative I’ve long maintained is that between them grime and dubstep missed a trick by moving too quickly past that oh-so-brief moment circa 2001-2002 that I’ve always called “midnight garage”: rolling assymetrical grooves that owe equal amounts to jungle’s breakbeat manipulations and dancehall, and a vibe that was dark as and yet still sexy in typical garage fashion, very much a “this year’s model” take on the kind of darkside sultriness that garage always did to perfection anyway. Think tunes like the Bump & Flex Dancehall Dub of Cleptomaniac’s “All I Do”, London Dodgers’ “Down Down Biznizz”, The Ends’ “Are You Really From The Ends?”, Target’s “Earthwarrior”. So much of funky’s “trackier” end has seemed like a pre-meditated attempt to please me personally by bringing this moment of possibility back to life.

Moonie’s “Donnie” is an excellent example: for what is nominally a house track, it sounds remarkably like, oh I dunno, Timbaland circa 2001/2002? I’m reminded of the production on the first Bubba Sparxx album in particular, amazing tunes like “Twerk A Little”, that same sense of… not minimalism, but focus, the single loop pummeling you and not bothering to do much more because no more is needed. But also Missy’s ‘Under Construction’ album: an under-recognised attempt to synthesise typical breakbeat loops with the most avant of production techniques. There’s really only one loop here – give or take some bongo patters in the background – but it’s simply beautiful. Funky doesn’t seem to have any specific “outer limit” in terms of what ties its rhythms back to house, but a common tactic is to have kicks on the one and the four and to let the middle of each bar do what it wants. On “Donnie” that means stabbing dancehall kicks followed by a sudden rush of snares, like the drums are being sucked into a giant, deadly rotor. Around this Moony laces eerie, wilting synth vamps and ghostly RZA-style hums and sighs; but if “Donnie” is haunted, its spirits are too busy dancing to the groove to pander to pathos-hunters.


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