UK FUNKY 2010 HALF YEAR REPORT: WHAT'S REALLY GOOD
The most common complaint about - or, at least, resistance to - my uk funky fandom is the difficulty of actually following the scene if you're not downloading several radio sets this week, given how rare it is for a funky tune to get a proper release. So I thought i'd give you all a snapshot of uk funky in 2010 helpfully assisted by youtube. This has limited my options somewhat: no "Right There" by Eastwood, no Naughty Raver's "Drama", no Marcus Nasty/Bassboy collabos, to name but a few. But hopefully it makes connecting my purple prose to the actual sound of funky somewhat easier. I hope to follow this up with a more abstract and diffuse post regarding the state of uk funky in 2010, or something like that.UPDATE:
ILX poster Zvookster has excellently provided the following Youtube Playlist of all the tracks talked about here, including a few tracks for which youtube clips didn't exist before he created them. Go here
.Devine Collective - House Girls Part 6
Devine Collective's entire modus operandi seems to be ensuring that their very existence operates like a rumour or legend on the funky scene unless you follow very closely. You wouldn't know that they're pumping out hits in 2010 like nobody's business, building on the all-time-classic status of "People Keep Dancing" from the very end of last year - from the cheesy "Eyes On You", liberally swiping from Tim Deluxe's "It Just Won't Do", to the compulsive refix of Michael Jackson's "Thriller", to the simultaneously melodramatic, murderous and creepy "Touch Her In the Morning" (crazy slashing strings, a martial beat, and the weird refrain "I touch her in the morning / NO LIES!").
And then there's this: surely house music cannot get more apocalyptic than it sounds on "House Girls 6", a tune which bears only a tenuous connection to the original "House Girls". You're more likely to recognise the source of that eerie metallic hailstorm-like rhythm - it's the snare pattern from Dennis Ferrer's lovely "Hey Hey" of course. But while it would make sense for a Ferrer-sampling tune to signal a return to one's house roots, Devine Collective take that bewitching beat in the opposite direction, concocting a groove so overwhelmingly dense and murderous it makes Ferrer's own taste for melodrama seem decidedly kid-friendly.Drake - Find Your Love (Drew Austin Remix)
I'd understand if you want to shy away from a funky version of a Drake tune, but, well, get over it, because this is excellent. Drake's already-cyborg-like performance, so draggy and deflating on the original "Find Your Love", sounds perfect pitched up over a funky beat, the twitchy avaricious compulsion of a tweaked out 5am dancer, the blank refrain "I better find your lovin/I better find your heart" over a stark skeletal groove of kicks, snares, handclaps and an oh-so-crucial hi-hat tick becoming the paranoid, desperate premonition of (and shriek of defiance at) the comedown that awaits. Rudimental ft Adiyam and Shantie MC - Midnight Affair
"Midnight Affair" stands in as a microcosm of funky in 2010: the way the dreamy female vocal - much more R&B than house - seems to sing against the rhythm rather than squarely on top of it (the usual house diva approach), the way the restrained bass & beat combo dramatically brocks out halfway through each verse with heavy, metallic snares lashing out at your ears, not to mention the way MC Shantie's guest verse complements the vocals perfectly with its prissy, nimble flow bouncing over the groove with a cheerful rhythmic precision that's straight outta 2-step ("Bye lads! I've weighed up the options; see you later!"). In some ways my favourite funky tune on 2010 so far, or at least the one which, by virtue of its desire to cater for every need, I return to most often.Donae'o - I'm Fly
Really hoping this is the hit (finally) that Donae'o deserves: lord knows it leaps out of the speakers like it's trying to claw it's way above every other funky tune, and Donae'o has this kind of "is he joking or serious" gonzo quality you'd think would appeal to a generation that embraced Akon so quickly and easily. From that slamming beat like someone trying to hammer a pick into your skull, to Donae'o's ridiculous succession of repetitive vocal tics in a variety of registers, "I'm Fly" is less a song than a loosely but masterfully assembled bundle of great hooks, halfway between the slightly jokey vibes of "Party Hard" and the more ominous intensity of "African Warrior". Aramac - Hurt Inside / Emvee - Windrush Riddim
Two peas from the same pod. "Windrush Riddim" is just so propulsive and exquisite and get-out-of-your-seat irresistible, a kinetic bundle of joy built out of a few organ chords, strings, xylophones, an indecipherable vocal sample, and then one of the most deliciously careening rhythms ever recorded, constantly tumbling over itself as it races for some imaginary finish line. "Hurt Inside" adds a certain tropical exuberance to the same basic formula, its soca snares sounding like dogs cheering you on (I kid not) as you try to dance to the impossibly convoluted groove - these tunes are funky at its most sheerly fun since Fuzzy Logic's "Leader".SMI - 60 Hertz
Something like a 2010 equivalent to Altered Natives' "Rass Out", a tune proudly flexing its ostentatiously blunt muscularity, and yet remaining ridiculously upbeat and smiley. "60 Hertz" is all about the drop which, when it arrives, cheerfully takes the tune in a carnivalesque direction you'd never have guessed from the menacing build.Undisputed - Fya
Undisputed did a great half hour mix for BBC 1xtra which marked them out as the foremost practitioners of synthetic funky: funky that sounds like it's been listening to bassline, Terra Danjah, even electro-house, foregrounding slimy, slithery metallic textured synth riffs and basslines. Their own 2009 anthem "Sunglasses" remains their pinnacle, but the overloaded robot charge of "Fya" is Undisputed at their most extreme - turgid and unrelenting, it might be worryingly Caspa/Rusko/Distance-ish if not for its dedication utterly compulsive syncopation.T2 - Better Off As Friends (Lil' Silva Remix)
Of course Lil' Silva remains the original master of evil robot funky, and pretty much all his big tunes of 2010 - "Against Yaself", "Night Skanker", "No Hooks" - carry the same virus, setting frigid bass, shrieking high-pitched electro melodies (or synthetic strings etc) and ostentatiously violent-sounding military snares against each other in unapologetically warlike confrontations. But his remix of T2's vocal tune "Better Off As Friends" remains my favourite of such efforts, perhaps because of the unlikely quality of the collision: the mournful vocals aren't buried by those jackhammering snares but lifted by them, making a break-up anthem that sounds like the world ending.Sabrina Washington - OMG (Ill Blu Remix) / Craig David - One More Lie (Ill Blu Remix) / Cheryl Cole - Parachute (Ill Blu Remix) / Roll Deep - Good Time (Ill Blu Remix) / Roll Deep - Green Light (Ill Blu Remix)
Five pop remixes that demonstrate Ill Blu's increasing mastery of the form, notwithstanding their maximalist, self-absorbed production style (Ill Blu's "sin" as pop-remixers lies in reducing every vocal performance to sounding like a session vocalist playing second-fiddle to the track's instrumental majesty). On "OMG" the beat is so deliberately neanderthal, it's like Sabrina is so consumed with mindless divatude jealousy she's regressing to a pre-human state, finally peaking/touching-bottom with a wordless ravey sigh of pure intensity "uh uh ayee uh uh ayee". "One More Lie" uses tense syncopated snares and ridiculous string riffs to transform Craig's wimpy moping into a defiant spitting in the devil's eye at the gates of hell. The nervous, wired "Parachute" remix utlises slithery, radioactive synth pulses and woodblock beats to give Cheryl's drab original an air of possessive intensity, less endless love and more single white female. And the remixes of "Good Time" and "Green Light", appropriately, reimagine an entirely different path for grime from underground to chart success, one where ravey sonics and Technotronic populism and singalong diva hooks aren't achieved at the expense of edgy rhythms and thrillingly high-stakes hi-jinx.
Redlight - Stupid
"Stupid" is more determinedly bass-driven and less glitzy than the above Ill Blu remixes, but it's cut of much the same cloth, trying to find a route by which manic rave energy and pop smarts don't cut against each other but slice together (through your skeptical bespectacled "skanking" reserve hopefully - if you're dancing to this stuff at half speed you can fuck right off in my opinion). With its one-note glowering bassline "Stupid" conjures images of masculine thuggish funky (though no more so than "Fya" above) but the beat is so frisky and fleet-footed that it never sounds anything other than entirely sensual and pleasure-centered. Or maybe that's due to Roses Gabor's marvelous tongue-twisting vocals.Screama & Farah - Kiss Me / I Won't Lose
What makes Farah so precious as a diva is the way her sense of ordinariness and humanness is not achieved by simply leaving in flaws or toning down trained diva theatrics, but somehow finding a way for the latter to give birth to the former - her melisma is so natural and unforced, always giving the sense of the tussle between emotions - frustration and desire on "Kiss Me", self-doubt and resolve on "I Won't Lose" - even as she sings each line. Screama's grooves here are simple and classicist-sounding, but something about them imprints deeply in my consciousness: hearing those signature beat patterns emerge in the mix never fails to be exciting. "Kiss Me", a not-so-subtle ode to cunnilingus, is of course an instant anthem; the more muted "I Won't Lose" sounds like a pale imitation at first, but its gorgeously delicate performance finishes just as strong.J Labelz - Touch Me
I kind of have a weakness for diva tracks which basically announce "I will sexually dominate you", and the diva on "Touch Me" is so pregnantly sultry that she'd sound lascivious even if she wasn't singing "Wanna get nasty / wanna do freaky thangs." Much like Seb Chu's "You Got Me" from 2009, "Touch Me" is pretty simple and spare, a slightly syncopated beat, a few piano chords and heatstroke synth chords, but its almost unbearable lustiness makes entirely irresistible.Funk Butcher ft. Shea Soul - Pull Me Close
There's no evidence that funky is moving away from its beginnings with post-"Cure and the Cause" sultry, well, funky house, though it's notable that the rhythms on vocal tunes are much more consistently wired than they used to be: "Pull Me Close" sounds like broken beat, its propulsive, compulsive beat literally feeling slightly busted. Shea's vocal is excellent, worming its way around the beat in a manner that is becoming typical for vocal tunes in 2010, like a snake charmer enticing the rhythm further and further out of the box. "Boy... do you like the way I wiggle / left / right / front / back / Drop! Oh, boy..." It's a gorgeously sinuous performance as much a part of the groove as the beat.Greyman - XZero / Invasion Countdown
Smoove Kriminal - Stop That
Horace Brown - Shake It Up (Smoove Kriminal Remix)
LR Groove, Greyman and Smoove Kriminal are part of a new generation of tribal roller kings, mostly putting out taut, minimal grooves taking their cues from Swift Jay (where you gone Swift Jay??) and early Fingaprint, the focus on just how head-wreckingly chopped up the beat can get while still rolling. None of LR Groove's classics appear to be on Youtube unfortunately, but Greyman's "XZero" is a handy intro, little more than military snares so heavy, so dense that at times all you can hear is their sticky slide together - otherwise it's just some spare organ chords and Greyman's signature laughing ghost dog sample. "Invasion Countdown", like Naughty Raver's (sadly unyoutubable) masterpiece "Drama", takes those floating soca five-beat-per-bar patterns to a new level of, um, drama, its five-stab organ chord building an unbearable level of tension over clicking and hissing percussion.
Smoove Kriminal's "Stop That", with its chiming drums and collapsing horn samples is another great example, it's like every component has been ruthlessly examined and assessed for how much it contributes to the groove, and then removed if it didn't reach the producer's exacting standards. On an entirely different tip, Smoove Kriminal's gorgeous remix of Horace Brown's "Shake It Up" - the perfect R&B tune for a 2-step or funky remix because, while purportedly being a single-minded dancefloor bomb it ends up sounding all sentimental and teary-eyed, though maybe that's because 2-step/funky's habit of pitching up male R&B vocalists makes them seem more urgent and emotional and all shook up. The early breakdown with just bass and Horace's spoken word commands is simply beautiful.
Scratcha DVA - Schizophrenic
Must admit to feeling slightly ambivalent about the grim, serious direction in which Scratcha DVA's DJ sets seem to be heading: he's increasingly playing frowney tunes that are a little too dubstep-ish for my tastes. It's not that he should play more housey vocal tunes - in fact DVA's sets are always scrupulous in including at least a handful of these - but that there's developing an absent middle, a lack of tracks which effortlessly balance out fun with darkness, sensuality with ravey energy, the real vibey stuff if you follow my meaning. And that stylistic drift can't help but infect my sense of his productions, which arent obviously furrow-browed but easily can be read that way. So it's a good shake-up to hear "Schizophrenic", to my ears his best effort since the peerless "Hard House" from early 2009. This is club-footed, stompy, fucked-up and stuttery, sharing the same sense of actually totally destroying the groove as his Hyperdub release "Natty" (both tunes ape the old grime 8-bar habit of hopping back and forth between two entirely different rhythmic matrices as if trying to walk on hot coals), but with its big bold synth chords and goofy bassline it's also unfailingly smile-inducing.MJ Cole - Volcano Riddim
Easy to forget how much a master of the banger MJ Cole was when he wanted to be; to date his rep in funky is based more on bangers than vocal tunes, and "Volcano Riddim" is undeniably the best of the lot, one of those tunes that basically exists to be rewound so you can live through its many breakdowns over and over again: atonal string riffs aspiring to reach the top of an impossibly high mountain, only to erupt in galloping snares and turgid bass when they get there.Addictive - Bad Girl (Champion Remix)
Not always sure what I think of Champion, who seems to get a bit dreary when he's actively trying to pay tribute to jungle or garage hits of the past - see his refixes of "Lighter" and "Hyperfunk". Rather like 30 Rock's theory of plummeting enjoyment as computer animated porn approaches reality, UK funky which flirts too openly with recalling jungle or garage hits of the past often ends up sounding like breakbeat garage or something. Not a good look. On the other hand, the rumbling "Motherboard" and the radioactive remix of Undisputed "Sunglasses" are both marvellous pieces of rib-rattling post-bassline funky; "Motherboard" in particular, with its slightly sick-sounding drums and ear-piercing synth-bass, is like D-Malice's "Gabryelle" refix with a hangover, in the best since. And when he's not trying to recreate the past Champion seems to have a really good feel for the importance of spectrum in funky: his DJ mixes are mostly excellent, as is this unlikely combination of the "Motherboard" instrumental with Addictive's sassy R&B. If you're used to the original "Motherboard", the addition of synth-strings and slightly shrill female vocals will sound thoroughly wrong for the first ten listens, at which point it will magically start to sound thoroughly right.Carnao - Get Out
Hard to describe the appeal of "Get Out" - isn't it just slightly syncopated deep house? Well, yes, if you put it that way, but it's also so much more than that: the often-wordless dreamy falsetto vocals professing indifference to a departing lover, the weirdly haunting pulsating groove, the poltergeist eeriness of it all - it reminds me in feel (if not strict sound) of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name". It's one of those tunes that always makes you sad when the DJ mixes into something else: it deserves to float on for at least another ten minutes.
Illmana - Kiss You
Stern, imperious soca-grime diva theatrics. Like "Midnight Affair", "Kiss You" could stand in for a whole host of ideas percolating in funky, its delicate female vocal buoyed by the tuba bass surges and pinging synth work that sounds like it's wandered in from a dark grime tune. With every passing month funky somehow knows better what it's always known: that it succeeds not by being fundamentally new, but by complicating ideas you thought you knew - like house, like R&B, like pop, like grime, like dancehall, but more relentlessly rhythmic, and not casually or airily or fetishistically so, but dangerously so. On "Kiss You" every single element deployed percussively, turning what would be a sweet love song into an exhausting, punishing work-out.