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Astro Travelin'

Dâm-Funk plots another new course in funk music

Matthew Scott
D?m-Funk brings Afro-futurism to a new generation.

By Nate Oak | Posted 3/10/2010


Ottobar, March 14

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Futurism as a theme in funk is not a new idea. George Clinton piloted the Mothership; Afrika Bambaataa crafted the electro-funk anthem and hip-hop cornerstone "Planet Rock." In the spirit of progression, Dâm-Funk takes his music down yet another bold new road worthy of the future-funk greats.

Dâm-Funk's (pronounced "dame funk") fascinating, psychedelic boogie-funk odyssey Toeachizown was one of 2009's best albums. Released by Los Angeles' Stones Throw Records, haven to hip-hop mad genius Madlib, Dâm-Funk's debut full-length clocked in at an epic 140 minutes. Dâm-Funk, whose real name is Damon Riddick, crafts what he terms "modern funk." This is not Snoop Dogg's kitschy Sensual Seduction; Toeachizown takes inspiration from Slave and Prince without rehashing them. The result is a path directed by the past, yet distinctly futuristic in its destination.

On first listen, the synthesizers and second-hand drum machines of Riddick's distinctive sound feel out of place in an era of advanced digital-audio workstations and personal sound-design programs. On closer inspection, though, tracks such as "Candy Dancin'" and "Searchin' 4 Funk's Future" reveal their hidden treasures, such as airy pads and propulsive bass lines. Day-glo lead lines swirl and dance, taking you on an intergalactic journey through the album's many instrumental passages. Riddick's music is cosmic, yet, most importantly, firmly grounded in an intangible sense of groove.

Toeachizown was released initially as a five LP box set. "I want to be someone that when people look back, even if I never make a record again, five, 10 years later, people will look back and say, 'That was the cat that made a five-record box set for his debut album," Riddick says by phone from his home in Leimert Park, Calif. "Toeachizown is not something you can dissect in one day--you have to sit with it and chill. Everything in there is carefully constructed.

"I wonder if one day people will ever really dissect the music to see what I dropped in there," he adds.

This sort of idiosyncrasy invades all points of Riddick's life, from his immediately recognizable hairdo to his notorious weekly party. Riddick has been running the popular Funkmosphere party in Los Angeles for more than three years. He's known for shouting the artist, title, and the release year of his selections, disseminating the knowledge he has gained from countless hours of digging to build his massive collection of more than 5,000 records. Riddick talks of going to clubs and asking the DJ for song titles and being rebuked with feigned ignorance. "They didn't make the music, the artist made the music," he says. "I was there to find out about the artists to buy the record or do some research.

"It's about the people," he says. "I can't lose focus on that."

Riddick's hybridized yet faithful take on funk music has earned him a range of fans, such as the United Kingdom's bass-centric DJs, and with mutual respect comes the potential for joint projects. With Toeachizown behind him, Riddick is looking into the future and plans to work with a wide variety of artists.

On his standout remix of Animal Collective's "Summertime Clothes," Riddick scraps the heady, sample-heavy original in favor of a smooth synthesizer exploration, anchored by a slightly distorted drum-machine clap. Even with the drastic shift in direction, Riddick maintains the soaring nature of the chorus. It might sound as if the only connection between the two versions is the vocals, but close attention is paid to structure and tonality.

With an AC remix under his belt, Riddick gained a new audience in the art-rock crowd. "Bernie Worrell from Funkadelic went on tour with the Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club," Riddick says. "This stuff has been happening before, it just wasn't noted."

Back on his own stylistic turf, Riddick has nearly finished an album with Steve Arrington from the legendary funk group Slave. "We have completed about 10 songs," Riddick says. "It's my favorite project I've ever worked on, because he is one of my heroes. I have sole production of the project. [Arrington]'s discovered what I've been involved with and wants to get down with it. It's an honor that he wants to work with me."

A collaboration with dubsteppers Joker and Kode 9 of Hyperdub label is also in the works, but with the tour regimens of all those involved, scheduling hasn't been easy. "When you are on the road, it is hard to complete a request or a dream that you have," Riddick says. "We have all been in touch about this and there is definitely going to be something going on with Hyperdub."

By ignoring the idea of funk as a rigid genre, Dâm-Funk has opened doors across the music community. And, he adds, "I have a whole different sound people haven't heard yet that I can't wait to share."

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