Sunday, September 6, 2009

Stones Throw Label, Dam-Funk Profile Preview

For those who don't know, this summer I was fortunate enough to intern for Stones Throw Records based in Highland Park, which is on the cusp of South Pasadena and Lincoln Heights.   Stones Throw is one of the few surviving indie-hip-hop labels around today, and interestingly enough, is also a purveyor of regional funk/soul and world psychedelic re-issues through their subsidiary called Now-Again Records. Furthermore, founder DJ Peanut Butter Wolf and Stones Throw Manager/Mastermind Eothen (Egon) Alapatt have an imprint called Soul-Cal that puts out American, regional disco compilations.  I was initially compelled with Stones Throw not because of some fervent interest in hip-hop, but rather because of their eclectic output of blues-based music.  Egon basically takes the role of a music curator and reaffirms this position through his impeccable, while verging on bizarre, taste (i.e. Indonesian psych/prog rock, Korean psychedelia...the list goes on), digging up the most arcane, unheard of funk music of bands that most likely only press 500 copies of an album.   While following his Now-Again blog, I came upon a post mentioning his favorite pizza places in Brooklyn.  So, on a complete whim, I e-mailed him about restaurants and record stores to frequent while I vacationed their during spring break.  To my surprise, he actually responded, and from that moment we had a rapport of some sort.  After e-mailing back and forth, I causally asked him if I could work for the label over the summer.  He replied that it was a possibility, and after a phone interview and an incessant amout of emails reminding them of my interest, I landed the job.  
Having never been to Highland Park before, I came across a gentrified town, intermixed with a working class Mexican population and a thriving art community.    At the start of the internship, I worked out of what was called the "Dungeon", the downstairs basement/merchandise room where online orders were processed.  The perks: free LPs, CDs, books, and t-shirts.  The Downside: the basement is adjacent to an alley-way where the creepy neighbors from the next building over congregated--basically 50 year old dudes who had long pony-tails, wore cut-off jean shorts, sunglasses, and probably watched porn all day (not to mention shouting loudly over the phone under the pretense of acutally talking to someone...).  Although nothing glamorous, it was the perfect setting for me to begin my work at the ST headquarters.  In the meantime, I was able to visit his own house!  I only got a glance at the inside of his place, the floor sprawled with literally hundreds of records, and was told that there were thousands more hidden in other rooms.  I looked him in the eye, shook his hand, and he then proceeded to tell us that he "was leaving to pi
ck up some herb" with a wry smile.  I know, a two second introduction, but nonetheless...  

After 3-4 weeks  of working downstairs, I mustered up enough courage to walk into the front office to ask Egon, Jamie Strong, 
and Jeff Jank if there was anyway I could be more involved in the creative p
rocess of the label.  And surprisingly, they gave me a simple "Sure."  I was to be assigned to update two musician profiles for the website, namely Dam-Funk and J. Rocc.  I was elated, especially for the reason that I now had an opportunity to pursue something that I had long thought about: music journalism.  Dam Funk's management just notified me that they will be using my piece for promotional purposes, and I have still yet to hear about the J. Rocc article.  

And looking back at my experience, I was quite lucky to have found a niche in this tight-knit family.  It's an indie record label, and PBW and others were so welcoming and gracious.  I mean, at what other record label could I have had a sit down lunch with the founder, PBW, and one of their artists, Mayer Hawthorne?  Or my conversaton with Jeff Jank about his time spent living in Ken Owsley's house (LSD guru) in Berkeley?  By the way, his inspiration for coming up with Quasimoto was a bag of shrooms....

Below is the Dam-Funk article, which hopefully will be placed on the website soon.  I also have a press release of a new Whitefield Brothers album to share, but I'm not sure if I can reveal it yet, since Stones Throw hasn't announced anything about the album (don't want to be liable for fucking up...)

(Important Note: Dam sounds as "Dame", which is short for Damon.  People commonly mistake the sound as "Damn.")

Damn, that’s funky.

No, Dam, that s**t is fonkkky.

No, no, no: it’s just Dam Funk 


The L.A. bred ‘Ambassador of Funk’ Dam (Damon Riddick) Funk knows better than most people that “Funk” doesn’t only apply to the music, but is an overall ethos, a world vision that one can ascribe to, and an indoctrination famously aligned with P-Funk.  “It’s a lifestyle—it’s being ‘free’ at all times,” says Dam. 

 And maybe it’s his voice that exudes the funk, a sort of cool, tempered, melodic wispiness, or rather it’s what he’s hiding behind those nebulous, impenetrable glasses—whatever it is, it seems as though the spiritual form of Funk has manifested itself on Dam’s physical body.  And even his vernacular: “The drums are the backbone. They are inspired by the ‘motherland’! The chords are from the ‘mothership’!”

 But this ethereal dimension that Dam produces through his work, one that propels us to cosmic heights, is weighted and entrenched in a history of playing music. He is worldly, after all. Dam started out on the scene doing keyboard sessions with the likes of Solar Records Producer ____ (Shalamar, the Whispers, The Sylvers) and worked on the other end of the spectrum with West-Coast gangsta rap artists such as MC Eiht, Mack 10, and Ice Cube. Dam also had the opportunity to develop his chops playing drums with live bands around Los Angeles. 

 His maturation as a musician and the development of his own sound has yielded a distinct amalgam that incorporates melodic “chords mixed with hard hittin’ claps and beats that are based in Funk,” says Dam.  “I embrace synthesizers and drum machines very much. This is the sound I dig. Modern-Funk.”  Modern funk in the sense that Dam is not drawing influence from the grittier funk borne out of the 60s and 70s, but rather pastiches his own sound from artists such as Slave, (early) Prince, Mtume, Loose Ends, Roger and Zapp, P-Funk and even sonic luminaries/spearheads like Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren.  “I was doing this sound that you hear from me today before G-funk was even a term,” says Dam. Having roots in actually playing music has inevitably shaped the way Dam interprets music.  In understanding how chords connect with each other, Dam intuits the progression and modulation with deft precision to manipulate the audience as he pleases.

 Dam, like fellow peer Madlib, can be considered a curator of music in that he is trying to revive and reintroduce a music that seems to have escaped the taste of our cultural mainstream. The stigma attached to the 80s is that the music is just as bad as the perms and teased hair.  What dam is trying to show us through his music and DJing is that we have overlooked something, like a glitch on a VHS.   “It’s simply time for this genre and era to be respected. This is one of my missions through sharing the styles with people.”  And as a DJ, Dam makes sure to shout out artists and track names in order to spread awareness of the music he loves: “Hell, the DJ didn’t make the fuckin’ music…the artist did!”  Dam in turn serves as a conduit in which we can access this forgotten music and acquire a newfound appreciation.  

Dam crystallizes a distinct moment in the Musical Timeline, an era of buzzy synths and excoriating boogie, and he still harkens to the traditional methods of that time to record his music.  “I first started making home made tapes (yes, tapes!) in my bedroom.  There was no easy to use computer software back then.  You had to use elbow grease to see a completed song.  This is why I still record the same way now, most of the time.  I like the work involved.

 The term “old-school” comes to mind when thinking of Dam’s aura and sensibility, and it would probably be an accurate representation of him.  This is a man who prefers analog to Protools, a man who relishes the do-it-yourself process and vintage recording gear rather than the easy, synthetic capabilities of computer software. 

So, as the maxim goes: out with the old, in with the new.  Yet the essence of Dam Funk seems to muddle this aphorism. Although he is an extension of his past, he is moving forward to reshape the sound and perception of the music he loves.  And it is this forward motion that brings him back to the modern world.  He must live in the past to bring a new present.  

 Dam is currently in the process of putting out a 5xLP concept-album called: A Funk Odyssey.  Wanting to rekindle a time in the ‘70s in which the ‘Prog Rock’ era proliferated the notion of a ‘Concept Album’, Dam is transferring this idea to the genre of ‘Funk’, the first of its kind. 

--Written by Justin Bolois

1 comment:

nutte said...

foonkky. article..! :)

i came across u g**gling stones thro + intern.. which was initially MY plan for summer 2009! ;D

might be dropping you another line sometime soon- cheersz, f/e