It started with a joke. Several weeks ago, in an article about how bands can get their music played on the radio, I quipped, "Don't be a funk band." I was, of course, kidding. I don't like most funk music, but I certainly don't think anyone should take that remark to heart and actually stop making funk music. Dowhatchuwant.
(Fair warning: The word "funk" will appear in this story 39 more times.)
Seattle's funk community didn't find my joke funny. The article was angrily posted on Facebook and Twitter, and the comments and letters came pouring in. Some writers called me racist (they're wrong), some called me closed-minded (maybe—but I don't trust someone who claims to like all genres of music, because there must be something out there that doesn't sit well with you, be it metal, country, or polka), and some attempted to convert my anti-funk mind with offers of free beer (I don't drink, but thanks!).
But contrary to what is being assumed, I don't dislike all funk. I love the song "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, for example, and its bass line firmly places that song in the "forever funk" category. I'm down with the Jackson 5's funkier stuff, too ("Get It Together" and "It's Your Thing" are considered funk, right?). I have nothing but respect for funk musicians like George Clinton, James Brown, and Sly Stone, even if they aren't part of my regular listening habits. I know what kind of inspiration the genre has been to the musical landscape over the past decades, and I'm aware that much of the music I love today wouldn't exist without the work funk musicians have done. So let me reiterate: I WAS JOKING.
I do admit, though, I've lost touch with contemporary funk. Or I've begun to assume that it can't be as good as the old stuff because all my recent brushes with the genre have come by way of shitty bars full of soul patches or artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers. BARF.
Which is why, as punishment for my joke, music editor Grant Brissey invited every Northwest funk band to submit their music to The Stranger, with the promise that I would listen to it.
We got dozens of e-mails, all from (mostly) nice and brave people willing to submit their music to a person who, chances are, would not like it. Well, I listened. And here's what happened, as it happened in my brain.
The first e-mail contains one song, which doesn't give me much to work with, but it's a start. The song begins with slap bass, and the shivers go up my spine. I usually really don't like the sound of slap bass, and this is no exception. The saxophone kicks in. The first word is "baby." And there's the synth that sounds like you're swimming underwater. Nope. This is everything I DO NOT LIKE about funk. It's generic—it's funk music as funk music might sound on the set of a movie written by someone who needed to come up with a quick funk song to play in the background of a funk-themed high-school prom. I'm sorry, Braxmatics. My mind is not changed.
Blood Hot Beat
This is not funk. There are some funk elements here—horns, keyboards, some tambourine—but I wouldn't call this funk. I'd call this rock and roll. Why would you submit this as funk, Blood Hot Beat? Your funk submission is null and void (though not bad for rock and roll).
Now this is the kind of funk I can get down with! Less funk and more funky—make sense? I like it because Soul Senate deliver with a good dose of soul and Motown. It's not goofy slap-bass bullshit; it's got the swing and class of the '60s. It's got groove. Plus: They have a trumpet player named Moose.
The Staxx Brothers
Here's the problem with the Staxx Brothers: They don't actually bill themselves as a funk band. Band member Davin Michael Stedman writes in his e-mail: "While we don't bill ourselves as a funk band, we are considered a funk band by critics, who both love and criminally underrate us. That's one of the reasons we haven't received a lick of KEXP airplay. And as Megan's joke indicates, there's a hipster prejudice against funk in this indie rock town." This town has so much more going for it than just indie rock. But if you're not willing to bill yourself as a funk band, you're not doing much to change that perceived prejudice, are you? You're enabling it. You're totally a funk band—embrace it!
Eldridge Gravy & the Court Supreme
Okay, I actually like this one! And they say they're funk! Good job, Eldridge Gravy & the Court Supreme. They sound like a party. And, like Soul Senate, there's a great Motown vibe. I looooove Motown. Maybe Motown will be my gateway to funk? On the song "Throat Dry," there's an Andre 3000 meets Marvin Gaye vibe in the vocals—for most of my early 20s, I had a hardcore crush on Andre 3000. Bookmarking this and saving for later.
This e-mail asks, "Exactly what is dis-likeable about this music?" Well, to start, the fact that you spell circuit as "Sirkut" is pretty obnoxious. The music isn't bad, though, if you like electro-funk. A little repetitive, maybe. That's my only complaint. How many more bands do I have to listen to?
History for Sale
Okay, this is also not funk. Liars! You just wanted to see your name in the newspaper, didn't you? Don't lie. It's okay. But this is not funk. This is rock music with a vibe of Seattle circa 1994. Dismissed from the funk argument.
Again with the slap bass! Maybe it's not funk that I dislike, it's just the sound of slap bass. It brings visions of Flea dancing around in a sock. Shudder.
Funk! Without having to disguise it as soul or Motown to get me to like it? Dude sings like James Brown, with a tinge of Michael Jackson (RIP). He even nails those high-pitched hiccups—whoo! The bass is less slap and more groove. And that was a killer guitar solo right there! If this were playing in a bar, I would wiggle a little. Does this mean I like funk? Fuck. I might like more funk than I thought I did.