If funk music has a Zen guru, it’s probably Dam Funk. For the Los Angeles-based producer/DJ, funk isn’t just a style of music, it’s a higher state of being. It’s an inspirational and quasi-spiritual pursuit that one might practice in order to achieve perfect harmony with the past, present, and future. Dam Funk’s answering machine message includes only one word before the beep: funkmosphere. But that’s pretty much all the information that you need. It’s where Dam Funk’s consciousness resides. It’s also a weekly DJ night that he hosts. But even if you live far from the West coast, it’s still a place that he can help you get to, you just have to tune into his music—precision-programmed grooves and lush analog synth chords that ripple through the hi-fi like the water in a freshly chlorinated swimming pool. He was kind enough to talk with Washington City Paper about boogie, modern funk, and, among other things, memories from the future.
Dam Funk will perform Thursday, May 7, at 930 Club with Peanut Butter Wolf, James Pants, and Mayer Hawthorne.
Washington City Paper: What appealed to you about this type of music, late ’70s and early ’80s boogie and funk? What about it inspired you to make music?
Dam Funk: You mean, where does my music come from? I just want to give people music that feels good, certain types of chords. Stuff from the early 80s had that type of sound. It’s still funky, but not cornball. When I DJ, boogie is what I play out. But modern funk is what I record.
WCP: Is this a DJ tour, or are you performing your music?
DF: Both. The set will consist of me dropping some of the rare wax stuff that I have, you know, to give the audience a treat. Then I’ll be sharing some of the songs from album and singing on top of the tracks. I wanted to do something different than a DJ spinning records.
WCP: Your music is almost all programmed into synthesizer and drum machines. Is it hard to coax machines into being funky?
DF: Oh, no. It just depends on the chord that you hit. That’s why I liked synths instead of keyboards with patch sounds. You can change the sound, allow the sound to be created. It’s the analog equipment.
WCP: You keep mentioning certain types of chords. What kind of chords are you talking about, what kind of chord are you trying to get?
DF: The best chord that I’ve ever heard in my life. It can hit your heart strings. Not that Lil Jon effect—those are the devil chords. I’m trying to get the beautiful chords, to get to something inside. But, I mean, it’s something you can still roll to, something that’s still urban. I keep the bottom hard, that’s the key.
WCP: You recently posted a bunch of songs on your Myspace that you made when you were still a teenager. What made you want to share those early recordings with everybody?
DF: I posted that just to show other people that you can start off a certain way, but you can come to a level where you feel confident about making music. Back then I was messing around and making tapes for my friends.
WCP: How has the way you make music changed since then?
DF: I was using the same stuff that I’m using now. All that stuff that you hear right now, it’s all part of the equipment from back in the day. Nothing has changed, it’s all coming from the same place. It’s just that now it got, like, straight and narrowed out. I know what I’m doing now, I have a more confident approach. There’s a direction I have in my head that I’m going to try to will out for the people to enjoy. I want them to feel how they felt when they rolled in their cars at certain time. It’s not just about the past, though. It’s more like memories from future. You’re moving toward the future, but you don’t forget about the genuine times you had with your family and friends, or anything you want to keep inside when you get older and find out about what a harsh world this is. I wand people to know that it’s not just a strip-bar stuff out there. There’s another kind of urban music. It’s there. I’m just trying to crack the cement and let the flower.
WCP: When you say another kind of urban music, what are you in opposition to? What’s the other side?
DF: Like, a lot of the autotune strip-bar music, that type of stuff. It’s fun, but there’s more than that. What’s wrong with making a 10-minute instrumental? What’s wrong with having that on an album?
WCP: Not a lot of people are still making funk music, at least not in the same sense as they used to. Do you feel like funk and boogie were abandoned when hiphop arrived?
DF: Some people did [continue making funk]. It was the major labels that kind of did it in as well, because they jumped on the cardboard boxes. They were like, “Let’s go strictly hiphop.” People did it too, though. I was one of those cats. I loved Run DMC. The golden-era of hiphop was one of the best times ever. Tons of records you can’t deny. Then the avalanche of new jack swing came and really rung it in. I think that over the years funk did get abandoned. The mind state, not just music. I mean, funk was a mind state. It was about freedom. There were no baby-oiled-pecs-in-the-mirror, like 50 cent.
You could be anything you wanted to be. Everybody is so stuffed in a box now—you gotta be hard. But you don’t have to always represent that part of urban experience. I mean, when I saw Prince—idiots now would probably say that he looked like a bitch—but it was a fantasy. People like that gave you an escape from things. I want to give people a fantasy, not the guy down the street. Other genres of music are doing that, so why can’t this?
That’s what makes the whole boogie thing great, record collectors are involved. It’s almost like collecting baseball cards. It’s like, “You got that one, well what about that one?” I know hip hop has some of those aspects left too, but everybody’s so serious. The boogie and funk scene, I hope it never gets to that.
WCP: Do you communicate with any of the DC boogie and funk collectors?
DF: Oh yeah, Andrew Morgan (founder of Peoples Potential Unlimited and Earcave), Max Dunbar, a few other cats. We’re all down with each other. We talk about the music. I can’t wait to meet these cats face to face finally. Andrew Morgan, I’m actually releasing a side-project of mine on his label. It’s called Wavelength. But Beautiful Swimmers and those cats, they’re doing some good work.
I mean, it’s just a great time. People don’t realize what’s happening and what’s about to happening. It’s like you’re on a road and it gives people a chance to get off at this exit. And there’s all kinds of carnival rides there. And people, they can stay long time, if they want to. I know I’ll be at the carnival for a while. But if they want, they can get back on the road. Funk is not a fad, it’s a way of life. Get off the freeway for a minute and check out this incredible scene that’s going on and try to nurture it and grow it.