Funk has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 60s R&B. I’ve always said I’m into funk music, but only recently have I realized how vague that label is. Funk could be James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” but it could also be synthed-out space rock in the form of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.” Or hell, it could just as well refer to Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Funk even took an unfortunate detour into Disco in the 80’s.
The funk of “our time” (I say this referring to the 18-24 demographic group, I guess) has been largely ill-fated. Notwithstanding its integral role in the development of hip hop, funk music went into something of a “funk” in the 90’s. The biggest thing to happen to funk in the 90s was the jam band movement. These improvised funk-rockers like Galactic or Widespread (uch) took the whole “fusion” thing to a new level. In my opinion, the downfall of the jam band movement was its over-emphasis on groove-based improvisation, with not enough focus on songwriting.
When it comes down to it, you can be as funky as you want, but you need to write a song people will remember.
After all this, though, funk is back. The “oughts” (00’s) have a whole new school of funk that I have penned “neo-funk.” Just as neoliberalism hearkens back to classical 19th century liberalism, neo-funk derives itself from the original masters: the JBs. The next wave in funk is starting now with a return to horn-driven, riff-based R&B style funk. It’s a quiet movement, now only enjoyed by the true lovers of the style, but it could be the next big thing.
Here are some groups out now, that I think fit in to this neo-funk category:
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
This first one should go without saying. If you haven’t listened to Sharon Jones yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The Dap-Kings, the house band at Daptone records, have some serious soul power, especially in the horn section. Sharon Jones has a voice that could break glass and melt your heart all at the same time. When they belt it out, the music pushes itself into the very core of your body. As a matter of fact, you should check out any of the artists on Daptone records. They’re all pretty sweet.
Here’s a song off their new album that’s pretty indicative:
Or you can check them out at their myspace or their spot at daptone
The New Mastersounds
These British Funksters got together about five years ago and represent the best that the UK has to offer the funk world. The five piece outfit features prominent sax and hammond. They have a pretty wide range in their songs, some of which sound like Booker T and the MGs grooves, while others have the flavor of a JBs song. They are a group who know and love the old masters, but aren’t afraid to try new things. Their only downfall is that they can be a little hard to find in the US, and don’t tour here very frequently (although I think they’ll be at the Bear Creek Music Festival in Florida this N0vember).
Check them out on their myspace or their band website
Lack of Afro
This LA youngster (only 26 years old) has been playing music for a long time. He started “tickling the ivories,” as his website says, at the age of seven. Now he plays just about every instrument on his album, not to mention producing it himself. His music is a combination of old-school funk-soul remixes and a ton of live instrumentation. His debut album, Press On (Freestyle 2007), is a masterpiece.
Myspace , his website