When I meet up with DāM-FunK, he's waiting for me in the lobby of a completely adequate hotel on the slightly less salubrious end of Hackney Road. We've met during a quick stopover in London — Funk heads straight to Dalston for a 2hr stint on NTS immediately after we finish talking, and plays to a sell out crowd at Koko later that evening. FunK, an immediately affable man, greets me warmly, and tells me he needs "thirty seconds" for a cigarette. "Just thirty seconds, Josh. I promise."
45 seconds later, the man known to his family as Damon Garrett Riddick sinks himself in the sofa opposite me. For years now, the Pasadena native has been crafting the kind of juicy, bouncy, defiantly timeless boogie and funk records that have soundtracked every barbecue we've had — both real and imaginary — since we first heard "Hood Pass Intact" way back when. This month saw the release of the sprawling, OTT, downright brilliant Invite the Light, an album that takes Funk's conception of modern funk and zooms it up to whole new levels.
We've ostensibly to talk about his earliest clubbing experiences as part of our, yep, you guessed it, My First Club series. Funk's a gifted conversationalist, warm, open, friendly, expansive, happy to open up about all manner of things, from his love of Rush to the "fuckheads" currently ruining club culture, to his appreciation of the importance of fantasy in an age of near total doom. "America is fixated with reality now," he told me. "That's why I want to put my foot up people's asses right now because no one knows how to do fantasy any more. Fantasy is good. It allows you to dream and create new things, instead of reality TV and reality that, and "I'm the CNN of the streets," all that bullshit. I don't wanna put a record on and hear the CNN of the streets. I want to go somewhere else. That's what Rush did for me."
THUMP: Did you grow up in a musical house?
*DāM-FunK:* I did. My dad played keyboards and drums. My grandfather was involved in music too, so it was passed on down via my dad's side of the family. I started playing the drums when I was about six. That was my first instrument. I picked up the keyboard/organ a bit later.
Were you playing along to records, or freestlying?
The first record I learned with my dad was Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". I'd play all 17 minutes of it! My dad graduated in Berlin and was exposed to a lot of different cultures and he was insistent that the same happened to me. So I wasn't just listening to soul, like Al Green or Isaac Hayes all day long, I was exposed to all other kinds of styles too. I thank for him for turning me onto a lot of stuff. But eventually you start rebelling. When I got into other stuff, that I found and liked on my own, Rush was the band for me. I loved Neil Peart's drumming. I played Moving Pictures from beginning to end over and over on the drums. I swear to God I emulated everything…I don't try to play like him now, but when you're a kid and you're naive, you don't even think about what you're doing. You're open to learning. I learned that album.
You mentioned rebellion. How did you rebel? Was it through the radio? record shops? peers?
My dad took me to a record in Pasadena called Poobah Records. It was the original record store. Jay Greene, the owner, stocked everything. This was an older Jewish cat and he had everything from Miles Davis to Arethra Franklin to Prince to Egyptian Lover, all that stuff at the same time. Soft Cell. Everything. The radio in Los Angeles at the time, in the early 80s, was like, KROQ, who played new wave and new romantic, KLOS and KMET who played heavy metal, then there was KLGH and KGFJ who played soul and funk, Kiss played pop stuff, and you'd hear it all by scrolling down the dial.
In a weird way, now that everybody's walking around with their own earbuds and iPods, it is kind of like a free fall all over again. Now you don't know what people are listening to. Somebody can think, "Oh, that modern funk stuff isn't popping" but you never know what people are listening to. Yeah, I dunno, electronic wobble beats might get covered by the hip magazines and then just because those nerds listen to that as opposed to funk or boogie, they get written about more because writers and journalists can make it seem like everyone's listening to one type of music. I swear to god, no one listens to that stuff people write about. They're bumping modern funk stuff in there cars. That's what they're listening to where I'm from.
With the rebellion thing, you have to be yourself. The reason I did it was because there used to be a magazine called TV Guide and they had a service called Colombia House and you could order records from them for a penny. I was ordering Kiss records, Devo records, Rush stuff. I picked things based on their covers. That and the radio, then, is my answer to your question.
Is it harder than ever to discover new things and really get on with them? Does the generation growing up now miss out on building up a direct relationship with records and artists?
Most definitely. I used to ditch school when a Prince record came out on a Tuesday I'd go home, take the wrapper off, stare at the art work, read the lyrics, look at who produced it, where it was recorded, who was playing on it, and I'd take the slab of wax and put it on my turntable and sit in this special chair I had in my room and I'd open my bedroom windows and I'd watch the sun set to the music. That was the most incredible experience.
You appreciate anything that takes labour. I don't want to sound like an old fogey because I'm not, I'm timeless, but I really do feel sorry for them. iTunes, or Spotify, or any of those other streaming services don't tell you things like who produced shit, you don't what studio it was at, you don't know who wrote things. You just get a cover you can click on. I don't know why that's happening. I know you can get a PDF attached with that stuff but it's not the same. Hopefully even with these things being taken away from us, we'll still have young people making incredible music.
Lets talk about your early days going out. Do you remember the first time you were in a club of any kind?
I do. It was a placed called Marylin's Back Street in Pasadena. It was a teenage club. At the time, the music was like Eric B and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and stuff, but in LA, they'd still mix in Egyptian Lover and Prince, or George Clinton, shit like that, because the DJs were older than us. They kept the funk in. That was the vibe. We had a dance back then called the Freak so the whole thing was about that. At the end of the night you'd get a phone number and hope that you could talk to that girl for hours on end the next day on the phone. It was fun.
I used to head down there with my crew from school. We'd hook up, catch the bus, meet at a certain point. There were no cellphones, no beepers, nothing back then — we just trusted in each other. You'd be on your own knowing everyone was coming. Our parents would pick us up. At one point one of us got a car so we'd all run for the front seat and stumble over each other. It was fun. I have some very fond memories of those days. After high school we used to drive into LA from Pasadena and experience other clubs.
With the ones in LA, who were the pivotal DJs for you?
Actually, back then, nobody cared about who the DJ was. It was more about the music. That's the difference. Back then it was about the music, the dude that was DJing, he was just providing a sound. We didn't look at the DJ. That's a key point: today the DJ is the star. Then it was about going to a place and having an experience with each other. It wasn't about jerking off in the front row, waving at the DJ, Shazamming thing. The DJs didn't have fanboys or fangirls. It was about you experience the music. Dancing. Interacting with people on the dancefloor, trying to get someone's number so you could talk to them later on. The music was the soundtrack to that. I'm sure the DJ got paid at the end of the night, and he did his job, but it wasn't like that. As time went on, maybe there were people who were paying attention to the DJs but I know we weren't. It wasn't a disrespect thing, but back then you just didn't trip off the DJ. Nowadays, they're more important than the people on the dancefloor. The DJ is a rockstar. I didn't grow up with that.
Is that a positive thing, this DJ as rockstar attitude?
I think that there are some people out there who don't deserve it, if I'm honest with you. Some of the just don't deserve it and some do. Some people give a great show. Theo Parrish, for example, he's great. He gives a fucking great show. So does Moodymann. Humbly speaking, I think I do. I try and give a different experience. It's not just a bunch of tracks faded in by some fuckhead twiddling knobs and not saying anything. A Lot of people don't really tell the truth. It's the illuminati nature of these journalists who big up DJs and make them seem like gods. It's all of them bigging each other up. They see someone who looks like them and they're gonna give them god status. Whereas Theo Parrish or Moodymann and other cats, who're doing some great stuff, are overlooked, because writers want their buddies or people who look like them to be the star.
Are you saying, then, that, the way dance music journalism works is that it favours white DJs and white producers?
I'm not saying that exactly. It does lean towards that though. Its not even the white thing. It's not a racial thing, it's more about an intelligentsia. It seems like anyone who's involved in the intelligentsia as opposed to just being real, from the heart, that's what they seem to love. If they look like me, they aren't going to get props. but there are people at home, and they're talking about people like me. But I'll never get the magazine cover. Because they want me to be represented. They don't want Theo Parrish. They don't want Juan Atkins because it's old. They just want to welcome the new guys. Once they do welcome someone who doesn't look like them in, they put them under the microscope and wait for them to fall off the plank. I can see it with Kaytranada right now. I've seen him on Twitter battling with people. I wanna tell him to calm down, to not fuck with the trolls. Don't battle with them. The other cats, they know how to keep quiet. They know how to be called Disclosure and go behind closed doors and wear a mask. See us? We're a more colourful type of people. We wag our tail. Because we can. Because we can.
Are we saying then that dance music journalism is a revenge of the nerds thing?
I do! I'm glad you asked that. It's nothing against them, because they are a part of this whole movement, they appreciate music and I appreciate that. It is a revenge of the nerds thing but no one wants to talk about it. I'm the only one who does. I'm the only person who'll admit it because I'm not afraid of losing money or gigs, and I'm not afraid of some guy coming on Twitter and saying "Fuck you!" I'm telling the truth because I don't give a fuck. Yeah it's a revenge of the nerds situation!
Invite the Light is out now on Stones Throw