Dam Funk - Magic

Pasadena Boogie Cat

© Tom Johnson

Words by:

1000 miles an hour, a motorcycle strikes a red line through the Los Angeles cityscape. The tarmac so hot. Pink and green lights wavering in the heat, turquoise swimming pools, all passing in a blur. Shades on, his head gently bumps to some Prefab Sprout B-Side groove through the wireless headset in his helmet. Beep-beep, incoming call.

Invite the Light’, he says carefully, slowly, softly. Invite the Light. That’s his new record, out around about now on Stones Throw. Invitethe Light… hmm… It’s time to open to the windows and cross our legs for the 21st century’s sage of funk. ‘Telephone calls are making me sick, just let me do my music, that’s all I wanna do,’ said a boy called Damon Riddick on an old track called The Telephone Call. That boy became Dam-Funk. We’re on the telephone to him right now. Hopefully telecommunications with the press swallow down a little easier these days.

“I don’t mind because you have to always remember that instead of acting like a diva and being unappreciative you have to understand that a lot of people cut off their left ball to participate in something where somebody’s actually paying attention to creativity.” Like all good sages, he is humble.

Riddick’s DJ sets and mixtapes are often overdubbed with introductions to bands and artists, much like a radio DJ. Throughout his interviews, he outwardly pays homage to the artists that shone light onto his sound. “With me, I acknowledge people who came before me and give them props. These days no one really does it unless they do it in private in a DM… but they never do it in public. That’s the difference between the generation of now, it’s like ‘me, me, me’ it’s like ‘I did this. I always give it up to the generations who came before me, because that’s the way I was raised.”

If there is one thing that’s old fashioned about Dam-Funk, one thing that sets him apart from the trend, it’s not the old synths or Lynn drum claps, it’s that unwavering sense of loyalty to the ancestors of his sound. The concept of funk becomes his cause and not just a description of his music. He is a Funkster through and through. “With funk, it’s just been the music that’s in my blood,” he tells me. “I can’t feel comfortable sleeping at night if I just all of a sudden start throwing trap beats just because it’s popular right now. I just feel more comfortable about sticking to something and standing for something, because funk saved my life – it gave me a lot of joy when I was growing up, it really kept me out of a lot of trouble and any trouble that I did get into, funk even saved me through that. You know, I wouldn’t say it’s a religious thing, but it’s more of a spiritual thing.”

© Tom Johnson

This is a nod to his early exposure to violence and gang culture, a topic which doesn’t come up much in conversation, but was glanced into briefly during a 2012 lecture with Red Bull Music Academy, where Riddick mentioned the feeling of being at a great party where shots are being fired amongst the sound of Funkadelic playing in the background. It’s this strange kind of harmony that funk seems to create in a lot of people and situations. That punch which is married so seamlessly with those lovely, shining chords. There’s that assertive attitude, but that strange beauty too. Funk contains these antagonistic characteristics, and it’s the way in which they intermingle so beautifully which allow it to suit so many people’s situations. The club, the lounge, beer, champagne. P-Funk to G-Funk to Dam-Funk. “Funk to me is like a smile with the tears,” he says.

“The music that I make, the type of funk I make, it has sadness and happiness and that’s the way my life is.” ‘Modern Funk’ is the self-prescribed label for Riddick’s own strain of the genre, a term he coined in response to the caricaturing that funk has been subject to. “Over the years, funk became like a comedy type thing with the fuckin’ platform-like shoes and lame afros and the commercials and Dave Chappelle with the Rick James jokes … Whereas with other genres it can be the most intellectual tag. Like “hoohohohohoo the beat music scene!” You know, there are so many funksters that are intelligent, that read books and are into conspiracy theories and all types of stuff, but you wouldn’t hear that side because people are so drowned out by the cartoonist imagery of funk that was in its past.

“I’m giving people another chance to re-evaluate their take on funk music as a whole and respect it,” Riddick declares. ‘It wasn’t a bunch of jokesters, man, these were people who really knew how to play their instruments, they were serious cats.”

"Funk to me is like a smile with the tears. It has sadness and happiness, and that's the way my life is"

Riddick stuck to funk without great exposure for years when he could have adapted to the innumerable waves and flows that have passed through the LA music scene – including the aforementioned beat scene, which has been showered with critical praise. “There’s an avalanche from the intelligentsia’s take on things,” he argues. “Especially me being from LA, where I had to battle from being squashed. For instance, my vibe at the Funkmosphere, the club night I have, we’re almost still like an underground vibe and word-of-mouth. Because the media covers a certain part of Los Angeles. It’s only bigging up the knob-twiddlers, the gadget guys, you know what I’m saying? There’s just so much more to the Los Angeles music than people would imagine. That’s why I had people like Ariel Pink on the album. Different cats. Because it gives them a chance to show what else it happenin’ instead of the same old stuff that these people try to make, this intellectual end-all be-all of Los Angeles-based music.’

But as an artist who’s carried a decades-old genre across generations, Riddick has been faced with the decision of rejecting digitisation and sequencing, or accepting it. “I just use the technology now as a tracking device,” he explains. “I haven’t really ventured into sampling and sequencing things because my particular style is played more from a human perspective – giving people nine minute songs and I’m playing all the way through. It feels more human even though you’re making things with synthesizers. I’m still working in the way I worked when I first started making music on cassette tapes in my bedroom in 1988. This whole experience is still the same kid, making music in his bedroom. That has still translated, all the way to this album.”

Our conversation draws to a close, and off he goes to meditate. In his manner and careful contemplation, it’s not surprising at all that he meditates. The sprawling keytar solos around the world during his coming tour probably require it too. It was nice talking to you, Damon. “You too, brother, take care.”

A dust settles thinly over the office here; out there in LA the red dot rapidly shrinks at the vanishing point of the highway and the sirens dissipate. A kid in yellow dungarees resumes his yo-yoing just over the road. The music of a supermarket is heard faintly in the background. And that’s that, back to normality … there goes 2015’s spirit-of-funk incarnate, trailblazing. What a gentleman.

Invite The Light is out 4 September via Stones Throw

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