Dam-Funk on Master Blazter, Collabing with Nite Jewel, and Maintaining the Funk
Damon Riddick may be the coolest dude alive. Better known as Dam-Funk, Riddick is a walking embodiment of West Coast Relaxation, creating an electrifying brand of modern funk. Heavily inspired by the synth-based funk of the late '70s/early '80s, his music is full of interstellar synthesizers rife with analog warmth. Often referred to as the "Ambassador of Boogie Funk," Dam-Funk's musical vision and love for synth funk has reached beyond his home in L.A. and out into the world. Having caught the ear of Stones Throw Records' Peanut Butter Wolf, Dam-Funk released his 5LP Box Set Toeachizown in the fall of 2009. Truly a renaissance man, Riddick not only produces original music and remixes, but holds down a weekly residency called Funkmosphere at Carbon Bar and Lounge in Culver City. Exploring the world of electro boogie and g-funk, the night revolves around a slew of vinyl-crazed DJs staying true to their passion for music. Riddick was kind enough to speak with us about his current tour with his group, Master Blazter, production values, collaborations with Snoop Dogg & Nite Jewel and the funk within us all.
Josh Levi: You're about to embark on this tour with Master Blazter. Have you been to St. Louis before?
Dam-Funk: No. This will be my first time actually.
Do you have any expectations about this tour?
Yeah. Great expectations. I'm looking forward to checking out a lot of the US. It's great. There are so many other places. Europe, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Poland, all these other places, Scandinavia. But yeah, never have I ever toured the US like this, proper. We're going to be getting in our vehicle and just rolling like real bands do, instead of the flying like I usually do. It's going to be a great experience and I'm looking forward to visiting places like St. Louis and other areas of the US. You know, kind of just make shit happen and let people know about this modern funk sound.
Will this be a DJ set?
No, a live set. Three members: Me, Computer Jay on keyboards, synthesizer, and Atari player, and also J-1 on drums and triggers. It'll be like a threesome like Rush and the Police. Like that kind of vibe.
And you'll be holding up synths?
Exactly. Synthesizer, vocals and shoulder synth.
How did you and [Master Blazter] hook up together?
We hooked up by just being in the L.A. scene - Met J-1 at Funkmosphere, which is my club I do every Monday night which focuses on rare boogie and funk on wax. And he came in and got down with the vibe and we built up a rapport. And Computer Jay, I met at a house party up in the hills of L.A. with one of his cousins who was in People Under The Stairs, and we just all DJ'd at the same party and me and Computer Jay hooked up at that point. He did a remix for one of my songs called "Burgundy City" and "Galactic Fun," and I've just been in touch ever since and we decided to come together and do Master Blazter. But when it was time for me to go on tour and do things from my album, Toeachizown, I decided to fill out some things instead of just solo, and now we're here for another one and they've really obliged to join me on this run to expand and get used to the road and sharpen up our chops. So that's how we met up.
So you're still doing the Funkmosphere DJ night?
With your recognition over the past couple of years, have you seen the night change or a new crowd come in that maybe wasn't there before?
Oh yeah. Definitely been seeing some new faces. People from all over the world when they come to L.A. if they're really heavy, deep music connoisseur - they tend to come and see what Funkmosphere's all about. It's at a club called Carbon Bar and Lounge in Culver City. It's definitely like a little bit different than the usual east side and Hollywood parties in L.A. Ours is on the west side of L.A., closer to the beach and you know it's a different vibe, and gives people a chance to see what the west side of L.A. is about instead of the usual haunts that exist out in L.A. Yeah, man. It's been growing. It's packed every Monday night, but it's always a good night of music. We don't go for the cheap shots, the big hits, big hip-hop anthems. We just play all funk. All night long. Uncut.
Seems like you got a good thing going. It seems like a night with people who truly care about music and not an image.
Exactly. That's what we were going for. We didn't just want to play "Scenario" from A Tribe Called Quest. You know, those tracks that definitely get people up. We want to try different stuff and experiment, and let the antennas be raised. Not trying to hit those anthems that automatically make people go crazy. We just wanna go through rare tracks and even though if it's tracks we do play that are known, it's stuff that usually isn't played in L.A. clubs.
Like Zapp and Roger. Maybe some Dynasty?
Yup. That kind of stuff. Slave, even P Funk as well. Prince. But a lot of more obscure records that only got pressed up in a limited edition or just rare artists that only came out with one 12".
Is this a strictly vinyl night?
Yeah, strictly vinyl. I have a lot of love for Serato, and the last night of the month, just for out of town DJs, or even nights I want to premiere new songs I recorded in my house, and just hear our sounds on the sound system, and dance and get people's reaction. I do allow that to happen once a month, but for the most part 99% of Funkmosphere is all wax.
It's been roughly four years since your initial remix of Baron Zen's "Burn Rubber," and that kind of launched you into the public arena outside of L.A. After all this time, how does it feel to get this recognition after having been in the game so long?
It's appreciated. The vision was not to really make myself happy with recognition. It was mainly to bring light and respect to this type of funk, because the only funk that was getting respected was the kind of funk like James Brown, or that style of old 45s from the '70s and late '60s. And those elitist scenes existed when the early 80s funk and very very very late '70s funk was ridiculed and kind of written off as like "Aww that's that synthesizer jheri curl stuff" so what I wanted to do was make sure that this style was respected along the way, and not looked down on, to those circles of record collectors. I've always been making original music before I crate digged. It was just a good feeling to know especially outside the US, the open arms that received, it's just very appreciated, it's just that the US is very very very very slow to catch on to things that are different, and unique and out there, you know. Where it's a challenge for people to get into music, so hopefully from this tour and some of the records that have been released, the American audiences can kind of say, "Okay, there's more than Kanye and Lil Wayne." There's a little bit more out there.
So between your session work with west coast rappers and Ice Cube in the late '80s/early '90s to your current works now, what is your drive behind that? What has kept you going on all these years?
The drive is to uplift the funk and to make sure that people are getting more beautiful chords in the music, where street music can be more dissonant chords, or negative vibes. I just want to inject different chords, different sounds, different keyboards. Use things from the past and new. That's what kept me driving to make sure that this sound was a part of the dinner plate if you will, the people's choice out there, and that's what kept me going - I said "Man, if the people at this club Funkmoshpere like it, and the head of Stones Throw Records digs it, then its like why not try to keep on rolling." And even before I hooked up with Stones Throw, it's just the music I love, and it's just always something that made me happy. And it's not just funk. It's the message and the dig down of other groups who were truthful like Zappa and Rush. Groups like that that probably created music in other genres. It's always identifying with groups that were real.