Meet Damon G Riddick, better know as The Ambassador of Boogie Funk, Dam Funk.
Signed to the illustrious Stones Throw label, Dam has spent the last few years running his downtown LA club night, Funkmosphere, and cultivating a musical renaissance rooted in early 80s boogie in the process. Last year, he released his debut 12″ ‘Burgundy City’, the spectacular instrumental Rhythm Trax 4 EP and an epic remix of label mate Baron Zen’s ‘Burn Rubber’.
Through his fresh, beat-heavy space-funk sound and his explosive passion for the music he plays, Riddick is spear-heading a funk revival, not just in the tight-knit LA underground but all over the globe. We caught up with Dam before his recent gig at Cargo, London, where we talked his inspirations, his club night, and his plans for the year ahead.
So what were you doing before you became Dam Funk?
“I was a kid growing up in Pasadena, California, liking all types of music, I liked funk always. Funk runs in my veins but other types of music run through my brain [laughs]. I was into other styles of music like metal and new wave, but funk just took me to another level. It was a deeper love. Hip-hop was cool but I’m definitely more of a funk kid, funk is where my heart is. I started playing drums, collecting records, played some vintage synths on a few records and chilled.”
What have you been up-to for the past two weeks?
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be flying around spreading the boogie-funk sound around Europe with the Stones Throw Family, I’m excited to be back in London.”
What’s your favourite era of music?
“The very late seventies through the early to mid eighties, that funk-garage/disco-boogie era that happened between 1978-87 and the 80’s Minneapolis funk era. Those styles that happened right after disco, before it got trampled on by commercialism, I like something you can groove too.”
What’s your first memory of experiencing that funk boogie sound?
“I grew up listening to my next-door neighbour play his music; he was little bit older than me and he’d always have his door open and the speakers on loud. He would be playing music like ‘Glide’ by Pleasure and ‘Just A Touch Of Love’ and ‘Watching You’ by Slave. Stuff like that really enthralled me; it showed me that music could funky but beautiful at the same time. It’s not just about that James Brown style funk, there was a more sophisticated funk too and that’s the kind of sound I like.”
Which artists represent that sound for you?
“Slave, Aurra, One Way, Wizard and Prince, Prince is my favourite. He’s a major influence in my style, the way I create music being a solo performer. I do a lot of music on my own and play it live as opposed to just looping tracks. So yeah, Prince is definitely one my major influences. And Barry White. [laughs]”
What’s your favourite funk boogie record at the moment?
“I have to choose one? Well my favourite funk song, that I think is the number one funk song recorded of all time is undoubtly Funkadelic’s ‘(Not just) Knee Deep’, on Warner Bros 1979. It’s fifteen minutes of just incredible music, it’s the same song that De La Soul sampled in ‘Me, Myself and I’. The other things I’m feeling right now and what I consider to be a new funk/techno sound would be a guy called Gosub out of Florida. The album Watchers From The Black Universe on Citinite Records is just incredible man, and a track called ‘Love Like The Past’, that’s my favourite new type of stuff right now. Just punch in “Gosub on Citinite Records” and you’ll find it.”
What’s the first record you ever bought?
“I bought my first record at the beginning of my teens, I think I was 13 or 14. It was Rick James’s ‘You and I’ on Motown Records 1978, a little disco-y but a good start [laughs] around that time I also bought Giorgio Moroder’s Midnight Express on Casablanca Records.”
How did you get together with Stones Throw?
“Well me and Peanut Butter Wolf [producer, DJ and founder of Stones Throw Records] were email buddies you know, he would come out to spots that I was playing at and I would go to his, so a mutual respect grew. We’d always see each other out and about in LA and he liked what I was into and I liked what he was doing, naturally. We often talked about what records we were buying and a lot of the time he would freak out about a certain funk record I’d have; a lot of people don’t know is that Peanut is actually a huge funk fan. Then one day he heard some of the stuff I had been working on and was like “yo we should put some of this out there”. He asked me to do a remix of Baron Zen’s ‘Burn Rubber’ and he dug it.”
‘Burn Rubber’ destroyed the dancefloors last year, did you expect it to be such a hit?
“Not at all, much love to everyone who liked it, it definitely works well in the clubs.”
Tell us about your Funkmosphere night…
“It’s been going on for almost three years now, we celebrate the third year this July. We do it every Monday night in little place called Culver City in LA, it’s a place where record collectors can come over and spin their rare grooves and we all get funky you know? We all share the music and we only play original wax pressings/vinyl, nothing else. It’s also an education too, so many of us who spin there have so many records that even we might not have heard of. We keep it all in that same funk boogie bracket and we just have a lot of fun. The music isn’t for us as DJs, its for you, the audience. We have a lot of fellas and ladies who come out and support the sound, would I do one in the UK? Definitely, I’d love too.”
A lot of your music seems to be channeling the moon and the stars; the cover of ‘Burgundy City’ set the mood perfectly for that sound…
“Thank you, thank you, I’d like to say much respect to Jeff Gank, he’s the Stones Throw Art Director and was responsible for the cover of ‘Burgundy City’. That cover, that’s the kind of stuff I dream about when I make my records. Space and galactic concepts, and the outer moons and stars like you say, it’s definitely something I’m interested in.”
What three things would you say make up the Dam Funk sound?
“The music I make is spacey, warm and beautiful funk. I call what I do modern funk you know. I like to use drum machines, synthesizers and analog keyboards in my music. I like claps, I like keeping things melodic and pushing that warm funk sound. My whole musical philosophy is to put back some of those melodic sounds out there and make beautiful funk for the people.”
I’ve seen you DJ a few times now, and it’s so refreshing to see a DJ announce what they’re playing. [Dam holds up the record’s sleeve above the decks while announcing to the audience the name the artist, label and release date for each record he spins]
“Well I didn’t make the music, the artist made the music. And I think it’s my duty as a DJ to respect the artist and give their credit where due and educate the audience by telling them where it came from, they seem to enjoy that [laughs] I like to share the music, its for all of us.”
Who’s your favourite DJ of all time?
“Chris Cut aka Peanut Butter Wolf. For his skills on the decks, willingness to take musical risk and ‘go deep’ with the party people on the ones and twos while playing out live. You’ve also got to respect his private ‘original wax’ pressings collection, it’s incredible.”
What are your top three ‘joker’ tracks as we like to call it in the UK, the records that are guaranteed to set the dancefloor off?
“[Laughs] That’s a good term, my top three joker tracks? Hmm, I know this, I’d say ‘Messages From The Stars’ by The Rah Band, that was released 1983, is always good. ‘Danger Zone’ by Midnight Express, also in 1983, it really captures that funk boogie sound and gets a good reaction when I play it out. Finally the band East 17 Division, they have a song called ‘Textures’. Those three records always get people dancing and that’s what I love to do you know, I like people to enjoy the music.”
Which do you enjoy more, making music or DJing?
“Well I’m a Gemini, so I have two sides [laughs] I would have to honestly say, record collecting and making music would tie. Collecting records is where I started and making music is what I love. DJing is also a big part of what I do, but that’s more for fun.”
What has been your favourite gig so far?
“I would have to say it was when I came over to London, believe that! I came for the first time last year to play at Benji B’s club night Deviation for their first birthday. Wow man, it was an amazing night! At that time I wasn’t well known outside of LA, so to have that experience playing for the first time in the UK like that was truly special. There were a couple of crowds; one who were a little bit older, that loved and appreciated the music I was playing because it was familiar, and then of course there was the younger people who got down to it and really appreciated the music I was playing even though it was all really new to them, and it was great to see them come together and create such a friends and family vibe in there. I have to say much respect to my man Benji B for bringing me over for that and the whole Deviation crew, I really respect and appreciate him playing and pushing the funk sound out there. He’s given me a lot of love and deserves his due props.”
As a record collector, what are your five most wanted records of all time?
“Well, these days I’m not looking for anything in particular anymore, due to the fact that I’ve pretty much fulfilled my personal wish list from over the years of digging. What’s happening now is I’m just currently discovering new – what I refer to as ‘unknown’ – pieces that I wasn’t aware of, which is so much fun. Digging is still alive y’all! With this question, I’d like to humbly flip it and list some of the most sought after records that I actually own, basically which I highly recommend for any digger of the music:
01. Pyramid Plus: ‘Comin’ At Ya’ (Instrumental Version), Lifeworld Records 45″
02. Wynd Chymes: ‘Baby You’re The One’ Shakin’ Records 45″
03. BOF: ‘I’ve Got Your Number’, Dupar Records 12″
04. Midnight Express: ‘Danger Zone’, Tri-Fire Records 45”
05. Steve Washington: Like A Shot, Rams Horn Records LP
Bonus is a tie between Roy Ayers, ‘Programmed For Love’, Columbia (Promo only 12″) and Jonnie Baby, ‘Special Things’, Elektra Records (Promo only 12″). All very nice pieces of “original wax pressings” that I’m very humbled, and fortunate, to own.”
Your Rhythm Trax Project, was great – ‘Indigo’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Red’ are all classics. What can we expect from you in 2009?
“Thank you, thank you, I really enjoyed working on that. I’ve actually just finished a remix for Animal Collective, a song called ‘Summertime Clothes’ that the band is very into, it should be released this side of Spring. I’m also very excited about my first LP Toeachizown that will be released across two 12″ due out this summer and next month the 12″ of my singles ‘Kill That Motherfucker’ and ‘B-Side Hood Pass Intact’ should surface.”
Any last words?
“Yes, I just want to say thank you for your support and to anyone reading thanks for you interest in my creativity. I have some special things in store for you so, please stay tuned and remember Funk is not a fad…It’s a way of life. Peace!”