Back to the Future: Dam-Funk in Wax Poetics

Danny Holloway Wax Poetics October 01, 2008

Back to the Future: Dam-Funk in Wax Poetics A tight, shoe box-shaped room in West Los Angeles shakes with the sound of boogie funk every Monday night. On the decks, Dam-Funk drops early '80s melodic funk and boogie bangers while keeping the party live on the mic. This oasis for funkateers and boogie heads is known as "Funkmosphere."

Dam (short for Damon) grew up an only child in Pasadena, just north of downtown L.A. He's been playing trap drums since he was six and mastered keyboards a while after. With those skills, he began making synthesized one-man-band tapes in high school.

Dam-Funk now records for Stones Throw, thanks to his friendship with fellow boogie collector PB Wolf. If you heard last summer's remix of Baron Zen's "Burn Rubber," you experienced the sound of "future funk," courtesy of D-F. Stones Throw plans to release several 12-inches and an album from Dam-Funk during '08.

Would you describe the difference between boogie and future funk?
As far as boogie, early Slave and Cameo are examples of popular boogie. That was the second wave of funk music. James Brown and Sly Stone created the first generation. Boogie is the sound of slap bass, loud claps, melodic chords, and synthesizers. Boogie followed the last gasp of disco. Boogie includes releases on labels like Prelude, Sam Records, late West End Records, late Brunswick, and U.K. labels like Elite. Boogie-ologists will tell you it's mainly from the early '80s, and it encompasses Italo disco as well. I collect and spin boogie, but my original music is modern or future funk. I keep it earthy and use analog machines and special chords. I want my music to be warm and funky. So, it feels like new funk, With my music, I want the chords to affect you. Maybe there's a place you've never been to physically; it only exists in your dreams. I want my music to unlock that.

When did you first start to play music?
I'm an only kid, and I started playing drums when I was six years old. My dad bought me a set of gold-sparkle Slingerland drums. Then he put on Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da- Vida," and I'd play the drum solo over and over again. Then I got into the rock group Kiss and their Destroyer album. Also, I was listening to Rush's Hemispheres album and learned Neil Peart's drum parts to every song. I was influenced by rock and metal, but listening to Chic too. The first time I played with other people was when I played drums in a jazz band in high school. After that, I started playing organ and keyboards. I got a couple of keyboards and synthesizers and decided to make music with me playing all the parts. My first joints were inspired by Prince, P-Funk, and Zapp. I used to cut class in high school and sneak home and record. I'd bounce from tape deck to tape deck to a mixer to create multiple tracks.

Later on, you linked with Leon Sylvers and played on G-funk sessions in the '90s, right?
With Leon, I was on an album by a group called Double Action Theater. People know about that album in the modern soul community. I learned a lot from him. Then I went back to Pasadena and met a cat called Binky, and he introduced me to Mack 10, who owned a label called Hoo-Bangin', a subsidiary of Priority.

During the mid-G-funk era, I got pulled into sessions to play keys. The greatest thing about the West Coast G-funk era was that it was all recorded by real musicians. So that's how it was different from New York hip-hop. If they liked a groove on a record, they replayed it. So, amongst the guns, weed, and testosterone, there were some legit musicians who got work from that scene.

I'm on the I Got the Hook Up soundtrack with Master P I play a lot on an MC Eiht album called That's Gangsta. After doing a lot of sessions, I moved on, 'cause I've always been about the funk.

How did you start spinning?
I had a good collection of obscure funk and boogie wax. One day, I met Billy Goods at Record Surplus. Billy was spinning at a night called "Where the Soul Trees Grow" at a bar called Carbon in Culver City.

So I started spinning with them. They were playing old soul, cumbia, and salsa, and I played the System, D-Train, Slave, One Way, and Ozone. Billy was feeling what I was playing, so he and I started a new night and called it "1983." But after a year, the owners canceled it so they could have another hip-hop night. This was around '04 or '05.

When "1983" was over, I found out they had a Monday night available at Carbon, and they offered it to me. People warned me against a Monday night, but I believe God blesses you in different ways, and I took it.

And that was the birth of "Funkmosphere"?
Yeah, "Funkmosphere" started in July of '06, and so far it has been a great ride. The first night was phenomenal. There have been times during our run where our lithe Monday night thing brought in more money at the bar than any other night that week.

"Funkmosphere" is for funk heads, and it's all about the music. We thaw heads and music lovers. Musically, we're boogie, modern funk, and soul based, from the late '70s to the mid-'80s, on wax only.

Talk about your friendship with Peanut Butter Wolf.
He was one of the first cats who gave my music a real chance. We became email buddies at first, and then I met him at a party at Star Shoes in Hollywood. Wolf found out I liked the Baron Zen album and approached me about doing a remix of one of the tracks. He heard my music on my MySpace page, and that's how I did the Baron Zen remix of "Burn Rubber."

On the last track of the Baron Zen album, at the very end, the dude was yelling over the actual track of "Burn Rubber" by the Gap Band. He had done this into a Tascam recorder, so his voice was on a separate track. Wolf sent me just the voice, and I floated it over one of my instrumentals, and it worked. I did a rough mix and gave it to Wolf, and he really liked it, but he thought the vocals sounded rough. So he suggested putting them through a vocoder, and that was it. That's what was needed to make it sound like a complete package. Leon Sylvers once told me this business is built around relationships, but it didn't make sense to me until I met Wolf.

I'm happy nowadays, 'cause I'm vibin' with a bunch of cool people. My trek to L.A. from my lithe ol' hood in Pasadena; I've made it out here, and, finally, I'm gettin' down. I'm glad I'm finally able to share what I been into all along, sittin' in my bedroom, lookin' out the window at the mountains.. I'm grateful for that.

Pick up Wax Poetics No. 28 for the rest of this article, two pages of Dam-Funk's boogie-funk vinyl picks.