Putting the fun into funky house
A new kind of house music has emerged from urban Britain – and it's taking over the dancefloors. By Rahul Verma
Funky house" has long referred to the smooth, vocal "handbag house" featured on releases from the Hed Kandi label. In the last year, though, it has been wrenched from the manicured grasp of wannabe WAGs, to be appropriated by young, urban Britain as the tag for its edgy re-imagining of classic New York house.
UK funky house seems like the resurrection of UK garage: it's largely vocal and dominated by girl-next-door singers belting out pop songs about meeting and seducing boys, or MCs chatting good-time words such as "Simple lyrics, simple flows, get the ravers on their toes". Garage and funky share the same DNA: both are feelgood urban-dance genres, but stuttering two-step has given way to propulsive Afro and Latin rhythms, while funky draws post-garage sounds such as grime, dubstep, bassline, electro and minimal house into its heady dancefloor mix.
"Funky's a mixture between house, grime and garage," explains Donaeo, a producer. "I first noticed a change in 2007 when DJs Supa D, Kismet and Pioneer started playing electro, soulful house and tribal house at urban raves. Someone came up with the name 'funky house' and it stuck. Then UK producers like Geeneus and NG began making their own versions of soulful and tribal house. Last year the scene moved from DJs playing American soulful house to UK funky house."
Funky's popularity has accelerated with the speed of a cork popping from a bottle of Cristal, in part as a reaction to the dominance of the macho music born from UK garage, such as MC-focused grime. "Funky is danceable because it originates from house and is influenced by the happier side of house. Everyone missed garage and that's why funky has been latched on to so quickly," explains Donaeo.
Flukes (19), one of the two cousins in Crazy Cousinz, is a case in point. "I was too young to be involved in garage, as I was 13 or 14 so it was before my time. Then there was a period where it was just grime and girls couldn't really relate to do that. So funky was a breath of fresh air, a new sound that girls could sing along to and guys could dance to. Funky's brought dancing back and it rules the dancefloor," he says from his studio in South East London.
Flukes is not wrong: last week, the hip-hop DJ Tim Westwood played 45 minutes of funky in a club set. The blossoming, summery sound is a refreshing blast of fresh air and is rapidly approaching tipping point. In April, K.I.G's "Head, Shoulders, Kneez & Toez" reached No 18 in the charts, and it has accrued a staggering two-million hits on YouTube (the populist Top 40). Crazy Cousinz have now signed a single to Atlantic, scheduled for release in late summer. This summer, funky is the sound of choice across Britain's urban raves and airwaves, as well as in clubbing destinations such as Ayia Napa.
Funky's burgeoning profile can also be attributed to the emergence of specific dance routines, or "skanks", to accompany certain songs, much like Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" or Soulja Boy's "Crank That". K.I.G's "Head, Shoulders, Kneez & Toez" is self-explanatory, though others such as the "migraine skank" (hold your head in your hands) and "swine flu" (mimicking the government's TV adverts and the slogan "catch it, bin it, kill it") are less so. Fr3e, who are behind the "Tribal Skank" track and its accompanying dance, believe that this trend and a flurry of instructional videos have helped funky grow and flourish in playgrounds and bedrooms.
"Dance routines are definitely a current trend in music – they're not confined to funky house or hip-hop and R'n'B either. Ragga has been creating dances to their tracks for many years, but we've only just jumped on. The dances force listeners and ravers to interact in a positive way and bring back the fun to clubs," says Fr3e's Ven.
Donaeo concurs: "If you see what I see, you would be all for skanks. When you're in a rave and people start grabbing their heads in the migraine skank and start dancing, it's infectious. Everyone follows everyone else, it starts with 10, then 30 people are doing it, then everyone's doing it. Human beings like to follow and if you see someone having fun, then you want to get involved."
Like many 21st-century genres, funky benefits from Web 2.0's sharing, open-source culture. Donaeo has devoured the history of house and British dance music and it comes across on his debut LP, Party Hard, an addictive dance record spanning jungle, electro and soulful house, as well as his trademark hypnotic funky.
"I've always made music in every scene. I've made garage, grime, bassline, funky, and whatever comes next, I'll make that too. If I was old enough I would have made jungle. I like all dance music. I'm a dance artist, making funky house, I embrace it all."
Flukes has also immersed himself in all things house. "When I DJ I don't just play funky house, I incorporate American house, soulful house and German house in my sets, and listen to all the different house sub-genres too. It's not just about the UK scene, every country has its own twist to house and own vibe and it's great to hear it all and see what else fits under house," he says.
Crazy Cousinz's double-CD release This Is UK Funky House Vol 1 (one CD is Crazy Cousinz's tracks and remixes, while the other is a snapshot of funky), bears out what Flukes says. The second CD refracts myriad genres, through funky and fierce drum tracks, giddy deep house, diva disco, piano house, electro and complex jazzy house.
If Donaeo and Flukes hope that UK funky is welcomed by the house scene, so does the UK garage producer MJ Cole, who takes pride in its emergence. "It's great to see that UK garage sound has led to another genre. This country has a talent for producing fresh music from jungle and drum'n'bass through to bassline and UK garage to funky – it's inspiring to know there's something fresh out there, which is well received and people are excited about," he says.
"I hope funky is absorbed into the wider house scenes although, as was the case with UK garage, it might encounter some snobbery," Cole continues. "The house scene is notoriously cliquey and it's one of the few genres that's been strong consistently for 20 years. New house genres can meet with resistance and if funky is going to be seen as 'urban' music, and a development of UK garage, I'm not sure if it will be accepted. Only time will tell."
Donaeo's 'Party Hard', Crazy Cousinz's 'This Is UK Funky House Vol 1', Fr3e's single "Tribal Skank" and MJ Cole's single "Gotta Have It" are all out now
I did file this over a month ago so it probably reads a little dated. You can read it in its full glory here
I've also done a feature on funky for Mixmag's August issue available in late July
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