Daft Punk,the French electronic house duo consisting Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo,have been extremely interesting to me. From their debut album Homework in 1997 up through their 2013 release Random Access Memories,their electronica /house combination has continually embraced elements of American funk and disco. And this tendency as gotten strong with each successive studio album they’ve made. The fact that both men play bass and guitar adds strongly to their rhythmic understanding of funky disco grooves. And has afforded them much commercial success as well.
First heard of the duo one evening while home alone with my dad at some point in 2001. We had the radio switched to local college radio WMEB. And one of the DJ’s was playing this song that really caught my ear. Wondered if it was a new acid jazz song by an artist like Jamiroquai or something. But it had a totally different flavor. More electronic. Since most radio stations in my area tended to play blocks of music with no announcements of songs/artists after 2000,it surprised me to hear the DJ announce that the artist was Daft Punk. And the name of the song was “Voyager”.
A very distant drum machine playing a disco beat begins the song,with an airy synthesizer accompanying it as the main melody. That intro soon breaks into a harder pounding version of the same beat-this time with a Nile Rodgers like clean rhythm guitar line along with the main melody. Within this,a wonderfully funky bass line pops out every note between the note possible in this song. This song has two bridges. One reduces down to a percussive rhythm with a wah wah guitar. The next features a Japanese sounding synth solo in the pentatonic scale. This becomes part of the final choruses the fade out the song.
“Voyager” is very representative of the kind of disco/funk hybrid coming out of electronic groups in the early 2000’s that I personally found very appealing. It had the synthesized sonic’s and melodies very popular on the European club scenes. But it also embraced the hard funk/disco approach that came from the American idiom. The fact that it had a Japanese style interlude might’ve served as a reminder of Japan’s pop culture strongly embracing funk and disco in the 70’s and 80’s. In all areas,this song represents a dry run towards the sound that would culminate on their 2013 hit “Get Lucky”.
The contributions to every sub-genre of instrumental oriented funky dance music owes a great debt of gratitude to Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization. Ever since his major commercial comeback in 2013 with creatively promising most millennial nu funk/disco icons Daft Punk Pharrell Williams on “Get Lucky”. Back in the game of hit production work with new artists such as Tensnake and Sam Smith? Nile began fine tuning some discarded tapes recorded originally for Sister Sledge and featuring the late bassist Bernard Edwards and singer Luther Vandross on vocals, and re-introduced his much anticipated comeback with Chic on a new groove entitled “I’ll Be There”.
It begins with the rolling percussion of Ralph Rolle,with Jerry Barnes bass weaving itself into the mix for a colorful rhythmic tapestry. ‘Nard himself then chimes in on his iconic mid toned rhythm guitar for his always danceable,rhythmic and chunky groove along with melodic (and sometimes spacey) accenting horns.-having Barnes take over on bass as the lead instrument on the vocal refrains. Just before the bridge of the song,the music again reduces down to the bass and percussion sound before even the bass strips out-leaving nothing but the fast paced Afro-Latin percussion before the song fads out on Nile’s chorus.
First thing that I can say about this Chic groove is that it has the complete flavor of a Chic song from their late 70’s,early 80’s heyday. The emphasis is again on the rhythm instruments such as bass,guitar and percussion. These are the elements that made Nile and Chic some of the funkiest musicians of the disco era. As well as being the core element of the post “Rapper’s Delight” take on commercially viable hip-hop that used live musicians as opposed to samples. The music video featuring a then and now look at a fashion conscious lady enjoying old Soul Train episodes,and spinning Chic vinyl records while the current band perform in a contemporary club perfectly captures their modern/retro disco vibe.
Wanted to close off with a little personal story time about myself and Chic. My own adolescence in the mid/late 90’s seemed to represent a gradual change in the music world’s attitude towards disco. It started out with a very virulent hatred in the “disco sucks” mold of the early 80’s freeze out of the music. Yet it ended with huge popular rappers such as Biggie Smalls and even Will Smith sampling disco/post disco era songs with total pride. Not to mention the importance of those songs complete embrace by the public in a positive light. This reminds me of my favorite lyric in this song which says “I don’t want to live in the past,but it’s a nice place to visit”. The disco era at it’s most musically vital represented a full channeling of Afro-Latin world music,big band jazz and the long form rhythms of funk. And it’s wonderful to hear that Chic and Nile Rodgers are still able to pull it all together so wonderfully!
Filed under 2015, Bernard Edwards, Chic, Daft Punk, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Get Lucky, Jerry Barnes, Luther Vandross, Nile Rodgers, nu disco, Pharrell Willaims, Ralpe Rolle, Sam Smith, Sister Sledge, Tensnake
Since there has been an ongoing disco-dance revival that’s existed pretty consistently since the late 1980’s? Its not surprising that so many of the most groove-centric and funk oriented instrumentalists have actually emerged out of the club/DJ scene that helped spawn the original disco era in the first place. France’s Daft Punk are a perfect example. One thing that evident about modern funk artists who grew out of the modern DJ/electronic scene is their admiration for the sleeker “sophistifunk” style that emerged during that late 70’s period. As for me,I discovered what was to me a totally unknown example of this via a friends recommendation of an artist called Magic Man. The act was called Chromeo. And hearing sound samples of them made me want to seek out more of their music. It was the song “Over Your Shoulder” from their newest album White Women that caught my ears the most.
Beginning with a growling,revved up bass the song goes straight into that a heavy bass/guitar interaction courtesy of David “Dave 1” Mackovitch-one half of this duo. The bass line to this song in particular is very perpulsive-bouncing and dancing along while almost jazzily improvising over the chord changes of the grooving lead guitar line and the drum rhythm. Because the basic song is so stripped down,this bass stands out very strongly. On the end of each chorus as sung by Dave on,the bands keyboardist Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel plays a melodic synthesizer solo with two different and exciting parts. One is very much in the vibrato oriented Bernie Worrell/P-Funk “video game” style and the other part more in the flamboyant,progressive style scaling similar to what Steve Miller Band used on “Fly Like An Eagle”. As the song fades to a close, Dave 1’s guitar solo takes on a somewhat more pop/rock oriented tone as well.
In the 1970’s Montreal had bought the world the exploitative jazz/funk delights of Gino and Joe Vannelli. And from what I hear Dave 1 and P-Thugg would appear to be bringing a similar impulse out of this Atlantic Canada city. Only thing time focusing in on that late 70’s sophistifunk and early 80’s boogie funk sound with an occasionally minor jazzy and psychedelic twist. Another captivating element of this song is its lyrical content. It tells the story of a man coming onto a woman who defines herself by the insecurity she feels about her looks and attraction to others. While traditionally classic funk and soul traditionally celebrated emotionally and sexually confident female virtues? The more visually conscious and often superficial modern outlook on youthful femininity is reflected lyrically in this song.
With lines such as “Oh the grass is greener everywhere you look/ So many people stare they got you scared of the girls out there/ This one’s cola-bottle size/And that one’s more of a model size/I know you heard this a hundred times” and especially “You see, your problems of self-esteem/Could be self-fulfilling prophecies/So arguably your best policy should be talking to me”? Dave 1 offers empowerment,rather than mere co-dependant enabling to his female romantic interest in the song. The polished,sleek yet instrumentally minimal nature of the song is equally reflective of the healthy and nurturing male attitude towards women this song projects. So this is not only strong modern funk with a heavy sexual subtext. But also one where a modern man is encouraging a modern woman to be confident,feminine and sexual all at once without losing anything.