The twerk (and the drop) ain’t funky enough, and that’s a major problem. If EDM’s going to seriously follow the cues from America in order to keep the cash flow coming, then Americans (both as producers and consumers in electronic dance music) need to realize that we’re doing it all wrong. Ever since the days of James Brown evolving into the days of Parliament-Funkadelic, and then encompassing African, Latin and a diaspora of global sounds, the funk has been at the core of the great moments of successful and sustainable progression at the core of American popular music. Thus, when dance is pop and dance’s top songs advocate for jumping up and down rather than shaking left and right, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
The early history of what would evolve into American EDM had the funk. From discotheque culture emigrating from France to New York City, go-go girls breaking out the “Peppermint Twist,” David Mancuso dropping Earth, Wind and Fire cuts in his loft apartment and b-boys in the South Bronx breaking it down to Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican,” EDM’s roots dropped it on the one early and often. However, somewhere between Downtown Julie Brown saying “wubba wubba wubba” as David Morales (and others) dropped hot (yet still quite funky) house tracks on Club MTV to festival and big room culture today, something’s changed, the funk is lost, and America needs to re-discover it in order to save the future.
For every act like a Major Lazer (that gets it right and is intrinsically all about the funk), there are ten others that are making the sonic equivalent of everything but the funk, and again, that’s problematic for the future. There was once a time wherein artists from other genres accepted that the funk was real, resulting in Rod Stewart wanting the world to know that he was “sexy,” the Rolling Stones’ 1978 single “Miss You,” and of course the Bee Gees soundtracking Saturday Night Fever and riding the disco wave to the top of the charts. In arguably lacking a symbiotic relationship, dance pushed other genres of music ahead, instead of allowing them to develop a status quo. 2013 saw Avicii – whose 2010 breakout single “My Feelings For You” with Sebastian Drums was based around so much house and break beat-driven funk – finally evolve into finding a place wherein his album True literally featured dance music that mirrored Kenny Rogers more than Masters at Work’s Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez. Dance has arguably worked best when the push for synergy has come from mainstream artists from non-dance genres instead of dance music itself pandering to the non-dance mainstream.
So, I know you’re sitting there saying “But Marcus, Nile Rodgers was EVERYWHERE in 2013! The funk ain’t dead!” Well, I’ll just say this, and head into another point: You can’t buy the funk. The funk should not be for sale, the funk should not be for hire. Arguably, the funk came to America on a boats from Africa and the West Indies, and anybody engaging in the buying or selling of the funk 500 years later (especially for the records that Nile Rodgers played on this year) sounds really cool, but also feels like slavery. Maybe I’ve gone too far, but in being able to make such an assumption, something is wrong. While I endorse anyone ultimately doing the right thing for their pockets, I do have to throw a flag on the play when something is happening that will negatively affect the future of the culture of music itself.
There are a slew of artists on the underground – in both America and elsewhere – who are actively making truly funky music, but are at the back of the line when it comes to dance’s mainstream progression in America. It’s amazing that EDM at-present can be strip-mining rap music of all of its elements except for the funk at its core. Trap and twerk are built on rap, but ultimately at this point very rarely ever bear a resemblance to their forebear. As well, its amazing that trap and twerk have effectively shut out the mainstream evolution of pretty much every Afro-Latino funk-driven genre in recent memory, as from Baltimore club to baile funk to zouk bass, moombahton, and so many more, they’ve shined, but not yet absorbed into the mainstream notion of American EDM. Of course, when the American definition of what constitutes dance becomes pop music and the funk is not at the core, it’s an issue. Unfortunately, if the funk isn’t there, then it arguably isn’t following in a clear, defined and beloved tradition of what the American influence on dance-as-pop has been.
If the funk should not be bought or sold and isn’t even being duplicated or replicated, then where’s the solution? Ultimately, it may be time for swift revolutionary action. More beats and breaks, less fists in the air. More juking and jiving, less building and dropping. As well, especially at a time wherein there’s an overflow of Afro-Latino vibes in underground dance, it may be time for America to re-embrace the funk by re-discovering it at its core. Dance ain’t funky no more, and it absolutely didn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, there’s hope for the future.