Funkstep: the new sound of London?

By , Sep 24 2009

With America, hip-hop is hip-hop, and even though the music changes and new sounds and people come into it, the flow remains hip-hop. But in the U.K., as soon as something new comes along, it’s like, "Oh, that’s new music-let’s call it a new name!" when really, it’s all the same thing. We just progress… – Geeneus

As you’ve probably noticed, we’re a bit obsessed with genre names in the UK, whether uniquely literal (‘drum ‘n’ bass’) or beautifully abstract (‘grime’). The most discussed ‘new’ genre to emerge in the British Isles last year was ‘funky’; an extension of that most maligned of genres, funky house, that saw its structure and tempo filtered through the bass-driven aesthetics of grime, garage and dubstep, resulting in a new sound pioneered by producers like Geeneus, D-Malice and Crazy Cousinz.

Got that? Well, you’d better have, because it looks like things are ready to change again. Since funky broke, it’s been adopted by discerning house and dubstep producers and DJs (amongst them TRG, Kode 9 and Martyn – all three of whom have now produced tracks at the established house tempo of 130bpm as opposed to the 140 of grime and dubstep) and the sound has been taken from naff wine bars in London’s West End to darker, more underground venues like Plastic People, dubstep’s spiritual home. Naturally, the sound has changed as a result, and the name that’s often been used to describe the current strain of house music saturating these clubs is ‘funkstep’.

In a thoroughly researched feature on this strand of house, San Francisco’s XLR8R magazine spoke to various producers pushing the funkstep sound, amongst them Scratcha DVA, who hosts the daily breakfast show on London pirate radio station Rinse FM. "There’s this other side of funky that Cooly, Roska, and I are into," says Scratcha. "Nights like FWD at Plastic People are pushing it, so it’s got more of a dubstep vibe. And it’s like, I played there with Kode 9 and Cooly G last week and I got a round of applause at the end! Now, if I go into any funky dances playing bare skank tunes, you think they’re gonna care who’s playing, bruv? No, they’re not gonna care, as long as you’re playing [Gracious "Nappa Man" K’s] ‘Migraine Skank’ or whatever."

Scratcha DVA – ‘Natty’ (forthcoming Hyperdub 12")

Roska, a frequent collaborator with Scratcha, discusses dubstep’s influence on funky. "There’s definitely a split within dubstep. I’ve talked to a lot of the guys – Kode 9, Shortstuff, etc. – and what I’ve heard is that you’ve got one side of dubstep that are playing that sort of ‘farting dub’ sound – that squeaking bass, you know what I mean? And then on the other side, there’s tracks with housier elements to them; they’re slowing them down, making them at 130 bpm rather than 140 or 145. It’s like a little merger – the darker side of funky meeting up with the housier side of dubstep." For more insight into this sound, we’d recommend the entire article, which also features words from Cooly G, Rinse FM owner Geeneus and more.

Of course, this connection between funky and dubstep isn’t without its disadvantages: the most recent edition of Beyond, Rinse FM’s monthly ‘house and funky’ night that takes place at Plastic People, was notable not just for great sets by Cooly, Scratcha, Roska, Marcus Nasty and Fingaprint, but for the dancefloor: it was dominated by men throughout Scratcha and Cooly’s sets, and it was only when Marcus Nasty arrived at the decks, to play by far the least funkstep set of the night, that it featured anywhere near a 50/50 gender dynamic. Kyla, the voice of ‘Do You Mind’, funky’s biggest single to date and FACT’s #2 track of last year, expressed her concerns to XLR8R about girls disappearing from the dancefloor:

"When I was first going out to funky events, it was a lovely kind of music to dance to – it had such a nice vibe … You used to be able to have a drink and dance, and the music wasn’t so in your face," says Kyla. "But now, the music has gotten so hard, and you have all these MCs jumping on. They call out for these certain dances – they’re called skanks – and then fights break out because it hypes the crowd up on a different level. It’s like the music has gone off on a totally different side – it’s not soulful anymore. It’s like what happened with [U.K.] garage, really. Girls see a bunch of guys dancing with other guys and they’re like, why bother?"

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