Music, OldVenue

Back to the Future

Let’s take a look at the charts for this week. Unsurprisingly for any listeners of radio, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars storm to number one with their latest single Uptown Funk. We’ve all heard it; an instant hit with a star-studded lead singer, a catchy chorus, and a feel-good rhythm that everyone probably needs to get through the dark and lonely winter months.

But, while Mark and Bruno aren’t listening, we can admit that Uptown Funk isn’t some experimental masterpiece; it’s a jaunty, happy pop song that’s smashing the charts. And, as expected, this label of ‘chart music’ makes a lot of people avert their gaze and shake their heads in disgust. But we shouldn’t be so quick to judge; as a piece of music, Uptown Funk is a perfect window into the world of an oncoming musical resurgence.
The funky-disco sound of the 70s is well-known and well-loved by all. It’s smooth, it’s easy-listening, laid-back. Conjures images of suede shoes and flared jeans. And now, in today’s twenty-first century world, where buzzwords like ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ rule the scene, it could be in this niche that a renewed exploration of the funk genre is found. Therefore, it could be said that this re-development is rooted in the corporate world that comes up with these buzzwords, and as a result could then further be said that nu-funk is pointless and just won’t last. After all, Uptown Funk was written by a veteran record producer and prolific songwriter who is no stranger to the charts. What’s to say it isn’t a soulless conspiracy that’s attempting to capitalise off the unsuspecting public?

That’s quite a leap to make, but as the popularity of dance and electronic music has grown in recent years, more and more musicians appear to be shying away from ‘traditional’ methods of production and moving towards computerised beats and samples. Tracks are altered, re-cut, and cleaned up with technology that James Brown would never have imagined. The ‘live’ style of recording is falling out of fashion, with musicians instead choosing to layer and experiment with pre-recorded material in methods that just couldn’t have happened forty years ago.

However, this is not necessarily to say that funk is dead. Plenty of modern musicians have cited funk as a serious influence on their work, and funky tunes have continued to pop up in the charts over the years in various contemporary fashions and forms. One of the most prominent examples of this was Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, released in 2013, which was the band’s first ever number one single in the UK. There’s no denying that Get Lucky is a funk song at heart; it’s even co-written by Nile Rogers, the lead guitarist and co-founder of arguably one of the most successful bands of the disco period – Chic. Rather than losing steam as technology takes hold, funk seems to be coming back every two or three years in a new and more modern packet.

Similarly, Disco has morphed into House over the course of the eighties and nineties to create the dance-floor dominating sound that rules the high streets today. House is built on the back of disco samples and the four to floor rhythms it popularised, finding its feet first in Chicago in small ‘house’ clubs were it gets it name from and then travelling the Atlantic to create the Acid House revolution and rave culture that is so enshrined in modern dance music culture.

The question, then, is what makes funk so appealing? Why can’t we stop the funk?
Maybe it’s down to the music itself. No matter how much you hate flares or smoking jackets, there’s just no way that the sound of the 70s doesn’t get you up and grooving when you hear it come on. Funk, as a genre, is inherently happy. It’s danceable. It’s all about good vibrations.This idealistic attitude towards life and towards music seems eternally popular- catchy, exciting songs will always get everyone going because they create an atmosphere that plays off the basic human emotion of happiness.
With that in mind, we shouldn’t be concerned for the future of funk. As we’ve seen, it continues to prove itself as a foundational musical genre. With a bit of luck, these new developments will bring some of the best funk we’ve ever heard. Or, they’ll murder it and we’ll all turn and shake our heads in disgust.
Don’t believe me? Just watch.


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January 2022
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