This Dâm-Funk was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Lead photo by Matthew Scott
Last month, Boiler Room was given access to Damon Gareth Riddick’s private vault of records as part of their ‘Collections’ series. For eighty blissful minutes, the West Coast funk pioneer sifts through his personal selection of rare 45’s and dusty eighties classics.
He leans back, surrounded by crate towers full of forgotten gems with a smoke in one hand and a smile beneath his thick black shades. The potent blend of disco, boogie and synth funk seeping out of his Los Angeles pad has coloured every elastic hand clap and rubbery bass line within his solo work. His latest project, ‘Invite the Light,’ is a sprawling, positivity soaked odyssey that captures the power of these influences and channels them into an album that sees ‘The Funk’ as not just a genre, but as a source of life and nourishment. One thing that’s certain is that Dām-Funk isn’t faking the funk.
Riddick’s never been into the whole brevity thing either. His 2009 debut was a five album project, and a labour of love to all things synth funk. After years of work, ‘Invite The Light’ follows it up with an album that’s just as expansive in scope, dedicated to vivid textures and a diverse appreciation of sound.
Every song here feels like its own extended 12” dance mix, which only adds to the authentic feel of its presentation. Listening to it feels like thumbing through a golden age collection of funk rarities at a local record store; one off Prince pressings sit snuggly next to eccentric underground hits and long lost novelties. Paranoid pirate radio snippets narrated by Parliament Funkedelic member and all-round cool cat Julie Morrison are scattered throughout, urging the listener to invite the light, embrace the funk and reject the negativity of those intent on shutting it down. It’s an evocative listening experience; coloured by a diverse range of funk flavoured sounds and textures.
‘Somewhere, Someday’ shimmers with glossy synths, twinkling G Funk leads and thick resonant bass. Riddick’s amateurish vocal has a goofy charm as it wobbles above the slick instrumentation. He speaks of hope through spirituality and positivity, adding power to his melodies through the shared religious experience he continually invokes.
‘Floating on Air’ is a claustrophobic, bustling piece of electronics built around a warm, expressive guitar solo that opens into giddy percussion and cascading arcade machine synth leads. ‘Glyde 2nyte’ instead bounces with hit potential, with a tickling bass line that sits underneath seductive vocal features from Leon Sylvers the Third and Fourth. It’s an unashamedly schmaltzy song, as are many other here, but the joy that radiates from every synth wobble and camp vocal refrain is undeniable in its infectiousness.
Despite the many highlights, there’s a frustration that stems from Dâm-Funk’s inability or refusal to edit himself. Several cuts become redundant before their finish, such as the novelty track ‘Surveillance Escape,’ on which claustrophobic drum loops and a ragged synth line repeat aimlessly for six minutes. The illuminati vocal snippets are an entertaining aside, but the joke has long become tiresome by the track’s end. There are two needless versions of ‘I’m Just Tryna Survive,’ and while both are worthy songs their own right, the inclusion of both makes the flamboyant refrain lose its potency by the time the second version has rolled around.
The only truly poor track is the Ariel Pink collaboration, ‘Acting’, which sees two production pioneers and musical oddballs come together – an exciting prospect that provides no chemistry or musical reward. Dâm-Funk ironically disparages fakeness whilst delivering his most hammy performance of the whole album, while Ariel Pink’s contribution seems to be atonal moaning with little direction.
The epic length of this release wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it wasn’t for the lack of interesting progression within individual songs, an issue that becomes apparent thanks to stiff percussion and an occasionally under produced sound that reduces the syrupy quality of some cuts.
In thirty years time, there’s the potential that we will look back at the past few years as the second coming of funk. Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and even Kendrick Lamar on ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ have created some of the most essential music the genre has seen in years. While his contemporaries have experimented around the genre, Dâm-Funk has consistently flown the flag for funk, reinvigorating the genre by revisiting its successes and re-contextualising it for a new audience.
For that, he deserves endless respect. There’s a truly great album hidden within ‘Invite The Light,’ and like sifting through a mixed crate of dusty records, there’s an excitement in discovering all of them.