Dâm-Funk is the stage name of Damon G. Riddick, a singer, DJ, producer and remixer who made his big musical splash in 2009 with a series of releases for the Stones Throw label, five EPs throwing back to the keyboard-based R&B of the 1980s. Dâm-Funk squeezed much of that work into the double-LP compilation Toeachizown, and developed a touring showcase for his funk revivalism with the aid of the band Master Blazter. mxdwn.com caught up with Dâm-Funk when he brought his show to Philadelphia in August 2010. We promised to ask him just two open-ended questions, which would make this either the easiest or the hardest interview of his life. Here’s what he had to say.
There’s this whole continuum over the last 15 years—going through Peanut Butter Wolf, DJ Shadow, Daedelus, Flying Lotus—of prominent beatmakers and electronic music producers coming up from America’s West Coast. Are you aware of it? Where do you feel your place is among all of these contemporaries you have?
I feel a connection as far as friendship and knowing cats, the mutual respect we have for each other, but I don’t find myself part of any of that. You know what I mean? I’m coming from a funk perspective, from before that stuff even existed, before Flying Lotus, before Daedelus, before Shadow. Now Wolf, I can’t say “before Wolf,” because he was about the funk before the other cats you were talking about. He rode on his bike with a boom box on it, bumpin’ Slave, just like I was—we were just in two different cities. So he was always into funk.
I consider myself Generation X. I’m between the old school and the new school. I’ve been doing music for over 20 years; [Toeachizown] is just my first album. … I say that respectfully, I appreciate the lineage and the people that connect me to the West Coast’s new sounds, but I’ve just been doing this, struggling in my bedroom, for years, making lo-fi tapes before it was cool to have lo-fi, know what I’m saying? Nobody knew about what I was doing in the past or what my friends were doing, but when it became cool to do lo-fi, that’s when everybody, like, fawned over it. They forgot about some of the earlier lo-fi cats who’ve been doing this but—no big deal.
I’m very appreciative to be involved, to be traveling around the world. I’m doing it for the funk, because funk always [left] a weird taste in people’s mouths. After the silly commercials and the compilation covers, you know, some guy with platform shoes on and the crazy afro wig, the button-down polyester shirt, it just got too crazy, man. I just wanted to bring back the correct—I don’t want to say correct—the vision of funk that I grew up with around my neighborhood in Pasadena, California. So true love and much respect to all the cats you mentioned; I just feel like I’m in my own lane.
mxdwn.com: Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised because there’s definitely a 1980s vibe going through the album—a Prince vibe, stuff you would hear on Top 40 radio or urban radio back then. But I guess I’m actually a little surprised you consider yourself a lo-fi artist.
What I’m actually saying is I’m taking it to a level where—here’s the secret, well, it’s not a secret. The whole album was recorded [without] ProTools. I just took one CD player and one CD recorder, and I got a stack of CDs, and I just recorded each track on that. I used a Radio Shack mixer to record. That’s why it sounds different than a lot of the other artists who are out now with their high-tech stuff. … I like to place myself in between the new shit and the old stuff. The way I recorded it was old-school analog, but the thought patterns and sounds were futuristic. A lot of people might miss it but I feel like on Toeachizown, once they get beyond the whole post-G-Funk thing, there’s stuff like “Spacecapades” on there. You have weird tempos, different chords I’m messing around with.
I don’t do beats, I do music. Bottom line, I don’t do beats. I do beats when I want to. I’m not a beat guy, I’m a musician. Not to take anything away from cats who do beats—I don’t call my music “beats.” I call my music “music.”
We’ve read reviews of some dates where you’ve been a DJ, calling out, “This is what I’m playing! Make sure you hear this part!” Talk about the desire to play this kind of music out live, and the transition of taking your own electronic music—like the technical stuff with the CD players—from the studio to a live context with your band Master Blazter.
What happened is, when I first got into the game … I got into it by record collecting. I was always a musician first, I was always doing music. For instance, there’s an album coming out on Stones Throw soon called Adolescent Funk. It’s all the older tapes that Wolf found in my shoeboxes. He was like, “Let me hear some of that,” so I gave it to him. It’s all stuff from the early ’80s and early ’90s that I recorded in my bedroom. … It’s coming out as an intermission project [before] my new album in 2010, all old material while I was in high school and after high school.
I say that to say I was always a musician first, then I got into DJ’ing later by a fluke. A friend in the biz, I met him at Record Surplus in West L.A. He saw me … picking up … Salsoul records … Playloop [records]. … He was like, “Hey man, you know, you might want to come and check my spot out. It’s a place called Carbon, you might want to spin there.” So I started spinning there, and that’s where I gained some kind of notoriety, if you will—I say that humbly.
I started a party there called Funkmosphere. DJ’ing was just a part of me sharing my record collection out, but I always had the music first. I was always recording. I was working at my jobs, my odd jobs, driving trucks everywhere—I’d always be doing the tracks, but I never gave up. Some people would give up, I never gave up. When Wolf heard my music on Myspace after he knew we were into digging records, he was like, “Hey, we might want to do a remix or something.” That’s when he gave me the offer to do the remix of [Baron Zen’s] “Burn Rubber.”
So after that, it became more about doing the music of Stones Throw—we went on tour, me, Mayer Hawthorne, James Pants, and Peanut Butter Wolf. They did this tour [in 2009] and they whored everything out to Mr. Mayer Hawthorne. They let him rehearse at James Pants’ studio, let him use James Pants’ band, and here I am with all the cats and I’m left for dead with a computer laptop. So I said, “Nah, I’m not gonna let that happen. I’m supposed to rehearse with James Pants’ band too.” For some reason, the mystery is we don’t know why I didn’t go up there and do it like Mayer.
So I said, “Hell no, I’m gonna be destroyin’ the stage, pummeling.” When I took my laptop up there [on stage] and my records—I was still carrying records, still do—I started to add vocals on top, my original tracks with vocals on top. I went on and started doing it, it started catching on like more of a live set, PA set, DJ set. So after a while they kept asking me, “You should do ‘Burn Rubber’ live.” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know.” Eventually I just learned it on vocoder, because I played it on the remix.
Fast forward, now I have my keytar, my shoulder strap-on sythesizer, and I started integrating that with my live sets. Then we did a jam session at Heavyweight, an art gallery in Los Angeles, where [Master Blazter members] J1 and Computer Jay were involved. I did that jam and said, “You know what? You guys might want to come and learn my album, because we can take this on tour.” So here we are. Everything happens for a reason. They end up being down [for performing], and now we’re doing it live. It’s all natural, it’s not forced, it’s not fake. … Here I am now, performing live. I just go with the flow. I never stop to smell the roses. That’s what we’re doing now and I’m just going to keep on going. That’s the transition of the music from the studio to live. The door was being knocked on, I opened it.
Here I am, traveling everywhere, Tel Aviv, Warsaw, Oslo—places I never even dreamed I would have been taken. Some of the biggest funksters never even went to these places. And people are going nuts, man. They’re holding the box set up in the audience, telling me, “Thank you, don’t stop, keep on doing what you’re doing.” It’s serious. I just followed my heart, and here I am. It’s been fun.