I wrote the following piece on the resilient energy of funk and those who seek to preserve it, including the stellar Los Angeles label Stone's Throw, for the skate culture mag Vapors
more than a few months ago. In fact, I think it was due right after New Year's Day or something. But it had yet to pop online, until I found it during a depressed link search tonight. (It's Friday. A very lame one at that.) I'm happy to show off a chunk of it here, and send the rest of you interested parties the way of Vapors
. Go ahead and tell them Morphizm
sent you.Funking Up the Future
, Vapors Magazine
A few years ago, I caught a set by DJ Egon of the indie-hop label Stone's Throw during DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's acclaimed Product Placement tour
, and was taken aback. And not just because he had sick skills, but rather because he chose to show them off with the immortal James Brown as his sole sonic subject. That Egon executed a set using only the Godfather of Soul stuck out like a sore thumb in a show that featured turntablists like Jurassic 5's Numark spinning hits from across the spectrum, or Shadow and Cut seamlessly mashing obscure 45s for an hour straight. More importantly, the move signaled Egon's dogged determination to give the funk pioneer his due, a methodology that is quickly losing its primacy in a wired world looking for the next and newest, even if both ripped off the past, blind to make their names.
Fittingly, in the time before and since the recent passing of James Brown, Stone's Throw has grown in stature and relevance, landing deals with animation heavyweight Adult Swim
and more, and Egon—known as Eothen Alapatt to the IRS and his folks—has become a go-to guy for funk old and new. As such, Stone's Throw's label manager has set aside an imprint strictly devoted, like his engaging set for Product Placement, to old-school funk that the mainstream has passed by. Launched in 2001 and called Now-Again Records, as Egon explains on the Stone's Throw site, its "access to so many lost treasures" makes Stone's Throw one of the foremost labels "dedicated to the preservation of one of America’s great musical forms." In other words, they're not about to let you forget who felt the funk long before you heard it sampled.
That drive to archive is what makes Egon and the rest of the Stone's Throw crew—Peanut Butter Wolf, Jeff Jank and the mighty Madlib—powerful protectors of the culture's collective memory, as well as indie-hop badasses with cred deeper than your dreams. Hard work pays off, after all, as Egon and Wolf found out after releasing Now-Again's formative compilation The Funky 16 Corners, which collected deep funk from bands you might have never heard of like Bad Medicine, Spider Harrison, Revolution Compared to What and more.
"I don't think I'm bragging to say that it was a benchmark," Egon tells me. "We only released music when we could officially broker a license. We used master tapes whenever possible. We annotated each session, dug up photos, told stories. And we made a promise to pay, when royalties became due. Over the past five years, that comp has sold over 30,000 copies and the artists have been paid many times over. We're very proud of that fact. We feel like we kick-started something."
Indeed they have, including another Stone's Throw imprint called Soul-Cal, which reissues soul and disco from the ’60s and ’70s. But they're not alone in the archive resurrection game; far from it. Brooklyn's own Daptone Records leapt into the void as well, capturing funk old and new on vinyl and disc, and download eventually, hopefully. From the new-school time warp of the increasingly popular Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
to the recent recovery of the soul-stirring Bob and Gene's If You Were Mine, Daptone has conquered the East Coast's funk loyalists as surely as Stone's Throw has enraptured the left coast. Better yet, according to archivist/DJ David Griffiths, who compiled the heartbreaking lost work of Bobby Nunn and Eugene Coplin recorded in the converted basement of their musical father William Nunn, the two share a kinship of sorts.
"Years ago," Griffiths explains, "I was inspired by guys like Egon who set the bar higher than I had previously seen anywhere else. And the depth of discovery was personally inspiring for me. But it's a calling you can’t put down if you have it. Many of my associates working in the same vein are truly driven, at base, not by money or a scene (there is very little of both), but by the belief that we are doing this because it is what we are here to do. We believe in the value of the recognition of these artists and music, and accept responsibility in our time for its documentation and safe-keeping"...MORE @ VAPORS(Photo: DJ Egon, Stone's Throw. Photog: C. Woodcock)
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