A Saint-James curated collection of Britfunk.
As has become quite evident in recent years, it seems nearly every geographic locale in which music is recorded for posterity boasts their own idiosyncratic spin on funk music. From Asia to the Caribbean to the Middle East to the Antipodes and all points in between, compilations have been issued by a wide range of labels looking to tap into the growing market for all things foreign, otherwise forgotten and esoteric. It’s a marketplace that has become so saturated that, were there to be a release of obscure pygmy funk recorded in the deepest recesses of the darkest jungles on earth, there stands a very good chance that listeners would barely bat an eye at such a seemingly geographic and sociological anomaly.
This is of course more than a tad hyperbolic, but the basic idea remains that, with very little exception, reissue and boutique labels have managed to scrounge up enough material from a given area to put together what amounts to a “scene” whose music is based in the funk idiom. Whether or not such a scene ever truly existed or was merely a one-off or localized distillation of prevailing trends in Western pop music is a matter of some debate, of course, but its very existence does often warrant further investigation. And thankfully there are more than a few labels looking to do just that.
The latest to join the fray is French label Chuwanaga who, with their first release, rather than putting together a collection of Francophone Funk instead opts for a Saint-James curated collection of Britfunk. A Parisian DJ, Saint-James has an ear for what keeps bodies on the floor and in continuous motion, so it’s no surprise the six tracks collected on In the Red offer an overabundance of snaky rhythms, bubbling bass – more often than not slapped to within an inch of its life and the main driving force behind the arrangements – and four-on-the-floor funk grooves.
Ostensibly a form all its own, Britfunk borrows heavily from the music of the time in which it was originally conceived – namely the late-‘70s and early-‘80s – making it virtually indistinguishable from what independent labels in the States were churning out around the same time. The opening title track by a group called Equa could have come from just about anywhere given its time of origin; there are little to no geographic markers that readily show this to be the product of London clubs of the era. This isn’t to say the music is not worth exploring – it’s most certainly enjoyable and damn near impossible not to at least move to – but rather that the continuing need to create and justify microgenre tags is getting increasingly out of hand.
“Catch the Feelin’ (Showstopper),” a group called Potion’s contribution to the collection, borrows from Marvin Gaye, the P-Funk sound and more than a bit of the smoother elements of Philly Soul to produce a track that, while admittedly funky, is rather faceless and void of a distinct personality – the questionable pitch of the backing vocals certainly doesn’t help matters. It’s still a hard-driving bit of period-correct funk but, as with much of the rest of the collection, there’s nothing much of note to help differentiate Britfunk from its American contemporaries, save perhaps its desire to possess its own distinct genre tag.
Congress’ “Something That You Got (Real Hot)” is straight disco-funk, its tight arrangements, horns and strings sounding for all the world like anything coming out of Philadelphia, New York or L.A. around the exact same time. But this is simply nit-picking as the music itself is quite enjoyable and well curated by Saint-James. It’s just that, for listeners who’ve grown accustomed to globe-trotting funk compilations, In the Red offers little that hasn’t been heard before and, without being appreciated in its proper historical and social context, doesn’t possess the same gravitas the liner notes and press release would have you believe.