.Dam-Funk Embraces the Weird and the Wild

It’s no easy task to be a creator of throwback sounds in this modern era without sounding overly derivative, disingenuous, or worse yet, like a novelty act. But for the last few years, Pasadena-based Dam-Funk (pronounced “Dame-Funk”) has earned underground and critical acclaim doing just that.

Born Damon Riddick, the producer and vocalist has emerged with as sound that may best be described as modern funk—think George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic stripped down with layered synths and an emphasis on drums. He has a penchant for penning love songs with uplifting, anthemic lyrics.

It’s been a slow rise for Riddick, but his career is certainly on the upswing. From basement tapes on vintage gear in 2007 to a 2013 studio album with Snoop Dogg (7 Days of Funk), the gifted multi-instrumentalist has proudly toured the world a few times over.

I learned how to play drums and read notes in junior high, but on keyboards, I was self-taught,” Dâm recounts in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. “I was afraid to unlearn what I learned. It was good I didn’t, as I created my own type of chords without a teacher. Maybe one day I’ll go learn how to read Bach, but it hasn’t hurt me yet.

His 2015 release, Invite The Light, a mix of bouncy tracks with ethereal moments scattered throughout was positioned atop of several year-end “best of” lists. Even for Dâm, whose prolific creative streaks are widely known, this new album took six years from start to finish. The songs have washes of breathy, Prince-like vocals while others are hard-knocking, instrumental party joints. Dâm has garnered glowing acclaim from the likes NPR and The New York Times.

The new album, along with his previous projects—including a massive five-record box set compilation—have all been released on the L.A.-by-way-of-San Jose underground tastemaking label, Stones Throw.

Label founder Peanut Butter Wolf—a.k.a. Chris Manak, brother of Jonny of Jonny Manak and the Depressives—remains at the helm and has flouted convention for decades, with eclectic projects ranging from soul to vintage electro. It’s a fitting imprint for Dâm. The label has also pushed projects from hip-hop and soul oddballs like J Dilla, Mayer Hawthorne & Madlib.

Dâm is slated to perform a live DJ set at The Ritz on Friday—sharing the stage with electro-rap pioneer and 808 visionary Egyptian Lover, as well as modern synth producer Brian Ellis. It’s a show that promises more of an effusive party atmosphere than a neatly orchestrated performance.

The show marks Dâm-Funk’s first ever appearance in San Jose and serves as a benchmark for The Ritz’s expanding efforts to bring top-tier touring acts to the South Bay. Acts on Dâm’s level often skip over Silicon Valley—hopping from San Francisco or Oakland to Santa Cruz and vice versa.

Local record shop Needle To The Groove deserves some credit for helping to book the show. In addition to curating an eclectic catalog of vintage vinyl for sale, the shop also functions as a record label and entertainment company. The overarching goal of Needle to the Groove is sourcing quality acts and music for San Jose.

“We want to bring relevant independent music to the South Bay,” says Allen Johnson of Needle to the Groove. “Ultimately, we hope to see more national and local acts take the stage in San Jose, not just in our neighboring cities.”

Dâm-Funk plays on Feb 12, 8pm, $20-$25 at The Ritz, San Jose.

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