It’s not often these days that you see big funk bands like you did in the past. In the 70s larger bands were common and some of the greatest music of the time was made by large groups such as Earth Wind and Fire, Parliament and Slave. Sometime during the 80s, however, the size of funk bands started to shrink and they never really made a return on a large scale.
There are still some big, funky bands around, however, and to find one look no further than Lyon, France. The city is home to the Funky Drive Band – a group of twelve musicians who are dedicated to making funk music the old school way. They have been together for about five years and are keeping the spirit of the boogie alive in a country that doesn’t have much of a funk tradition. We caught up with the founding member Kâshif Kroche to a chat about the band’s musical influences, living in the funkiest city in France and the challenges of running a large funk band this day in age.
How did the band get started?
Well at the beginning in 2008 we were only 3 guys: Bumpy T.T., Kongbo Godogo and me. I met Bumpy at a private funk concert of Howard Johnson, if I remember, and we had the same friend who introduced us. Kongbo was a guy from my neighborhood, so they were the two singers and I was the composer.
We needed to find female voices to add another touch in our band so we searched at the gospel choir of Lyon where we met Oumy. After that, Bumpy & I created our own label, R.$ J.Recordz & Tapes (specialized in releasing unreleased stuffs from the 80s), so we could release our own productions too. Then the other musicians of the band were added very quickly. Now, we are twelve members, but for live shows, we play with eight of the members because it’s not as easy to find a big place for a big band like ours!
In 2011, we recorded the track “Lost Generation” for a French funk compilation called “Weird Jam Project” on Funkysize Records. Then, we started to record the songs from our first album called “Dance Or Die”. The LP was released in February 2012 and contains nine songs, with “Funky Drive’z Me Crazy”, which was the success of the album.
Is there a big funk/soul scene in France?
Funk is very underground in France. We’ve got artists, but our music hasn’t been played in clubs, radio or TV, only in small funk parties and they are rare! The older bands in France are Ameega (Dijon), Magoo (Toulouse), Thomas G (Paris). I think these three guys are the oldest artists still playing here. Ameega started in the 80s and the two other guys maybe in the 90s.
I don’t think that we have a big funk/soul scene in France. It’s in our history because in the 70s France was shrouded in bad disco music everywhere and in the 80s French people changed their style into the opposite with rock music. So France missed the 80s funk period and it really is a shame!
What is the music scene like in Lyon?
Lyon is the funkiest town in France because it’s in our street culture here. We listen to funk music since we are very young and always have till today! Paris & Marseille are much more into 70s soul and hip hop.
In Lyon we’ve got artists like Nickee B – a beatmaker and there are bands like Charlie And The Soap Opera who play soul/rock/funk music and are starting to have success in the city. They have a great brass section, they sound very 70s and it’s funky!
When it comes to making concerts here it’s hard because the scene in France is a rock scene, so the bosses at night clubs and bars don’t want to try something new like having a funk band or funk night…and for sure if you don’t have contacts in this circle like us it’s much harder ! But we try to make one concert per month.
Who are some of your inspirations. Any of the great funk bands from the past?
For myself my inspirations are great producers like Kevin McCord from the Detroit band One Way, Oattes Van Schaik (The Limit) , Rick James, the Solar & Prelude Records Sound, Roger Troutman (Zapp), Jellybean Benitez and underground artists too, especially the 80s Detroit scene. I love Brit-Funk music also! I think this is my favorite funk style because the British artists worked a lot on the melodies and I like the mix with the funk, jazz & Caribbean music.
For the other members of The Funky Drive Band, they have been inspired by other types of funk and music. Omar is influenced by the Italo-producers Jacques Fred Petrus & Mauro Malavasi (Change, BB&Q Band, High Fashion) and Italo-Funk artists like Ago, Armed Gang, Flowchart, Tom Hooker, Rainbow Team.
Jenny Lord is influenced by Afro-Funk music especially the Nigeria Boogie sound! We have a song called “Midnight Lagos” – a tribute to this 80s period in Nigeria. The song was composed by him and written by Bumpy & Me and is played in Nigerian Funk radio stations (Unleashthe80s & IGroove Radio). He also loves artists like Patsol, X-tasy, Chris Mba, Dizzy K and Veno. He loves Italo-Funk music too because he originates from Italy.. ahah.
The influence of Push are movie soundtracks from 70s & 80s, jazz music and of course the sound of the 808 drum machine like Loose Ends ! For Bumpy, the big voice of the band, his influences are Booker Newberry III, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Luther Vandross, Lew Kirton.
What do you think about the soul/funk scene globally at the moment?
With artists like Daft Punk or Bruno Mars’ success, people have started to be interested in “Funk” music, but I don’t know if they will try to search hard to find underground bands like us or the original Funk artists from the 70s & 80s. In the US there is a big Modern Funk scene with artists like Dâm-Funk, Xl Middleton & Moneiqua, Benedek, K-Maxx, Psychic Mirrors, Eddie Funkster, Throwbakk Muzikk and Loose Shus.
Independent labels like PPU Records, Cherry Records, Mo-Funk Records, Funk Freaks Records, Sound Boutique and Voltaire Records are here for the New-Funk scene and its good to see that !
You don’t see that many funk bands these days. Why do you think that is?
I think that today’s music goes like fashion, but since the 90s soul and funk have had a rebirth with all the samples which have influenced hip hop, g-funk, r&b, house and garage music too. If you hear music of today, you can notice a lot of samples from soul and funk music.
There are less funk groups than before because nowadays with new technology everybody can do “music” simply by using his computer. The problem with beat makers is that they compose their instrumentals but without vocals and it’s like an impression of “not finished” music. They forget that funk music isn’t only using a drum machine and a synthesizer but it’s a complete whole with guitars, bass, brass section, percussion. And of course the singers are important, that’s also a reason to explain why it is hard to create a band.
Is it challenging to have this kind of band in the music business today?
Yes it is! We’ve created our own label because in our city, except ours, there is no funk/soul label and it is a shame for a funky city like Lyon. In the north there is Boogie Times Records (closed today), in Paris Funkysize Records and that’s all!
We’re doing underground music so we need to do everything by ourselves: recording, covers design, promotions, we distribute and sell our records on our website and during gigs because we do a limited press of copies of our music. That’s some of the reasons why we don’t work with distributors.
For the first Funky Drive Band album, we were very lucky because my friend Dj Debo (Funk Freaks) from the US, made a big promotion of our LP in Californian clubs and played our records in all his shows. The LP “Dance Or Die” was out of stock very quickly and many people still ask me if there are rests copies for sale. So, be ready for the next project: only 300 copies too!
Most of us have a “real” job or are searching for one. We try to save money from our records or gigs to realize new projects records, new shows and buy new material. It’s very hard but step by step we’ll reach a place in the musical circle. We’re aware that doing a strictly vinyl base is touching only record collectors, deejays or “fans”. Nevertheless, today the CD is disappearing and for funk music the best support stays wax !