I turned a country keytar into a funk machine!" hollers Dam-Funk, Los Angeles' modern funk ambassador. He's discussing the day he purchased his first keytar, that amalgamation of a keyboard and guitar first produced by Moog in 1980 and most recently lampooned by Snoop Dogg in his "Sensual Seduction" video. "I bought it from a weird, fat, shady person way out in Oxnard. The dude gets out of his car and pops up his trunk. I saw a country radio sticker on the bumper. At this stage, I didn't know what was about to go down. ... But he was real about it, and I got a great, unplayed keytar."
Whether it's a keytar — or "synth-ax," as Dam-Funk is attempting to rechristen the instrument — or one of his arsenal of vintage analog Oberheim and Roland keyboards, synthesizers are integral to his musical credo. His recorded work, like the recently released Toeachizown double CD, pumps and bumps with the slick synth sounds and crisp digital drum patterns of '80s acts like Slave, D-Train, and Mtume. Live, he switches seamlessly from spinning rare funk and boogie on vinyl to performing his increasingly in-demand original creations, all embellished with ardent use of a vocoder.
But while Dam's music is firmly in tribute to an era he pinpoints as "late-'70s to mid-'80s funk," he's resolute about putting his original stamp on things. "I don't even use Moogs," he says. "The mini-Moog is the classic funk keyboard, and it's the one people know from [Parliament and Funkadelic member] Bernie Worrell's masterpiece fat basslines, but when I'm creating, I don't just want to copy someone else's sound. I'm creating a new dimension."
Dam's new dimension, which he broadly terms "modern funk," has its home base in L.A. with the Funkmosphere club nights he founded, but his manifesto is steadily gaining wider support. He's just returned from a European tour (during which a MicroKorg blew up after someone plugged it into an outlet with the wrong voltage in London), and calls San Francisco "the second city that accepted what I'm doing, that recognized it wasn't just a fad." Already, he says, he's started to detect similarly vibed parties popping up to help create a sister scene.
But unlike the deep-funk revival in the '90s with its secretive, studious archiving of rare post–James Brown 45s, Dam's milieu is open-minded and inclusive — to the point where he posts playlists of sets while DJing. He reasons that it helps shine a light on acts that "didn't get enough props." So while he's proud of his original vinyl collection, keeping it under wraps would be antithetical to his musical philosophy. Records, after all, are meant to be played.
He promises the live Dam-Funk experience won't comprise a dude staring at his laptop for eight hours. Instead, you'll find a guy in oversized retro sunglasses with a keytar strapped over his shoulder, sipping a Cadillac margarita with salt on the rocks, while a club full of "every single hue of person" gets involved. As Dam puts it, "It's a guaranteed full-on modern funk experience."