Dâm-Funk is the real funking deal. All puns aside, the stage name of Damon Garrett Riddick has become an unmistakably important fixture in the funk genre, and it’s easy to see why. For three decades, the Pasadena-born musician has been perfecting his craft and bringing his unique sounds to the work of everyone from Snoop Dogg and Tyler, the Creator to Ariel Pink and Christine and the Queens.
In a genre that has become oversaturated with the radio-friendly tunes of Bruno Mars, Dâm-Funk has maintained his lane and, as he described it when we sat down for a talk in an eclectically decorated Berlin hotel lobby, become his “own entity within that scene.” Of course, his career hasn’t been without its adjustments. Since beginning his career in 1988 (at a time when albums were played on cassettes) he has weathering the changing landscape of music, launched a dance party called Funkmosphere in L.A., and, last year, began to release a series of experimental side EPs he’s called Architecture.
Fresh off releasing the more house and techno-inspired Architecture II, we caught up with Dâm-Funk as he stopped in Berlin on his European tour to talk about adapting his music to a Spotify and SoundCloud crowd, looking inward for answers, and why he doesn’t care about clout.
How would you describe the vibe of ‘Architecture II’ in one sentence?
Hazy house funk, but modern funk.
It follows last year’s ‘Architecture I.’ Do you have plans for an ‘Architecture III’ project next year?
I’m not sure. I like the direction that it’s been going and I like the response it’s been having. People don’t realize it, but I’ve always had a house and techno side. With the way that it’s going, I might do a continuous series of Architectures, because it’s just an outlet for me outside of doing full-blown albums like Invite the Light and Toeachizown.
I was going to ask about albums versus smaller projects. With the pace of how people release things now, they don’t just release albums, go away for a few years and release another album. You always have to be releasing something to stay relevant. Is it exhausting?
No, you know why? Because I have a lot of material. It was about finally stopping the constant free treats on SoundCloud, if you will., if you will. I dismantled my SoundCloud. I had over a million plays and in the beginning of 2017, I just axed it.
I also set up Glydezone Recordings – I realized that all that stuff I used to have on SoundCloud, I could have been using those as projects in between albums. Now I’ve woken up and I realized that the game has changed. People just don’t have the capacity to sit through a full 20-track record.
People’s attention spans are shorter.
Exactly, and it sucks because there’s a small amount of people who really are into your music and would love [a longer album], but the majority go on Spotify and start looking at track 12 and are like, ‘Oh, God, when is it over?’ With my album that’s coming in 2019, I’m trying to just keep it at ten. But projects like Architecture, with four tracks, I think are pretty cool. People get something and get out.
The thing I worry about is that when people are making these short records, will it constitute something to review? An artist comes out with a 12-track record, and that constitutes a review. I don’t want to say we make it for critics, but are we moving to a period where people will review these [smaller projects] with the same enthusiasm as an LP?
Do you read reviews when they come out for your music?
When it’s sent to me, I’ll see it. I don’t consciously look for it because everybody has an opinion, you know what I’m saying? Somebody likes black, somebody likes green. Nowadays, we’ve moved into a period where the social media vibe is trolls and YouTube comments. You don’t even know if they really don’t like it or not — they might just not like you or might just not like what they’re going through that day.
Do you have any older albums you’ve been re-listening to lately?
The Dirty Mind album from Prince, Jesse Johnson’s first album, Revue, and Mr. Finger’s Introduction album. But I love Omar S’s new stuff he’s been kicking out. I like Omar S because he reminds me of me in funk — he’s a renegade in the house and techno scene. It feels like he’s not been accepted all the way in the scene, but people respect him and he’s kind of like an outlaw. I think we have a lot in common because I feel the same way with funk and the LA scene and that whole thing.
So many artists in LA have so much love, but when it comes to me, it’s like, ‘What is he?’ I’m just my own entity within that scene. I like newer cats who break the mould like Children of Zeus and Kaidi Tatham’s new project. I like what those cats are doing.
You’ve worked with everyone from Tyler, the Creator on ‘Cherry Bomb’ to Christine and the Queens. Do you have a favorite artist you’ve collaborated with so far?
There’s a bunch. Steve Harrington is cool, Ariel Pink was fun — he’s a great cat to work with. Ekkah was great. They’re a duo from England and they let me just do what I do and not get in the way. Mac Miller was cool to work with on his new album. I did a song called “What’s the Use” with him and I co-produced it.
You’ve worked with so many more people in the past few years.
I’m actually really grateful for other artists being able to see that I can work with them. I think, other than the Snoop Dogg project 7 Days of Funk, people probably thought I was just so self-contained that I didn’t want to work with anybody. But now, with artists like Christine and the Queens, I’m glad that they pulled me out of my shell, if you will. I’m down to work with people that have the same passion and love for the music, and not just for clout. I don’t want to work with somebody that just wants to get my name on their record. I want to work with people that really like the music, as well. I’m very careful — I pick the people I work with like fruit just to make sure that we’re genuine about working with each other.
Yeah, you don’t want to have a bad apple.
What do you think of this new resurgence of funk in pop culture?
Well, Bruno Mars went fucking crazy with it. Call it what you want, but he peeped the game. He peeped what was going on in the underground clubs in LA and I’m sure his people checked it out. He did great with it. That’s what happens sometimes. I’m sure there was some drum and bass cats back in the day that were the true guys, and then of all of a sudden a bunch of people moved into drum and bass and started figuring out the blueprint of it and then Alex Reese blows up with his thing.
You just have to understand that sometimes a lot of us are guinea pigs, and then companies see something, or people genuinely want to do that now, and then all of a sudden that blows up. I always compare them to Caron Wheeler; she used to be with [British music group] Soul II Soul. She wore the head wraps first and had the incense, and then all of a sudden Erykah Badu came in with the same look — unknowingly or not — a few years later.
You’re really focused on being mindful and positive in life. How do you maintain that in America in 2018?
In the Trump era, you have to stay positive. It’s a total embarrassment for us to have a president who is a reality show king. Everybody around him is a horrible person and with that kind of atmosphere, egging on racist attitudes, tribalism, you just have to have a good group of people around you who you can discuss things with.
Don’t fall for what’s in the media — separating us as people. In all these clubs that we do, we come together. It’s all types of colors [and] all kinds of backgrounds. We all know the truth, but the noise, especially on social media, is making us choose sides. We have the answers and I think in order to stay positive, we have to start talking to ourselves again instead of talking to everybody else on social media and trying to get a conclusion from somebody that you don’t even know.
Stream Dâm-Funk’s ‘Architecture II’ below.
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