Friday, March 04, 2016

Bass Bits # 7 - P-Funk Empire

Bloggage -  Our God Is Speed bows out  - or starts to bow out, for this is part one - with a grand bass finale about the booty-city continuum -  provincial bass, you could call it - starting with Miami and proceeding from there. A personal history, very informative, with lots of clips of things I never heard of....

One of the two or three most bass-intense experiences of my life was in Miami, in a car, on the main drag, stuck in traffic, when two other cars went slowly past us with those military-hardware level boomin' systems at full blast. The two signals kind of cancelled each other, or rather evened each other, more accurately. For a while we were vibrating within a sort of pan-tonal field of low-end. Felt really eerie.

The other was at a reggae sound system at the Notting Hill Carnival sometime in the early 2000s. Sensations the like of which I had never felt, or even imagined possible. Shocks of mighty.

Talking of which, it's kind of odd how little Jamaica has featured so far. I had thought of just posting a map-style graphic outline of the island and leaving it at that.


Talking of things that have oddly gone unmentioned - to this post's theme. And yes, I am surprised that no one yet has suggested George Clinton and his merry bassmen....

I think I may have recalled here before my tremendous disappointment as a youth,  having found One Nation Under A Groove  at a record store on Broadwick Street that carried a lot of discounted US cut-outs (not that I knew what a cut-out was then exactly) only to get it home and discover that it didn't all sound like "One Nation Under A Groove". No, it was lot more rocky and muso-y than I'd bargained for. I had no idea (how would I? we didn't have the Internet then, see) that Funkadelic had once been a black rock group, prone to long guitar solos (the very thought of which would make a postpunker shudder to her marrow).  "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?!" - my heart would have cried out "I do!", if I could have even got past the ridiculousness of the idea that a funk band would want to play rock. This was around the time of Metal Box and "Flight" and Entertainment! and such like, see. Rock bands wanted to play funk, not the other way around!  The cross-town traffic only went one direction! The album was bad enough, but it came with a bonus 7-inch single that contained a live version of "Maggot Brain". That was not something I was prepared for then.

The only other track on One Nation  - apart from the title track single - that I dug at all was "Cholly (Funk Getting Ready To Roll)".  Which has great bass on it.  By either Bootsy Collins, or Rodney "Skeet" Curtis, or Cordell "Boogie" Mosson

Motor Booty Affair has even more people credited for bass - the three above, plus J.S. Theracon.
But Bootsy co-wrote "Aqua Boogie" so I'm guessing this is him squelching it up.

Here's how I described Bootsy in a '86 review of a Parliament compilation:

"the Hendrix of his instrument. How his bass bulges, drools, clenches, strains, evacuates, folds in on itself, haemorrhages. From thorough to nimble, that bowel-deep feel hits you in your funky fundament."

"(Not Just) Knee Deep" - here the bass isn't guitar, it's synth bass played by Walter "Junie" Morrison (as recently sampled by Kanye West, or rather by Madlib)

My horizons have expanded considerably since the postpunk days, but even now, the uncut Parliament-Funkadelic messthetic can get a little scrambled and protracted for me.  A P-Funk all-stars gig I saw at the end of the Eighties during the CMJ festival in NYC was one of the worse gigs I've ever endured.

Some original funkateers deplored Clinton's embrace of  postdisco and electro machinery from Computer Games onward as a mercenary move, a betrayal of Da Funk....   But the precision and rigour did wonders for the sound, I think. While remaining basstastic as ever.

Is that backwards bass on "Fries"?

Zapp weren't part of Clinton's empire exactly, but something like a protectorate.  Clinton gave them advice and encouragement. As did Bootsy Collins, who co-produced  the debut album with Roger Troutman. Instead of contributing bass, though, Bootsy played guitar; the bass was played by Terry Troutman

In the late Eighties I  interviewed Roger Troutman (in person) and George Clinton (in person) and Bootsy Collins (by phone) -  the latter two around solo albums of theirs.  None of them disappointed. "Larger than life" was their job, their vocation.

The Clinton record was one of those done for Paisley Park - The Cinderella Theory. And it was the kind of Clinton album - like all of them, really, since the LP with "Do Fries" on, R&B Skeletons In the Closet, if not earlier - where you, as reviewer or profile writer, really made an effort to see the best in it, as best as you could. (Contention: the classic era P-Funk Empire albums average two, maybe two-and-a-half good tracks per album; Clinton solo post-Cinderella, the rate goes down to maybe half a good track, or one half-good track, per LP. Corrections and dissension welcomed!).

But What's Bootsy Doin'? , that album was genuinely excellent - no feigning or straining required.   At least so it seemed at the time.

A few years ago I went to LA's local EDM festival Hard, in a park near Chinatown.  They had a few live bands, and one of them was Bootsy Collins and his troupe. It was actually one of the sadder shows I've seen. Bootsy didn't look well at all, and the noise coming off his instrument was this sort of ineffectually flapping, scrappy, chapped and flaky sort of sound.  The much younger-than-me audience looked bemused. Eventually, I had to walk away and check out the house tent. Disco won, is the moral, I guess. The machines took over.