Future, World, Funk, Cliffy, Russ, Jones, Soundsystem
BY JOHN C. TRIPP
Six years ago music industry veterans Russell Jones and DJ Cliffy formed Future World Funk, channeling their enthusian for global rhythms into their own DJ soundsystem: an amalgamation of Asian beats, Brazilian d’n’ b, Gypsy bangers, latin licks, socca, bashment, reggaeton, afrofunk and beyond. It’s been a long and winding journey for the two, a journey of continued musical diversity and discovery on all five continents, and of one big global party.
Racing around the planet to locations as far-flung as New York, Taipei, Moscow and Sydney Future World Funk have encountered all manner of cross-pollination that was completely unimaginable a decade ago. From the Desi beats of the UK, represented by G. Samra’s current and ultra-hot track Sharabbia, to Brazilian folk-electronica as defined by award-winning producer DJ Dolores, to merengue house, Balkan hot-step, Japanese dub and, for good measure, Romanian calypso-waltz Future World Funk leave no genre unheard.
“On The Run”, the seventh installation of their popular Future World Funk CD series on London’s Ether Music, is a reflection of that musical voyage showing just how much the FWF sound has blossomed and its audience has matured. This double album features 22 insatiable world-beat tracks that traverse the globe on a quest for the most danceable grooves. Tracks like Jah Screechie’s classic ‘Walk & Skank, ‘Dia del Sol’ by Marky & XRS and Shantel’s ‘Bucovina’ all find common ground within the Future World Funk sound. It’s like a fruit salad of global funkyness.
Of course, the best part of Future World Funk is to dance to it. Their Future World Funk club nights are what gave birth to their compilations and have been putting “la mezcla” in dance-floors at places like London’s Notting Hill Arts Club where they host the “Future World Funk” event, Cafe Lazeez, New York’s S.O.B.s and events like WOMAD, Montreux Jazz Festival and Carnival in Recife, Brazil. Their wide-open, ecletic mix appeals to like-minded individuals, who show their appreciation and dedication by sweating up dancefloors worldwide.Aside from their roles in Future World Funk both Cliffy and Russ are actively involved in club promotion, writing about music, remixing and producing their own tracks. Russ is behind some of London’s most successful club nights like “London Calling” at the Blue Note where he became artistic director and “No Room For Squares” which has featured guest deejays like Gilles Peterson and James Lavelle. Cliffy is a regular contributor to “Straight No Chaser” and “Songlines” and took his love for Brazilian music to heart by living in Brazil for several years. Upon returning to London in 1997 he started “Batmacumba” at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Both are actively involved in programming and promoting world music, both in clubs and on the radio.
Mundovibes caught up with Future World Funk, fresh back from Las Palmas where they rocked a crowd of 20,000 and as they prepared for the holiday party seaon…
Mundovibes: Firstly, congratulations on your latest compilation, “On the Run”. The title is apt since it seems you have been doing some globe-trotting.
Future World Funk: Well thanks for the congrats, we really enjoyed putting this compilation together and we definitely think it is our best yet, we had too work hard to squeeze so much good music onto two cds. When we sat down and counted all the countries we had palyed since the first volume we realised it was totalling over thirty. We were kind of blown away by this but have now set a target of 50 countries.What started out as a humble club night in Notting Hill over six years ago has led to CD sales in access of 100, 000 copies and a globe-trotting musical deejay worldwide party experience. Highlights have included China, Brazil, Russia, El Salvador, Taiwan and Singapore. Earlier in the year we played the Sydney Opera House, one of those things you dream about doing once in your life and most recently the Womad festival in Gran Canary to 20, 000 crazy Spanish people – I don’t think we have ever seen a crowd so up for it. This album is a collection of the music we have discovered along the way and also a reflection of London which is still our home and we love. The wealth of muticultural diversity in this city is a constant inspiration.
Mundovibes: You recently toured in the States. What was this experience like? Are audiences receptive here to your sound?
FWF: One thing you can always guarantee in the States is that someone will come up to you for a good chat, with a genuine interest in what you are doing. Ameicans like to talk and are friendly with it. They also seem pretty open to the music, we played Ron Trent’s night as apart of the Chicago World Music which was wicked, top venue, great soundsystem and a very mixed crowd. Although he is known for house music the people were up for anything we had to throw at them. We also played Thievery Corporation’s spot, Eighteenth Street Lounge, in Washington, this place has a really similar vibe to the Notting Hill Arts Club so we immediatley felt at home. The down side of it is that touring the States in very hard work, lots of connecting flights across such a large territory and the government doesn’t make it easy with expensive visas.
Mundovibes: For those uninitiated what is “Future World Funk”?
FWF: Two deejays, 4 turntables (CD, record players), a box of global grooves, think Brazilian drum & bass, Asian beats, Gypsy bangers, Japanese dub, retro highlife, Latin and Jamaican dancehall and a hot and sweaty party crowd.
Mundovibes: “On the Run” contains music from all corners of the world, including Colombia, Cuba, England, Brazil and India amongst others. What is it that ties all of this music together?
FWF: Recently we have been starting to add new gypsy beats into our set (check DJ Shantel on the album), this music has been going down a treat but what you realise is that this music is a real hybrid with references to Indian wedding music, Argentinean waltz and tango, ska and of course the brass sounds of countries like Germany and Turkey. I think this really reflects what FWF is all about finding the common ground which exists between so many musical forms and the programming this music in such a way that it all makes sense.
Mundovibes: How do you go about finding and selecting your music? Do you frequent dark alleys and musty warehouses in search of vaults of forgotten vinyl?
FWF: My (Russ) favourite trick is to gate crash weddings of our different ethnic brothers and sisters in London, check out the DJ, his hot biscuits and then threaten to high-jack the bride unless the he hands over all his best tracks. I (Cliffy) have raided my mother-in-laws collection (she’s from Rio de Janeiro), nicked my brothers old records (an odd mix of dub and the Pogues) and am always tapping anyone I know for a free hit. Otherwise we have to resort to scouring the net, camping out in record shops, listening to the radio day & night and begging record companies to supply two of the hottest deejays on the global circuit with their latest pre-releases.
Mundovibes: What was the initial inspirtion for starting ‘Future World Funk” and how has it evolved over the years?
FWF: We both met whilst working for a record label specializing in Brazilian music – Far Out Recordings. At that time the label was remixing some of their more established artist including Marcos Valle, Azymuth and Joyce. Producers like Roni Size and Kenny Dope turned their hand to these projects and there were some interesting results – Prior to that I (Cliffy) had been living in Recife, Brazil and had been right at the epicentre of the Mangue Beat movement pioneered by Chico Science, one of the aims of Mangue Beat was to reinteprete tradition rhythms in a contemporary context, that opened my mind to a world of possibilities. These diverse infuences from what was happening on the streets of Brazil to the clubs of London turned us on to the whole global remix phenomenon and led us off in new directions.
Three of the seven “Future World Funk” compilations released thus far Mundovibes: Did you both grow up in favelas in Rio de Janeiro or was that in another life?
FWF: Sometimes I (Cliffy) think I might have been born in Brazil in another life, my friends in back in Recife say that I deserve honourary citizenship because I act much more Brazilian than British, in fact my girlfriend is from Rio de Janeiro and sometimes she is far more British than me. In reality we both grew up in the urban ghettos of South London not very exciting at that time but evntually the peace and quiet of surburbia was rocked by the culture-shock of the Pogues, the Specials, Acid house and then Acid Jazz.
Mundovibes: What influenced you to do what you are doing?
FWF: Once I finished my Masters in Philosophy I knew there was no going back to the regular routine of life, I had to find my own path through life and music would be the guide.
Mundovibes: Apart from “Future World Funk” you are both heavily involved in music as writers, promoters and producing. How do you do all this and have time to shower, sleep and eat (amongst other activities)?
It’s a tough life but somebody has to do it. We can actually go days without sleep, get chased by dogs, abuse our ears with loud music, our stomachs with too much alcohol but still we ride bicycles around London rushing between meetings with record labels, magazines, hitting the studio and of course deejaying in the smokey clubs each and every week. Luckily we are in a position to dedicate ourselves full time to the pursuit of global funkiness, that makes things much easier not having to divide ur time with other preocupations just to pay the bills.
Mundovibes: With the global-digital-culture we live in now there are seemingly endless possibilities for cross-pollinization of music. Is there a limit to how far this can go?
FWF: In some sense it does seem like the only limitations are the ones which we each harbor inside oursleves but it is easy to miss that fact that there are real limits out there, the more we live in a digitized world the more we crerate barriers for those who do not have access to the technology. It is so easy and trite to say that we live in a ‘global village’ but when you stop to think about it a working-class British person and a working-class African person our probably much further apart economically today than they were fifty or one hundred years ago. Although we might both be drinking Coca-cola it is fairly obvious one of us will be able to afford an Ipod. If the technology becomes to one-sided it will be counter-productive for cross-pollinization
Mundovibes: Do you find that more people are receptive to your musical selections today? Are people more open-eared or is it just a small “globally-attuned” audience?
FWF: In the UK things have moved on a great deal in the last ten years, we have moved from the small island mentality to a country with a broader world vision, even more so in London where nowadays 1 in 4 people were not born in the country. Nowadays the Capital is a truly cosmopolitan city where you are as likely to hear someone drive by playing reggaeton or bhangra than rap or pop music. Club culture has also changed a lot in the last decade, the super-clubs have faded and the more niche venues have thrived creating more opportunities for diverse club music. Of course there is still a lot of hard work to do spreading the word but you feel like real progress can now be made.
Future World Funk night at London’s Notting Hill Arts Club
Mundovibes: Some genres of music, like Brazilian, have a way of almost miraculously absorbing other music into theirs. What is it about these cultures that make this possible?
FWF: I was saving the answer to this question for when I study my Phd. Ultimately the answer is pretty simple: people, opportunities and sometimes necessity to adapt to a shifting environment make cultures absorb other influences . Centuries ago as Gpysies moved up through Indian and Persia into Europe it probably made ideal sense to soak up local influences on the way, both artistically and economically. When the Portuguese brought African slaves to Brazil they tried to stamp out the music & culture but the resilience of these people allowed them to forge a new afro-Brazilian identity. The Brazilian samba is a fantastic example of how cultures absorb. At the turn of the 20th Century poor black musicians earnt a living playing in French-style salons in Rio, waltzs and polkas were the height of fashion for rich Rio residents. At night the black musicians would go back to their bohemian suburbs to play the music of their forefathers and participate in candomble rituals (the African religion they had imported into Brazil). Slowly with exposure to such diverse sounds led the black musicians, who only a couple of decades earlier were slaves, to create a new fusion which came to be known as samba.
Mundovibes: You are both involved in remixing annd producing tracks. Tell us about your currrent projects?
FWF: We have just finished working on a remix for Amadou and Mariam, can you imagine our excitement to work with really fantastic material like this it was a superb opportunity? We could see that the track we were working on was mixed like a pop song so we felt very comfortable about producing a club mix for deejays, we could add something without detracting from the original which is always a worry when you are remixing a great track. Once we found a good groove and a tough bassline it was quite simple. The label are very happy with the mix and we had some excellent feedback from other people close to us. We are currently looking at a couple of other remix projects, possibly working with Ska Cubano and a Brazilian singer. We are also working on a couple of our own tracks a twisted acid samba and a drum & bass tune. I (Cliffy) also have a project going with London-based Spiritual South where we work under the nom de plume of Sugar Loaf Gangsters, we have just finished are latest track which is a funky percussion mash-up. More news of these projects in the New Year.