Pop Rocks: Put nostalgia in its place, but make room for art

Music, when elevated to the point where it becomes art, is rarely about style or structure. It’s not about melody or the perfect rhyming couplet, about technical acumen or playing the finest instrument. Those things are secondary. They begin to matter only when a first, and always essential, element is addressed.


Great art, generally, and great music, specifically, are always about taking risks.

I was reminded of this last week when I took in ’80s Night at the Soul Bar and Funk You at Sky City. It was an interesting study in contrasts.

At the Soul Bar, house DJ Coco Rubio spent some time spinning the lite funk that typified dance music in the 1980s. While there’s nothing wrong with a little Janet Jackson or her brother in his post-Thriller years, the music always seemed to spend a fair amount of time fulfilling expectations. It’s possible that nearly 30 years of hearing these songs had me a little jaded, but with very few exceptions, ’80s dance music played in accordance with very specific rules. Be it Lucky Star or Maneater, the swelling synths and smooth bass grooves always felt cut from similar cloth.

That, it should be noted, is not a knock against Rubio or the well-loved dance night. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy. And while I might feel there’s a level of sameness to a dance-focused ’80s set, there’s real pleasure in looking back, and the best history lessons are the ones you can dance to.

But those songs are still products – produced, distributed and the profits harvested – of businessmen in very expensive suits. They aren’t interested in art. They are interested in commerce. Listening to those songs – or a more contemporary Top 40 playlist – serves as a constant and consistent vanilla-flavored reminder.

Departing before Rubio segued into a Cyndi Lauper slow jam, I made my way to Sky City for the end of the Funk You set. A great band. A terrible name, but a really great band. And what makes Funk You so interesting is that artist’s instinct.

In Augusta, there’s real capital in forming a really good funk band. There always seems to be at least one on the scene, and Funk You has the core components to make that happen. But that isn’t the music this band wants to make.

While there is a lot of Parliament in the band’s jam, as well as a fair amount of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and yes, Mr. James Brown, there are also some left-field influences that really elevate the sound.

It’s not unusual, for instance, to have a deeply funky groove interrupted by a heavy guitar breakdown, the aural equivalent of Sabbath barnstorming a Cameo show.

The band also proves adept at spinning what structurally are four-minute soul songs into extended jams, allowing each musician a chance to shine. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I usually preach the gospel of keep it short, but Funk You manages to keep its songs moving forward and avoids the trap of self-indulgence.

So are the members of Funk You artists? Is the music being produced something more significant than dance-ready grooves (which they are, by the way)? I don’t know. Time will tell.

What I do know is that as a band, Funk You has opted for the road less traveled, and that’s always been where the most interesting tunes are born.

AMPED UP. Don’t forget to vote for your favorites in AMPED: The Augusta Chronicle Music Contest. Competition is tight this year and there are a lot of excellent acts vying for AMPED glory.

Go to augustachronicle.com/AMPED to listen and vote.