2013 was a busy year for the Funk Hunters, a duo comprised of BC natives Nick Middleton and Duncan Smith. A relentless tour schedule took them across North America from New York to Hawaii and nearly everywhere in between; they even managed to tour their signature mid-tempo breaks and high-energy dance music remixes throughout Europe, while somehow finding the time to make and release new music, some of which can be found on their newly founded record label, Westwood Recordings. In fact, calling them busy might be a huge understatement.
Their efforts are no doubt paying off, as the Funk Hunters’ name seems to ring louder with the passing of each subsequent year. Smith and Middleton have gone from local heroes to internationally recognized artists and performers in the span of only a few years. Case in point, the pair kicked off 2014 with a tour of Australia and New Zealand, where a new market of eager funk-heads have apparently been awaiting. Despite their tireless touring and ever-growing fan base, however, the Funk Hunters still manage to evade genre, cunningly sidestepping the restrictions and eventual stagnancy that can result from being pigeonholed.
“It’s nice to be defined by a feeling through your music, rather than a tempo or a genre, or even a style,” Smith explains. “I think it’s important to have a unique style in the music you make, but also, be diverse. As musicians and producers are diversifying their music and sound, the crowds and people that are listening to it are diversifying their ears. We can dance to all different beats.”
In a scene where genres are over-used, over-analyzed and overly divisional, the Funk Hunters’ eschewing of genre is a refreshing and forward-thinking stance. Many have fought tirelessly to drive wedges between seemingly like-minded artists, using irrelevant standards to endlessly categorize music when, really, it ought to just be enjoyed. It’s a fruitless crusade that the Funk Hunters want no part of, and this has afforded them the freedom to not only bring all kinds of music to the dance floor but to grow as well.
Recently, the group has been beefing up their roster with a variety of instrumentalists and musicians, including a saxophonist and a guitarist, adding a new element to their live performances. Furthermore, these developments have been vital in pushing their productions beyond the realm of remixes and edits into that of fully-formed, original songs. It is a move that shows the Funk Hunters’ willingness to evolve, and to respond to the ever-changing demands of the music market. Smith elucidates the mindset driving this change:
“[When we started out,] we quickly came to realize that when there were two of us, people were a lot more responsive. It created more of a show and we were able to do it not like a tag team DJ set, but have this synchronicity when we performed. About three years ago, we started incorporating MCs and other musicians. In the last year though, it’s got a lot more serious with us, and we’ve been working with a handful of super-talented musicians within Vancouver and are at the stage of basically turning our DJ sets into a full live show.”
Electronic music has long been criticized for its perceived coldness and lack of emotive depth; unfortunate side effects of the computerized medium through which it is created. The Funk Hunters are among a new generation of artists who are finding innovative ways to counter this problem, often blurring the line between the electronic and the organic by incorporating physical instruments and vocals into their music. It’s a step in the right direction for Smith and Middleton, who both felt that electronic music had been lacking “soul” in recent years.
“It was all the biggest bass lines, the biggest drops,” Smith explains. “I think that kind of got a little outgrown. For us, that’s what we’re trying to do – to have things like soul and melody in the music we make.” Middleton continues, “When you’re playing electronic music you’re so confined to what’ s already printed into that digital file, so you’re really lacking that human emotion that comes when someone plays the drums or horns or guitar. Really it’s like adding humanness back into the music.”
Yet, this is not the only direction in which the Funk Hunters have grown. Within the last few years, they have added a visual component to their performances, thereby intensifying the grandeur of the Funk Hunters experience. It’s an advancement that reflects a trend in electronic music to push a musical experience beyond the boundaries of sound into other sensory stimulations. As with the Funk Hunters’ audio-visual display, the visuals are synched with the audio in such a way that manipulation of the music triggers visual outputs, similar to how synesthesia causes a melding of the senses. In Middleton’s words, “Our music is first and foremost; that’s really what we focus on. But when the club or venue will allow it, tech-wise, we can add the visual element. I think it’s just that extra bonus that can really get people more excited about the music.”
Even after touring across the globe and playing at some of the biggest festivals it has to offer, the Funk Hunters still have a special place for their annual pilgrimage to Shambhala.
“I would say 100 per cent that I wouldn’t be doing what I am today if it wasn’t for Shambhala,” Middleton affirms. “It just kind of feels like – making the trip back to that farm every summer, regardless of how you’re getting there – it feels like you’re going home.”
Catch the Funk Hunters at the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) on March 8th, Sugar Nightclub (Victoria) on March 28th and TEN Nightclub (Calgary) on March 29th.
By Peter Scheiber