Electro Funk

Electro-Funk is undoubtedly the most misunderstood of all UK Dance genres,
yet probably the most vital with regards to its overall influence. Central
to the confusion is the term itself, which during 82/83 (before it was
shortened to Electro) was specific to the UK. From a US perspective this
music would come under a variety of headings (including Hip-Hop, Dance,
Disco, Electric Boogie and Freestyle), arriving on import here in the UK,
mainly on New York labels like West End, Prelude, Sugarhill, Emergency,
Profile, Tommy Boy, Streetwise, plus numerous others. Just as Northern Soul
was a British term for a style (or group of styles) of American black music,
so was Electro-Funk, and, like Northern, the roots of the scene are planted
firmly in the North-West of England.

Although this has been documented in a number of books and publications down
the years, often with a fair degree of insight, the subject is rarely
approached with any true depth and attention to detail, the information all
in fragments. Perhaps the main reason that Electro-Funk remains a
mystery to
so many people is because it‚s audience was predominantly black at a time
when cutting-edge black music (and black culture in general) was very much
marginalized in the UK, and as a result essentially underground. To keep up
to date with what was happening on the British black music scene in 82/83
you‚d have had to have been a reader of a specialist publication like Blues
& Soul or Black Echoes.

In the UK scheme of things Electro-Funk eventually took over from Jazz-Funk
as the dominant force on the club scene, but not without major controversy
and upheaval. The purists regarded Œelectronic‚ or Œelectric‚ (as they
called it) with total contempt, rejecting its validity on the grounds that
it was, in their opinion, Œnot real music‚ due to its technological nature
(although Marvin Gaye‚s ŒSexual Healing‚ would put paid to that theory).
However, as time went on and audience tastes began to change, even the most
hostile DJ‚s were forced to play at least some Electro-Funk. Despite all the
resistance, the movement slowly but surely began to gain momentum, sweeping
down from the North, through the Midlands and eventually into London and the
South. The reason the Electro scene took so long to fully establish itself
in the capital was down to the stranglehold the all-powerful Soul Mafia DJ‚s
held on the Southern scene. The Soul Mafia, with big names like Chris Hill,
Robbie Vincent, Froggy, Jeff Young and Pete Tong, continued to play
Jazz-Funk and Soul grooves (later referred to as Œ80‚s Groove‚). It wouldn‚t
be until 84 that their virtual monopoly of the clubs, radio, and the black
music press began to erode as a new order of music replaced the old, laying
the foundations not only for Hip-Hop, but also the subsequent UK Techno and
House scenes.

As has often been said, Electro is the missing link of Dance music. All
roads lead back to New York where the level of musical innovation and
experimentation throughout the early 80‚s period was quite staggering. It
wasn‚t one narrow style that never strayed from within the confides of an
even narrower BPM range, Electro-Funk was anything goes! The diversity of
records released during this period was what made it so magical, you never
knew what was coming next. The tempo of these tracks ranged from under 100
beats-per-minute to over 130, covering an entire rhythmic spectrum along the
way. There was no set template for this new Dance direction, it just went
wherever it went and took you grooving along with it. It was all about
stretching the boundaries that had begun to stifle black music, and its
influences lay not only with German Technopop wizards Kraftwerk, the
acknowledged forefathers of pure Electro, plus British Futurist acts like
the Human League and Gary Numan, but also with a number of pioneering black
musicians. Major artists like Miles Davis, Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock, Stevie
Wonder, legendary producer Norman Whitfield and, of course, George Clinton
and his P Funk brigade, would all play their part in shaping this new sound
via their innovative use of electronic instruments during the 70‚s (and as
early as the late 60‚s in Miles Davis‚s case). Once the next generation of
black musicians finally got their hands on the available technology it was
bound to lead to a musical revolution as they ripped up the rule book with
their twisted Funk.

Before Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force‚s seminal Electro classic,
ŒPlanet Rock‚ (Tommy Boy) exploded on the scene in May 82, there had already
been a handful of releases in the previous months that would help define
this new genre. D Train‚s ŒYou‚re The One For Me‚ (Prelude), which was
massive during late 81, would set the tone, paving the way for ŒTime‚ by
Stone (West End),
ŒFeels Good‚ by Electra (Emergency) and two significant Eric Matthew /
Darryl Payne productions, Sinnamon‚s ŒThanks To You‚ (Becket) and, once
again courtesy of Prelude, ŒOn A Journey (I Sing The Funk Electric)‚ by
Electrik Funk (the term Electro-Funk originally deriving from this track,
Œelectric-funk‚ being amended to Electro-Funk following the arrival of Shock
‚s ŒElectrophonic Phunk‚ on the Californian Fantasy label in June). However,
the most significant of all the early releases was ŒDon‚t Make Me Wait‚ by
the Peech Boys (West End), for this was no longer hinting at a new
direction, it was unmistakably the real deal. An extreme chunk of vinyl
moulded by Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan, ŒDon‚t Make Me Wait‚ would
quickly become a cult-classic, and eventually even manage to scrape into the
top 50 of the British Pop chart, purely on the back of underground support
(as would a number of subsequent Electro-Funk releases).

As the first British DJ to fully embrace this new wave of black music, I
came in for a lot of personal criticism. Having already become an
established name on the Jazz-Funk scene, I was seen as a heretic for playing
these Œsoulless‚ records, especially those that were regarded as the more
Œblatant‚ ones (for example, the dreaded ŒPlanet Rock‚ and the rest of the
Tommy Boys stuff, Warp 9 ŒNunk‚ (Prism), Extra T‚s ŒET Boogie‚ (Sunnyview),
Man Parrish ŒHip Hop, Be Bop (Don‚t Stop)‚ (Importe/12), and Italian Zanza
12‰, ŒDirty Talk‚ by Klein & MBO). I generally opted for the Dub or
instrumental versions, mixing them in alongside the more orthodox Funk, Soul
and Jazz-Funk releases of the time at my weekly residencies, Legend in
Manchester and Wigan Pier, where the scene first took root. These venues,
both state-of-the-art US styled clubs, would become central to the movement
throughout the 82-84 period, attracting people from all over the country.
The music would also gain further exposure via my regular mixes for
Manchester‚s Piccadilly Radio (beginning in May 82), and in August 83 I‚d
introduce Electro to a new audience, when I became the first Dance resident
at the now world-famous Hacienda club.

Electro-Funk‚s legacy is huge. It announced the computer age and seduced a
generation with its drum machines, synthesizers and its sequencers, its rap,
cut and scratch, its breaking and popping, its Dub mixes, its bonus beats
and its innovative use of samples. Made to be mixed it inspired a new breed
of British DJ‚s to cut the chat and match the beats. Now legendary names
like Grandmaster Flash, Tee Scott, Tony Humphries, Larry Levan, Francois
Kevorkian, Shep Pettibone, John ŒJellybean‚ Benitez and Double Dee &
Steinski became role-models for tuned-in DJ‚s and would-be remixers, whilst
pioneers of the new digital sampling technology, including New York producer
Arthur Baker and his collaborator John Robie, British producer Trevor Horn
(via ŒBuffalo Gals‚) and, of course, the Herbie Hancock / Bill Laswell
combination, with their Grammy winning ŒRockit‚ (Columbia), not only
revolutionized black music but instigated a whole new approach to popular
music in general.

Electro-Funk was the channel that finally brought the Hip-Hop movement, and
all its various creative components, firmly into the UK mainstream, helping
to spread its message throughout Europe and beyond. To all intents and
purposes Electro-Funk pre-dates Hip-Hop in a British context, the term not
coming into common use here until much later. We were more or less clueless
when it came to Hip-Hop until late 82, when Charisma Records in the UK
unleashed Malcolm McLaren & The World‚s Famous Supreme Team‚s ŒBuffalo Gals‚
video, which came as something of a culture-shock to say least, bringing the
full-force of NYC street-culture out of The Bronx and into our living rooms,
and inspiring a carnival of breakdancing in cities and towns throughout
Britain during the summer of 83. Eventually we‚d learn of its origins with
Kool DJ Herc, spinning his famous Œmerry-go-round‚ of breaks for the b boys.
Before this, most people had presumed that the break in breakdancing
referred to the damage you might do to your bones if you got the move wrong!

Although the media gradually latched onto this Œnew dance craze‚, the scene
that surrounded it wouldn‚t receive any serious attention here in the UK
until 1984. This followed the runaway success of the Street Sounds ŒElectro‚
compilations (Volume 1 released in October 83), which would take the music
to a much wider audience, and result in The Face announcing ŒElectro ˆ The
Beat That Won‚t Be Beaten‚ across its entire front page in May 84, a full
two years on from the US release of ŒPlanet Rock‚. This substantial
delay in
recognition went a long way towards obscuring Electro-Funk‚s essential role
in kick-staring the 80‚s Dance boom, with many UK club historians bypassing
the pivotal early 80‚s period and mistakenly citing Detroit Techno as the
trigger. Even the track that gave birth to Techno, the Juan Atkins / Rick
Davies 12‰ ŒClear‚ by Cybotron (Fantasy), was regarded as an Electro classic
here in 83, way before the Techno scene began to take shape, and would
feature on the first Street Sounds ŒCrucial Electro‚ compilation the
following year. Little mention is ever made of the fact that its remixer,
Jose ŒAnimal‚ Diaz, was immersed in NY Electro, with previous mix credits
including ŒWe Are The Jonzun Crew‚ for Tommy Boy, and ŒHip Hop Be Bop (Don‚t
Stop)‚, which gained a new lease of life following his much sought-after
limited edition mix for Disconet (the DJ Only format affiliated to

Electro‚s star burnt very brightly, initially on the underground and
eventually with the club masses. In 1984 the London scene took off in a big
way, both in the clubs and on the radio, with the emergence of DJ‚s like
Herbie from Mastermind (who mixed the Street Sounds albums), Paul Anderson,
Tim Westwood and Mike Allen confirming a radical shift in power on the
capital‚s black music scene. With the substantial weight of London behind
it, the Electro movement quickly went overground enticing an ever-increasing
number of switched-on white kids in its on-going search for the perfect
beat. With a significant proportion of the British youth, regardless of
colour, now grounded in Hip-Hop culture, the new UK Dance era was well and
truly under way and it wouldn‚t be long before musicians and DJ‚s here began
to create their own hybrid styles, most notably in Bristol where Electro was
fused with the Reggae vibes of Dub and Lovers Rock, to bring about a unique
flavour that would later be known as Trip-Hop. By the end of the decade
cities like Manchester and London had become major players on the now global
Dance scene, with the UK a veritable hotbed of creativity both in the clubs
and the recording studios.

Electro-Funk was the prototype, and Hip-Hop, Techno, House, Jungle,
Trip-Hop, Drum & Bass, UK Garage, plus countless other Dance derivatives,
all owe their debts to its undoubted influence. Without it‚s
inspiration, it
‚s unlikely that British acts such as Coldcut, 808 State, A Guy Called
Gerald, Soul To Soul, Massive Attack, The Prodigy, William Orbit, Goldie,
the Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Fatboy Slim, to name but a few, would
have emerged. When all‚s said and done, Electro-Funk (or Electro or whatever
people choose to call it) was the catalyst, the mutant strain that bridged
the British Jazz-Funk underground to the Acid-House mainstream, Until this
fact is fully recognized the UK Dance jigsaw will remain incomplete and
confused, with countless clubbers, twenty years on, having no idea of the
true roots of the music they‚re dancing to.

© Greg Wilson ˆ November 2002


D TRAIN you‚re the one for me (US Prelude)
DR JECKYLL & MR HYDE genius of love (US Profile)
STONE time (US West End)
P-FUNK ALL STARS hydraulic pump pt III (US Hump)
ELECTRIK FUNK on a journey (I sing the funk electric) (US Prelude)
PEECH BOYS don‚t make me wait (US West End)
SINNAMON thanks to you (US Becket)
AL McCALL hard times (US West End)
ELECTRA feels good (US Emergency)
ATLANTIS keep on movin‚ and groovin‚ (US Chaz Ro)
SHOCK electrophonic phunk (US Fantasy)
SECRET WEAPON must be the music - remix (US Prelude ˆ from the LP Kiss FM
Mastermixes vol 1)
THE SYSTEM it‚s passion (US Mirage)
ROCKERS REVENGE walking on sunshine (US Streetwise)
RAW SILK do it to the music (US West End)
THE JONZUN CREW pack jam (look out for the ovc) (US Tommy Boy)
SHARON REDD beat the street ˆ remix (US Prelude)
KLIEN & MBO dirty talk (Italian Zanza)
Q the voice of q (US Philly World)
EXTRA T‚s e.t boogie (US Sunnyview)
GEORGE CLINTON loopzilla (US Capitol)
WARP 9 nunk (US Prism)
TYRONE BRUNSON the smurf (US Believe In A Dream)
PLANET PATROL rock at your own risk (US Tommy Boy)
WHODINI magic‚s wand (US Jive/Zomba)
STONE girl I like the way that you move (US West End)
ORBIT the beat goes on (Canadian Quality)
DR JECKYLL & MR HYDE the challenge (US Profile)
TONEY LEE reach up (US Radar)
NAIROBI & THE AWESOME FOURSOME funky soul makossa (US Streetwise)
MAN PARRISH hip hop be bop (don‚t stop) (US Importe/12 ˆ later on Disconet
INDEEP last night a dj saved my life (US Sound Of New York)
REGGIE GRIFFIN & TECHNOFUNK mirda rock (US Sweet Mountain)
MELLE MEL & DUKE BOOTEE message II (survival) (US Sugarhill)
THE WEBBOES under the wear (US Sam)
THE JONZUN CREW space is the place (US Tommy Boy)
SANDY KERR thug rock (US Catawba)
KLIEN & MBO wonderful (US Atlantic)
EX TRAS haven‚t been funked enough (UK Excellent)
VANITY 6 nasty nasty girls (US Hot Tracks ˆ originally on Warner Brothers
AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE looking for the perfect beat (US
Tommy Boy)
JOHNNY CHINGAS phone home (US Columbia)
PURE ENERGY spaced out (US Prism)
VISUAL the music got me (US Prelude)
C.O.D in the bottle (US Emergency ˆ later on Disconet 12‰)
THE JONZUN CREW we are the jonzun crew (US Disconet ˆ later on Tommy Boy
RUN DMC it‚s like that / sucker mc‚s (krush-groove 1) (US Profile)
WARP 9 light years away (US Prism)
D TRAIN music (US Prelude)
SHIRLEY LITES heat you up - meltdown mix (US West End)
WEEKS & CO if you‚re looking for fun (US Salsoul)
FEARLESS FOUR just rock (US Elektra)
MIDNIGHT STAR freak-a-zoid (US Solar)
FREEEZE I-dub-u (US Streetwise)
SINNAMON I need you now (US Jive/Zomba)
ROCK MASTER SCOTT & THE DYNAMIC THREE it‚s life (you gotta think twice) (US
ELECTRIC POWER BAND papa smurf (US Bee Pee)
NEWTRAMENT london bridge is falling down (UK Jive/Zomba)
S.O.S BAND just be good to me (US Tabu)
TONEY LEE love so deep (US Radar)
NEWCLEUS jam on revenge (the wikki wikki song) (US Sunnyview ˆ
originally on
US May Hew)
HERBIE HANCOCK rockit (US Columbia)
PROJECT FUTURE ray-gun-omics (US Capitol)
TWO SISTERS high noon (US Sugarscoop)
THE RAKE street justice (US Profile)
WUF TICKET the key (US Prelude)
TIME ZONE the wildstyle (US Celluloid)
CANDIDO jingo breakdown (US Salsoul)
UNIQUE what I got is what you need (US Prelude)
THE PACKMAN I‚m the packman (eat everything I can) (US Enjoy)
CYBOTRON clear (US Fantasy)
PLANET PATROL cheap thrills (US Tommy Boy)
NEW ORDER confused beats (UK Factory)
HOT STREAK body work (US Easy Street)
WEST STREET MOB break dancin‚ ˆ electric boogie (US Sugarhill)
GARY‚S GANG makin‚ music (US Radar)
CAPTAIN ROCK the return of captain rock (US NIA)
B BOYS two, three, break (US Vintertainment)
ARCADE FUNK search and destroy (US D.E.T.T)
DIMPLES D sucker dj‚s (I will survive) (US Partytime)
G.L.O.B.E & WHIZ KID play that beat mr dj (US Tommy Boy)
TOM BROWNE rockin‚ radio (US Arista)
GRANDMASTER & MELLE MEL white lines (don‚t don‚t do it) (US Sugarhill)
CAPTAIN RAPP bad times (I can‚t stand it) (US Saturn)
TWILIGHT 22 electric kingdom (US Vanguard)
RUSSELL BROTHERS the party scene (US Portrait)
SHANNON let the music play (US Emergency)
DJ DIVINE get into the mix (US West End)
HASHIM al-naafiysh (the soul) (US Cutting)
B BOYS cuttin‚ herbie / rock the house (US Vintertainment)
MALCOLM X / KEITH LeBLANC no sell out (US Tommy Boy)
XENA on the upside (US Emergency)
PUMPKIN king of the beat (US Profile)

The above is a list of 100 of the biggest tunes played at Legend in
Manchester and Wigan Pier during 1982 and 1983. The tracks are listed in
chronological order (the first 3 entries arriving on import in late 81).

Greg Wilson - November 2002

Written by Stephen H. Published on .
Electro-Funk is undoubtedly the most misunderstood of all UK Dance genres, yet probably the most vital with regards to its overall influence.