So far I’ve only focused on the old gems, now it’s time for new ones. French jazz-funk outfit DopeGems is definitely one of the grooviest bands out there! They just released their debut LP Necksnappin’. Founder Slikk Tim, who’s also drummer and arranger, was so kind to answer my questions.
How did it all start? What gave birth to this band?
Being a rap music fan, I always wanted to have a band that would play that jazz-funk type stuff, but it always seemed complicated to me because I pictured this big band with horns and everything, and it was just not doable to me to have so many musicians in a band. Then I met Yragaël, our vibraphone player, on a Michael Jackson tribute gig I was playin’ bass on and he was on drums. Turns out he starts talkin’ to me about Roy Ayers and Gary Burton and all those cats ! Since I was already jamming on drums with Giuliano on keys in a neo-soul trio, I was like hey, I definitely can build a jazz funk band around those guys.
The band’s slogan is “Celebratin’ 70’s forgotten jazz-funk”. Apart from the fact that 70’s jazz-funk is a tasty niche, I wonder what influenced you to choose for this style. Did you grow up with it? We’re you into collecting records from that era?
Rap music is definitely the biggest influence. You listen to the beats and you find the samples. That’s 90% of the influence to me, that’s why I tend to prefer the harder, darker side of jazz-funk. I always say it has to have that “gangster” vibe somewhere.
Of course, with my father I grew up on hard bop and modal jazz, and then it was a lot of Detroit Techno, and all those styles have something in common with jazz-funk. I think the last part of it is the movies from that era, especially the late 70s. It has that poised, sophisticated and cold attitude to it that I love.
I don’t collect records personally, but I got great friends who do, like Jeremy UnderGroundParis, Aurelio LostGrooves or DJ Skeez, and I always bite their selections like, “hey, I’m so gonna play this !”
Do you think celebrating 70’s music caused the band to create its own style?
That was my main idea. See, a lot of folks don’t understand I’m not writing new music for that band. The thing is, to me, when you try and compose “like in old days”, it’s very hard to not subconsciously end up sounding like something you really like, and I didn’t want that. I wanted my band to have it’s own identity, just like a regular straight ahead jazz group that plays standards with their own sound. You don’t have to distort the tunes in and out to make it your own if you have your own vibe. I purposely chose a limited instrumentation setup, for example, so we always have to find arrangement tricks to make the varied styles we chose to play work right, and that creates a recognizable style, I think: besides, there is the greatest, friendliest vibe in that band, and I think how much everybody loves playing what we play makes for the spontaneity of our sound.
If I’m correct you guys are from France. Is there a French touch to your style? Where you for example influenced by artists like Serge Gainsbourg, Nino Ferrer, Bernard Estardy or J.P Massiera?
Yeah, most of the band is from Nancy, with our guitar player Greg from Paris. There is no direct influence from French cats, but I guess we French always had a knack for the grittier, harder, darker Afro-American music. I mean, from jazz to rap music and house, it was quite systematically the darker the better. For example, a lot of the “French touch” in house music in the 90s was basically sampling jazz-funk and making it extra deep. Besides, there’s this culture of liking the bad guys in France. Everybody knows and love the old 50s to 70s French gangster movies, which had dope music too although in a different style, and I guess that kinda brings the attitude necessary to play the music we play. It’s not good schoolboy music in any way!!
Is there a story behind the name DopeGems?
Not really, it’s just that those two words are everywhere in the crate digging world. “Wow that’s dope.” “Hey, that’s a true gem”. And so on. So I was like, hey, let’s make a band that plays nothing but dope gems. And I just removed the space to make it recognizable on Google. It’s the 21th century, you gotta be on point with that shit ! (laughs)
Recently DopeGems released their first album Necksnappin’, could you tell me something about the process?
Our studio process is very simple: I select the tracks and arrange everything to sheet music. Then we get into a very simple studio, sight read the tracks and cut the music with basic gear. It’s all DIY ( I set up my own mikes and actually operate the tape machine while playing the drums !). Then I mix everything on the laptop I’m typing this interview on. It’s really that simple. Actually, those sessions were recorded quite a while ago, the thing is, finding a label that would understand what we were doing was a nightmare. A lot of those labels are more into the early 70s soul sound, while we are determinately on the late 70s tip. Then, some labels wanted us to write new material (I think for sync money opportunities), some labels didn’t want to offer vinyl which was just bullshit to me, then some labels just tried to fuck with us plain and simple, even asking for separate stems! Eventually, Traveller records gave us our first opportunity, then we found a great home over at Heavenly Sweetness.
What’s next for DopeGems?
The next LP is in recording process as we speak, and it will feature something I was very specific on: female vocals! We’re pretty thrilled. And of course more live gigs, you gotta realize the first LP only contains a glimpse of the repertoire we play live and we constantly add new tunes. I want to do a special instrumental “movies and music” project, playing all those rare late 70s OST tracks with VJing of the original sequences, but it’s a legal nightmare. We’ll see how that turns out! This motherfuckin’ industry will do anything it
can to prevent people from using anything from the past, but I don’t give a damn, I’m sure I’ll work something out in the end!
Cheers so far!!! And Thanks!!
My pleasure man, keep on funkin’.