Weird of the Day: Afrika Bambaataa, “Renegades of Funk”

Afrika Bambaataa

I’m in the Bay Area today interviewing DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist about their upcoming Renegades of Rhythm tour, for which they’ll be playing all vinyl culled from hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa’s 40,000-plus record collection. So I thought it would be a good day to give Bambaataa a little shout-out here on TWBITW. After all, he was in many ways a pretty weird dude.

This 1983 video for “Renegades of Funk” is a nice reminder that, compared to most of the crap on the radio today, early hip-hop could get downright avant-garde. Aside from the Sun Ra/George Clinton Afro-futurist costumes worn by Bambaataa and his Soulsonic Force crew, the track itself is a forward-thinking mix of squiggly synths, stuttering drum machines and Bootsy-style bass. It also name-checks practically every major funk and hip-hop innovator, civil rights activist, and the original gangsta, Sitting Bull. Class is in session!

My DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist interview won’t run here; it’s one of them there paying gigs for another outlet. But we’ll probably link out to it from our Facebook page or something.

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Weird Interview: Laki Lan

Laki Lan

After they topped our Weird 100 chart last month, we were determined to learn more about bug-themed Polish funksters Łąki Łan. But English-language info about the band is scarce. So we reached out to them directly. Here’s what they had to say for themselves via email in their (probably) first-ever English interview. (We’ve edited their answers a bit for clarity and coherence, but not too much—we didn’t want to lose that English-is-not-their-first-language flavor entirely.)

P.S. All questions answered by Laki Lan’s guitarist, Bonk.

Weirdest Band: You call your music “meadow funk.” What’s meadow funk?

Łąki Łan: “Meadow Funk” is a title of one of our songs (“Łąki Funk”). So we used it to call our music. We call it techno twist or techno live funk as well. Many kinds of music are intermingled: you have funk section, rock ‘n’ roll guitar, techno keys. We didn’t want to be a typical funk band or rock ‘n’ roll band. Nobody want to be a pigeonhole.

WB: How did you all first meet and come to play music together?

LL: In about 1999 there was a group of people who got a great passion. They visited [abandoned] buildings, industrial zone and many interesting places. We made a bonfire , smoking joints and had a good time. We had many very cool places in this time in Warsaw. Old communism factory…a huge factory about two or three kilometers from the center of Warsaw! Paprodziad was a spirius movens [spiritual leader] of this informal group.

WB: What’s Paprodziad’s story? Most of you seem to be insects but he seems more like some kind of mad wizard.

LL: He wasn’t a typical vocalist to begin with. He was a kind of showman or performer, a theatrical person on the stage, something like a mad wizard indeed. He did a lot of performances like changing brains to clump of grass. He was singing a few lines in a few songs, but we played almost only improvisation in those days. Some riffs, but it was open form on one chord on most of them. It was cool, but it was sometimes working and sometimes not, so we felt we needed [more structure] to get our show up. Paprodziad always was a writer, and he started to sing own stuff and we started making songs.

WB: Are your influences mostly other Polish bands? Or bands from other places, too?

LL: I think only bands from other places. We listened to funk ’70s stuff, James Brown and George Clinton of course, and RHCP [Red Hot Chili Peppers], Frank Zappa, all new stuff like Chemical Brothers or Groove Armada, techno music and house music, we loved it. And rock ‘n’ roll ’60s , all acid jazz, Jamiroquai, Snoop and all hip-hop stuff, Beastie Boys and AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Slayer, and also Burt Bacharach or Elvis. And Bob Marley of course. And Prince.

But when we saw George Clinton it opened our eyes! We said yeahh, we can do it in the same style. Let’s dress up. Let’s make our own world. We tried a little bit to be an ambassador of funk in Warsaw because nobody playing this at that time. DJs played that but not a live band. In the late ’90s we have got only rock bands and old communism stars and awful pop stars. But most of them were really shit. It wasn’t our music, young people music. Only hip-hop and rap was interesting at that time.

We tried to be different and fresh like music we listened to, Chemical Brothers or Fatboy Slim. We always wanted to play techno as live band. Techno is some kind of jazz, you’ve got a groove full of places to improvise. We tried this on a really big techno party for thousands of people! We tried to play like Prodigy or Chemical Bros.

WB: What’s the music scene like in Poland these days? Are there many other bands playing your style of music?

LL: We are a village country so most popular artists are playing disco polo. It is our traditional [songs] but played on the Casio. Something like Balkan turbo disco. It is wedding music, too. But it doesn’t matter. There are a lot of bands playing good music, more and more. And more and more hip-hop artists using live bands so we have got more funk characters in Poland. We have got many reggae bands as well. They are very popular. I think people in Poland have a great feeling of black music like reggae or funk. It’s huge but still underground. It isn’t mainstream, but it could be in YouTube times. Times they are a-changing nonstop. It is good for us. But I haven’t seen any bands playing our style.

WB: Do you ever tour much outside Poland? Where is the farthest away from home you’ve ever played a show?

LL: We working on that. We were in Georgia farthest. We’re still waiting to show in New Zealand and Alaska.

WB: Some of your lyrics are in English. Do a lot of Polish bands sing in English?

LL: Not many but much more than ten years ago. I think people prefer Polish language because they could understand what’s going on, a heart feeling. This is poetry at the end. But much more people using English. Language is kind of instrument as well, so if you play funk or rock ‘n’ roll for example, when you using English it sounds good. If you play flamenco you [use] Spanish language rather German. It’s not a rule, but it is easy to make an odd thing doing this way. And believe me, when you get English texts and sing them in Polish it is a big comedy. Polish language is a very different, it is another context.

WB: To an English speaker, “Łąki Łan” sounds a bit like “Wonky One,” which means something like “Weirdo.” Was this intentional?

LL: It is a play on words. Paprodziad was writing a lot of stuff and he tried to use a Polish words to get English sound. We’ve listened only to western music almost (western meaning west from us) and English language is part of those [songs] like guitar sound is part of rock ‘n’ roll . So he [put together] Polish words in special way and everybody thought he sing in English. We love that because we were different and sound western but we used still Polish words. Łąki Łan is two words of one line of text, we said, “o yeahh!” It sounds great. It sounds like the name of the band. Many people in Poland still asking us what does it mean.

WB: Your live shows look like fun. Do a lot of your fans dress up in their own Łąki Łan costumes?

LL: There are much more! It is amazing! Thanks, everybody! When I see people dress up like me it is so huge a power and happy. They dress up like me, wow, and I only play music! This is nice.

WB: What are you working on these days? Will there be new Łąki Łan music coming soon?

LL: We are working nonstop because we love it. We have got new stuff so I hope it will be coming soon.

WB: Do you consider yourselves weird?

LL: I don’t know. It is hard to consider this from inside. It is normal for us. We are people like others. We know much  more weird people, everybody knows, but they are not famous usually. Really weird people for us are still normal when you know each other.

But there is one kind of weird people for me.

They believe in money.

More tour dates and free music from Here Come the Mummies, the hardest-working undead band in show biz

Here Come the Mummies

I guess when you’re undead, you must not need much sleep, because every time we turn around, 4,000-year-old funksters Here Come the Mummies are announcing a new tour and/or releasing new music. Slow down, guys! It’s not like you’re ever going to get too old to keep doing this, right? Stop and smell the flowers once in awhile. Assuming you can smell anything over the musty reek of those 4,000-year-old bandages.

To maintain their status as the hardest-working undead band in show biz, HCTM will be releasing a series of free EPs this year, starting with A La Mode, which they just posted in downloadable form on SoundCloud a few days ago. Here’s one of our favorite A La Mode tracks, a jazzy jam called “Limo Ride.”

They’re also touring their asses off (literally—I hear their asses have been known to actually fall off, along with various other body parts) throughout 2014. Here are the dates they’ve announced so far; more to come, I’m sure.

Here Come the Mummies 2014 tour dates:

3/1 The Fillmore – Detroit, MI
3/7 Culture Room – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
3/8 FunkFest – Punta Gorda, FL
3/14 Bluebird Nightclub – Bloomington, IN
3/15 Zorah Shrine – Terre Haute, IN
4/11 Mercury Ballroom – Louisville, KY
4/12 The Vogue – Indianapolis, IN
4/16 Varsity Theatre – Minneapolis, MN
4/17 Diamond Jo Casino – Dubuque, IA
4/18 Victory Theatre – Evansville, IN
5/2 Engel Stadium – Chattanooga, TN
6/19 State Theatre – Falls Church, VA
6/20 Maryland Live Casino – Hanover, MD
6/21 Mohegan Sun Wolf Den – Uncasville, CT
7/4 Haynes Apperson Festival – Kokomo, IN
7/5 4H Fair – South Bend, IN
8/1 Wisconsin State Fair – West Allis, WI
8/2 Wisconsin State Fair – West Allis, WI
8/8 Piere’s – Fort Wayne, IN
8/9 Riverside Park – Watertown, WI
9/19 Arcada Theatre – St. Charles, IL

Hear (most of) Here Come the Mummies’ new album, “Cryptic”

Here Come the Mummies Cryptic

For some bands, reinventing the wheel would be a form of sacrilege akin to watching an old bluesman suddenly bust out into Justin Bieber song. So we’re happy to report that Cryptic, the sixth album from undead funk-rockers Here Come the Mummies, is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a band whose previous albums include such WYSIWYG titles as Single Entendre and Bed, Bath and Behind. There are songs are partying, songs about sex, and songs about how too much partying can lead to sex. It’s a sweeping epic about the human condition, really. Baz Luhrmann should buy the film rights.

You can listen to extended clips from all 12 of Cryptic‘s tracks right now on the revamped HCTM website, which has a slick new look and all sorts of interactive features (the fan photos from past shows are especially nifty). And speaking of interactive…here’s a live video of them performing the Cryptic track “Everything But” that was made using the French website Evergig.com, which splices together fan-shot videos into a seamless concert clip. Pretty high-tech for a bunch of dudes who’ve been dead for five thousand years.

Here Come the Mummies just hit their Kickstarter goal. You’re off the hook this time, cheapskates.

HCTM

We’ve asked you, our soft-touch readers, to help out many a weird band via Kickstarter in the past. But this time around, we don’t need to ask. Yes, in just 12 days, Here Come the Mummies have already hit their Kickstarter fundraising goal of $50,069. So everything else from here on out is gravy—but hey, if you wanna give a bunch of horndog Mummies some gravy, be our guest.

All that coin is gonna help fund the release and promotion of Cryptic, the Mummies’ latest and greatest funk bomb of a studio album. It’s due out sometime in May and, as is usually the case, Kickstarter backers get first crack at it. Track titles include “Chaperone,” “Petting Zoo” and “You Know the Drill,” so we can safely assume HCTM have still not exhausted all the endless possibilities of their favorite topic, bumpin’ uglies. (And since these guys have been dead for 4,000 years, the emphasis is definitely on “ugly.”)

Click here to read more about Cryptic and watch one of those cute little Kickstarter videos; this one features the Mummies demonstrating how totally unqualified they are to hold down any kind of day job. We know the feeling, guys! Which is why I’m not sure Jake and I will be pledging anything this time around—although the custom voicemail greeting at $75 is mighty tempting.

Let’s play this post out with some live Mummies. If that’s not a contradiction in terms.

Weird Live Review: Here Come the Mummies

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I don’t mind telling you, it was with some trepidation that I went out to see Here Come the Mummies last Thursday night. And not just because they were playing at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, which is easily my least favorite part of Los Angeles. The strip used to be sleazy/cool, still hungover from its hair metal heyday. Now it’s sleazy/lame, filled with marauding gangs of douchebags in Ed Hardy shirts and semi-homeless ex-reality TV stars chain smoking outside SkyBar. They’ve really let the place go.

No, the main reason I was afraid to see Here Come the Mummies was because, frankly, I feared they might suck. Songs like “Freak Flag” and “Everlasting Party” are fun the first couple times you hear them, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that underneath the bandages and facepaint lurks a group of dudes who aren’t too far removed from playing “Brick House” at weddings in rented tuxes.

Well, I needn’t have worried. Though there’s a definite layer of cheese to the Mummies, and their fans mostly have less hair than actual mummies (seriously, usually when you see that many middle-aged white people in Los Angeles in one place, someone’s handing out Emmys), they are great musicians and their show was tighter than, well, mummy skin. Four songs in and I was sold. Eleven songs in, when they broke out a track called “Booty,” and the chubby tenor sax player with the dreads starting busting out some serious hip-thrusting dance moves, I was awkwardly hip-thrusting with all the other middle-aged white folks.

The photos pretty much speak for themselves, but I’ll note a few details that my crappy iPhone camera wasn’t quite able to capture. They entered conga-line-style through the audience. Their percussionist, Java, broke out everything from a tricycle to the infamous Cowbelt to get the crowd involved. There were synchronized dance moves, jackal statues with red LED eyes, a keytar solo or two, and an audience participation dance called the “Fenk Shui.” (And yes, I participated. Trust me, you would’ve, too.) Oh, and their horn section killed. Even the obligatory flute solo had soul.

So I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Mummies! You are indeed the funkiest undead band in the land. Now can you send a plague of locusts or something to get rid of all the Ed Hardy tools taking up valuable sidewalk space on Sunset?

By the way, here are the rest of HCTM’s tour dates. If you live anywhere in the middle part of the country, you should really go see them. They will make you awkwardly hip-thrust with wild, gleeful abandon.

Mummies for nothing: Get a free album download from Here Come the Mummies

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You gotta set the funk free, don’t you? If that’s not a P-Funk lyric, it should be. With that in mind, undead funketeers Here Come the Mummies are making their latest album, Bed, Bath & Behind, free for a limited time (today and tomorrow only) via NoiseTrade. So get downloadin’ and savor the sweet, funky sounds of freedom. And be sure to leave a tip—which I guess technically means the album ain’t free any more, but tipping sounds more fun than paying, doesn’t it? Just imagine you’re sticking a few bucks in the Mummies’ Cowbelts.

In other HCTM news: The Bandaged Boys are gearing up for their latest U.S. tour, and Andy and I plan to be on hand for their L.A. show to shake a leg and give you, dear readers, a full report. Well, Andy will give you a report; I’ll probably be stumbling down Sunset Blvd. looking for a cab and wondering where my pants went. That bastard always ditches me after the 10th Jäger bomb.

I’ll play this post out with a live rendition of “That’s What She Said,” one of the many tasty morsels on that free album you should be downloading already. Enjoy.