One Time, at Band Camp


“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” the MC says, “we come with one of the more soulful sounds from around our town.” It’s a snippet born for a Pete Rock interlude, except that the line, dropped about halfway through the new compilation Schoolhouse Funk: Lab Bands, Stage Bands and a Toast to the Boogie!, is punctuated by a groan of feedback. And yet: Isn’t feedback a soulful sound? The moment—suave self-possession rendered sheepishly human yet still undeniable by an ill-placed microphone—is Schoolhouse Funk in miniature. A collection of ’60s and ’70s funk standards (Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” Dennis Coffey’s “Scorpio,” etc.) gamely essayed live by high school kids on talent-show stages, then culled (by DJ Shadow) from souvenir LPs pressed up for proud moms and dads, this literally old-school project bumps as much because of its imperfections as in spite of them—whereas weird rock frequently fails to rock, weird funk is seldom not funky.

Sometimes it’s the fuckups that remind you you’re not listening to pros: an unintentionally free-jazzy horn chart, a muffed or muffled bass line, some shrieky choral “ai-yi-yi” ‘s on “Cisco Kid.” More often, though, what sets this stuff apart is its zeal. Drummers, frequently lots of ’em, clamor eagerly all over the beat; a teen diva shoots for Lyn Collins and ends up turning “I Made a Mistake”into the funk-as-out-of-body-spaztravaganza I thought Fela Kuti would sound like until I heard him. The contemporary equivalent of these performances may be the mike stylings of rookie Southern rappers like Miracle and Yung Wun, whose joy at finally getting 16 bars to spit on translates as unadulterated rhyming-over-hot-coals energy. Like 1999’s Shadow-co-compiled Funk Spectrum (unearthed 45 sides from local bands who never made it to the full-length album stage and sound like they never made it to the next town over), this is curating disguised as a curio, an egalitarian People’s History of the Funk that looks past the Hall of Fame to honor the kids in the hall.