Trouble Funk
Live & Early Singles


ive Moments in the Hegemonic Appreciation of DC Go-Go:

1. Washington, DC, 1983—Minor Threat plays its final show at the Lansburgh Center opening for Trouble Funk. Finally the hardcore kids have learned to do “the wop.”

2. London, England, 1986—Reggae’s newfound slackness causes Island Records founder Chris Blackwell to say “boom bye bye” to Kingston. Looking for another untapped musical genre he “discovers” Go-Go. Inexplicably, he tries to make a The Harder They Come for the D.C. scene but somehow comes up with Good To Go starring Art Garfunkel.

3. Brooklyn, New York, 1987—Trying to create a new dance craze for his film School Daze, Spike Lee co-writes “Da Butt” with E.U. (Experience Unlimited). Go-Go cracks the top ten for the first time with a novelty song.

4. Cancun, Mexico, Spring Break 2003—Thousands of drunken Midwestern college students jiggle their semi-naked bodies to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” an interpolation of Chuck “the Godfather of Go-Go” Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose.”

5. My iTunes, 2004—Former-Black Flag-misanthrope-turned-VH1-talking head Henry Rollins releases Trouble Funk’s Live & Early Singles on his 2.13.61 label.
Boiling the funk down to its very essence, the original South Bronx version of hip-hop has been praised to the skies for its post-modern approach to the remixing, reinterpreting, and recontextualization of the classic funk jams of the 70’s. Everybody was just dancing to the drummer’s beat anyway, so why not give the party people just that—along with some positive reinforcement from a chatty M.C.? In the forgotten District of Columbia, some funk free-thinkers had a very similar idea. Based upon the twin pillars of African-American music, syncopation and antiphony, Go-Go music has quietly been the music of choice for the residents of D.C. and Prince George’s County, Maryland, for a quarter century. Imagine a P-Funk song that lasts for two hours and consists mainly of shouting out neighborhoods and layered percussion and you have some idea of what Go-Go sounds like.

Unless you plan on cruising by P.A. Palace in D.C. anytime soon, you probably would find live Go-Go recordings hard to come by. And why would you want to hear Go-Go any other way? Whereas Hip-Hop managed to make the transition from block parties to tape decks in a few short years, Go-Go has never been able to remove itself from its original club context. Based, as it is, so wholly on audience participation, it is hard to imagine true Go-Go becoming studio gold.

In their heyday in the mid 1980’s, Trouble Funk was the preeminent Go-Go band in D.C. Their performances often consisted of the group vamping on a single groove for two hours at a time. The “Live” portion of this two-disc set finds the group during this most potent period and it is by far the most rewarding part of the package. Split up into four arbitrary tracks, the hour long set has all of the trademarks of a Trouble Funk show—a house party atmosphere, 60’s-style horn arrangements, and the constant approval and shout-outs from the crowd.

At the same time, there is a strange voyeuristic quality in listening to this performance. The reference points for the music and lyrics are all so specific to certain parts of D.C. and Maryland that listening to the disc can feel like trying to gaze through a window at a party you weren’t invited to. Still, musically speaking, the recording holds up and is capable of inspiring anyone who hears it. When Trouble Funk calls out, “Fee Fie Foe Fum, tell me where you come from,” it’s hard to resist shouting out your own neighborhood and thus experience that moment of camaraderie and local pride that comes with knowing that your town has the best live band in the world.

The Early Singles portion of the program is predictably less inspiring—Trouble Funk always seemed to have trouble condensing the energy of their live show into song format. While many of the tracks are passable early 80’s funk, the songs pale in comparison to their contemporaries in Minneapolis and even Ohio. Often they emulate more popular bands such as Zapp and P-Funk, adding their trademark drums almost as an afterthought. Listening to both discs back to back it’s easy to see why Trouble Funk is both legendary and forgotten. Hopefully, Mr. Rollins has helped unearth this lost 80’s treasure for good.

Reviewed by: Jonathan Forgang

Reviewed on: 2005-01-24

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