With the rise of electroclash’s popularity in the last few years, the sounds of robotic disco-funk have been seducing fashionable nerds onto the dancefloor in record droves. And with the parallel surge of interest in the early 80s New York scenes, it’s a good time to discover Konk, an act that was born out of jazz, early hip-hop, and disco to create a fusion (certainly a dangerous word) of the better kind. Led by saxophonist Dana Vlcek, Konk channeled sounds ranging from the alien hooks of P-funk to the stilted grooves of krautrock through early-80s technology. Of course, a band with such a period-specific sound risks seems more silly than relevant 20 years later, but happily, Konk is both at once. It’s cheesy, for sure, but if you dig good times, then The Sound of Konk– a collection of their singles and LPs (such as Yo! and Jams)– is ready for action.
Like post-punk reference-point the Talking Heads, Konk apply the rhythms and melodies of Latin music within funk’s staccato pulse. But while the Talking Heads’ experimentation is contained in song forms, Konk maintain a funk-sprawl ideology in a system that foretells acid-jazz– a slew of solos and sections announce themselves unprovoked over shifting grooves, creating non-linear yet highly organized multi-part jams. With several layers of live and electronic percussion, Konk compel movement. You don’t need to dance to enjoy the music, but Konk won’t likely do much for you if you’re sitting still– driving, running, cooking, or partying are all recommended Konk-enhanced activities.
Konk’s integration of live instrumentation and electronic manipulation remains impressive, combining synthesized sounds that are still imperfect enough to sound human with musicians of precise virtuosity. While Konk is often lumped with fellow downtown experimentalists Glenn Branca (with whose ensemble Konk shared members) or ESG, the strongest link there is a shared interest in the deconstruction and reformation of musical elements, especially in live performance. Simultaneously, Konk shares just as much common ground with the proto-techno of The Art of Noise or Yello. Like these acts, plenty of gated snare drums and Max Headroom-style vocal manipulation keep the mood of Konk gleefully rooted in the 1980s, but Konk’s timeless horn section and airtight basslines save them from the fate of becoming a technological artifact.
The Sound of Konk begins with one of Konk’s most conventional tracks, instrumental “Baby Dee” (the bonus live version includes some excellent Kurtis Blow-style MCing). Delayed female vocals intertwine with a robotic male chorus in “What U Want”, before the song lets loose a prolonged rhythmic breakdown of drums and synth bass. “Love Attack” begins with a monologue highlighting various dangers of an oncoming love attack– such as when “some girls think a kiss is a contract”– segueing into a vocoded chant that could be taken from one of Senor Coconut’s Kraftwerk covers. “Soka La Moka” breaks up the relative rhythmic homogeneity of the album with a tumbling bongo beat and klezmer horns. To today’s ears, The Sound of Konk combines true dance pleasure and experimentation with the humor of the groovy whiteboy sound embodied/parodied by Gary Wilson.
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