George Clinton, the Future of Funk, and MC Hammer Pants: A Chat With Montreal’s Fonkynson

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Hola compadres! You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve been off the radar for a bit, but not to worry, I’m very much alive and feeling more than healthy. Sometimes I get lost on my 600 acre ranch and have to fight off herds of crows and overgrown field mice to find my way back, but that’s a story for another day. Either way, today is not about me, it’s all about disco-house producer Fonkynson from Montreal. I had a very fortunate chance to have a cyber-space chat with him on everything from the history of disco house, to the future of the MC Hammer pants. He’s got a very unique, upbeat sound that is just all-too danceable and that demonstrates an impressive amount of musicality. He’s already released a full EP, which you can purchase here, and has been building a solid following around his hometown.  

Most electronic producers got their start as either a musician or a dj, how did it all start for you?

I began music with guitar, blues, rock and funk. Played in a few bands when I was a kid, and used to recreate beats with drum machines. One day I came home with a MC303, and that’s when it all changed. I loved this machine, and its ability to do it all in one box. I started to produce electronic beats, and really got into it.
Meanwhile, a friend of mine who was Dj’ing at that time introduced me to the Technics Turntables, i was hooked for life. But I wasn’t so good at producing, when I listen today, I think the ideas were good but i really didn’t master the sound science at that time. Dj’ing, on the other hand, was more accessible for me.
A friend of mine told me that a club in Belgium organized a Dj contest. I made a mix tape, sent it, and was chosen for the finals. A real Dj battle! I ended up wining it and began to have gigs on a regular basis.

Your earlier songs were more about hip hop and funky breaks, but your newer stuff resembles disco house. Do you feel like the rise of the EDM scene was influential in the progression of your sound?

I arrived in Montreal 8 years ago. I used to live in Lille, north of France. I had the chance to see the French house touch rise and having gigs at that time, in Belgian clubs, in Paris, and Lille, and it made me proud to be a small part of it. So in fact, I kind of come from this House / Nu-Disco sound. I also always listened to funk, hip hop, and wanted to start a Funky Breaks project when i got here in Montreal. I released a couple of Ep’s, singles and remixes under the name Nick Fonkynson. But after a few years, i started to produce House / Nu Disco, and even in my late works in Funky Breaks, you can hear this transition.
So in a way, i just picked things up where I left them. I was dj’ing at that time, and learned to produce properly during my Funky Breaks phase. I gained maturity in audio skills, and now mix and master tracks for artists and labels.

Many of your songs sound like they have live bass guitar in them. During recording, do you mainly use midi or do you also use live instruments?

I’ve been playing guitar since 13 years old, so when I have the opportunity, I can slide in a bit of real guitar or bass. I like the organic feel of real instruments. I always try to have a bit in my records.
But it really depends on the track, and the samples used for it. Because I can also find this feeling in the samples themselves.

What’s that one song or album that was a real game changer for you?

When I heard for the first time “Exit Planet Dust” by the Chemical Brothers, It changed my opinion about electronic music. I really got into it after that, Big Beat movement, house, garage, DnB, trip hop, opened it all.

Tell me a bit about your name and how you came up with it.

When we were late teens, a bunch of friends and I used to invent and film stories of super american cops. I had to find a cool name for my role, and I came up with Nick Fuckinson. I even had a badge for it!
Sometimes we filmed scenes after going out in bars, and recreated muscled arrests with fake guns in the streets. So much fun, till someone called the real police and we ended up handcuffed ourselves, trying to explain why I have a fake badge and a fake gun. Funny times!
So anyway, when I began to play gigs, I had to find myself a name, and thought about Fuckinson, but it wasn’t too subtle. Doing Funky House, i changed it to Fonkynson.

Your sound can be primarily described as French disco house. What is it that defines that French sound that can also be heard in music by the likes of Justice, Darius, Daft Punk, Breakbot and many others?

First of all, thanks for the references! I think it’s heavy beats, artistic compression, the use of micro samples, the funky /disco basslines. There’s “un je ne sais quoi” that can be sometimes cheesy, but it’s delicious. I think they made an awesome job at recycling disco and funk, taking the essence and melt it with modern beats.

The idea for “The Right Thing” video was great, what inspired it, and what was it like working with a filmmaker?

I work as a motion designer, and wanted to do a videoclip for a long time. That was a pretty good occasion. I wanted to work with a director i know, but he wasn’t available. We discussed the concept tho. I wanted to tell a story between objects, giving feels to nonliving things interested me. We searched for a lot of objects, then took a look at the artwork for the Ep that I just received (a straw in a colorful milkshake) and thought, that’s it! We can do this with straws! I got home, purchased a fairy light that is the main light setup, then started the storyboard taking photos. Next week-end, a few friends were at my place and we shot the video.
I wish i had work with a director cause iI’m not used to this and made a couple of mistakes. Took me a lot of energy to set the dance between the glasses going in and out, according to the timing of the storyboard. Then i spent nights doing the animation in 3D, the compositing, the grading et voilà!

If you could work with one old school rapper, who would it be?

I loved T Ski Valley. A lot more come to my mind, probably better choices than T Ski, but I don’t know, I like him.

The funk sound has a long history with disco and R&B from the 60’s and 70’s but is now primarily associated with the electronic scene. It has been said that “diamonds are forever”, do you think funk is forever?

I’d say probably yes, we’ve already saw funk reinvents itself in Hip-Hop, Ghetto funk, Funky Breaks, Nu-Funk. We’ll see it disappear and reinvent itself again as we saw for Disco, rocknroll etc..
I’m happy to see that old school funk still moves people, and young kids too, I’m not anxious about funk, it has great days in front of it.

Do you think the MC hammer pants will be making a serious comeback anytime soon?

Somehow we’re still in the post 80s area, give it time, and it’ll probably will. Not sure I’ll be the first to wear it though.

Where do you see yourself and your sound going in 2014?

I’m preparing a new EP, hope to release it this year. I’m beginning collaborations, so maybe you’ll hear more singing, a bit more pop maybe. But still, the Fonkynson touch will be here for sure. And I’ll focus on gigs in Montreal, now that I caught a bit more attention here.

If you could say one thing to George Clinton, what would it be?

I’d tell him that he made me understand what Funk is about, how it works and what make a track funky, when during an interview, he explained the ‘on the one” theory. Basically, it says that funk is about putting the accent on the first beat of the bar, instead of the second. Every instruments can go wild during the bar, but they have to meet on the one.I think it’s James Brown who was the first to come up with this shit. But the way Clinton used it and explained it, made the Funk concept clear to me.

See Fonkynson’s Soundcloud here

Follow Fonkynson on Facebook here

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