“Where would I be if not for the funk?” A reasonable question for one to ask at any time, and one that burned on my brain while I was sitting in the upper deck of the Cabooze waiting for Denver’s SunSquabi to lay down their electronic and jam-friendly interpretation of the form. The funk has long played a role in my music fandom. In my short life I’ve seen legacy acts like George Porter Jr., and Earth Wind and Fire, up and coming Local acts like PHO, and modern-day funk-jam heroes like Lettuce and the Motet. All of whom are very different acts united by a common mission: to make you dance, a standard the greats never fail to live up to.
Like most electronic shows (even those with live instruments), this night was opened by a DJ. He wasn’t billed, which might bother those most itching to see the Headliners and support, but this didn’t bother me. The set consisted, for the most part, of music that could be eloquently described as really, really chill. Chill funk mixed with chill bits of hip-hop, with a dose of chill soul thrown in for good measure, all with a very chill psychedelic edge.
The crowd was thin at this point, but that was ok. This set wasn’t a dance party, nor did it aspire to be. I think it would’ve sounded better in headphones, perhaps soundtracking some sort of psychedelic journey to the cosmos. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Beak Nasty was up next, walking humbly onstage upon the conclusion of the opener’s set. A conventionally unconventional electronic two-piece featuring a producer/DJ/turntablist and a live drummer, the locally based duo brought a different, more hip-hop heavy vibe. There was no grand departure from the psychedelia or chillness of the opener, more of a welcome variation on some of the same styles.
This stylistic shift was facilitated in large part by the inclusion of a drummer. Live instruments in EDM are nothing new, but his playing was a sight to behold. The set shifted from hip-hop, to funkier, deeper psychedelic grooves, to more electronic-oriented compositions, all of which the percussionist navigated with grace and dexterity. True to the inherent weirdness in the electronic jam scene, he even played a theremin at times. This qualifies as a “boss move” if I’ve ever seen one. His chops and the genre-bending nature of the set kept it interesting and laid the foundation for the rest of the night.
Overlaps and intersections in the Jam Band and Electronic scenes are well documented and run generations deep at this point. Bassnectar was a fixture at Jam festivals long before this generation of DJ’s had their moment. Dead and Company include an electronic-heavy drum segment during every show. More overtly, bands like STS9 and the Disco Biscuits carried the torch in the aughts for Jam bands more influenced by trance music than by any Allman Brother.
Sunsquabi comes a few years removed from all of that. Having formed in 2011, they come from an exciting new generation of bands and play by fewer sonic rules. Yes, there’s improvisation, but it feels tighter and more focused than that of some of the more roots and rock-oriented Jam acts. They also tend to hit their peaks and climaxes quicker than many, a convention more in line with EDM.
The sound itself varies from rock to Drop-heavy (Heavy-Drop?) electronic to jazzier grooves. All of it, of course, retains their signature funk. As they performed, the band didn’t seem particularly virtuosic, at least compared to some in this shred-heavy scene, but they made up for it with cohesion and funky interplay.
The set moved along nicely, and the now-large St. Patrick’s Day crowd responded. Peaks were plentiful, and the light show was on point, both necessary ingredients in the ideal jamtronica stew. Of course, no set is perfect, and even our beloved Squab-tribe is vulnerable to a screw-up every now and then. Though the jams weren’t long and didn’t aimlessly meander, they didn’t consistently reach the maximum improvisational heights to which the genre often aspires. Beyond that, the set dragged at points. This isn’t to say that a band playing at a bar on Saint Patrick’s day shouldn’t play long, just that they could have managed the flow of the set a little better. All criticisms aside, I enjoyed myself, and the rest of the crowd seemed to as well. Most importantly, the future of the electro-jam-funk genre seems to be in good hands.