Durango shares a special connection with the electronic funk music scene of Washington D.C. If you start dropping the names of bands falling under the umbrella of international lounge, bossa-nova, and world-sensation Thievery Corporation, you’ll connect to bands that have come here on the regular for the last decade: Thunderball and Empresarios, See-I, and Fort Knox Five. They’ve all done an electronic and down-tempo, reggae, and world beat thing underlined with funk music. On record, Fort Knox Five functions as a band, complete with stunning instrumentals and thick cuts with guest vocals. In the live setting, they are an electronic outfit, which has more than the predictable motions of a typical electronic DJ set. Less “womp boom womp” and more sounds that are procured and structured to make a song.
Steve Raskin, producer and driving force of The Fort Knox Five, will perform on New Year’s Eve at the Animas City Theatre. Local DJs Posh Josh and Matteo will also perform. It’s a co-production of The Animas City Theatre and local radio KDUR [full disclosure: I’m the KDUR station manager].
There’s always been a little bit more “oomph” to whatever they are doing musically above what other contemporary electronic artists do. More layers, more samples, and more musical territory explored as Fort Knox Five mashes up 1960s and ’70s funk, and weird funk-influenced ’80s new wave that’s all wrapped up in a musical package capable of dropping you right into the soundtrack of a classic Blaxploitation film. All of this also wreaks of the Do-It-Yourself ethos via Washington D.C. punk-rock upbringings.
Raskin was a punk-rock kid whose musical beginnings included being a fan of early funk music and Washington D.C. Go-Go. While in England recording with ’90s rock band Edsel, Raskin was struck by the electronic sounds being played out in clubs throughout the country.
“Even from back in the punk-rock days, all the music that precedes the genre and style of music you’re playing you’re influenced by,” said Raskin. “We were very influenced by old-school funk music, and a lot of D.C. bands were influenced by that. All of these elements were already in play. For me, it was in the mid-’90s when Edsel recorded a record in Liverpool, we were exposed to underground electronic music going around then. One of the things I heard was some early jungle and drum and bass stuff. It struck a chord with me and made me feel like this was the future evolution of what the Bad Brains were doing. I came back from that trip very interested in making electronic music.”
Fort Knox Five made sense for Washington D.C., a city that may be more known for punk rock, that actually saw its longer-tenured hardcore bands branch out from the straight-ahead two-minute songs that specialized in three-chord angst to make music that recognized funk and jazz rhythms heard elsewhere in the city. It was an obvious path for Raskin.
“The first forays I was sort of dabbling in was a DJ Shadow trip-hop meets-drum-and-bass kind of project, which evolved into Thunderball, which we put out with Thievery on their label,” said Raskin. “Fort Knox Five sprang out of that, doing a funkier, livelier dance set through the D.J. thing. It may seem like an obtuse direction to jump from punk rock to funk, but especially in the scene in Washington D.C., there were blurred lines in mixing genres. It’s not that big of a leap.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.