From Blue Note to bad beats: five tracks that prove jazz and funk are alive and healthy in 2015

Jazz: ultra-cool Blue Note album art, wacky-poetry, offbeat piano licks and colliding drums, it’s a shame that the art-form has been sentenced to the underground and specialist scene today, never surfacing or fusing with other genres like it used to à la Bitches Brew or The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Well guess what: jazz is back. Funk: grooves so hard that shoulder-bones contort into the fifth dimension, and cosmic-basslines that sound like sugar-coated space-sludge, that stuff was left in the seventies right? Nothing since P-Funk, right? Well Jazz’s groovier brother is also alive and kicking in today’s music scene, and yes you can find grooves as hard as Flashlight. Here’s a shortlist of a few stand-out tracks from the ‘New Post-Jazz/Funk’ scene of the last 12 months.

Thundercat – Them Changes (2015)

This funk track is driven by Thundercat’s dirty, wet bassline, riding along the low-end like it was 1972. One you hit play on this record, you can’t deny the true-funk authority of the L.A.-based jazz-funk fusion bass player. With credits to his name such as recording and producing with Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus, Thundercat is a cornerstone of the movement, driving the heart of it forward with unthinkable grooves. This track, ‘Them Changes’, is taken from Thundercat’s latest EP ‘The Beyond/Where Giants Roam’, on Brainfeeder records.

Check this live version to see Thundercat in action.

Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar) (2014)

From those opening piano notes to the crazy-mad, off-time guitar solo, FlyLo’s Never Catch Me is a highlight of his 2014 LP, You’re Dead. This track is a twisted, chaotic mess of modern jazz-fusion, intertwining the producer’s futuristic beats with revamped versions of classic jazz instrumentation. If there ever was a song that could define forward thinking, it’d be this. Oh, and Kendrick Lamar raps on it too.

Kendrick Lamar – For Free? Interlude (2015)

A modern day Gil-scott Heron run through the streets of Compton: that’s how Lamar sounds on this jazz-poet interlude from To Pimp a Butterfly; dancing around the dark Charlie Parker-esque bebop that crashes all over the place in the background. This track shows that rappers are becoming ever more conscious and political, bringing Hip-Hop into a new era. No words needed:

Dam Funk – Free (2015)

Look at the album art and listen to the bassline, then tell me you want anything more from a straight up funk track? From the minute the 808 pops into your ears, Dam Funk’s Free lets you know where it’s at: 100% blunted cruise control. Just listen.

Kamasi Washington – Change of the Guard (2015)

Let’s end on the most grandiose representation of modern jazz in the Hip-Hop world there is today: Kamasi Washington’s Change of the Guard. From his 3-LP epic album: Epic, Change of the Guard shows us pure 21st Century Blue Note. What really lifts this track into today’s world, is it’s production: you wouldn’t get those washed-out, trippy backing vocals on a fusion recording from 1968. Collaborating with artists such as Snoop Dogg, Nas, FlyLo and Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi is taking jazz in it’s truest form and delivering it to a new audience.

Progression vs regression: The real irony of the Glastonbury Kanye West haters.


Why is it that rockists and purists have anxiety attacks at the sight of an MPC? What is it about the presence of a single, solitary person on stage, unaccompanied by session musicians with over-expensive guitars and M&S blazers on, that internally aggravates them so much? And how come some people refuse to see genres such as Hip-Hop as main-stage worthy? This sort of conservative thinking is on the rise in 2015, which is pretty much the polar opposite of a lot of generation Y’ers. From looking at Twitter, we have a generation divided, half embracing this 21st century progression of music, art and culture, had rejecting it and regressing back to the ‘good old days’ when people played ‘real music’ on guitars. There’s nothing wrong with outgrowing your youth, we would’t have ‘Dad-rock’ or 80’s dancefloor classics compilation CDs otherwise, but the main culprits of Yeezy hating are surprisingly young, spawned from a generation who are being fed the lies that ‘all rock is good’ and ‘pop, hip-hop and other music are lazy and cheap’.

One rule for the rockists, another for the boom-bappers.

What’s peculiar about this rockist view, is that it tends to break it’s own rules; because rock ‘n’ roll, as we know it, is only around 60 years old, making it a new, progressive form of music when compared to the last few hundred or so years of musical history. Rock is of course a progression of a number of blues-based genres: rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, country, blues, gospel, field hollers and more. But let’s not forget that other, almost inescapable timeline of music (in chronological order): field hollers, rag-time, jazz, soul, funk, disco and hip-hop. Why is the second chain of events not as important as the first? does anybody really believe that rock could’ve grown the way it dd without the evolution and integration of soul? funk? Hell no. Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruits’, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’, and Bobby Womack’s  ‘Across 110th Street’ are not cheap imitations of The Rolling Stones, so let’s not do away with the fact that the British Invasion, a movement that left us with The Beatles, The Stones, kinks and The Who, built their careers on Black American music, their soul and R&B covers filled up the majority of their early singles and albums.

Synths, Samples and Stealing Bastards

A big argument haters and rockists put forward is the old ‘they just steal bits of other songs and uses computers and stuff’. Again, synths were around from the 1960s and are hardly a new thing, whereas electric guitars in music only proceed them buy around 20 years at most, 10 if we’re talking being commercially popular.

Sampling is also neither a ‘new thing’, nor is it exclusive to Hip-Hop; DJs have been experimenting with chopping and joining parts songs since the 1970s. And what even is sampling anyway? It is to take a part of a song and re-use it in a new way; it’s basic intertextuality. Look at rock covers of old folk/pop/blues songs, that’s sampling, look back further to the days when poets would ‘shout out’ to their main influences just 200 years prior. We’ve gotten to a point in music where pretty music everything has been done before (or we think!), so why get hung up on artists using 2 second chops of soul classics when rock bands are bumming out that same 12-bar blues riff that’s been knocking about for decades?

Anyway, just what is a Rockstar?

Let’s get to the point, is Kanye West the world’s greatest rockstar?


I’d say Yeezy fits the bill on this one, and here’s to all the people judging him on the basis of his one festival headline performance:

Let’s skip the run of albums and have a look at Kanye’s production discography. 

What if Nike Air Max trainers were Hip Hop songs?

With the growing interest in re-released and retro’d trainers over the past few years, I got thinking about the intertwined history between Hip Hop and sports footwear. With Nas spitting lines such as ‘And I’m a Nike head, I wear chains that excite the feds’, and Phife Dawg rasping ‘I sport New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path’, it’s hard to deny that laying down bars and wearing cushioned running shoes go hand in hand. Remember Dizzee Rascal’s all black Air Max 90’s on the front cover of Boy in da Corner? What about Run DMC and their song all about Adidas? And finally, after Kanye West announced his Adidas Yeezy 3 this week it just added to the love affair between music and trainers.

One particular trainer – or sneaker for those of you across the pond – rising on the fashion front these days is the Nike Air Max, and be it the Air max 1, 90, 93 or 95, it’s safe to say that the famous air bubble technology has had a huge part to play in  Hip Hop and music culture in general. To celebrate it’s recent revival, I thought it’d be fun to match up each incarnation of the Air Max to a Hip Hop song, matching it up personality-wise (not based off of who wore what in real life). 

So feel free to disagree, and let me know what you think, but here is the 2015 Dharma Junk Air Max Hip Hop match-up. Turn the bass up a little, check the mic, and tap your well- cushioned toes to the beat while I attempt to draw comparisons between springy soles and soulful sounds.

Nike Air Max One (1989) – Nas – Halftime (1994 – Illmatic)


The original Air Max, the Air max One, is about as stripped-down and bare-balled as they come. The shoe’s bold, clear Nike tick sits on the side in the signature style, while the thick tongue and chunky sole stomp out a boom-bap vibe only suitable for arguably the most boomin’ and ‘bappiest’ Hip Hop album out there, Nas’ Illmatic.

This kick can be worn to stomp to this whole album, but the choice of Halftime was obvious due to the Queensbridge emcee’s timeless line that immortalised Nike in a rap song:

And I’m a Nike head, I wear chains that excite the feds’

Other classic boom-bap tracks to pound pavements to in Air Max Ones: Electric Relaxation by A Tribe Called Quest, They Reminisce Over You by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, Mystic Bounce by Madlib and Moment of Truth by Gang Starr.

Nike Air Max ’90 (1990) – No. 99 – Joey Bada$$ (2014)


1990 was the year that the Air Max went bad, a sleeker design, a higher sole and a beefy stamp on the side that shouted Air Max 90. This trainer had an attitude problem and it transformed the Air Max from a cushioned classic to a raw, high-tech tread.

I stuck this with Joey Bada$$’s Badman, because the shoe is a 90’s gem that was so ahead of it’s time, it fits modern underground Hip Hop tunes and their ‘boom-bap re-hashed’ attitude. Plenty of emcee’s go for this kick today, and it’s possibly one of the more popular retros on the street. If you need convincing that it was ahead of it’s time, just look at the next incarnation three years later, it actually looks older.

Other tracks to sport ’90’s to: Gang Related by Logic, i by Kendrick Lamar, Still Livin’ by Freddie Gibbs, Chum by Earl Sweatshirt and HYFR by Drake.

Nike Air Max ’93 (1993) – Butter – A Tribe Called Quest (1991)


Mistakenly thought of as the ‘odd ball’ of the Air Max series, the Air Max ’93 is possibly one of the least common Maxes out there. There’s definitely nothing odd about this shoe, with a 270 degree bubble in the rear, and an ankle-hugging upper that would later gain popularity in the Flyknit, you could say that the ’93 is one of the most underground, understated and under-hyped Air max sneaks out there.

I chose A Tribe Called Quest’s Butter, because Phife’s ode to fame and money buying respect from girls is on-point for this shoe. Phife barks lyrical about how ‘the huns’ used to diss him and turn away in high school, but as soon as he hit the big time they all wanted him. Add this to a whole bunch of disses against hangers-on and unwanted attention from undesirable females, and you’ve got the understated track to go with the thinking man’s shoe, the Air Max ’93.

Nike Air Max ’95 (1995) – Eminem – The Real Slim Shady (2000)


The mid-ninties saw the Air Max undergo a complete transformation, the new Italian-designed Air Max ’95 was modelled off the human anatomy, and has a slightly fluid, futuristic look to it, a reflection of a world looking to the next millennium.

Since the 95’s release, Hip Hop evolved further and blew up into the mainstream, allowing new genres and sub-genres of rap to evolve. Out of this mainstream explosion of Hip Hop came white rapper Eminem, and the rise of the UK Hip Hop scene with acts like Dizzee Rascal and the garage scene, and the explosion of Hip Hop celebrities in Hollywood films such as Method Man and Redman. This trainer switched up street style, and signified a real upheaval of what we thought Hip Hop was, tie this in with it’s sinister profile and you’ve got an innovative sneaker that steps into new genres without fear.

 Other tracks to rock ’95’s to: Jus’ a rascal by Dizzee Rascal, Da rockwilder by Method Man and Redman, and Wot Do you Call It? by Wiley.

Special Mention – Nike Air Max ’15 (2015)


This year’s Air Max is an open book, sneaking onto streets near you, this trainer hasn’t yet etched it’s mark into music history, and who know’s which album inserts this will sit in, which emcee will break onto the stage this summer in a pair, and whether or not it will sit up high with the rest in footwear history.

The Bridge and Scandinavian Ultra-Realism sets the trend for TV and cinema.

Danish/Swedish crime drama, ‘The Bridge’ (Danish: Broen Swed: Bron) has been making waves across television and cinema, and it’s all because of an everyday thing.

The ultra-realism of this gory and dismal murder-mystery echoes of David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), relying heavily on cold, blue hues and concrete, urban exteriors. This kind of Scandinavian mystery is making its way onto our TV sets quicker than the next series of Ant and Dec’s ‘Saturday-night-fun-lovin-party-bash’, with other incarnations such as Borgen and The Killing. 

the bridge

Although The Bridge isn’t brand new (I’m a couple of years behind I believe), David Fincher taking a leaf (or 5) out of the Nordic book for Dragon, was a surely early indicator of things to come in film. I for one am a huge fan of this urban realism, and stylistically it adds so much more to the viewing experience, and that’s not just in the Drive-esque lighting and ambient-horror-synth scores; it’s also in the way the characters act.

In The Bridge, the characters are as far removed from Hollywood glamour as you could possibly want. Hair a-tangled, beards grown out and scruffy clothes. It seems in this world, the unwashed look is in, and I’m glad. If I’m watching a show about two police detectives struggling to solve a murder case across two countries, I want my protagonists dirty, unkept and rough as a brick. The Bridge does that perfectly with Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia looking like challenged, broken workers with a true passion for their job. Heck, this makes benchmark series The Wire look brushed up at times, and that’s a hard task.

A great example of this realism is in series 1 episode 2, when Swedish detective Saga Norén (Helin) is shown after hours in her apartment, belt buckle undone, wandering around reading a book on law in-between picking at food and scratching her head. This scene is not unlike Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, chewing in his pen whilst typing away and hiding under his blanket. This sort of humanising, voyueristic insight is incredibly pleasing to watch, but at the same time is completely un-objectifying, especially in Saga’s case; which is just one of the charms of this new-wave of Scandinavian cinematography.

It seems for me, that character development is moving forward, and touched-up glitter isn’t fooling us anymore. Forget your damsels-in-distress and your male-model heroes; this movement’s all about realism; and I want more.


The Red House – Mark Haddon

In this book, Mark Haddon uses his unique ability to tap into the minds of people, accessing their most intimate moments of thought, uncovering hidden doubts,worries and curiosity; fear, hope and hatred.


Deep in the Welsh woodlands, hidden amongst mountains and miles upon miles of empty land, is The Red House. Inside, two families are sharing a holiday, but not a pleasant one.

Brother and sister – Angela and Richard – are brought together by the death of their mother. If it wasn’t for this event, they wouldn’t be on holiday together with their families, because Angela and Richard have hardly spoken in twenty years.

Angela and Dominic have three children: Alex -17, Daisy – 16 and Benji – 8, and Richard brings along his second wife, Louisa and her daughter Melissa – 16. It is through these teenagers and Benji, that most of the plot begins to develop, yet all the while maintaining a wholly adult tone. The dark secrets of the adults’ lives spill into the teenagers’ world, subliminally channelled through suppressed emotions and poor communication, setting off their development as characters of contrasting extremes. Alex is the macho explorer, Daisy the religious convert, Benji the fearful, imaginative little boy and Melissa the sly, sarcastic teenager. Haddon really delves deep into these strong characters to show us the effect of the Angela and Richard’s relationship with their parents, and suddenly everything intertwines and you hear yourself saying, these are real people, I know a family like that. 

But this book isn’t all a psychological dark trip, fun highlights include Alex consistently one-upping his uncle Richard with his young, masculine ways – a person Richard faintly remembers as part of himself all those years ago. Other comical additions are Benji’s curious questions and adventurous mind, living in a magical word of pirates, monsters and cowboys. But these funny moments are often shadowed with a more extensive thought process from the characters, revealing deeper urges and feelings. Angela can’t let go of the memories of her stillborn child 18 years ago, and much of this is directed towards Daisy, and we slowly begin to see the kind of behaviour that, over years, can form a character that would act in a way Daisy would.

Haddon’s decision to write a novel with multiple narratives and points of view really brings this concept to life and you’ll find yourself feeling as though you have some sort of inside knowledge on families and other people’s inner thoughts. You’ll also be quite scared about how real it is.

I picked this up last week in paperback and wished I’d known about it last year when it was first released, it is a thrilling and engaging read and I can now say I will be moving on to read more of Haddon’s work.

Find out more here:

Dragonslayer (2011)

Dragonslayer1Directed by Tristan Patterson, Dragonslayer is a wonderfully tragic film, yet one that is filled with youthful joy and carelessness. Dragonslayer follows twenty-something skateboard bum Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval, as he follows his dream skating in competitions and backyard bowls of Southern California.

Along with his girlfriend, Skreech and the rest of his mates have a pretty good life on the surface; hanging out all day skating, entering competitions and getting wasted. The tragedy, however, comes when Skreech’s dream gets lost within the harsh reality of his life. With a young son, and a developing drug addiction, Skreech finds it hard to break free from his skater lifestyle, he also doesn’t see doing anything else as an option. Skating is his life.

Skreech doing what he does best.

Skreech flies out to Malmö, Sweden for a competition, and things begin to look up. He begins to take on the underdog ‘anti-hero’ persona who would eventually prove everyone wrong. This glory is short lived however, when we realise the full extent of his family problems and life, things begin to look like a vicious circle with no end in sight.

This film is shot PERFECTLY.

Hats off to director Tristan Patterson for the pure stylistic elements of this production. Each scene has it’s own ‘intro’ clip, which features brash, hardcore punk music teamed with big, white, bold lettering telling the name of the scene. All this against the backdrop of sunny Californian skater life. At times the film can be difficult, with the intense emotional disturbances in Skreech’s life, and sometimes, as a viewer, we want him to succeed more than anything. Patterson’s visual stylings really ease out the subject matter in a kind of DIY punk kind of way, it’s shot so casually and carefree, yet it looks the part.

Tristan Patterson.

‘Slacker’ culture.

This is not to point fingers, but to merely admire the simplicity of the amateur skateboarder’s life – skateboarding was my life from the age of about 11 to 18 – Dragonslayer is an insight to the day-to-day lifestyle of skaters, and while every subculture gets its ‘hangers on’, there is something very Zen about practising your discipline day in, day out.

From quiet meditations over beer and weed, to tearing up backyard bowls in the heat of the day. You could say Dragonslayer is a snapshot of perfection. You could also say it is an outgrown, teenage mess that needs cleaning up. Either way, you’d have to experience it first.

Lincoln: A realist work of art or a concept gone to waste?

By Tom Hodgson.

As I sat down to watch ‘Lincoln’ this weekend, I had a number of expectations running through my mind. The main one being from the hype surrounding Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in his role as the president, and then there was my excitement at an American Civil War film. Studying American Literature as one of my modules back at university, I have since been heavily interested in all events surrounding and after the war. Despite this interest, there are very few films I have actually seen on the Civil War, so I was excited for Lincoln. This was a fresh genre for me film-wise, and I gathered I knew enough about the general era to get the most out of it. But what I didn’t know about it, is that they spent so much damn time talking!

Deep Focus – Flashback to the French.

Yes 98% of this film was made up of conversations between Lincoln and his various fellow politicians and hangers-on. If I’m brutally honest, it kind of disappointed me as I was continuously looking for some action scenes. I don’t mean ‘A-Team’ style, no I have taste, I just mean any action other than talking. I was hoping for more ‘Gangs of New York’ type scenery and insights into the era.

One peculiar technique in the style of shooting I noticed, however, left me with a little bit of hope for the remaining 2 hours of the film. I realised that, in most of the conversation scenes that took place in small interiors or even hallways and busy rooms, were shot with an interesting deep-focus technique. Now I recognised this from my Film Theory undergrad days, looking back to a viewing of Jean Renoir’s ‘La Règle du Jeu’ (1939).

The famous French realist film notoriously uses deep-focus to create a sense of everything in the shot being in focus. The effect of this is that when you’re viewing a film, you can kind of get a sense that you’re actually inside the very interior setting in the shot, with the deep-focus giving you free will to look almost anywhere. I think this is down to the fact that when you’re in a room full of people, your eyes won’t necessarily stay fixation on one focal point, you’ll probably have a good look around, meaning that you’ll be looking at all four corners of the room. Spielberg’s use of this technique – purposefully or not – means that you, as an audience, are free to ‘have a good look around’. This gives quite an intimate feeling to the film, but can also feel quite claustrophobic at times. This voyeuristic approach to the camerawork may be why so many people are getting the feeling that ‘it’s a real insight to the president’s life’.

'Can we please just talk about it?'
‘Can we please just talk about it?’

The Performance.

Dismissing all of the criticism I have just dished out, Daniel Day-Lewis did in fact put in a phenomenal performance as Abraham Lincoln, and I can’t imagine how any other actor could’ve stepped up to the plate. But does it take it away from being a very ‘flat’ film? Unfortunately not. Lincoln seems to me like a film made for the masses, made for Oscars. I found myself almost cringing at some points because I just thought, ‘c’mon Steve, is this really what you wanted to make?’. I think risk-taking and artistic expression goes a long way in film-making, and I don’t think Spielberg’s heart was in this. This is my point of view as an Englishman though, I’d like to know what American film buffs thought of it.


So honestly, I wouldn’t recommend this film. The only 2 reasons I can think of that might make someone want to watch it are Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance – which wasn’t groundbreaking, but subtly nicely done – and an example of a film shot using deep-focus. I don’t really think those are good enough reasons to pay £8 for a cinema ticket or whatever it costs around the world.

I’d love to know what other thought of this film, as people I’ve talked to have said similar things to me.