[sic] Magazine

Vantage – Metro City

Before I get to the task of actually reviewing the album in question, I first want to put forward two quite general statements:

1. I like future funk music.

2. I don’t like future funk artists (or more accurately, their modus operandi).

Now I’ll explain why I feel like this.

First I’ll elaborate on what exactly ‘future funk’ is, just in case the reader isn’t familiar with this still relatively young genre. Future funk is a supposed offshoot of vapourwave pioneered by artists like Saint Pepsi (Skylar Spence) and マクロスMACROSS 82-99 (albeit with a rather large sonic chasm between the parent genre and its offspring), but whereas vapourwave took 80s/90s smooth jazz, new age music, chart pop, Muzak etc., slowed things down and reduced them to spaced-out, treacly chopped-and-screwed soundscapes, future funk is built on the sampling foundations of late 70s/80s disco (particularly obscure Japanese cuts), synth funk, City Pop, dance pop etc., only now the tempo is kept firmly within an ideal zone for dancing and the beat is never sacrificed for the sake of ‘atmosphere’. These plundered materials are then filtered (literally in many cases) through effects often found in French house (filtering, phasing, layered drums, pumping sidechain compression etc.) until they arrive at a result that could be called nu-nu-disco. This is all well and good, and in the main I enjoy the results (although like vapourwave, it suffers from the fact that it is so easy to produce that inevitably the market will quickly become saturated with artists of little talent and myopic creative vision jumping on the bandwagon and clogging up the ‘airwaves’, meaning the shelf life of the style is likely to be regrettably short), but there is one thing in particular that sticks in my craw about the genre as a whole (no, not the old school anime fixation; that I don’t mind).

I consider sampling and plunderphonics to be perfectly acceptable methods of creating music, and when used creatively can produce a work that is so different from its source material as to be reasonably considered an entirely ‘new’ piece of music in its own right, but when a track is more or less a straight remix or edit of an older tune, and no clear and explicit credit is given to the source of the original sample, then that just doesn’t sit right with me (I’ll point out that some producers are quite upfront about samples, and most will name the sample upon request, so I’m not referring to absolutely everyone within the community here, but people shouldn’t have to ask for the identification of the original sample, it should be within plain sight of anyone who stumble across the track). I don’t buy into the whole ‘guessing the sample is part of the fun of listening’ argument either. It’s just a veil to conceal the fact that the producers are standing on the shoulders of giants that are submersed below the eyeline of the casual listener, and by denying this knowledge to the listener they are denying them the opportunity to discover something that they could potentially enjoy more than their version of the track. I’m not even bothered about the monetary aspect of this duplicity, as I’m sure virtually none of the artists working within the future funk genre are earning any proper money and are making music purely for the love of it, which is a difficult thing to begrudge, but nevertheless, I believe it would be more artistically philanthropic to expose the listeners to the sources of inspiration, primarily as a token of gratitude (to the listener more so than the sampled artist), but also because I detest the mindset that knowledge should be safeguarded rather than transmitted liberally for the benefit of others.

Take the track ‘Sunset’ from this album, which is basically a modernised, housified version of Sister Sledge‘s ‘All American Girls’. I might actually prefer Vantage‘s version, it being more streamlined and suited to the contemporary dancefloor (bigger, fatter, punchier sound), so I am appreciative of the time and effort expended to create the track, but nevertheless, Sister Sledge or Narada Michael Walden should be mentioned in every accompanying description of the track as, if nothing else, a sign of respect to the original creative impetus. Similarly, I really like Harrison‘s take on Midnight Star‘s ‘Midas Touch’ and Architecture in Tokyo‘s use of Patrice Rushen‘s ‘Forget Me Nots’, and whilst these are especially obvious samples for the seasoned music aficionado, there will inevitably be individuals out there who are oblivious to the original and a simple nod in their direction will allow the listener to not only compare and contrast the two pieces in question, but also open up potential avenues of further musical exploration.

Next, consider all the really obscure samples found in future funk and other plunderphonic genres, and how cool it would be if producers were completely open about the sources of these basic components of their work, and how valuable this transparency would be to both the potential consumption of the listener and the exposure and acknowledgement of neglected artists. I know I can thank many a thoughtful person in a track’s comment section for identifying a sample and enabling me to unearth hitherto unknown gems from music’s rich and varied past, and who knows, without future funk I might not have become attuned so soon in my life to music from the likes of Toshiki Kadomatsu and Tatsuro Yamashita (although I did stumble upon them both in an article on the Japanese RBMA site about 歌謡曲 around the same time, but that was just random chance and the point remains unchanged). Therefore, more than just a matter of courtesy, naming sources of samples is a positive and helpful act for the artist to perform for their fans and defies the deplorable culture of obscuring aesthetic lineage by the deprivation and hoarding of musical knowledge.

Okay, now onto the album at hand, Metro City by Vantage:

I really like it. Maybe you will too. Why not give it a listen?