Ahead of Galactic Funk Militia’s biggest show to date at the O2 Academy, Shaun Ponsonby speaks to band leader Mook about the present, the future, and the power of The Funk.
“Funk is feel good music that can also take on weighty subjects, but handle them with humour… it’s actually amazing, the most amazing music.” – The Mook
Galactic Funk Militia burst onto the Liverpool scene just two years ago, their first performance being on the bandstand stage at LIMF.
Since then, they have gained a reputation as one of the very best live bands in the city, and have toured up and down the country. A classic funk band in the vain of Chic, Ohio Players, Earth Wind & Fire and, most significantly, George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic collective, their shows guarantee two things; you will move, and you will sweat.
Mook is the band’s leader, the general of this particular army. Every ounce of his being screams “Funk” – somewhere between Bootsy Collins and Starsky and Hutch’s Huggy Bear – he lives and breathes this music, this aesthetic, this feeling. “One of my favourite novels is Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed,” he says. “I like the idea that Funk, like Jazz in the novel, is a living being in its own right – and she’s coming for your hips and ass, whether you like it or not.”
A flamboyant bass player with an eccentric way with words, Mook often spending as much time in the crowd as he does on stage. He holds the band down to their groove and appears to be holding the steering wheel.
Simultaneously tight and loose, the “militia” imagery is pretty apt. They’re coming for you – bass, guitars, drums, keyboards, horns, singers, rappers. There really is an army up there, often totalling between 15-20 members. At times we have seen the space they have to work with on stage and question if they will all fit.
But you can waste a good groove on a weak voice. Thankfully, this is one problem Galactic Funk Militia have never had. Lead singer Amber brings this intergalactic Funk not only back down to Earth – but straight into church. She is the secret weapon in the GFM arsenal.
Unsurprisingly, Mook agrees; “Amber is a stunning vocalist who could very justifiably be a massive diva about it, but who is actually really down to earth,” he says. “For me, being able to write for a singer like Amber is phenomenal. At the start, I considered taking lead in the band, for all of about six milliseconds. Realistically, I knew I needed a powerful singer with the right voice and attitude, and we were so lucky to have Amber recommended by the lovely Kaya from Threshold Festival. We did an audition, which was over the moment she started singing – she had the job and the wine was opened. Those songs just came to life when she sang them, and they still do.”
It’s not just Liverpool that has fallen under the collective’s funky spell. Triumphant shows throughout the summer culminated in them playing in the slot directly after Sugarhill Gang at the El Dorado Festival, meaning they were effectively supported by the hip-hop legends; “A couple of the guys stuck around to watch us play and were very enthusiastic and supportive. I mean these guys are legends, and they’re watching us do our thing, and they’re getting into it, so that was good for the ego!”
They have been lucky in that their emergence coincided with a renewed interest in Funk. “I always knew Funk would surge back to the top, especially when it was needed most,” Mook tells me. “I feel pretty vindicated in that belief. Artists like Mark Ronson, Kendrick Lamar and Nile Rodgers work with Daft Punk, has all helped bring it back more directly into the public consciousness. The timing for us couldn’t be better, I mean we’d be doing this shit regardless of how popular Funk was. But it’s nice to be swimming with the tide and being part of this revival.
“Funk has never been away, it’s the foundation of disco, dance music and hip hop. The children of the Funk, what George Clinton once called the Clones of Dr Funkenstein, are certainly ‘On the Rise’ – that’s a song title of ours, and it’s all about that idea.”
The enthusiasm that Mook has for the band and their music is unparalleled. Despite playing in several bands around Liverpool for many years, this one feels different. Almost like everything else was leading up to this one band.
For Mook, this is the band he has always wanted to be in; “Every band or musical project I’ve ever been involved in, I think I’ve tried – consciously or otherwise – to shift it toward that sort of archetype. Not just musically, but in terms of the big stage presence, the whole look and performance side of things. When you go and see a band, I think you should get a show! You definitely do with us, anyway. That Earth, Wind and Fire, Chic, P. Funk showmanship – that’s where it’s at for me.”
And that show will be coming to town on 30th September. Having spent the summer playing festivals up and down the country, Galactic Funk Militia will be shaking those booties at the O2 Academy at what will be their biggest headline show so far, and it’s a gig that seems to have been over a year in the making.
Last year, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic returned to Liverpool for the first time since 1971, and it started the ball rolling for this momentous occasion.
As Mook explains; “I reckon I’m allowed to say by this point that we were so, so close to supporting them at the O2 Academy. The venue wanted us, the promoter wanted us, but it never quite came together and they didn’t get the all clear from the American management company. But that glorious near miss established a good relationship with the guys at the O2 Academy/AMG, who really wanted us to do something there. So we put something together. It’s a chance for us to showcase where we’re up to, and really put on a show for our home crowd. It’ll be our first gig in Liverpool since we headlined Threshold Friday night earlier in the year, and probably our last of the year too.”
But the show isn’t just another performance. They aren’t wasting this opportunity. The band are taking a fairly big chance and using this show to take their sound one step further.
It was at last year’s El Dorado Festival that Mook started wondering where Funk could go next. Surrounded by not only Funk, but soul, electronica and EDM, he began to map out in his head how to bring Galactic Funk Militia’s sound into the future, without losing the identity they have already carved out.
“We’ve been described as the UK’s answer to P. Funk a few times, which is silly but very flattering,” Mook tells me. “The thing is we’re really not, there’s only one P. Funk, and there’s only one Galactic Funk Militia. So really, our next phase has already begun, and has seen us writing our newer tunes and really beginning to explore what Funk can be in 2017, how we can tie in modern sounds of dance music to really push it forward. The O2 Academy performance is going to be a really good chance for us to showcase that.”
Although every new show is a new phase, this O2 Academy show really does feel like the band are upping the stakes. The timing is no surprise, they are currently working on an album, their first full-length release. It has fallen a little behind schedule with all the summer’s gigs, and as Mook says “It’s easier said than done to record a band like us, especially with limited time. I need the Clones of Dr Mookenstein. But we’re going to focus on getting that stuff edited and mixed at the end of this year. I mean we’ve gone a bit nuts on it, each song has about 25 separate tracks to edit and mix together… Time as ever is at a premium, but finishing that album is priority number one right now. We’ll also be looking to head back in soon to record our newer material.”
Funk is definitely back on the map. Mook believes that “P. Funk and Chic coming to Liverpool for the first time since the 1970s kinda demonstrates this resurgence” – and that’s a fact that is hard to argue. Look, too, at the Liverpool Disco Festival, and the acts that have topped the bill at Threshold these last few years.
And if there is one group we can trust to guide us through this intergalactic territory, its Galactic Funk Militia.
Galactic Funk Militia play Liverpool’s O2 Academy on Saturday 30th September. Tickets are available now from ticketweb.co.uk with limited physical tickets also on sale at Jacaranda Records, Slater Street. An aftershow party will take place at EBGB’s.