Funkoars
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Funkoars

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“What we’re trying to do is carve out our spot, you know what I mean, and be accepted for what we do and who we are,” says the group’s DJ Refluk (the alias of Daniel Yates). “Our sound keeps evolving. When we first made albums we were just kids. We really didn’t have any idea. We were just smashing things together and rhyming over the top of it and putting it out, whereas now we’re getting involved with music itself and creating the music that we want to create.”

 

The ‘Oars, as they’re affectionately known, have been at it for ten years. A long time to operate in any business, but especially in music and particularly as a hip hop group. As the years go by it’s natural for creative talent to run dry, for relationships to become strained and, as is often the case, for the music to suffer as a result. But it appears that the secret to the lengthy expiry date printed on the back of the Funkoars is a bit of self-awareness. “In general, a music fan base is predominantly youth orientated,” claims Yates. ”So if you say you’ve been making records for ten years, then the guy that bought your record ten years ago might not be buying your records now because they’re not as fanatical as they used to be. So, there’s always that turnover of a new generation, and when they come of age and are seeing our show for the first time, we’ve got to realise that they might not know who the hell we are. That’s a new creature, you know what I mean? They might not necessarily get what we’re doing. The music that we grew up on – that mid ‘90s kind of hip hop – is completely foreign to an 18-year old these days, and even though they like hip hop, as such, what we call the core of hip hop, that sound that we grew up on and love, and that had a major inspiration and effect on our music, they don’t know that.”

 

Being aware of how fast the ‘going out’ crowd can change helps you stay relevant, something crucial to success in an industry notorious for its insatiable thirst for what’s coming next. However, for Yates, it’s hard to pin down just what that word ‘success’ actually means. “It’s a tricky question to answer really,” he admits, but when pushed further, he reveals that, for him at least, a successful record for the Funkoars has more to do with his own personal judgment rather than how it’s received critically or commercially. Yates doesn’t pay attention to what’s written about his music, at least not the bad stuff, and as long as the current record achieves as much as the last, then he’s a happy man. “If you’re still making a records and you think it’s a good album, then it’s a good album for all you care,” he muses. “There’s always people out there that will love it, and there will be people out there that will hate it. So success is a very hard thing to define.”

 

With the group about to embark on a select run of dates, touring across all six states and two territories, Yates is preparing himself to step up on stage and get behind the decks again, despite the fact that it’s not always an environment he’s felt completely at home in. “I think most DJs are fairly shy cats,” he says of his own profession. ”I was a turntablist so I was into performing but I never had to speak or entertain, it was all just what I’d practiced and what I knew, I could rely on my skills to get me through.” Thankfully, with the Funkoars, he’s backed up by the three MCs that complete the group, Trials, Sesta and Hons. “Trials I think is a born performer,” he says of his friend and colleague in particular. “I think he’s naturally got charisma on stage and he naturally carries energy and it doesn’t come off as contrived. That’s a brilliant thing to have.”

 

When the Funkoars are up on stage, their reputation as an ‘anything goes’ type group really has an opportunity to be justified. They tend to react and respond to the moment they are in and nothing else. “We just do what we want really, you know what I mean. We perform with gusto, we love the music that we make and when the crowd sees it and reacts to it, we tend to vibe off that a lot. It’s a living breathing creature, our set. We have some live things that we can add at any time, so if the crowd’s really feeling this then we’re going to go this way.”

 

The unpredictable and spontaneous style of their performances and the raucous, fun-seeking nature of their music are what have earned the Funkoars the following that they have gained in this country. Their fans love them for their raw energy and piss-in-the-wind approach. However, when it comes to operating on the business side of things, Yates says the group like to ensure that there is enough structure and direction to keep the objectives within reach, especially given the demands of the industry they work in today. “Back then we weren’t dealing with the penetration that we have now into the market,” he says of the group’s early days. “But as well as the fact that back then it was predominantly run by majors [major record labels], whereas now the power is all with the independents. I mean, it’s all changed. Even in the last 18 months it’s changed! So, we’ve had to manage that and we’ve had to evolve.” Being signed to an independent label (Hilltop Hood’s Golden Era Records) and not having to abide by anyone’s rules but their own is of critical importance to Yates who claims that there are plenty of other acts out there who are all too willing to compromise themselves when leaned on to conform to demands of the mainstream. “If you want to go that way then good luck to you,” he says. “But then if the reason why you got to that place is by being yourself, then why change that now?”

 

It’s not just the power balance of the labels that Yates sees as having changed over the years. “Social networking and things like that are really taking over promotion and street-level hype building can literally translate into unit sales. It’s quite extraordinary these days. That was never really available before. You’d have to tour the country ten times before you were able to touch as many people as you get on Facebook nowadays. It’s the accessibility of everything these days – accessibility of information, accessibility of equipment – you used to have to hire studios in the ‘80s and spend thousands of dollars creating a record. Now, any kid with a USB soundcard, spends 800 bucks or whatever and he’s got everything he needs to put out a record. It doesn’t mean that it’s good or it doesn’t mean that he knows – it just means he can. Ultimately, good music will still be good music and will still shine through, you know what I mean.”

 

Never the kind to kick back and admire the view for too long, the Funkoars are already looking forward to getting the next album started once they finish the tour. There’s even more incentive to get back to laying down tracks this time around as Yates is currently rebuilding the studio at his house where the guys have always recorded their music. The decision to rebuild came after DJ Debris from the Hilltop Hoods showed him his impressive new studio, which resulted in Yates feeling just a little bit inadequate with what he had in comparison. “It’s incredible, it’s bloody awesome,” says Yates of his friend’s set up. “So he kind of spurred me into it and to go, ‘Well, mine’s not bloody good enough now!’ so I stripped it and starting again basically, getting it to sound just right. Streamlining it!”

 

BY RICHIE MELDRUM