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Deep Funk

Deep funk is a term used to describe obscure funk recordings that appeal mostly to zealous collectors and groove fanatics. Like deep soul, the term deep funk can evoke the strongly African-American essence of the music, but deep funk also carries the connotation of a collector digging through crates of old records, looking for that special rare, underground find. It can be vocal or instrumental, but in most cases, it's about rhythm, groove, and musicianship, not songwriting. Deep funk rarely innovates within the form, generally taking its cues from the hard, lean brand of funk epitomized by James Brown and the Meters, or -- depending on the level of musicianship -- moving into jazzier, more improvisational territory. Some of it was recorded for major labels and lost in the shuffle, and some was cut for small independent labels with poor distribution. Whatever the specifics, deep funk represents the sound of funk on its most elemental, grass-roots level; it's something akin to the way '60s garage bands enthusiastically copied their favorite British Invasion or psychedelic records -- some was truly inspired, some just competent, some instantly forgettable. The revival of interest in deep funk is closely tied to the hip-hop movement in America, with its ravenous appetite for fresh sample material, and to the rare groove and Northern soul club scenes in Britain, which place a premium on rediscovering vintage American musical artifacts (in funky jazz and sweet-leaning soul, respectively). In their worst leanings, deep funk collectors are concerned more with the object than the substance, prizing the thrill of the hunt and the single's rarity above its quality -- which is easy to do, since not many people have heard these tracks to begin with. The result is that some collectors and DJs wind up paying exorbitant prices for mediocre music. But at its best, deep funk is about giving credit to the unfairly overlooked -- discovering great grooves and tight combos that really did stack up musically. Although deep funk's true format is the vinyl single, labels like Goldmine, BBE, and Stones Throw, and compilers like Scottish DJ Keb Darge, have helped bring the pleasures of the funky 45 into the CD age.