XL MIDDLETON + EDDY FUNKSTER: GOING TO CUT LOOSE
photography by alex the brown
Since 2013, XL Middleton and Eddy Funkster have been building a rock-solid foundation for the artists on their Mofunk label—many of whom have been in L.A. RECORD, or even on the cover of L.A. RECORD. But now they’ve emerged from the studio with the first album they’ve actually made together, and it’s everything you’d expect with extra chrome and neon on top, too. This recent self-titled full-length is an all-hands-on-deck affair that deploys most of the Mofunk roster for tour-de-force tracks attacking funk from all angles, climaxing with G-funk heavyweight Domino’s guest shot on “California Fly.” (And cooling down with the ultra-sleek “On Our Way To Funkmosphere,” which is where everyone should go once they’ve finished their first listen.) Besides Mofunk duties, Funkster is a resident at the mighty Funkmosphere night—founded by Dam-Funk, of course, and currently locking down every Thursday at the Virgil—and Middleton is a stand-out solo artist outside of his production and collaboration work with many of Southern California’s most modern funk makers. They met on L.A. RECORD editor Chris Ziegler’s “One Reporter’s Opinion” show on dublab to discuss the future, the past and the food at the county fair. Eddy Funkster DJs with the Funkmosphere crew at Sleepless: The Music Center After Hours on Fri., Sept. 23.
The album cover is a two-headed dog about to go play—is that a metaphor for how you guys work together?
XL Middleton: I’m not gonna say it is—we knew that’s how everybody would take it.
So I walked into your trap.
XL Middleton: Actually the trap of Brandon Malberg, who does all our artwork and all our covers. When he said he was gonna do art for the album involving a dog, I thought he was just joking or thinking out loud. We didn’t have any idea for the direction of the art. When he came out with it, we were like, ‘Holy shit, this is perfect.’
This album is who’s-who of Mofunk—you have almost everyone on the label out here to help. Is this your way of introducing yourselves to the world?
Eddy Funkster: I think it was long overdue. Me and XL needed to put out something. We always give away our best tunes to other labels, it seems, and we needed to put out an LP on our own label.
XL Middleton: Yeah—a long time coming. Some of those cuts are pretty old, some of them are pretty new, but it’s definitely a great snapshot of everything that we’ve done since we started because of that. As far as having the whole, crew and extended family on there, it just ended up that way. It does end up that way when it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re at the studio—want to come through?’ ‘Hey, Brian Ellis! Hey, Zackey Force Funk!’ It turned into a Mofunk party, if you will. There’s so many different styles that we’re into that we want to touch on. It’s true we we’ve got what you would consider straight-on modern funk; definitely got some electro stuff, a little bit of freestyle even on ‘Trading Places’ with Moniquea, of course the G Funk with ‘California Fly’ …
Eddy Funkster: The whole gamut.
Where did you find Domino?
XL Middleton: He’s actually been around—he’s released a lot of albums throughout the 90s. They weren’t as big as the first one, but he had some stuff. The way that we got connected was actually through a G-funk collector, from Ukraine—
They’re currently having a civil war, but he’s still got his G-funk records?
XL Middleton: He’s got his CDs mostly. That’s how it happened. We went halfway around the world to make a connection.
Eddy Funkster: Global awareness—there it is.
XL Middleton: I like the idea that we’re bringing a distinctly kind of Southern California L.A. edge to what we do. It’s not that we’re only making music for that region, but music is culture, so we want to give you a little slice of our culture. There’s so many modern funk acts that are rising from everywhere internationally—I mean, it’s maybe one of the first fully realized global scenes, where you can have somebody that’s coming from Estonia or something that’s well known out here in L.A. because of what you can do with the internet and with social media. So I just like the idea of giving people our southern California L.A. take on what it is, you know.
How far back do your own inspirations go?
Eddy Funkster: To the womb.
XL Middleton: It’s hard to say, because it’s so subconscious in a lot of ways. I definitely think a lot of our inspirations, whether they’re direct or indirect, come from our childhood. That’s why we love collecting records from the 80s and stuff—that’s not the only era we collect from, but it means a lot because we love the sounds, and that the sound is nostalgic, too. Even if we don’t know the song, those specific keyboards that they were using … it could be like, ‘Wow, that keyboard sound on that song I just discovered was also used in a John Carpenter score.’
Eddy Funkster: Good memories which you associate to a good feeling.
Good memories in all those John Carpenter movies.
Eddy Funkster: Always, actually—I’ve been watching his movies since I was a kid, so I love his scores.
He’s a real L.A. guy in a lot of ways.
XL Middleton: Yeah, Halloween shot in south Pasadena.
If you could do a remake of a John Carpenter film, which one would it be and what would you do?
XL Middleton: My personal favorites are either Halloween or Christine. That one has a lot of nostalgia for me. It’s so forgotten and it’s one of my favorites! I just happened to see it and it just happened to resonate with me when I was really little. There’s definitely some car action. It’d be really interesting if it was done in the modern day. Like Christine was always spitting out 50s tunes and you couldn’t change the radio station, right? What if it was set in the modern day and the modern-day Christine was only spitting out 80s boogie tunes?
That idea is so good—if anyone steals this idea in years to come, let it be known XL had it first in this interview.
Eddy Funkster: I’ll go with Escape From New York—I’ve been listening to that a lot longer. There’s an Escape From L.A. but it’s not that good. It could use an update, let’s say.
So what’s the California part of your music? What about California shows up in your songs?
Eddy Funkster: It’s smoother. Sunsets, palm trees, cars—
XL Middleton: It’s hard to explain in rhythmic terms or even compositional terms. We know we’ve created something that is distinctly L.A. when we make it, and we think about those kind of … you know, cliché elements of what L.A. is. Palm trees and sunsets, low riders—
Eddy Funkster: —al pastor tacos. It’s definitely portrayed in the music we create. It just seeps from us in a way.
Why is L.A. so deeply into modern funk?
XL Middleton: It probably is one of the best cities for it because of the backdrop—the lineage and the history of funk that’s been there so long. It’s like we’re just picking up on it and continuing to build in a more futuristic inclusive way because everybody’s definitely welcome—not that they weren’t always welcome, but now it’s much more obvious. ‘Everyone come on in and let’s boogie!’
What’s something that you would not do because it doesn’t fit the sound?
Eddy Funkster: I’m definitely not trying to do a Detroit sound, I would say. We’re not trying to be Dilla, that’s for sure. I love Dilla, I love Detroit stuff—but for me personally I would never want to make that sound, because that’s a very different sound from what I do. As an example.
XL Middleton: Again, it’s like that slice of culture. They’re giving their slice of culture to the world—
Eddy Funkster: —and I would never want to copy that.
Why is place important to you? There are plenty of people who don’t care and other who aren’t aware. Everything now is sort of detaching from region anyway.
XL Middleton: Yeah, everything is globalized—universal. That’s really cool in a way, and I really like that. And then on the other side of that coin I wonder … is this the end of culture in a way? Because we can look back and say this sounds like it came from Boston in the 70s or something. But does that happen anymore? That’s a deeper philosophical question to think about.
If this is the end of culture, what do you see in the future?
XL Middleton: I’m glad you asked because I think about it a lot. I don’t know that I have any solid answers. But I know I have ideas that are interesting or just goofy enough to share them with people that I know. The collectors of the future: are they gonna be searching for obscure MP3s on long-lost hard drives? What’s gonna happen? Are there going to be parties where they’re like, ‘Yeah, this is a retro 2000s party.’? Is there even going to be retro? Is culture—relatively speaking—going to expand in all directions and no longer be such a linear this-decade-is-this-era thing? There’s going to be a lot more micro niches and people trying to cater to all of them, and it really just being like this sort of decentralized kind of thing.
I feel like that in this age of endless reissues of ‘lost’ classics, people are chasing the world those records came from as much as the records themselves—they like the idea of an isolation that doesn’t really exist any more, where people were left alone enough to make these idiosyncratic personal things. And they like the discovery as much as the music—reminding themselves that it’s still possible to find unexpected things out there.
XL Middleton: That’s deep, man—they want the possibility back! Wow—you kinda just blew my mind there! It’s almost impossible to create in a vacuum now. You get the sense that guys who did this one-off private press 30 years ago were doing just that. You can picture them just locked in a basement with no sunlight for weeks on end, and the result of course now is … what do they call it? ‘Left field’? ‘Outsider music’?
Sometimes now it’s like they’re re-enacting what their idea of an outsider would do—like teaching themselves to be freaks.
XL Middleton: It’s exploring what it would be like if they were some eccentric crazy individual. Performing an entire life! You’ll keep the persona offstage … and what if it grows to the point where you don’t even need a stage anymore? The performance is constant.
Why is it important to you guys not to do that now—studiously recreate that kind of outsider perspective? Why not make an effort to reproduce these sounds from other places and why doesn’t it make sense to you?
Eddy Funkster: It goes into the whole modern funk aesthetic. We’re not trying to sound like 1983 Midnight Star. We’re just doing us, and you can tell.
XL Middleton: We build a replica of that building. It’s important to us because it goes back to music as culture, and of course it’s just one expression of that culture—it could be painting or sculpture or poetry—but for us this is a reflection of everything that we’ve been influenced by all of our lives. We’ve both lived in L.A. all of our lives so whether or not we want it to, what we made would be a reflection of that.
Music is strange now because everything ever made is so much more accessible. If you make a record, you’re competing for attention with everyone who ever made a record. It’s the collapse of the time-space continuum. How do you feel about making music in such a hyper-exposed time?
Eddy Funkster: It’s definitely a good thing to get [music] out there in ways we could never possibly imagine 20 or 30 years ago.
XL Middleton: And on the other side of that, it is kind of a bummer that I can’t go into like Miami—physically go to Miami, for example—and discover some music that I’ve never heard of because I’m not physically there. At the end of the day it’s a positive thing to be able to get our message out there more easily and effectively. But that’s always going to be something that’s on my mind. That probably goes back to why it’s so important to us to make music that’s really a reflection of us and specifically where we grew up. Maybe in a way it’s a response to that sort of globalization, if you will.
On the other side, you get to have a perspective no one else has—you can look back and see every record being made in a certain place and time, and get a fuller picture than anyone could have had then. Does that help when you want to build a new sound?
XL Middleton: That’s a tough thing, because it seems like the best music—probably the best art in general—is made when you don’t have that hyper-self-awareness. I think that’s something we all wrestle with these days as creators. It’s like, ‘Man, it’s so much easier to gauge how these people are going to feel like this about it, and these people are going to feel like this …’ Self-awareness is a difficult thing. It’s cool to be aware of yourself and have an idea of how people are going to perceive what you’re making, but it makes it a little less organic in a way. It’s a hard thing to wrestle with.
Eddy Funkster: When we get in the studio, we’re definitely not thinking about that. We’re not thinking along the lines of, ‘Oh, well, I need to stamp my place in this part of history.’ We’re just making music to have fun. Most of our songs are inside jokes, really, where we’re just clowning each other. Look at the album—every single one of those songs—
XL Middleton: ‘Show Some Respect.’
Eddy Funkster: That’s probably one of the biggest ones. ‘The Boys are Back.’ They’re all just when we chill with each other and just clown.
XL Middleton: It really did start with something as simple as like, ‘Hey, show some respect.’ And it turns into—
Eddy Funkster: You know—saying that to each other all night.
XL Middleton: Walking into the spot like, ‘The boys are back!’ It’s funny that stuff can turn into a whole song. The creative process, a lot of it is trying to zone out and get away from that hyper self-awareness and just create to the best of your abilities. That’s something that’s a little harder now with all this knowledge and Facebook at our fingertips, but it’s not to say that we can’t get there. I think we do get there.
Eddy Funkster: Try to turn off your phone.
Dam-Funk has talked with me about the political aspects of funk—it’s party music, but it’s not empty party music. To him it’s about freedom and even tragedy.