City: Brooklyn, New York Venue: Volume Date: 2004-02-12
There's not a lot you can accuse Funkstörung of. The two German lads comprising the group seem to come from a rather pure, maybe a little rigid, jumping-off point. They obviously love American hip-hop and use similar production methods, while still retaining something distinctly German in their music. I can't help but trace the German connection to early hip-hop, then back to Funkstörung -- that is, from Kraftwerk in Düsseldorf, to NYC where Afrika Bambaataa freely sampled Kraftwerk, to all that later became American hip-hop and its worldwide audience. Somewhere in that spectrum, the music machines went from producing robotic and irrevocably European rhythms and melodies, to something human and very American. Fast-forward 20 years and you have a duo like Funkstörung -- a group whose aesthetics seem to fall neatly between the organic and the inorganic.
They recently crossed the Atlantic to Brooklyn in support of their first album in four years titled Disconnected, a studio record utilizing 28 musicians and vocalists, falling somewhere in the "trip hop" category, with some jazz accents placed here and there. The show was at the newly opened Williamsburg venue Volume (by all means a great space). Opening Brooklyn hip-hop act Tes started the night off to a crowd of lookyloos, who seemed only capable of standing and staring, even as the DJ dropped populist, would-be crowd-pleasing loops of Missy Elliott and the Talking Heads rhythms, the stuff that will never see a proper release, probably. Despite the mostly dead audience, Tes seem to be having a good time doing what they do.
Shortly thereafter, Funkstörung were up on the low stage, standing behind their PowerBooks. More people filled the space as they started their set, with everyone bobbing their heads. I noticed the sound was good but right away I did not feel like I was at a performance, but at a record listening party -- it was more of a static listening experience (and this is a live gig review!). I was suddenly reminded of what a friend told me about a Funkstörung show in Sydney, "Thirty minutes later and it sounded like they were playing the same loop." Granted, they were probably triggering samples in a live fashion (I heard they use Ableton Live, ace software developed for the live performance), but to my ears they could have just as easily pushed play on a CD player and walked around to talk to the audience, which, come to think of it, probably would have been a more interesting performance. I'm certain, of course, that Funkstörung would protest my observations, and fill us all in on exactly how live everything was. But sorry guys, I just wasn't hearing it, especially after Tes' set.
These observations should not veer any listeners away from Funkstörung. A mildly boring night out does not negate their masterful productions/remixing techniques. You can list all the good things you can say about Funkstörung; a great live gig is not one of them, or perhaps at the bottom of the list.
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