There is a Swedish song called “Fröken.” If you listen to that, you’d think it’s going to be like Liquid Swords by GZA. But then it turns out to be Swedish soul music in a weird local dialect. But it has an incredible groove.
“Get Your Grown Man On”—the opening track of our 2007 album Let’s Zoom In—is very well-suited for hip-hop producers, too. It’s almost like a track for rapping. But instead, we made it into a falsetto soul track. I love that song so much. It’s very hip-hop: rimshot drumming, there are not a lot of crashed cymbals or big fills. Any rapper should be able to do something good on top of drums like that.
That’s no way to play the bongos! [Laughs] I actually have no clue what that song is about. But it’s really different. Like a weird Cumbia track with some Rolling Stones guitar playing going on… It’s got some amazing horns, New Orleans piano playing, and a fun hook. That wouldn’t be my first mention, but there’s definitely something there.
We’re all into breakbeats and stuff. Even if you talk about playing and performing music as a live band, it’s all still cyclical. Even grooves are still a cycle of 4, 8 & 16 bars. I think that’s a very beautiful thing in music: to make and play loops, in that sense.
If you play a breakbeat by Cymande or something, you lock into a loop and the big goosebump thing is when the loop repeats. When you work with a rapper, there are sixteen bars to support the rap. But drummers like Questlove or Khruangbin’s Donald Johnson show that being a breakbeat musician is a form of submission. Being a musical monk, if you will: you have to leave your ego at the door and serve the loop; the groove. We all love that.
The magic of that is that you can find that pocket but you can also just [imitates explosion] leave it and just step on the gas… I'm afraid that sometimes we're not that submissive. [Laughs]
Damn! actually started out as a club concept in the mid 90s, down in Skåne, Sweden. We DJ’ed and had drums and percussion playing along with the records. That locked into switching from breakbeats on records to going back-and-forth with live music to keep a continuous dance floor. We weren’t high-end DJs at all. We were just musicians playing our favorite records. That eventually branched out to also playing in cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg.
One day, we decided to make a record to give to the people who came to the club. That was based on a really primitive way of working with samples: not working with MPCs or anything, but just creating a really dirty, trip-hop kind of record—full of uncleared samples, so we’re never going to reissue that one... [laughs] That made us realize we weren’t really interested in doing sample art ourselves.
Because you create something and you’re all excited, and one year later you’d almost want to deny that you made that because you’re gonna get sued or because it’s causing complicated situations. Imagine making a classic 3 Feet High & Rising or a Fear Of A Black Planet or a Paul’s Boutique… But I mean, the hangover of that can be terrible, to say the least…
Aside from that, we were just a group of musicians who love playing and making music. When we look at footage of Sly & The Family Stone rehearsing the Small Talk tour or something, we nearly start to weep when seeing and hearing what they were doing… That was much more exciting to us as musicians ourselves. I mean, sampling is absolutely an art form. But our dreams were much closer to that.
When we developed Damn! as a club concept, we wanted to be experimental and play the music we wanted to play, rather than playing music we wanted to hear. To me, that’s a huge difference. When we listen to our music these days, it’s all about saying, “Man, that’s sweet,” rather than “F*ck, did you see me?!”
I guess it’s a musician’s thing. When I listen to bands who make a record, especially in the 90s, I always skip the first track. That’s the one they use to show off. Track 2 is usually a better follow-up to the craziness of Track 1. Something more “sweet” rather than “crazy.”
Both afrobeat and jazz music include parts where you stretch out. Not taking turns for a solo, but finding ways to make breakdowns as long as humanly possible. Turn down the lights and go into a zone... That’s what we can do with Damn! So we do that a little bit. But when we perform with Timbuktu: he doesn’t have a cowbell or a guitar, so after a while of dancing and screaming “Yeah, give it up for Damn!,” he’s done. So when performing with him, there’s less of that.
"Drummers like Questlove or Donald Johnson show that being a breakbeat musician is a form of submission. Being a musical monk, if you will: leave your ego at the door and serve the loop; the groove. We all love that."
—Svante Lodén (Damn!)
Yeah, I agree. When there’s no real artistic communion between the songs, the lyrics, the rapper, and the musicians, a band on-stage is indeed not “better” than a DJ. As Damn!, we don’t want to be a hired gun to showcase the music of a rapper. Or to be asked to play middle-of-the-road jazz-funk with someone doing the orthodox, 90s-era East Coast rapping thing over that… If it’s a good rapper, you can stand that for a few minutes. But if there’s no added value to performing with a live band, then why do it in the first place?
We have a mandate from Timbuktu to challenge his songs. We rearrange his music and are pushed to reinvent ourselves every time we go on tour with him. Especially after all these years of playing together.
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