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As for Britt himself, he made his biggest splash to date with When the Funk Hits the Fan: The Emotion Picture Soundtrack. The 1997 piece is credited to Sylk 130, a Philadelphia collective whose membership is split between up-and-coming locals and area royalty such as Bahamadia and the Roots. Britt's concept for the album was an ambitious one. "I wanted to do a film, but I didn't have the money, so you got this soundtrack in its place," he says. "It's like an audio film. So when you close your eyes, you go, 'Okay, I'm in this world.'"
The songs, which are linked together by Britt anecdotes and vocals by beat poet Ursula Rucker and singer Antoine Green, use jazz, R&B and hip-hop to re-create a day in the life of a young Philadelphia DJ circa the late Seventies. "I wanted to start in 1977 because that was such a pivotal year, with that Philly International sound and disco music," Britt says. "All the different types of music coming out then influence DJs right down to the present day, and it influenced me as a kid."
Sylk 130 may have been created by a DJ, but it's very much a flesh-and-blood act: Live, the band is sixteen players strong. Moreover, tunes such as "When the Funk Hits the Fan," "The Reason" and a cover of "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" bring back powerful grooves and chocolate-funk guitars far better than any Puff Daddy rehash of another group's hit record.
According to Britt, Funk is the first CD in a planned trilogy--and he's brimming with excitement about its upcoming sequel, Re: Members Only. Due in stores this year, the new long-player "is going to be the next decade," Britt says. "It's going to be a very interesting album, showing the whole Eighties scene in New York in 1984. You had artists like Blondie working with Fab Five Freddy then, and there was a unity of purpose at the time that later separated itself out. I'm going to cover everything from new wave to soul to hip-hop to old-school electro. But it will all correlate."
Like a comedy of manners for the discotheque, Re: Members Only promises to bring some formerly familiar faces back into the fray of contemporary pop culture. "I'm recording with 4Hero, the drum-and-bass legend who taught Goldie everything he knows, in Philly right now," Britt points out. "And I've also brought De La Soul, Alison Moyet and Chaka Khan into the studio. We're not playing around this time." As proof, he mentions another potential Re: Members Only collaborator: Francois K, a prolific, well-regarded Eighties remixer who's recently returned to the dance-music scene. "What I want him to do is remix the whole album, the way that Mad Professor remixed Massive Attack," Britt reveals. Afterward, the King plans to move on to the final installment of his enterprise--but like fellow trilogist George Lucas, he's reluctant to give away the concluding chapter's secrets. The most he'll say is, "The third album is going to be very futuristic."
In the meantime, Britt is looking forward to his association with Soma, which coalesced around his solid bond with Soma founder Hardy Kalisher and other figures in the Colorado dance underground. "My boy Hardy asked me if I would do it a long time ago," he says. "Julian Bradley was the first promoter to bring me to Colorado, but Hardy has been bringing me out here frequently, and he's always been supportive. Those guys have been working with the scene a long time."
Still, personal connections aren't the only reasons Britt is coming to Soma every other Thursday. He also has a special fondness for an area that the ignorant think of only in terms of JonBenet Ramsey and John Denver. "I love Boulder and Denver," he enthuses. "It's just so clean, and the air is fresh. And the people--well, you know, there's a lot of hippies. It's a very liberal scene. The feeling of the scene in Boulder is like Philadelphia. Everyone sticks together; it's very family-oriented."
Family is very much on Britt's mind these days. "I'm getting married June 16 in Milan, Italy, and I've been chilling a lot at home with my daughter and fiance here in Philadelphia." However, the crime, over-population and dirt that the older cities of the East seem to attract like flies appear to be rubbing King Britt the wrong way. "The environment in Boulder is so diverse--big-time different from Philly. That's why I like to go. There's going to be trees and shit like that. And I like the cold."
Britt may not encounter as much of this last quality as he expects. He should get his fill of chilly weather in Boulder--but once locals hear what he can do in a DJ booth, they'll give him a reception that should be very warm indeed.
King Britt. 9 p.m. Thursday, January 28, Soma, 1915 Broadway, Boulder, $6 in advance/$10 at the door, 303-938-8660.
Published:"Long Live the King," the lead article in last week's Backbeat section, was improperly credited to Michael Roberts. Its author is Kelly Lemieux.