From the mid-1960s to today, funk music has never forfeited its position as one of the most lively and danceable genres. This is no accident, but rather the fortunate side effect of combining soulful rhythm and blues vocals, jazz instrumentation and strong rhythmic basslines. The popularity of funk music quickly escalated after its start and eventually gave way to derivative forms of music such as disco, hip-hop, neurofunk and present-day R&B. It should come as no surprise, then, that the funk genre has been able to thrive the way it has.
Funk music began with James Brown’s pioneering effort to emphasize the downbeat, in which a band would put extra emphasis on the first beat of each measure. For the sake of comparison, most “dance music” is known to emphasize the 2nd and 4th beats of each bar (often called the backbeat).
This is a fact that still remains true for most dance-driven genres, making funk music just as innovative and attractive as ever. After all, it’s easy to get bored dancing to the same predictable patterns over and over again. But fear not, classic funk enthusiasts — there are plenty of modern funk bands doing justice to their predecessors. Below is a list of five of the best modern funk bands doing their part to keep the spirit of funk music alive and kicking.
Since their formation in 2003, Dumpstaphunk has become recognized as one of the greatest funk bands to originate from New Orleans. What began as keyboardist Ivan Neville’s desperate attempt to perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival soon escalated into a band worthy of playing the festival year after year.
The band’s dual-bassist approach to funk music gives them one of the best rhythm sections the genre has seen, and drummer Alvin Ford Jr holds it all together with his snare-slapping percussion. In 2014, Dumpstaphunk was voted the best funk band in New Orleans by “OffBeat Magazine” and has made various appearances at large-scale festivals like Bonnaroo and Outside Lands.
Recommended Song: “Reality of the Situation”
Is it possible for a band to have a name that’s as fun as their music? Pigeons Playing Ping Pong proves that it is. The four-person band from Baltimore differs from the typical funk band setup by excluding keyboards from their lineup; rather, the band simply operates with two guitars, a bass, and drums.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong also stand out from other funk bands through their determination to put the “fun” in funk music, a goal that has remained at the center of their three studio albums. The band’s positive energy becomes clear through guitarist/singer Greg Ormont’s description of their live shows. Ormont defines their studio recordings as “energy boxed up in a neat little package” that comes spiraling out like fireworks when performed live. When performing, the band’s sheer goofiness becomes a beacon of happiness to anyone watching and the crowd instantly feels secure within their groovy rhythms.
Recommended Song: “Horizon”
Similar to Dumstaphunk, Naughty Professor is a jazz-funk band originating from the jazz capital of the U.S., New Orleans. This is perhaps the only comparison that can be drawn between the two, however, as Naughty Professor takes on the funk genre in their own signature fashion.
Naughty Professor stands out from the typical funk band purely because of their incorporation of brass instruments that seem to breathe life into each of their songs. Whereas most funk bands look to their guitarists and drummer to dictate rhythm, Naughty Professor leans on their horns section to dominate the downbeat and get the crowd moving. After all, what better way for a band to pay tribute to their hometown’s brass traditions than through the use of blissful saxophone riffs? Naughty Professor’s most recent album, “Identity,” features a slew of talented guest artists ranging from Chali 2Na to Eric Benny Bloom and really captures the diversity of New Orleans’ funk music scene.
Recommended Song: “Without a Trace (Feat. Eric Benny Bloom)”
Over the past few years, Vulfpeck has emerged as one of the most popular modern funk bands. The four-person band first met while attending the University of Michigan, where they envisioned a music project that captured the energy of 1960s live rhythm section bands. The result was Vulfpeck, an innovative band geared toward bridging the gap between the old and the new. Vulfpeck is not your average band and they’ve done everything in their power to remain that way.
For instance, in 2014 the band released a completely silent album called “Sleepify” that they released on Spotify. Vulfpeck told all of their fans to stream this silent album while they slept. Vulfpeck then turned around and used the royalties earned from this album to fund an admission-free tour, labeling themselves as a true band for the people.
Vulfpeck has seen a ton of success recently, with a couple of their songs even receiving heavy rotation on various radio stations. Perhaps their most recognizable song, “Back Pocket,” best represents the band’s fun-loving approach to funk music. Vulfpeck is the perfect music for lounging by the pool on a carefree day.
Recommended Song: “Lost My Treble Long Ago”
Arguably the most heavy-hitting band to make the list, Lettuce blesses funk fans everywhere with a combination of powerful horns and punchy drum fills. The ensemble is made up of six musicians, all of which met while attending Berklee College of Music. Inspired by their mutual admiration for funk music, the six musicians decided to form their own band. And thus, Lettuce was born.
Included in this band is the aforementioned trumpet player, Eric Benny Bloom, and the multi-talented drummer Adam Deitch. The band is also blessed with the presence of bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes, known for both his remarkable basslines as well as his lively on-stage showmanship (and yes, his nickname does stem from his “if Jesus were a rockstar” demeanor).
Lettuce is truly a band of stars, which may be one reason why they’ve been headlining sold-out shows at venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre since 2015. Despite their hair-raising, “showstopper” approach to funk music, it’s clear that Lettuce puts on a show that fans never want to see end. Check your calendar because Lettuce may be coming to a city near you.
Recommended Song: “Do It Like You Do”