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Arts + CultureMusicUnder the Stars: Oakland producer sndtrak channels sunny '80s...

Under the Stars: Oakland producer sndtrak channels sunny ’80s TV vibes

Plus: 'I Need A Freak' still bangs from '83, Brian Auger's Oblivion Express gets complete, Emily Afton pays a visit, more.

I have no shame in admitting that as soon as “I Need A Freak”—the lo-fi, synth-wave edict of a funker—started playing while I was up next on the decks with the chaotic Mag Seven crew during the aughts at Madrone bar, everything went bonkers. Off the charts, wacky. As a DJ, this is exactly what you want. But man, did it have to hit so hard?

I couldn’t focus. So much wild stuff. People’s clothes peeling off, flying off. Cornball-looking MF’ers, suddenly overcome with that look, as if everything else was an act. Dropping it low, real low, like a yoga class gone thirsty. On the prowl.

Fools would rush the DJ booth, asking for track details, making drink orders AND suggesting what we should play next.

Here’s a clue: DJs don’t like that shit.

But that’s the power of a renegade lo-fi jam that creates its own set of rules.

And now, Dark Entries is restocking the deluxe reissue of that 1983 opus from Sexual Harrassment. According to comments from Lynn Tolliver, DJ-program director at Cleveland’s WZAK, in the reisssue’s liner notes, David Payton adopted that psuedonym in order to keep his musical endeavors separate from his public persona. Sexual Harrassment (misspelled deliberately) was formed as a concept band, with members selected based on appearance and choreographic skill rather than musical ability.

Tolliver’s explicit lyrics focused on the central themes of desire and sexual relations. Working at a studio in Akron, he recorded an album of quirky-yet-lurid electro-funk, which was released on Heat Records. Tolliver remarks, “I learned as a youngster, sex sells! The things that are rated the worst—violence, horror and sex—are the things people want to see or hear about.” “I Need a Freak” was a surprise hit, selling over 100,000 copies.

If you play this out, you become an immediate believer in the power of music. Just be ready, and at the ready. Trust, there is a reason why Egyptian Lover covered it like, real quick.

Order it here.

And in the meantime …

It’s Under The Stars, a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and several other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes, thinking outside the margins.

Still praying for peace …

Let’s get it!

SNDTRAK, FORT KNOCKS (JAMLA RECORDS)

The last time we checked in on Oakland producer sndtrak, he was skillfully dialing up those boom-bap vibes on the impressive beat tape And There Was Light, which was released two years ago. This time, his soulful headbanger Fort Knocks presents 20 beat flips that draw inspiration from old Cheech and Chong comedy songs, DeBarge’s sun-kissed jams from the past, and famous ’80s television theme songs. These portraits, anchored in rhythm, create exquisite moments that unlock the funk and snare drum combo for which he’s earned international recognition. Sndtrak’s work is always original, and he selects samples like a record digger gone all in. Fort Knocks is part of a series by the Soul Council, a collective founded by renowned hip-hop producer and Duke University professor 9th Wonder. This project is a must-have for your earpod soul.

Pick it up here.

BRIAN AUGER’S OBLIVION EXPRESS, COMPLETE OBLIVION – THE OBLIVION EXPRESS BOX SET (SOUL BANK MUSIC)

From his early session-musician-extraordinaire days, Brian Auger was a double-barrel explosion of fury in both UK jazz and rock scenes. In 1965, he joined an outfit named Steampacket with Long John Baldry and a then-unknown singer called Rod Stewart. Auger then formed the high-test, fully fried, jazz-rock fusion group Oblivion Express, which attracted attention from US patrons and led to tours with artists like ZZ Top and Herbie Hancock. Call it range, being able to feed yourself, or figuring out the connective tissue between the two—Auger’s vision was always fiery, non-binary.

Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express was the apt direction that followed the 1960s jazz combo setting. Leaning into the times, the culture, or as Miles always said, “playing where the ears are at,” Auger dragged his jazz roots in tow, hooking them up with R&B, soul, and funk. This wasn’t foreign to the keyboard wizard; more like a Tuesday. He heard genius in Jimmy Smith and knew certain things could be incorporated. Sometimes, Auger hooked it up to a hippie caravan of patchouli blue-eyed, selling grilled cheese sandwiches and Kesey-graduate sensibility. In that space Auger saw his spot—well actually, several spots.

He could do jazz-funk so well, so bad (meaning good), that he received a letter from Wes Montgomery’s wife after Wes died, telling Auger that he had recorded the best cover of “Bumpin’ on Sunset” she’d ever heard. And it is special, if not unlike some of Auger’s best pieces. It’s his solo-ing ability. Whether it be acid-fried, low-key jazz, or later on, the band’s repertoire of some sideways funk, Auger had touch, feel, and the ability to stretch compositions to his strengths without abandoning the original ideas. He’d just add the Auger seasoning.

It was enough spice to score him gigs opening for Earth, Wind & Fire and touring with Led Zeppelin. Forget seasoning, that’s power.

Complete Oblivion – The Oblivion Express Box Set consists of six studio albums that range from heavy jazz-rock to jazz fusion, Latin, and disco-tinged arrangements. This prolific performer worked with the culture and adapted to ever-changing musical ideas with smooth acceleration or low-key taper-off. Superfans throughout eras, such as DJs Kenny Dope and Gilles Peterson, have left their praise for his oeuvre everywhere. Even The Beastie Boys, who named their single “Root Down” after the jazz organ funk Gawd Jimmy Smith, still found space to throw well-earned praises at Auger’s many phases and ingenuity: “Those who remain oblivious to the obvious delights of Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express do so at their own risk!”

Order it here.

EMILY AFTON AT CAFE DU NORD, SAT/11

According to NPR, Emily Afton’s music is “wonderful electro-pop that acknowledges life’s weariness, but remains positive.” I can’t think of a more fitting sentiment for these times: focusing on the good despite being surrounded by the opposite. I discovered her music through a post by Aaron Axelson, who knows a thing or two about music, right?

Afton, who identifies as a queer multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, and performer with roots in Oakland and across California, creates arrangements that defy genre definitions, yet stand out from the masses. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish.

Like a popular ’70s songstress moving with a dream-pop arrangement.

So cool.

In 2017, Afton was invited to perform her feminist protest song “The Veil” at the San Francisco Women’s March, garnering the admiration of many in the 40,000-person audience. When the song was officially released on her 2020 EP “Consideration,” the response landed Afton’s music on TV shows such as The CW’s “Batwoman” and caught the attention of Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins, who asked her to join their national tour as direct support. Afton’s most widely recognized song “Lost” (from her debut album Archetype), was featured on the series “Riverdale” shortly after, which brought Afton’s music to the international stage for the first time in her career. It is still her most streamed song to date.

Afton promises there is a new album in the works, and we will wait. But her new single “Make” is a fine start when it comes to new releases on the horizon.

Grab tickets here.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, IF THERE’S HELL BELOW (NUMERO GROUP)

We live in a world full of possibilities, don’t we? One of the greatest what if’s for me? What if Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel had lived long enough to see the world recognize them as the guitar gods they truly are. They set a new and different type of norm for envisioning rock ‘n’ roll.

That would have been something to behold. Glory be, that’s the funk I wanna see.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

Hendrix died on September 18, 1970. “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic arrived one year later. It is the optimum amalgam of Blackness put to record, diving deeper into the pool of funk, blues, rock, gospel, metal, soul, fuzz, and pop that Hendrix presented to the world. The track was maybe a bit too early for mass consumption. Remember, Hendrix was the only artist who asked to be a part of The Harlem Cultural Festival. And he was rejected.

Speaking of forgotten brilliance from the African American underground of the 1970s, the good folks at Numero Group have created what they call “the spiritual sequel to Dante Carfagna’s landmark Black rock mixtape Chains and Black Exhaust.”

If There’s Hell Below features 13 tracks that showcase an alternate world, one in which Hendrix and Hazel led a new vanguard with fuzzed-out guitars, wah-wah pedals, and the Black guitar secret handshake that mainstream America is eager to learn but can’t ever seem to get right.

Heavy in sound and cultural context, these tracks will have you exploring the Cosmic Slop, and discovering new guitar geniuses who were never given the chance to chart. Hats off to Numero Group for bringing the funk and roll of the past into the chat.

It’s sold out here, so go support your local record store by searching for this must-have comp.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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