It's hard in the internet era to recreate
that excitement of the unknown when you encounter a dusty, entirely
mysterious artifact in a record shop. There's no such thing as a
rare record these days, with the advent of eBay, and music
available in digital forms is so extensively propagated around the
internet that it's rare to encounter something you don't know at
least something about (even if you haven't encountered
it, you can often guess what it's like by a process of
elimination.... "ah! so this must be that Scandinavian skwee stuff,
as its not on one of the usual Swedish labels...").
However, Detroit producer Theo Parrish (whose Sound Sculptures Volume 1 was reviewed recently in The Wire 291) makes a fair stab at preserving that sensation in a manner that's neither drearily nostalgic nor hermetically self-referential. He's prolific but publicity shy, fiercely pro-vinyl, and shuns all genre terms. Nevertheless, you get the unerring sense in listening to his music that it could be from either the past or the future (or both). It's always familiar, interpolating disco, soul, funk and jazz, but carries only the feel of these musics - the sense of interplay, of elements engaging with each other - rarely the sort of obvious contours that distinguish each of these genres from each other.
It makes the mini-epiphany I had while watching him discuss his work online as part of the Red Bull Music Academy lectures (a strange hybrid of industry self-celebration and occasionally enlightening musician insider talk, which you can watch here) all the more pertinent. Parrish discussed James Brown's "Gonna Have A Funky Good Time (Doing It To Death)", and the track sounds startlingly like a blueprint for his entire oeuvre - elements fade in and out, a crescendo is never quite reached, but there's perpetual motion, perpetual funk. It's very much not the paradigm of a JB track, but instead the kind of thing his band played in concert when marking time – a vamp, basically.
Parrish's music has perfected this sense of always becoming, but never quite being, something fixed, defined. It's why his music has barely changed in 15 years, but when you return to it it seems to have some strange, almost chemical potential in the beats, a volatility that's not quite been resolved, like gunpowder still miraculously potent decades after it was made. Even so, it was a minor revelation to hear "Gonna Have A Funky Good Time (Doing It To Death)" next to his music: the resemblance is startling, as if he's taken the James Brown track and rearranged it for sequencer, synth and drum machine, a timeless variant of the endless vamp.