Graded on a Curve:
Konk,
The Magic Force of
Konk 1981-1988

When it comes to blending post-punk edge with the rhythmic fire of funk, hip-hop and disco, hardly anybody did it better than New York City trailblazers Konk. Ditching an insular path for the wide open highway of hybridization, their horn-drenched sound is thoroughly documented on The Magic Force of Konk 1981-1988, a 3LP that corrals studio output, a side of live material and a whole platter of party-flowing DJ mixers on colored wax (each LP a different shade) with a 12-page booklet, notes by Ezra Gale, a reproduction of a Konk/ Pigbag gig poster, and an accompanying download. For fans of the ’80s musical subculture of NYC, it’s a fabulous one-stop-shop, out now through the Futurismo label.

This isn’t the first time Konk’s music has been given the retrospective treatment, as Soul Jazz issued The Sound of Konk (Tales of the New York Underground 1981-88) on 2LP and CD back in 2004. It was one installment in that label’s series of anthologies into subterranean NYC, and while a satisfying survey, it’s effectively expanded and improved upon by The Magic Force of Konk.

Like its predecessor, Futurismo’s collection avoids simply regurgitating the track-list of Yo!, Konk’s 1983 long-playing debut (notably, on the Belgian Les Disques Du Crépuscule label, the home of A Certain Ratio’s “Shack Up” 45). Rather, side A opens with “Konk Party” from their ’82 7-inch and side B “Your Life” from their ’84 short-player, with each side filled out with prime cuts from the first LP.

Non-chronological but also not random, with the tracks included from their ’88 set Jams sequenced on side C, the better to absorb the group’s progression toward something nearer to club music (but without ever really sacrificing the warmth of live instrumentation that gave the early stuff such a nice punch). Finishing out the side is a dip back to Konk’s debut 45, the “Soka-Loka-Moki” two-parter from 1981.

Side D offers live tracks “Tonton Macoute,” “Alamo,” “High On The Hill,” and “Fela” from the same year, all four documenting a show at CBGB. Record two wraps up with “Frog Talk,” described as a live broadcast to Paris (not exactly sure when this one took place). They all unwind with gusto in solid fidelity, but what really enhances their worth is that they aren’t versions of studio cuts heard elsewhere on Magic Force.

As there are no unexpected stylistic departures in Konk’s discography, the lack of redundancy is appreciated. Instead of undergoing major changes, they were just surprisingly consistent, with any of the tracks from this collection’s first two LPs serving as an effective introduction to their striking sonic recipe; to the ingredients mentioned above, add Afrobeat (as “Fela” should make clear), Latin (particularly “Honeymoon”) and elements of jazz (there’s a whole lot of hearty blowing across these sides, notably in “Honeymoon” again but also in “Frog Talk”).

Surely, Konk’s stylistic combo was more striking in the ’80s than today. Back then, the idea of blending rock (“Cool Out Gar (Third Stone From The Sun)” derives from Hendrix, don’tcha know) with hip-hop (the cited inspiration for “Konk Party” is Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”) and punk with funk while utilizing disco as a serious (non-ironic) influence (e.g. the Lipps Inc. guitar in “Machine”) took artistic bravery, as doing so was likely to stir up some derisive or downright hostile reactions.

More impressive today is how well Konk’s stuff holds up. This is partly because the band was more interested in instrumental moxie (both from organic bandlike potency and electro dancefloor verve) than ladling on the personality or attitude. There are vocals, they just don’t dominate the proceedings. And yet, the post-punk temperament isn’t just detectible, it’s ultimately impossible to deny.

More specifically, Konk are connected to the No Wave movement (that first 45 was distributed by 99 Records) and are in league stylistically with James Chance. The difference is that Konk is less aggressively in-your-face than Chance (and his counterparts on No New York) as they attempt to provide the soundtrack to a perfect party (per the title to their ’82 single).

Or a perfect night at the club. Which brings us to the third LP here, with its DJ mixers, three a side, of “Konk Party” (on side E) and “Your Life” (on side F). On one hand, this is the least essential stuff in the collection, but on the other it coheres into a fun listen. And hey, anyone buying it who develops a hankering to DJ will be cooking with gas and able to mix up some Konk without delay.

Altogether, The Magic Force of Konk 1981-1988 is a deep dive retrospective that rolls like a concisely assembled overview. Credit is due to Futurismo and also of course to Konk.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text