Into the Nite: Synth-Funk Fantasias

As music scholar Tim Lawrence brilliantly makes the case in his recent book, Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983, disco couldn’t die no matter how hard the haters tried. Instead, as the new decade began, disco mutated into a variety of exciting and scintillating new strains. Though Lawrence’s book is primarily concerned with the influence of hip-hop and post-punk experimentalism on what dance music was becoming—as well as the wizardry of DJs like Larry Levan and the socioeconomic conditions in New York itself—there were also developments of a more technological nature.

It’s easy to hear how the plush strings of Philly soul were giving way to layers of synthesizers and sequencers: This was funk and R&B for a new space age, the latest sonic innovations creating a dramatic spike in the bounce-per-ounce ratio. Sadly, Roger Troutman never provided a firm indication of the winning ratio, not even on the opening track of Zapp’s epochal 1980 debut album, but he did help provide a synth-funk blueprint that continues to yield some of the plushest and most pleasurable music known.

Nite Jewel—the Los Angeles singer and musician otherwise known as Ramona Gonzalez—has been one of synth-funk’s foremost purveyors in contemporary times, since her music began showing up on MySpace in 2008. With such fellow Angelenos as her husband and producer Cole M.G.N. and the ever-industrious Dâm-Funk, she’s fostered a sparking new golden age for synth-funk fantasias like the kind that used to flow freely from the likes of Zapp, Mandré, and the SOLAR Records stable. As Nite Jewel drops her fourth album, Real High, it’s high time to head deep into the neon-lit nights this music evokes.

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