Two-and-a-half years in the making, Jacks of All Trades is awesome news for those who pledge allegiance to the groove. Masters of groove, the All Good Funk Alliance prove without a doubt that today’s kings of soulful organic/electronic funk are based right here in DC.
Frank Cueto and Rusty Belicek’s all new 13-track follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2011 Rhythm and FX EP spans a flavor spectrum including future go-go, nu disco, funky breaks, hip hop, glitch hop, jazz fusion, and space funk with superb vocals from Rubber Johnson (Australia), Think Tank (Vancouver), Bigstuff (Calgary), Mustafa Akbar (Nappy Riddem, DC), Empresarios (DC), and Piper Davis (Toronto).
In "Time To Get Loose", past fast forwards into future like Grandmaster Flash boogying in space. "Rep Your Noid" conjures vintage Bill Withers beamed into the Eighteenth Street Lounge. "In The Rain" featuring the distinctive vocals and tropical vibe of Empresarios is a Latin funk fiesta. Wicked slap bass on "Go-Go Bananas" and "Speaker Sweat" wobbles the knees, and the glitched-out go-go in "RTA (Respect to Arcardion)" elasticizes the brain. "Closer to the Edge" featuring Piper Davis’s ethereal vocals is a Sneaker Pimp-ish, Herbie Hancock-esque dream.
Though eclectic, each of the 13 genre and era blending tracks carries the AGFA signature of being solid, deep, broadly informed, crisp, clean and irresistibly mind and body moving, equally potent for personal pleasure, letting loose on dance floors or rocking out at festivals. All good. Damn good.
JonH of DC’s globetrotting powerhouse Fort Knox Five enthuses: “Frank and Rusty have been involved with Fort Knox Recordings since the beginning. Our first two singles featured an edit and a remix from the AGFA boys – two of the best producers in the game. We’ve always bounced our music back and forth for feedback from each other. When we first heard songs from Jacks of All Trades we discussed putting the album out on our label. The last couple months we’ve been trailblazing around Western USA and Canada testing out these jams and everywhere we go people are sweating this new breed of funk, breaks, hip hop, and electronic music. Throwdown featuring Neighbour & Think Tank is a massive dance floor banger – the definitive Future Go-Go track to launch the new movement! We can’t wait to drop this beast of an album on the world!”
AGFA have been long been supported by respected artists including Fort Knox Five, Ursula 1000, Raoul Bellmans of Swirl People, and Steve Kotey of Chicken Lips.
On Tap was excited to meet with Frank and Rusty – who once opened for Godfather of Soul and originator of funk James Brown – at an Alexandria Starbucks for insight into the All Good Funk Alliance magic:
On Tap: Where did you grow up and how did you meet?
Rusty Belicek: I was born in Oklahoma, moved to Northern Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, bouncing all over. I met my wife and we came here. Frank and I met at NOVA in ‘96 or ‘97. We were taking a music production class together. Frank was already producing.
Frank Cueto: I grew up in McLean and Arlington. I was dabbling. I’ve been a musician pretty much my whole life. I played violin for a long time. I play guitar, piano, percussion. Then I really got into electronic music. Sold the violin. My parents were pissed! (laughs) I wanted to buy a keyboard – a synthesizer and a work station. But honestly I felt like I’d hit my limit with violin. Then I went to a rave and thought, I love this, I want to do this. It was a small underground party in Baltimore. I was a sophomore in high school.
OT: How did you (Rusty) get into electronic music?
RUSTY: I was living in Oklahoma where there wasn’t much of any kind of scene. But there was a gay scene there that had industrial, Gothic and some club music. Back then electronic music wasn’t “genre-ed” – trance, house – it was just electronic music and it covered a wide swath. I was into everything from Renegade Soundwave to De La Soul and picking up influences here and there.
OT: What was your first electronic dance music experience?
RB In ‘93 or ‘94 I was in Colorado and reading about the early rave scene in Manchester, England. They started doing rave parties in Denver and that’s when I got the rave bug. It was before the Internet. You called a party line and they’d tell you to go to a restaurant or bar or gas station to pick up your tickets and then go to the party. Super exciting. Once I came East I probably was going to all the same parties Frank was going to. I went to the last two Catastrophic parties. Then I started going to Down Under, where I played a couple times.
FC: Exciting, exactly. It was such a new experience. I was going to the Paradox – Fever – in Baltimore, and Rise. Buzz in DC. Back then I was pretty into techno, like Plastikman, Harthouse, R&S. He was into deep house which I’d never even heard of and when we met I really got into that. It had a funkier feel and was sample-based. I got into disco loops.
OT: Where did you buy records in DC?
RB: Modern Music (Baltimore). MusicNow…
FC: … which changed to Yoshitoshi. Twelve Inch which became DJ Hut. We had three or four good places to go to but mainly Yoshitoshi.
RB: I was religious. I would go every Thursday because they got their shipments in on Wednesday and hit as many stores as I could. I was buying 10-15 records every Thursday. I became good friends with Sam “The Man” Burns just from coming into the store (Twelve Inch/DJ Hut). They would sell our records and were always really nice to us.
OT: How old were you when you started deejaying?
RB: I got my turntables when I was 16. Technics 1210’s, which I still own. Before that by 7th or 8th grade I learned to do mix edits using two tape decks from a guy in 9th grade who did them for the cheerleaders, so I helped make those cheerleader mixes, those techno bits for competitions. I talked my way into deejaying in a side room in Denver my second or third rave. I was horrible. (laughs)
FC: When I was a high school sophomore I met my friend Sam who had a basic set-up – thrift store turntables with a Radio Shack mixer. We were deejaying techno at the time which is actually probably the easiest genre to learn to how to beatmatch with. First time I played out was probably in Richmond. I was probably super nervous, shaking. (laughs)
OT: What do you deejay on now?
FC: We do controllers now. We toured with vinyl for a long time. Vinyl is kind of hard to replace.
RB: Also he was on a trip once and the records were coming out on the baggage belt, record by record.
FC: The record box broke and instead of trying to fix it they just threw the records on the conveyor belt so they were dumping out of the luggage chute. I had to collect everything up and go to the gig. Another time we were playing with Cut Chemist and it was really sunny and the records started warping instantly.
RB: The sun was beating down on us. It was a Starscape party in Baltimore.
FC: Peanut Butter Wolf was playing next and he said, I can’t play with the records warping like that. We fortunately had CD’s with us and they saved the day, so we started using CD’s and you can bring a lot more music. We play a wide variety – downtempo and uptempo – and it’s hard to bring all that with vinyl. So we went to CD’s for a bit but we’d go to gigs and rely on their equipment and sometimes it didn’t really work. That spawned into controllers coming out and that was an easy fit for us. We can carry them with us and we know exactly what to expect.
RB: It’s elevated my deejaying, actually. It’s closer together so it’s easy to fire stuff and it’s easier to manipulate and you’re used to it so it’s second nature and you’re not worrying about their set-up.
OT: How did your musical lives change after meeting each other?
RB: Once we met and started really digging each other’s music, our influences started widening. We started grabbing stuff from everywhere and we still do that. We produce all sorts of stuff. That’s why we called the album Jacks of All Trades. It’s got a chill wave song, a deep breaks song, three go-go tracks, hip house, disco. We tried to do a bit of everything but still fit underneath our style and our general stamp is what we tried to add to that.
OT: When was the first time you heard your music out live?
FC: The first year we went to the Miami Winter Music Conference we heard our remix of the First Floor Brothers’ Chi-Town Strut on Citrona. It was being played everywhere. It felt good. Hard work paying off a little bit.
RB: Walking down the beach you’d hear it. It was played at four or five parties. It was amazing. For us it was like, maybe the dream could come true. We were stoked. It was really exciting. We signed our first album deal down there.
OT: How did you get the gig opening for James Brown?
RB: LG “LoveGrove” Concannon who was working at Mosaic in Baltimore. Ram’s Head Live was looking for someone to open for James Brown and LG called us. Of course we were like, we’re there. It was amazing.
FC: It was funny because before his set they gave us this whole thing about what not to play but we just played what we normally play and they loved it.
RB: He came out and gave us a shout-out before he began. At the time he was pretty sick. We had no idea. He died shortly after.
FC: About three or four months later.
OT: How did your music for Coca-Cola come about?
RB: A friend of our was working on the Vanilla Coke ads and I asked if we could do some custom music for their online launch. Frank came up with a bunch of parts. We went up there and put them together live in their office.
FC: Things like that, short little songs like that, it’s funny how sometimes those can come out a little bit quicker and easier than with a blank slate for a song. When they give you parameters, it’s actually easier.
RB: We did a Dance Dance Revolution game and they asked us for juke music and techno, stuff we don’t produce. We looked up online what juke music was and made our own in two or three days.
OT: Do you tour as a duo?
FC: We try to always go as a team unless a promoter can only pay for one flight. Traditionally Rusty would go North. I speak Spanish so I’d go to South America; he’d go up to Canada. We toured Europe together and we’re planning an Australian tour at the end of this year.
OT: What else is on the horizon?
RB: The Jacks of All Trades remix album, and we’re going to start performing live.
FC: It will be electronic music as live as you can make it – trigger pads and synths and keyboards, and hopefully some vocalists like Think Tank or Mustafa or Rex Riddem. Actually we did a couple songs on the album with an Australian group called Rubber Johnson. They’re organizing the tour and we’ll be touring with them. Three or four of them will be up front doing vocals while we do instrumentation in the back.
OT: Any all-time great moments come to mind?
FC: I love playing Shambhala (British Columbia). I was there last year and the year before. I played at the Pagoda, Robbie Campbell’s stage, 1500-2000 people. Great sound system, excellent lighting. It’s a really ideal place to deejay.
RB: Mine was Shambhala 2007. I played in the Fractal Forest and it was the best deejay experience you can probably have. A close second would be recently after Alice Russell and Quantic
at the sold-out Mezzanine in San Francisco. Fort Knox Five opened up for them and I came on after. They had me set up on the dance floor. I figured most of the crowd would leave but they stayed and rocked out the whole time. That was amazing.
FC: This past Shambhala we played a few of the new tracks and the reaction was great. I had Think Tank rhyme over one of the songs and people were just loving it so it was a good feeling. It definitely helps when you get that kind of reaction, especially from a festival crowd. All the songs went really well. That would be my highlight for the past year.
RB: I played at Enchanted Forest in Austin in September. As soon as my set was done a couple came up that had driven all the way from Dallas. They had an early All Good Funk Alliance vinyl release and said, would you please sign this, we love your music. We have fans who love us and they love us for a reason. We’ve always delivered something that’s true and real from our hearts. We’ve never tried to manufacture whatever was the newest style. We’ve always been true to what we do. That was really touching and made me feel really good about continuing to do what we do and pushing to get our sound out there in a bigger way.
Get your funk on at All Good Funk Alliance’s CD Release Party on Sunday, May 27, with Afrika Bambaataa, Fort Knox Five, Nappy Riddem (live). 9 p.m. $10. 18+. Free CD to all who buy tickets. (9-10 p.m. Red Bull & Vodka open bar) U Street Music Hall: 1115A U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com. For more AGFA information and music please visit: www.funkweapons.com and www.soundcloud.com/all-good-funk-alliance