Turquoise Summers continues the modern-funk tradition
In 2009, Los Angeles based interplanetary funk doctor, Dam-Funk dropped his debut album, Toeachizown, a monumental five-LP boxed set on Stones Throw Records. Since its release, the genre known as modern funk has steadily picked up steam and rapidly become a worldwide movement. By using vintage analog synthesizers and drum machines, modern funk pays homage to the boogie sound from the early ’80s but is continuing where the funk left off and gliding into the future with a fresh and renewed outlook. In the past few years, a handful of small, do-it-yourself labels have trail-blazed new directions in contemporary funk music. Among these is Omega Supreme Records, a flawlessly curated imprint based in Portland, Oregon. The label is currently fourteen releases deep, including noteworthy projects from modern-funk mainstays: Turquoise Summers, Stockholm’s Sasac, Bus Crates 16-Bit Ensemble from Pittsburgh’s East Liberty Quarters, K-MAXX of San Francisco’s Sweater Funk crew, and Atlanta’s Moon B.
Omega Supreme’s sound is silky and sophisticated, defined by uncut G-funk bass lines, melodic synthesized chords, soulful vocals, on-point handclaps, and hypnotic drum machine rhythms. “There is a certain essence that our artists are picking up from the early 1980s, while also carving out new directions with the same tools,” James Vance aka GWIZSKI, the label’s founder and creative director, explains over the phone. “We want the music to speak for itself. Either you’re down or you’re not.” Omega Supreme is a limited-release label, he further elaborates, “We put out only 500 records and 100 cassettes for each release. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. There is no repress. If you own one of our records, you are part of a special family that feels the same way we do about the funk.” He continues, “Our mission is to archive the funk onto wax, so the sound can be enjoyed by DJs, mixtapes, and dance floors.”
Omega Supreme was started in the summer of 2012, when James Vance stumbled upon Turquoise Summers’s (born Phillip Riddick) SoundCloud page. He noticed that Dam-Funk had posted a comment on one of the tracks. “I didn’t know they were cousins at the time,” Vance clarifies. “I reached out to Phillip and he shot me his number. We shared the same taste in music and had a similar vision. People were sleeping on his tracks, and I wanted to press them up and make them more widely available.” Vance used the profits from DJing a weekly boogie party at Swift Lounge in Northeast Portland to fund Riddick’s first 12-inch release, a West Coast vocoder classic entitled Never Can Get Enuff. Turquoise Summers has since become the cornerstone of Omega Supreme’s diverse roster and an important player in funk music’s recent revival.
In the Riddick family, musicianship runs deep. Over the phone, Phillip Riddick talks about his musical roots in a warm, laid-back L.A. manner: “My grandfather was an Army band master and conductor; he went to the Naval School of Music and knew how to read sheet music. All of his children played instruments, a lot of trombone and tuba. My mom was an avid trumpet player.” Both Damon (Dam-Funk) and Phillip (Turquoise Summers) followed in their senior family member’s musical footsteps, but rather than pursuing brass instruments, they were magnetically drawn to West Coast boogie, hip-hop and G-funk. Over the phone, his older cousin Dam-Funk proudly boats, “Turquoise Summers is a real talent to watch out for, and not because we share the same last name either. He has worked hard and proved himself. He’s developed his own vibe, groove, and identity. I’m excited to see what comes next.”
Thirty-year-old multi-instrumentalist and producer Turquoise Summers grew up in a predominately Black and Mexican neighborhood in sun-kissed Norwalk, California, about twenty minutes outside of Los Angeles. “I was a regular L.A. kid. I rode bikes, skateboarded, and played touch football. Norwalk wasn’t hood, but it wasn’t suburbs either.” His parents were fervent record collectors and played a lot of ’80s boogie and ’90s New Jack Swing (mostly Teddy Riley productions) in their home. “Oh man, my pops would jam Kleeer, Bobby Nunn, Atlantic Starr, B. B. & Q. Band, and Howard Johnson; Moms played a lot of Donald Byrd and Prince. P-Funk was the bridge for both of them, of course.” Over the phone, Riddick fondly reminisces, “I remember a dispute my folks had because my mother was buying West Coast G-funk cassettes and my father didn’t want us listening to gangster rap. I had to sneak it on the low. For me, it was all about The Chronic, Doggystyle, and Too Short’s In the Trunk.” These G-funk influences permeate Turquoise Summers’s music; his signature musical template features slowed- down tempos, deep bass, multilayered synths, and live instrumentation.
After graduating from Centennial High School in Corona, California, Phillip enlisted in the Army. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City occurred during his basic training, and shortly thereafter he was deployed to the Middle East. “From 2003 to 2009, I was mainly making hip-hop beats in Iraq. On days that I didn’t have missions, I’d be chopping shit up on the MPC,” Riddick illuminates.
During his second tour in Iraq, on the day of his final security mission before returning back home, an IED (improvised explosive devise) unexpectedly detonated on top of Phillip’s Humvee truck. “I was in the gunner hatch, and the bomb basically blew up directly in my face. I had shrapnel in my arm, eye, and neck. I was unconscious for a few minutes and had to be medevac’d out.” He further explains, “It was my last mission. I had already mailed my shit home. We were in the process of training the dudes who were going to replace us. Usually IEDs are buried in the ground or placed on the side of the road. They hid this one in a tree and used a garage timer and sensor to set it off. Luckily, I had my throat protector on.”
After sustaining life-threatening injuries, Riddick completed an eighteen month rehabilitation program at Washington D.C.’s Walter Reed Hospital. “I was in the hospital for nine months before I started to make music again. The accident was really hard to get through. I wasn’t making beats or drawing. I thought I had lost all of my mojo and artistic creativity.”
After a determined rehab, Phillip reconnected with his older cousin Dam-Funk, who was bubbling on the brink of a breakthrough. “Damon already had his Hood Pass Intact 12-inch out, and he invited me to his Funkmosphere party in Culver City. I was instantly hooked. His music had that G-shit vibe and feel.” Riddick continues, “I started sending Damon music, which I now realize was awful. He was trying to be cool and polite about it. I kept doing it, and slowly but surely I started to get it.”
Between 2009 and 2010, Phillip was in the lab practicing, honing his sound, and learning how to funk. “I wasn’t even recording. I was practicing bass lines and chords. I wanted to do it the right way and learn how to stay on point in the pocket. I went from just doing samples on a MPC, to actually playing the Juno 60 synth and programming the Oberheim DX drum machine. One thing I know for sure, I earned it and paid my dues on my own.” Riddick has two acclaimed releases under his belt, his Touch of Turquoise LP from 2013 and his follow-up Shades EP from this past March, both released on Omega Supreme. In true funkster fashion, Riddick does not quantize or overdub his tracks, and detests presets. He makes raw, uncut tracks, replete with minor blemishes, which add a human feel and quality to his sound. He is currently studying music at Norco Community College in Southern California and his craft continues to bloom. “My next project is more on the boogie tip. I’m coming at it more from a dancer’s perspective”—(Phillip is a lifelong b-boy)—“and knowing what makes people move.”
Omega Supreme is slated to release one project every month this year. James Vance has an obvious passion for his label’s product: “I knew that if I wanted this music on my mixtapes, there would be at least a few others who would too. I wanted to do whatever it took to get it out there. It started off with one to two releases per year, and now we’re slated to do one release a month.” Their most recent projects include the release of Sacac’s second full-length album and an Inkswel 7-inch featuring Gary Davis and Andras Fox with an X.L. Middleton cut on the flip.
Vance has boiled it down to a simple formula: the sound reigns supreme and product is king. “We are sticking with what works and growing organically,” Vance enthusiastically expounds. As Omega Supreme barrels forward into the future, Turquoise Summers also continues to develop his own distinct taste and sound. “My accident was a huge obstacle. Not a day has gone by where it has become smaller than what it actually was. A full recovery is almost like starting life all over again.” Vance explains, “Modern funk is a mentality, it has an entire ideology to it. We focus on the music, so people can listen to new sounds and dance. Modern funk has become a clearly recognized genre and there is a broad spectrum of music within it.” As a new day rises for modern funk, Omega Supreme and Turquoise Summers continue to take flight through the past and present and soar into future horizons.
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