We Spoke to Farley "Jackmaster" Funk, the Man Who Brought House to the UK

We caught up with a Chicago legend and talked about the history of house, his collaborator Daryl Pandy, and...Barnsley.

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Sep 18 2015, 1:11am

In the beginning there was jack. History lesson over. Kind of.

Farley Keith was born in Chicago in 1962. 24 years after that, Keith released a record that changed the world. "Love Can't Turn Around"—a record that still hums with life, vibrancy, excitement and sheer fucking incandescent joy—was a version of his roommate and house pioneer Steve "Silk" Hurley's "I Can't Turn Around," which was a bang-the-box cover of an Isaac Hayes song. Keith had hooked up with larger-than-life vocalist Daryl Pandy and the pair of them took on Hurley's minimal, twisting semi-original and turned it into a glossy dancefloor smash. "Love Can't Turn Around" was huge. Keith and Pandy even visited the BBC studios after the record hit #10 in the UK charts. For millions of people, this was their first taste of something new, something special, something that'd shape the sound of clubbing to come. This was house music.

House, some would argue, is the best thing mankind ever created, the highest form of art, pure perfection in physical form. Thank you, then, Farley "Jackmaster" Funk for brightening up our dismal shores and saving us all from a lifetime of Haircut 100 and UB40.

Keith joins DJ Funk, Funkineven and a few other lads with "funk" in their name at tomorrow night's 5th anniversary ReviveHER bash in London. THUMP called up a true Chicago legend for a quick chat.

THUMP: You're in London tomorrow night, right? Are you ready for this funkfest of a party?
Farley "Jackmaster" Funk: Yeah! It should be a great party and I think everyone will enjoy themselves.

It's quite a diverse line up...you and DJ Funk seems like a weird pairing to me. Is that strangeness exciting?
For sure. It's always good to demonstrate the different facets of dance music, house music, all forms of music. I feel like we've sort of put our music in a box. I grew up listening to all kinds of music simultaneously. I'd listen to funk records, disco records, rock records, all these different things, all these different elements. DJs really knew how to blend those things together and create a journey, so to speak. The crowd that each DJ draws to this party will be exposed to things they might not normally be receptive to.

Do you play the UK that often, or is coming over a treat?
It's a treat now. It's not my every week thing like it used to be. I used to live in Islington actually. And a few other places. England's like my second home.

When did you live here?
I lived here three different times. I've stayed all kinds of places.I had a flat in Islington. I had one in Manchester for a bit too. I lived in Barnsley...

Barnsley!?
Barnsley!

Christ man. What was the scene in Barnsley like?
Oh man, it was horrid. There was a reason for staying in Barnsley and there was a woman attached to that. I never thought I'd be in Barnsley.

Did you think, thirty years ago when house rose from the ashes of disco, that you'd still be playing out in 2015?
It wasn't part of the game plan but more of a realisation of a career. House music never had an age to it. It never has had an age to it. Magazines and websites put faces to names so people can see how old artists really are but really age has never been a factor. Music is a career. I believe that anyone who does music can have a long lasting career if they love what they do and reinvent themselves.

Do you still wake up in love with music?
It's a different thing now. Before you reach a certain level of fame there's a sense of innocence. Like back when I was living with my parents it was innocent. I made music because I felt it. It was just coming out of my pores. Then I realized I was a grown man with a career and bills to pay, and had to start making targets, start planning things as an actual career. You target certain people or certain countries with certain sounds. You learn these things.

Given the popularity of EDM is there place for classic house music for young Americans?
There's still young people at my shows, yeah. The reason for that is that people have children and those parents grew up with the sound of house music. So their children grow up in houses where people love and cherish house music. There's a connection, an affinity. They have free will and can listen to whatever they want but they find out that they, too, love house music. It was introduced to them from the womb! DJs have children who become DJs. The cycle goes on.

What is it about house that we love?
Well, let's go to the origins of house. This might sound strange but it really took naming the style of music to give it a start. In the early days all we really did was put electronic drums and synths together. Which you could argue was already being done — but it didn't have a name. Think of techno. Kraftwerk were making techno before we called it techno. In the early days of house and dance music, people thought of it as disco. Anything with a 4/4 was danceable. It's elemental. It'll always be around.

Is house gonna live on forever?
We'll always have house music as long people can take the name back from EDM fans who use it in a trifling way. If people remember far back enough to say, no, let's not let them take house's identity, it'll always exist. Things get fragmented and names fly around. With house, way back, people made 135BMP records, 120BPM records, whatever, with drum machines and we just called it house music. It was the network of British magazines who started coining terms like "hard house" or "deep house". I'm the one who really gave it the name deep house, by the way. Deep house wasn't as minimal. More soulful. I just want to say, on the record, I enjoy all music.

Are you immensely proud that with "Love Can't Turn Around" you, in a sense, brought house to the UK?
I'm incredibly proud of it. I feel blessed to be the person who crossed the water without a boat.

Do you still play it out?
I'll be singing it! As Daryl Pandy has passed away — he left us too soon — I carry the torch as it's our baby together. A long time ago we were in the studio arguing, and I said to Daryl, "Daryl, I can learn how to sing this just like you — i just need to sound like I've got a frog in my throat." I don't think he liked that. But I began to imitate him. To this day I'm still imitating it. I'm trying to keep his legacy alive as a tribute to him.

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