Exploring punk funk music and its most influential artists

The fusion of punk and funk can be quite a mix. But who are the top artists bringing these two genres together?
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Have you ever met a funky punk? Or maybe a punky funkster? It's a bit hard to imagine the two genres coming together. But why not? We’ve seen the way punk rock music can be influenced by other genres. The Clash and their like for adding reggae beats in some songs for example. 

But punk funk may seem much less of a thing. Until you stop and think a bit longer. It may well have been largely swept up by dance-punk and the way some punk, then new wave, bands took on some electro, techno, or even disco-based sounds. Public Image Ltd, New Order, and Nina Hagen are among some of the artists who can put a claim to an element of dance-punk. But were they funky enough? Perhaps not.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads have a claim to be punk funk. They had quite a range of music. Their first single “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” was a punk anthem. Alongside Dury as a songwriter was Chaz Jankel, bass player and keyboards for the band. Jankel brought the funk in alongside Dury’s often angry lyrics. Their 1981 protest song “Spasticus Autisticus” is a great example of the style pairing. Jankel’s funk is at a peak on the track. Although they progressed beyond punk quite quickly, there’s a funk crossover in places.

Top punk-funk bands

Then there is Gang of Four. They had a simple but very effective mix of punk, funk, and dub to back their protest songs. The bubbling bass line on “Natural’s Not In It” and “At Home He’s A Tourist” add a funk flavour to the punk-rooted songs on their debut 1979 album Entertainment. Later on, as their harder sound eased the band probably fit the dance-punk label better.

Talking Heads were amongst the more sophisticated bands with punk roots. As such they stood out from the crowds as they moved towards new wave. They brought lots of styles and sounds to their music. That included some funk. Have a listen to their 1979 album Fear Of Music and there’s no doubt about that. Opening track I Zimbra is a prime example. Likewise, for the 1990 follow-up, Remain In The Light.  If we needed further evidence of that funk inclusion the band later brought in Bernie Worrell from Funkadelic into their live band. 

Two other bands that are regularly cited as punk-funk are some years apart. Californian band Minutemen from the early 1980s and Brazilian group CSS with their 2005 album Cansei De Ser Sexy. Minutemen adopted several genres in their varying styles across four albums. At times attracting comments of similarities with Gang Of Four.

The top of the list in this genre is often said to be Rick James. Perhaps that’s mainly because he declared himself as the king of punk funk. It does seem a false claim though and may well have been more about PR and image than his music. The funk part isn’t in doubt. As for punk music, you'd have to search quite hard to find much, if any, evidence of that in his back catalogue. 

It’s much more likely the punk element in his own kingly title was related more to behaviour than his records. If you associate punk with wild and outrageous behaviour then James is very qualified in those categories, both on and off stage. Maybe he was more of a punky funkster than king of a crossover genre. 

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