Brit funk

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Brit funk is a musical style that has its origins in the British music scene of the late 1970s-1980s. It mixes elements from jazz, funk, soul, urban dance rhythms and pop hooks. The scene originated in southern England and spread with support from DJs including Chris Hill and Colin Curtis. Major acts included Light of the World, Level 42, Central Line, Beggar and Co, Freeez and Linx. The genre influenced 1980s pop groups such as Haircut 100, Culture Club, Wham!, Pigbag and Spandau Ballet and started the trend for football style chanting in clubs.

Name and characteristics[edit]

The term Brit funk evolved from the club DJs and James Hamilton of Record Mirror whose column had a major influence in launching new records. Brit funk was a fusion of jazz, funk, urban dance rhythms and pop hooks. Pioneers of this sound, groups Hi Tension and Light of the World, had a British twist to their instrumentation and vocals,[2] avoiding American accents. Britfunk is seen as a fusion of stylistic elements from funk, soul, jazz, electro, and hip-hop; diasporically representing many different cultures and influences


The British funk scene developed from the Home Counties, principally Essex at Lacy Lady in Ilford and The Goldmine on Canvey Island,[3] along with clubs such as Crackers in London. In the South DJ Chris Hill and his Funk Mafia were pioneers, and in the North Colin Curtis, among others, were instrumental in its growth in popularity.[2]

With support from the club disc jockeys and labels such as Ensign Records and Elite Records, artists including Light of the World, Level 42 enjoyed chart success and made regular appearances on BBC's flagship pop programme Top of the Pops.[2] The first hit was "Hi Tension" by Hi Tension.[4] The biggest hits in the genre were "British Hustle" by Hi Tension (which reached number 8 in 1978) and "Southern Freeez" by Freeez (which reached number 8 in 1981).[4] Light of the World split and members formed Beggar and Co and Incognito.[4]

Hits in the US by black British artists in this period included Linx, Loose Ends, David Joseph, Imagination and Junior Giscombe.[5] With DJs gaining cult status, the scene also created many 'club hits' which never achieved commercial success.[2] Many British based soul and dance bands found themselves merging under the Brit funk banner. These included Central Line and Second Image.[2]

Another portion of the Brit funk scene emerged from the light entertainment circuit with a number of acts performing cabaret, working men's clubs, and US army base venues during the early 1970s. The new club culture of the 70s heavily in thee explanation of britfunks popularity. Many of these Black British groups masqueraded as American acts, performing covers in the style of American performers. National exposure for these acts was sometimes achieved through television programs such as Opportunity Knocks and New Faces as was the case for the Manchester group, Sweet Sensation. These programs served as the gateway from the light entertainment scene into the British music industry.[6]


1980s pop groups such as Haircut 100 and Wham! tapped into the style and sound to help launch their careers.[2] This scene was significant in reducing racial boundaries in the clubs and raised the profile of black and white musicians working together, notably Spandau Ballet who collaborated with Beggar and Co to produce the classic pop song "Chant Number One". During the success of the jazz and Brit funk period, "chanting" became popular in discothèques and nightclubs. This football crowd style of interacting with the music continues in British clubs today.[2]

Inspired by soul, jazz, hip-hop and funk, Brit funk exploded onto the scene in the 1980s, one of the first times black artists (primarily of Caribbean descent) received mainstream success in the UK. Between 1980 and 1983, in particular, many Brit funk acts came into the scene.[7] However, what separated these British artists from Americans is widely debated. Some theories include a unique British wit/humor, inspiration from Euro fashion, stripped down aesthetics, and accents. However, a popular theory is that Brit funk’s success in the British mainstream is due to its classification as pop music with lighter themes that are less concerned with the politics and identity found in reggae. Songs like Linx “You’re Lying”(1980) and Beggar and Co “Somebody Help Me Out[8]”(1981), Central Line "Walking into Sunshine"(1981) appealed to those who wanted either relationship or sociopolitical commentary. Major labels’ choices to market mostly love songs marked a larger gender divide. It was incredibly rare to find female musicians; however, female vocalists were often essential to the integration of “soul” vibes into the funky melody. Beyond this vocally feminine sound, the way consumers heard Brit funk, the way it was musicked in spaces, shifted as the role of live performance joined the popularity of the 1970s DJ in clubs. By the 1980s, it was common for clubs to bring in Brit funk performers alongside DJs incorporating both an open and intimate space on the dancefloor. Brit funk was marked by these dualities: feminine and masculine, pleasure and politics, exclusionary and accessible.[9]


Because of the emergence of Brit funk, it "enabled a fluidity of identity and a space where strict cultural boundaries in terms of identity, gender and ethnicity could be negotiated, blurred and articulated."[10] (69) Brit funk, created fluidity when it came to race and gender because of the creativity that came from the sharing of sounds throughout the diaspora.


As Brit funk grew, the artists drew from a variety of African-American genres such as soul and jazz. Despite the fact that Brit funk was becoming its own category of music, it was seen and put into the box of other African-American genres instead. The first generation of young black people born in the U.S. took a liking to the genre and started to great their own genre. The only problem was that because they were producing music that was based on African American music influences, it brought into question the authenticity of the Brit funk being produced. However, because of the fact that Brit funk does not fit into a category, it struggled to be successful commercially, but it still defied the norms of music.

"On the one hand Britfunk’s particular appropriation of African-American forms resulted in a particular version of diasporic cultural articulation. In short, these US forms were appropriated strategically for particularly British ends to reflect the specificities of black experience in the United Kingdom during the 1970s. On the other hand, given that these musics are not directly bound geographically and culturally to the Caribbean, which has been a dominant (and even hegemonic) signifier of black Britishness (Hesse, 2000), they enabled a fluidity of identity and a space where strict cultural boundaries in terms of identity, gender and ethnicity could be negotiated, blurred and articulated."[11] -Robert Strachan in his book, Black Popular Music in Britain since 1945


Because of the style of Britfunk, women's voices had a more prominent role in the Brit funk music that was released. Sticking to the formula of U.S. genres, women were more involved in the Britfunk genre in order to seem more authentic. Because of the fact that clubbing was the primary reason the music spread, clubs allowed a safe space for people be fluid and free with their sexuality. While other diasporac genres like reggae were less open to sexual fluidity, Brit funk encouraged both men and women to express their sexuality. As Strahan writes in his book, Black Popular Music in Britain Since 1945, "Club culture then allowed a space in which rigid attitudes towards sexuality within the wider community could be explored, pushed and negotiated. The centrality of black gay men within the scene allowed for a particular transcendence of contemporary social boundaries.

Notable bands[edit]


  1. ^ Strachan, Robert (2014). Britfunk: Black British Popular Music, Identity and the Recording Industry in the Early 1980s. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 67.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Feel the Chant: The Brit Funk Story", 16 March 2013, retrieved 12 January 2014.
  3. ^ "Goldmine - The Club History". Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  4. ^ a b c D. Simpson, "The scenes that time forgot", The Guardian home, retrieved 12 January 2014.
  5. ^ N. Zuberi, Sounds English: Transnational Popular Music (University of Illinois Press, 2001), ISBN 0252026209, p. 135.
  6. ^ Strachan, Robert (2014). Britfunk: Black British Popular Music, Identity and the Recording Industry in the Early 1980s. Aldershot: Ashgate. pp. 70–71.
  7. ^ Strachan, Robert (2014). Britfunk: Black British Popular Music, Identity and the Recording Industry in the Early 1980s. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 71.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Strachan, Robert. John Stratton, Nabeel Zuberi, Black Popular Music in Britain Since 1945. Routledge, 2016.
  10. ^ Stratton, Jon; Zuberi, Nabeel, eds. (2014). Black popular music in Britain since 1945. Ashgate popular and folk music series. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. ISBN 9781409469131.
  11. ^ Stratton, Jon; Zuberi, Nabeel (2016-04-15). Black Popular Music in Britain Since 1945. Routledge. ISBN 9781317173892.