Minneapolis funk band ZULUZULUU can not be stopped. Only 5 months after dropping their debut album What's The Price? (which is the album of the year in this humble blogger's opinion), the band has capped an epic month-long stretch, in which they held court at Icehouse for their Astralbeat Theories residency and won City Pages Picked to Click poll, with the release of The Cover Up Mixtape on 11/21.
The mixtape features 10 reimagined takes on funk, soul, and hip-hop classics featuring artists such as De La Soul, Bootsy Collins, and War, done up in ZULUZULUU's futuristic funk style. I was very thankful they included The Stylistic's "People Make The World Go Round", as it had been stuck in my head since I saw them perform it live two weeks earlier.
They even did a new version of "On Our Way" from What's The Price?, with the remix offering up quite a contrast to the original, which is a light, dreamy love song. Singer/Keyboardist Proper-T prefaced a recent performance of the new version of the song at the 7th Street Entry by saying, "Breakups suck." One thing that I really love about ZULUZULUU is that emotion really comes through in their music, and the two versions of that song are proof of that.
The mixtape is the fourth and final release of the Astralbeat Theories series, which previously saw solo EP releases from band members Proper-T, MMYYKK, and Greg Grease. The trio was joined by the rest of the band (DJ Just Nine, Trelly Mo, and Art Parte) for The Cover Up. The releases were timed with the shows at Icehouse; each featured artist also handpicked other musicians, DJs and artists to take part in their night. As far as bad ass music accomplishments go, I think only Justin Vernon can claim to top what ZULUZULUU has done since they got started five months ago.
I attended the Proper-T show on 10/27 (the first of the residency), and members of ZULUZULUU were set up on the sides of the stage, which was reserved for Proper-T's guests. The band and the guest performers alternated throughout the night. Watching members of the band try to communicate with one another while separated by a stage full of a equipment was a funny sight. The final installment of the Icehouse residency takes place Wednesday 11/23 at 10 PM. If you plan to attend, be warned: the first three sold out.
I first heard about this band when they were billed as openers for a Femi Kuti show at The Cedar Cultural Center. I was at the show, but unfortunately couldn't make it in time for their set. When I finally listened to their music and saw them perform, I could see why they were booked for this show. Like Kuti, their music is a dichotomy. While their lyrics tackle very serious issues (such as police brutality and economic inequality), the music is very upbeat and danceable. Also like Kuti and his band The Positive Force, they exude positivity and happiness on stage, despite the heavy subject matter of their songs.
In September, I asked my social media friends which new local funk bands I should check out. Several people recommended ZULUZULUU. I listened to What's The Price?, and then I listened to it again. And again. I noticed they were playing a show the next night at Bunkers, and I went. My mind lit up watching them perform that night, I heard and saw not only a deep connection to the synth-heavy Minneapolis Sound, but also to house and techno music.
Seeing the 5 of them on stage, not with guitars or drums in front of them but with synths, drum machines, turntables, and controllers brought to mind something I experienced in Detroit the first year I attended the Movement techno festival. A crew called the Detroit Techno Militia did what they called a 5x5 set, which was 5 members of the crew performing together. Assembled in a line, each of them had a turntable or drum machine in front of them. Though the music was different, I definitely caught the same vibe watching ZULUZULUU perform.
I had been planning to throw a funk party for months, and after the show the name for the event finally came to me: Minneapolis Sound 2.0. I attempted to book them for the party and it didn't work out, when I saw how productive they have been since that show, I can see why. Though they are not part of the show, they are a big part of Minneapolis Sound 2.0 concept, along with the thriving techno and house scene. I have been on some really amazing dance floors in Minneapolis in the past year, it feels like something special is going on, and the funk is the reason! That's what Minneapolis Sound 2.0 is all about.
I've been voting for Picked To Click for a few years now. I don't make it out to see as many local bands as I should, but I am glad I got in close to the ground floor with ZULUZULUU. This is the first time anyone I have voted for actually cracked the top ten, let alone won. In my opinion, this is a rare case where the most hyped band actually delivers on the hype. Every single song on What's The Price? has been stuck in my head at some point. Their live show is an incredibly fun and positive experience. If you haven't listened to their music or seen them perform, I encourage you to do both.
I love that they are a funk band and they don't have a single guitar or any actual drums on stage. That is the future of funk, that is Minneapolis Sound 2.0. I BELIEVE IN ZULUZULUU!
Listen to The Cover Up Mixtape below. The Astralbeat Theories series concludes Wednesday 11/23 at Icehouse, doors open at 9:30.