Vulfpeck brings funk to the internet age

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Use of smooth bass and web-savvy style draws new fans

By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer

Session musicians are performers who supply backup and supporting instrumental roles for studio or live shows, generally as bass, piano, and snare. These artists give a steady, reliable act, and rarely achieve fame on their own. Very occasionally, however, session musicians will separate themselves and rise from the background. In 2011, Jack Stratton, Theo Katzman, Joe Dart, and Woody Goss of the rhythm section at the University of Michigan did exactly this and formed Vulfpeck. Inspired by legendary German music producer Reinhold Mack, the members refined their presentation and styled themselves as a German take on American funk.

Vulfpeck’s raw, minimalist instrumental style attracted the attention of critics across the country with “Beastly,” a piece that brought particular attention to bassist Joe Dart. His deceptively bare-bones approach and lengthy solo are extremely reminiscent of ’60s live bands. An important aspect of those bands’ style—and Vulfpeck’s—is the balance of instruments so that no one sound is dominating a performance. This allows supporting instruments like snare and bass to have a greater impact than in most forms of funk. The style persists through Vulfpeck’s four extended plays and two studio albums, making them one of the most unique and iconic funk bands of the 2010s.

The quartet largely came to public notoriety with the release of the completely silent album Sleepify in March 2014. Hosted on music streaming service Spotify, the band encouraged fans to play each 30-second track on loop while they were sleeping or away from home. This allowed the band to collect large royalties without producing any music, a stunt called “clever” by a spokesman from Spotify. Vulfpeck made roughly $20,000 before Spotify removed the album in August 2014, which the band used to fund a free tour later that year.

To date, the band’s most popular songs are “Wait for the Moment” and “1612,” both featuring vocal performances by Antwaun Stanley that reflect the band’s minimalism. Inclusion of vocals is continued extensively in their latest album The Beautiful Game, released in October 2016, which, for the first time in the group’s history, has more vocal than instrumental tracks. Despite this, Vulfpeck retains their original philosophy of maintaining a balance between sounds. Another major source for their current popularity is their music videos. Simple shootings of the live music sessions are filmed with an old camera and filter, giving the videos their grainy 1970s appearance, coupled with all the hip-swinging expected from funk.

With 34 tracks in 5 years, the quartet is one of the most prolific funk bands on the scene today, and their use of online streaming and Sleepify’s headline-grabbing stunt has made them among the most popular in the genre. Vulfpeck’s simple, smooth, and balanced style has been a return to form for modern funk.