Bull Funk Zoo
Hangover is available at:
9th October, 2016
The album, Dangerous Radio, is available here:
HEADER PHOTO CREDIT:
ONE of the most important things about modern music…
PHOTO CREDIT: Sasha Maddah
is the diversity and variation that can be found. I know this is a point I raise a lot to the point of exhaustion – it seems like a lot of musicians are not really paying much attention. Before I come to look at my featured act, I wanted to touch on that point; discover musicians coming out of Dubai/U.A.E. and the excitement one gets when genres like Funk and Rock are given modern twists and spliced together. I am finding musicians that are more than happy coming into the scene ambling along on what they feel comfortable with. There is a lot of room and space for maneuver and I am always galled by artists that do not exploit this. It may seem like an odd point to raise but one I feel compelled to. It is understandable new musicians have reticence and nerves about what they do. It is such a crowded industry and completive: making your voice heard and gaining some recognition is challenging and often takes months/years. Because of this, too many new artists are being safe and playing music they think record labels want to hear. It might be chart replicas or something very mainstream: whatever the music; there is a general temptation towards something rather tepid and neutered. I am sorting edging towards the general question: why can’t musicians put a bit more grunt and excitement into their work? I do love a musician that is contemplative and soulful; those that are tender and introspective. They all have their places but one yearns for, every now and then, music that sticks its hand down the front of your shorts and has a bit of a rummage.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sasha Maddah
I do not mean Hardcore/Thrash or something explosive and demented – just music that has some flair and captivation. Maybe I am being a bit harsh it just seems like, if you want to earn your place in music, you have to separate yourself from the masses and originate something unique. There are few that would argue against Bull Funk Zoo being anything other than stonewall originals – the man behind the music – and that is why I have jumped on this review. Before I go into more detail, let me introduce my featured artist:
“The birth of Bull Funk Zoo made a strong impact in the Dubai music scene, playing non-stop shows all over the country and internationally. In March 2013 Bull Funk Zoo opened for Sting with all his original material played in front of an audience of 10,000 people and the response was incredible!!! Bull Funk Zoo played almost every venue in the region ofUAE and toured internationally. Concerts with audiences from 5,000 to 30,000 people. The debut self titled album got the highest rating for unsigned band in Rolling Stone, also the album got entered into the IMA Awards USA, he has been on numerous publications, radio shows & TV features. The album can also be found worldwide online through iTunes and many other sites. It was also a best seller in Virgin Megastores in the UAE. The album is also featured on all Emirates Airlines entertainment with an exclusive interview that will be heard by over 50 million passengers a year. He is currently touring the region with numerous gigs on hand, he is considered one of the hardest working musicians/producer in the UAE, with best act nomination for Time Out awards. He also has major support from Red Bull.
Bull Funk Zoo developed his talent for music in the US where he lived and studied for a number of years. During his time there, he played with practically every conceivable kind of musician and band. He continued his music journey in 2000 when he moved back to Dubai and was involved in projects like Abstrakt Collision (3 albums recorded), Stroobiya, Abstrakt Roots and performing as a session guitarist with various acts throughout region. Things started to get exciting again when he formed Bull Funk Zoo band in 2011. The first showcase of the band was in collaboration with Hamdan Al-Abri. To open for Sade at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, Bull Funk Zoo played Hamdan Al Abri’s music. The response was overwhelming! Sade personally said Hamdan Al-Abri featuring Bull Funk Zoo were amazing and they were the best opening act she had had during her 2011 world tour! He produced a music video with Adnan Mryhij (CTG productions) & Hadi Sarieddine for one of his tracks “Shit House Blues” from the self titled album, which was released in February 2015”.
Although Bull Funk Zoo is a fully-fledged band: there is a lot of emphasis on Assaad Lakkis. He works with a range of musicians but he is the brains and man behind the songs. After releasing Would You and Burnin’: Bull Funk Zoo is ready to take the Rock industry hostage and lay down its/his demands. There is a bit of Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine and Frank Zappa in Lakkis’ creations and a blend of older sounds and new technology. I shall come to his home nation and why we should be looking there, but just looking at that biography, and you have an artist who is very strange – in the sense he is so far ahead of his peers. Lakkis has been in music for a couple of decades now and has been growing as an artist and performer. You have a young man that is one of the hardest-working people in the industry and always looking to push himself. As he says it himself: creativity is his drug and one he is not willing to give up. I find there are a lot of musicians that become fatigued and jaded by the working hours and demands of the industry. Such dedicated and fastidious commitment to the art can cause relationships to split and cracks to form – some very strong acts have called it time because of the stress. I am impressed Bull Funk Zoo continues to grow and develop. The band has played to upwards of 30,000 people and it is that love and support that keeps the focus very much in their direction. I was also interested in focusing Bull Funk Zoo because they are based out of Dubai. This is a nation that is not really synonymous with bands and great new acts. I raised this point – looking at foreign nations for new talent – when reviewing Yotam Mahler yesterday. The Israeli musician is based in a nation that is overflowing with fantastic acts and brilliant young talent. When it comes to Dubai: there are fewer musicians and artists one can bring it. If you extend the point to the U.A.E. and there is a bit more on offer. Hamdan Al Abri and Empty Yard Experiment are two artists that have been making waves in the U.A.E. for a while now. Ahlam is another singer that has been playing for many years, but the truth is, one has to dig hard to find many contemporary acts out of the country.
Maybe there is a problem with the international press or laws in Dubai/U.A.E. They are areas that are very stringent when it comes to rules/decency and sexualisation. The U.K. and U.S. have their fair share of flesh-showing artists that seems to tick the commercial and public boxes – artists that can generate a lot of attention and money; get into the charts and gain a lot of radio play. Dubai is a lot more stringent and ‘pure’ one could argue. For that reasons, I guess there are limitations not only with how much one can reveal – the subjects and areas that are being addressed. Religion is a big part so certain subjects and topics will be off limits and banned. You hear of cases when U.A.E. nationals are subjected to imprisonment and punishment for blasphemy, sexual indecencies – what the country would deem as such – and various other crimes. You wonder how many chances there are for new musicians there and whether Western artists are being played and promoted. Bull Funk Zoo exist because they avoid dangerous areas and have captured the public’s hearts. It is an interesting point and one I shall explore more in the conclusion. It is impressive to see Lakkis’ outfit going from strength-to-strength. Bringing in collaborators and various other musicians into the fold – each album and creation has a different sound and new light. The reason behind this survival and popularity is the invention and talent of Lakkis and the artists that have inspired him. I mooted whether British and American music made their way to Dubai, and there are a few that have. The fact Lakkis spent a lot of time in the U.S. is why he has an affinity for musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers. That blend of Funk, Metal and Rock struck his ear and compelled him to push his own music and make it as wide-ranging as it can be. With Bull Funk Zoo you get little touches of Rage Against the Machine, especially. The guitar sounds and pioneering string work is to be commended. You get dashes of other genres and so many different ideas in the music. The musicians that are surviving and impressing are those that put their all into it and push the boundaries of what is possible. Many artists try and throw multiple genres into their work but can come off muddled and confused. Bull Funk Zoo has that cohesion, authority and commitment that ensures the songs are gelled and perfectly-formed.
The biggest difference one notices between the eponymous debut and Dangerous Radio is the confidence and control exerted by its frontman. Lakkis co-wrote all of the ten songs on the debut album and showed immense promise and exceptional musicianship. The songs (on that album) show the influence of bands like Sex Pistols and Soundgarden but have ample funkiness and drive to them. Never one-dimensional or boring: fireworks, scintillation and drama reigned in the music and captivated critics and reviewers around the world. The production was exceptional (on the debut) and so much confidence and variation was in there. Funky, Hendrix-esque strings could be found on tracks like Junk. Lyrics can often be a downfall for many acts but Bull Funk Zoo mix personal insights with witty asides and social commentary. The entire album is tight and stunning and one you come back to again and again. Dangerous Radio is perhaps tighter and more focused than the debut. The number of tracks has been narrowed to eight and it is a shorter album all round. This does not merit a lack of creativity and inspiration: it trims away any edges and fat and is a more explosive and concentrated effort. The funkiness and looseness are still there but there is more attack and intensity throughout the record. In terms of lyrics, the songs address anger, regret and drunken haze. Because of this, there is more wit and humour to be found; more nods to Hendrix and Psychedelic elements than the debut. Lakkis exerts more influence on the songs and more of his mind and talent goes into them. There are still other bodies in the mix but Dangerous Radio is almost like a solo album in terms of the themes and concepts. What one notices – the differences between the two – is how much more confident and arresting the music is. Dangerous Radio is an octet of tracks that will get into the heart and release memories and impressions long after you have finished listening.
I was going to review Whiskey but decided, given its video has just come out, to go for Hangover. Instead of the alcohol -cause I have gone with the effect: embracing the ‘after’ rather than the ‘before’. It might seem like, from that comparison, Dangerous Radio is full of booze and drunken numbers. Those two tracks are an exception in a record that has plenty of diversity and range. Hangover is the closing track and one that has been noted by many fans and reviewers – a favourite and perfect swansong. The opening to the song has commentary and narrative from Lakkis as he recalls a hazy night and wakes up next to a girl. The video shows a tattooed man arises and feels the effects of last night. The blonde next to him is face-down and a bit of a stranger. Trying to piece together the strands of last night: there is that urgency and need to figure it out before she regains consciousness. Lakkis’ delivery is laconic and weary; scratched vocals and whiskey-soaked notes resonate and resound in their confusion and fatigue. The hero is wondering who the girl is and his head is pounding. Unable to remember what happened and how he got to this stage – a theme and story that many artists have portrayed; many people can relate to this conundrum. Fear and loathing is in the mind and there is that regret and sense of self-disgust. Perhaps it was a great night but alcohol has rendered his mind cloudy and short-term. The bass is funky and taut. It acts like a headache and poke in the chest: bouncing and pressing; throbbing and searching. Not only do you get an intriguing kick-off, but the sense of impending explosion and breakdown. There is something definitely eccentric and bizarre about the song – in the very best way. You get little notes of Tom Waits’ quirk and humour and the video continues to reveal pieces of the puzzle. The composition throws in warped and strident electronics and teasing, compact beats – going into Trip-Hop/Hip-Hop territory. By keeping the music light but propulsive, it ensures you focus on the lyrics and vocals and letting them work. The hero is “two hours late for work” and his ‘date’ is puking all over the place. The house is a scene of carnage and it seems like something epic unfolded the night before. It is not a hard song to dissect and one that has quite a simple and obvious origin and explanation. Despite our man smelling of beer and tasting of God-knows-what; he still yearns for a Stella Artois and hair of the dog, it seems.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sasha Maddah
Perhaps functionality and cohesion are out of the question and he is resigned to spending the day cleaning things up. After a wordless, monosyllabic chorus line – a number of voices joining with la-la-las – it is into work and the repercussions from the boss. Having missed over a dozen calls from his workplace; the hero goes into the office and faces his “jerk” of a boss – one who is not letting him off the hook easily. The song never really breaks into all-out singing: it is more a collection of spoken lines and storytelling. Perhaps a sore head or tiredness means vocalisation and volume are not really a reality. As things progress, you get more indebted to the composition and all the notes and ideas being exchanged. Delivering (almost Rap-like) his words: the hero is in the workplace and trying to feign attention. The boss is chewing him out and all the hero wants to do is sleep and crawl back into bed. You get that sense of weariness and dizziness in a track that throws that la-la repetition to highlight the lack of interest and attention being paid. The drone-like delivery of the ‘chorus’ – the one-worded mantra – gains new meaning and relevance after each verse. The hero is being advised to have a drink and learn some lessons – try reading between the lines – and taking heart. Throughout Hangover, there is that need to keep on partying and just embrace something more fun and irresponsible – rather than the boring work life and rules. In a way, in terms of lyrics and ideas, there is a definite Punk spirit and rebellion. Never as full-throttle and ballistic as Sex Pistols and Ramones – you feel a bit of their spirit in the attitude and anti-authoritarian zeal of the song. Lakkis spits his words in a Hip-Hop/Funk style and seems not to care for rules and discipline. It is nice to see that sort of youthful spirit and rebellion in music and something you do not hear enough of. The remainder of Hangover is a series of la-la-las that enforces that lack of caring and need to sing and keep on partying. Heavy and funky beats get the feet moving whilst the vocal delivery pushes that coda into the brain like a shot of whiskey – it will buzz around the mind for a long time and create smiles (or annoyance in some). By the end, you root for the hero and hope that he keeps on living that alcohol-filled life – perhaps not the best course but one he is destined to take.
Dangerous Radio is a bold and brash second album from an act that continues to impress and gain adulation. It is hard to say just how far they can go, but with a huge army behind them, it looks like the future is very secure and golden. There is a great many stations and venues across Europe and the U.S. that could support Lakkis and his musicians but it seems like Dubai and the U.A.E. are providing ample support. I opened by proffering the point about the U.A.E. and how much freedom there are for musicians growing up there. One wonders whether Lakkis could have gained experience and got exposure if he did not send time in the U.S. I am sure Dubai is fairly relaxed with regards themes and lyrics – what can be considered offensive – but you feel there are limitations and drawbacks for some musicians. Female artists that have that more provocative edge are unlikely to gain much headway and respect. It is a thorny issue but not one explored much. I have been searching for bands and artists emerging from Dubai but it is pretty slim pickings. Maybe that is just the limitations of the media: it is impossible to represent every country and some will fall through the gaps. Perhaps Dubai does have a lot of local bands but you get the feeling Bull Funk Zoo are in the minority. I shall leave that point for now, only to recommend everyone check out Dangerous Radio. I am a little late to the party – it has been out a while but I’ve been busy with other work – but glad I turned up. I decided to focus on Whisky because it is the newest single release and shows the depth of creative talent in Dubai. Not only is the song one of the finest on the album but one that seems to represent the themes and ideas of the album. I mentioned how sex and modesty are issues in many nations of the U.A.E. but there is enough room and leverage to not only present risqué lyrics but film some rather racy scenes. The video to Hangover was conceived and directed by Lakkis but burrows actors and creative talent from around the nations. Some of them have arrived from Europe whilst others are native. Not only is the video humour and memorable: it has all the hallmarks and ideas you’d get from a British or American band. In that sense, there is little difference between Bull Funk Zoo and his/their Western counterparts. I have put a lot of emphasis on morals and laws in Dubai but it is just things one hears – a theory as to why there is not the same Pop market there is here.
Dispensing with my grand theories and attempts at social dissection and you cannot ignore the talent and continued rise of Assaad Lakkis. It is not often I get to review an Asian artist – aside from yesterday, of course – so it is good to be back in the continent. Dubai is a rich and prosperous nation that is a tempting haven and home for many people. The clement temperatures, prosperity and wonderful scenery are only a few reason why many are emigrating here and setting up home. I feel Lakkis is rooted here and vibing from the community of artists and the crowds that adore his music. He has commanded huge audiences and that will continue unabated following the release of Dangerous Radio. Its cover art very much has that feeling of Rage Against the Machine and you get the anger and edginess of the U.S. band but Lakkis digs deeper. The songs have humour and wit; they speed by and are so full of colour, adventure and mesmeric sounds. As a performer and producer, there are few out there like him. There is a parable floating around which best describes Dangerous Radio. If you imagine Hendrix having a drink with Tom Waits – via a séance of sense of imagination – and shooting the breeze. Hendrix has his guitar sitting by the snooker table – maybe on fire or smashed into a million pieces – and is sipping on a rather psychedelic cocktail – lots of colours and ingredients in there. Waits, one imagines, prefers stiffer bourbon and the gravel-voiced legend would probably be wearing a hat and is pensive mood. As the two icons exchange stories and boasts, the jukebox goes out. In rocks Tom Morello and his Rage Against the Machine brothers and the patrons all look stunned. Expecting an imminent showdown, the three different acts all come together in a Mexican standoff. Instead of engaging in violence, they are grab their instruments and combine in an across-the-genres-and-ages performance of the highest order. That is what you get with Bull Funk Zoo and the music throughout Dangerous Radio. There are a lot of other artists in the mix but the overruling sound of Lakkis tearing it up and doing his own thing.
It will be interesting seeing where Bull Funk Zoo goes from here and what the future holds. I would expect more tour dates and records to follow. There are not many acts/bands that command such huge audiences so early in a career. That can only be down to a set of songs that gets into the mind and releases seriously heady hits. I have listened to Dangerous Radio and there is a consistency and brilliance that runs right through it. The pace never drops and that sense of adventure, drama and innovation never relents. Although it has been out for a little while, there are still many keen to lend their ears to the album and pay tribute to its central star. Lakkis was raised on a collection of great artists and music was always playing in the family household. The Dubai-born musician grew up listening to the likes of James Brown and Kiss and was drawn to the theatrics and flair of these musicians. Bands like Soundgarden and Sex Pistols soon came to his attention: mixing rawness and rebellion into the flair and stage presence. A man who always craves new music and experiences: this hungry and restlessness is what you hear in an album filled with fantastic songs. I would like to think Bull Funk Zoo will come play the U.K. as there are plenty of chances and crowds that would pay good money to come out. Even with venues closing in London, there are enough remaining that could support the band and welcome them in. It seems like many nations would support Bull Funk Zoo and will be exciting seeing just how the future pans out. Dangerous Radio is a step up for the Dubai band/act and shows how restless and evolving Lakkis is. One of the most accomplished musicians around right now: the next few years should be very busy and memorable. I have enjoyed diving into the album and would recommend people check it out and spend a bit of money on it. Hangover, and is its striking video, has already gained a lot of feedback and shows what love there is out there for Bull Funk Zoo. In a sea of rather vague and generic Rock bands, I am thankful a kick in the crotch has arrived in the form of the Dubai outfit. We need to see more like them in music in order to inspire new generations and musicians. Be certain to investigate Bull Funk Zoo and let the sensational, multifarious music seep into the mind and elicit all manner of reactions and sensations. They may be treasured and revered in the U.A.E. but, as the new album proves, they are in demand…
PHOTO CREDIT: Life is Pixels
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