PBR Streetgang, The Downstroke


Image by Brock Lefferts

[Hot Creations]


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Correction: It has come to our attention that, despite attempts to ascertain the origins of the vocal in PBR Streetgang’s “The Downstroke,” we were mistaken in stating that it was sampled directly from Mike Dunn’s “God Made Me Phunky” and potentially without being licensed. In fact, the vocal line was both licensed from its current copyright-holders, Defected, and re-sung by PBR Streetgang. Its new performance is so true to the original in its nuance that it is nearly indistinguishable. We apologize to PBR Streetgang and Hot Creations for getting the facts wrong.

Before learning that Leeds duo PBR Streetgang took their moniker from a line in “Apocalypse Now,” the name had a completely different connotation for me. In the U.S. at least, the beer Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) is a stereotypical drink of choice for hipsters, those supposedly feckless taste chameleons. That’s not a tag that sticks to Bonar Bradberry and Tom Thorpe’s releases together for Red Music, Wolf Music, and Eclectic Avenue Records, which since 2008 have professed a love of funk music channeled through various shapes and tempos of dance music. But the turn they take on The Downstroke, their new single for Hot Creations, is unabashedly populist in scope and lazy in its sampling.

PBR Streetgang, “The Downstroke”

A weighty bass line and jingling accoutrement give the title track a galumphing groove that’s pleasant if mostly simple. What many will remember of it, however, are the rambling, pitched down vocals, in particular the refrain, “God made me funky, and I’m glad he blessed me that way.” If you were to search for that phrase, you’ll find the vocal was taken wholesale from Mike Dunn’s “God Made Me Phunky” under his MD X-Spress guise. To the best of my ability, I cannot find Dunn credited on the record. LWE has addressed this subject before with Oliver $’s Kenny Dixon Jr. plundering “Doin’ Ya Thang”; and it bears repeating that I have no qualms with any sampling as a basis for a new track. What troubles me is careless sampling — taking everything and failing to make interesting or new use of someone else’s hard work — without even attempting to acknowledge the source. The Innervisions crew had it right when they prominently featured and credited Derrick Carter for their track “Where We At.”

The Downstroke includes a second PBR Streetgang original, “Vibos,” which tries on Chicago house by way of Art Department and suffers a similarly tepid fate. There’s also Deetron’s remix of the title track, a more thorough digestion of the vocal that makes the whole thing more musical by subbing in bounding Detroit techno chords. It makes you think, if only Hot Creations had packaged this as a remix EP of “God Made Me Phunky” — and it does deserve one — this could have been just as popular and entirely legit. While it’s not cheap to release records, skimping on attribution (and potentially licensing) of baldly rapacious sampling is part of what maintains the recording industry’s bad reputation. At least call it a remix.

Joseph Hallam  on March 22, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Lazy rip off. You should forward it to Mike.

Aditya I.P.  on March 22, 2012 at 9:41 AM

why did you review stuff like this in the first place?

littlewhiteearbuds  on March 22, 2012 at 9:46 AM

Our jobs as critics is not just to showcase music we like, but to discuss music we don’t and explain why. Further, RA’s review of the record failed to mention the source of the vocal and we thought it necessary to bring up its origins.

Nick Connellan  on March 22, 2012 at 9:58 AM

“Feckless”. Such a great word.

Egon  on March 22, 2012 at 3:20 PM

Is this really any different to any sampling in dance music though? Surely the genre is awash with uncleared samples – the current glut of disco edits being the most obvious that come to mind – so is one dance music producer sampling another any worse in principle to sampling, say, an old soul record or whatever? Apart from the fact that the track is utterly vapid, I’m not sure it’s worth singling out for attention, since it at least tries to build a new track with the Mike Dunn vocal, as distinct from the likes of Soul Clap’s remorselessly cynical plagiarism.

I agree that the behaviour of Innervisions is a cut above, but I would imagine it is they who are the exception.

Sampling is a very hard subject for which to develop hard and fast rules, unless you take the stance that all uncleared sampling is wrong. The example a while back of some guys sampling Carl Craig sampling Loleatta Holloway is a either a recursive ethical and philosophical wormwhole, or an example of when Loleatta should have sued all their asses!

littlewhiteearbuds  on March 22, 2012 at 3:23 PM

The preponderance of uncleared samples should not equal carte blanche, especially in particularly overt instances like this one. The guys didn’t even bother to cut up the vocals, they just pitched down the a cappella and put it on top.

Lazy producing doesn’t get a pass on LWE, whether it’s the sampling or the production itself.

WLT  on March 23, 2012 at 5:13 AM

its a dull tune

Ewan  on March 28, 2012 at 12:55 PM

I think if you’re going to make a thing of sampling with things like this, you need to actually get into some of the principles around the issue rather than just using words like “lazy”. Blawan’s “What You Do With What You Have” didn’t get called out like this and Oliver $ – is that just because he’s a much more interesting producer than those guys?

Is the issue about giving credit, or at least altering/treating samples more if you’re not giving credit, or being “original” in your use? With “Doin’ Ya Thing” at least there was the argument that producers (and DJs playing the record) were copying a DJ’s performance rather than performing themselves – here, other than the vocal, the track really isn’t much like the MD track at all.

How is something like this different to Mood II Swing’s “Move Me” or “Do it Your Way”? Other than that they are obviously two of the greatest tracks ever and this isn’t?

littlewhiteearbuds  on March 28, 2012 at 1:24 PM

@Ewan

For reference, Anton Kipfel did mention that Blawan track in his review of the the Oliver $ track as one of several tracks to sample Moodymann. At the same time, it Blawan’s track made (in my opinion) much more interesting use of his vocal: he treated it, he nestled it in the beats, and he only took one portion. While Oliver $ might have chosen parts of Moodymann’s set to include in his track, the end result (with long passages of KDJ doing his schtick live) aspired to be like a Moodymann DJ set — but the beat/melody underneath was so simple and to my ears, quite dull.

In the case of “The Downstroke,” I fully acknowledged that the duo wrote their own track around the vocal. But they still took the entire vocal and merely pitched it down. What about that isn’t lazy? Had they taken even only the “God made me funky” line it would have been more creative, because it would have shown they had the good taste to at least edit or attempt to improve upon what they took (let’s be honest, the vocal is the best thing about “God Made Me Phunky,” the beat is not terribly interest or even enjoyable). Being lazy and uncreative IS the principle of the matter: If you’re going to have the gall to take someone else’s work, especially without going through the proper channels to credit/compensate them, you need to make something arresting and maybe even innovative to justify the grab. This is what KDJ did, this is what Mood II Swing did. That’s no small distinction. If you make something shitty or even just kind of boring (the latter of which I’d argue “The Downstroke” is), why should anyone respect your sampling choices?

There’s a reason this can’t be reduced to a single issue: it’s complex and tangled, with instances where baldly grabbing samples has led to absolute classics and others where fully credited works still come up short. The point of the review was to draw attention to problems that have plagued sample-based music for a long time and continue to today. To quote KDJ, it’s what you do with what you have. In the cases of Oliver $ and PBR Streetgang, what they did was not impressive and will probably make them a fair amount of coin on work that was obviously not their creation (both for labels that could have afforded to properly license the source material for the tracks). We’ll continue to point out cases like these as long as we find them.

Katzenklavier  on April 11, 2012 at 5:21 AM

Even if they did resing the vocals with painstaking care to recreate all the nuances of the original, it still makes it lazy production. Why not write your own words and deliver them in your own style?

Trackbacks

It’s You: The History of a Chicago House Classic | Little White Earbuds  on March 18, 2013 at 8:22 AM

[…] over who owns the rights to the results of that sampling. As someone with a passionate interest in how samples are used and general ownership rights, I wanted to explore the issue as it pertained to “It’s […]

IT’S YOU: The History of a Chicago House Classic |  on June 18, 2013 at 12:17 PM

[…] over who owns the rights to the results of that sampling. As someone with a passionate interest in how samples are used and general ownership rights, I wanted to explore the issue as it pertained to “It’s You,” as […]

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