I’m a sucker for a fun or strange band name. When friends would talk about how they were attracted to the gruesomeness of Cannibal Corpse album covers, I’d instead find myself explaining why I thought The Wandering Midget was worth checking out based solely off the band name.

The thing is I believe that a fun name, while being attention grabbing, can lead you to some excellent music. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard; excellent. Tropical Fuck Storm; excellent. Psychedelic Porn Crumpets; excellent. The latest band to add to my list of ‘bands who have great names and make quality music’  – Karate Boogaloo.

Strangely enough, all these bands hail from Australia but that’s sort of where the connection ends. While the aforementioned groups are predominantly focused on playing some form of guitar driven rock music, Karate Boogaloo are a cinematic funk band that is heavily inspired by 60s and 70s soul, funk and R&B, in particular instrumental funk pioneers The Meters and soul purveyors Booker T. & the M.G.’s. As Karate Boogaloo have just released their newest album, Hold Your Horses, now seemed like as a good a time as any to ask them a few questions about their influences, past projects, and future endeavors.

The band, made up of Henry Jenkins (bass), Hudson Whitlock (drums), Callum Riley (organ), and Darvid Thor (guitar), all met during high school and have essentially been playing together and forming their own musical kinship and philosophy since the age of 15. In the decade and half in working together the group have whittled down the essence of their sound. On that subject, the band state, ‘We draw inspiration from instrumental funk and soul records from the 60s and 70s through to now. We also like to diversify the influences on the music we make by incorporating as many differing music styles as possible. Styles such as EDM, gospel, rap music from the 90’s to now, ‘Third Stream Jazz’ and beyond!’

Before Hold Your Horses, Karate Boogaloo weren’t just twiddling their thumbs. They’ve released a series of mixtapes where they weaved deeply funk-y takes on popular songs by Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and Gwen Stefani. They say, ‘When we started KB all we wanted it to be was a cover band to exclusively play tunes by our musical heroes, just playing front bars and supports. It took us a little while to find our own sound when writing originals but it was always instrumental and leaning in a funk direction. So it’s nice to now make original music.’ 

Endlessly creative, the KB’s Mixtape series formed a solid signature sound for the band. A rich and cinematic musical language that paid homage to hip-hop sample culture, while maintaining a soulful and groovy atmosphere the whole way through. Hearing snippets of melodies from pop and R&B songs before being taken down a path carved purely from Karate Boogaloo’s funky minds.

They also came out with their first LP, lovingly named Carn the Boogers in 2020, a release that was purely the band’s own original tracks. ‘The mixtapes and CTB were very fun records to make because we experimented a lot with what sounds and songs we could make as a band. With this record we wanted to push ourselves to make the most KB record we could. We didn’t want to explore new sounds, we wanted to home in on what our sound was and concentrate it into as concise a musical record as we could.’

In all honesty, in coming across Karate Boogaloo, I also found myself being introduced to the term ‘cinematic instrumental soul’ and I can’t think of a term that does their music more justice than that. Hold Your Horses is a beautiful album made up of musical movements that conjure images of long train journeys through the countryside or fuzzy clips from the 70s of holidaymakers in Southern Europe. The group seamlessly goes from song to song, building on musical themes through funk driven melodies, as well as moments of minimalism and dissonance to bring balance to the overtly sultry, buttery smooth tunes.

Karate Boogaloo shows throughout Hold Your Horses that small band instrumental funk can be just as multilayered and earnest in its creation of a heavy funk and soulful musical landscape. Part of what seems to make them adept at producing these moments can be boiled down to a couple of things. One being, as the band puts it in the press release for the new album, their use of a ‘restrained instrumental palette’ that is limited to ‘drums, guitar, bass and organ, establishing a distinct and consistent tone throughout’.

The fundamental ethos of the band is also reliant on a DIY spirit that calls for the group to work together, respect each other’s ideas and ultimately be equals on their shared musical journey. ‘Another strict rule we have for KB is that no one is allowed to bring in ideas. Music is only written when all four of us are together. No Booger left behind is our maxim.’ From their press material for the new release, bassist Henry Jenkins, also says:

‘’It’s always instrumental, and it’s always recorded live. We have a strict no overdubs policy,’ Jenkins explains. All of the songs were written collaboratively in the studio, with no pre-prepared material being brought in by any member. It’s a process specifically designed to maximize the strengths of the band and their relationship to one another; KB’s MO is enabled by their innate understanding of one another as people and musicians.’

Funnily enough, the do-it-yourself element that the band so tightly hangs on to also has a connection to where the group got their name. While I had originally thought that Karate Boogaloo was referring to the Jerry O song of the same name, it turns out the origins were entirely different. ‘We read the words ‘karate boogaloo’ in an article by Gabe Roth called Shitty Is Pretty. At the time we didn’t know it was the name of a song but it felt like a cool name for a band.’

Gabriel ‘Gabe’  Roth is one of the most prolific funk and soul record producers and was well known as an opinionated individual on the subjects of funk and music recording. I managed to find the article Karate Boogaloo refers to and want to share this quote which I think is important: ‘…funk is necessarily raw and straight from the soul. It doesn’t come from thinking real hard about counterpoint, odd-time signatures, or new theories of harmony. It must be simple so that when folks hear it they want to get down…’.

If this is what funk is defined as then Karate Boogaloo are undeniably funk as funk can be. Hold Your Horses provides ample grooves between moments of space that will both brighten a walk through a forest, as well as get you dancing with your partner around the kitchen. For me, there is no particular standout track on Hold Your Horses. The entire album should be listened to from start to finish, letting each track’s melody and groove work its way deep down into your brain like some sort of musical masseuse.

So what’s next for Karate Boogaloo? Well they are already gearing up to record a second album for release in 2024. ‘It’s called Booghal and it’s the medieval themed adventure in Karate Boogaloo’s Bed Time Story series. It’s about a character named Booghal who comes from the past and aims to undo the wrong doings by spreading a new found love and positivity in 2024 in the form of funk music.’

For those of you who enjoyed the musical journey set out by Karate Boogaloo, you can purchase Hold Your Horses, which came out on May 3 via College of Knowledge Records, through their Bandcamp page. You can also give them a follow on Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date on all their doings.

Karate Boogaloo is:

Henry Jenkins – Bass
Hudson Whitlock – Drums
Callum Riley – Organ
Darvid Thor – Guitar

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