Exclusive: Mister Saturday Night Chats with the Phenomenal Handclap Band

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Legendary godfather of the block party, pioneer of electro-funk, and originator of the Universal Zulu Nation, Afrika Bambaataa headlines Mister Saturday Night this week. Personally connected to nearly every break, beat, and funk record that’s made crate-diggers salivate and B-boys twitch since the birth of hip-hop, Bam continues to spin the tracks he’s helped turn into classics. Saturday night he appears alongside up-and-coming BK disco-tinged funk crew the Phenomenal Handclap Band. (Think Escort, but sub synths for horns, and make it spacier.) Or, just take our word for it: the only adjective you really need to describe ’em is already in the band’s name. Find Justin Carter’s exclusive interview PHB’s co-frontman Sean Marquand after the jump.

Justin Carter: Whose idea was the Phenomenal Handclap Band and what was the initial conception?

Sean Marquand: The Handclap idea was Daniel’s. He and I had produced a few records together and we were getting tired of working within the goals of the artists we were producing. Daniel suggested we put our efforts into an album where we had all the creative control we wanted.

JC: Has anything changed along the path of getting it from idea to reality?

SM: The record went through a lot of modifications, but it ended up being pretty close to our original idea.

JC: How many of you are in the band?

SM: There’s eight of us in the band… Daniel Collás, Patrick Wood (drums, vocals), Nicholas Movshon (bass), Luke O’Malley (guitar, vocals), Quinn Luke (guitar, vocals), Laura Marin (vocals, percussion), and Joan Tick (vocals)

JC: How do you all fit into one practice space and manage to make your schedules fit together?

SM: [It’s] a headache managing everyone’s schedule. We practice at our guitarist/vocalist’s studio (Quinn Luke) down the street from the Handclap studio and it does get pretty tight there. The ceilings are really low, so some of us can’t even stand up straight.

JC: You and Greg Caz have a weekly Sunday party dedicated to Brazilian music at Black Betty in Brooklyn that’s been running for seven and a half years. What’s your favorite moment in that party’s history?

SM: The night Jorge Ben came to our party. Dancing next to him with him singing along to his songs was one of the highlights of that party and of my life in New York. We were playing a cover version of a Jorge Ben song and he asked who wrote the song. When we reminded him it was his, he giggled and said “it’s a good one.”

JC: Did the party play a role in driving you to create music?

SM: All of my musical successes have started with that party. I feel like everyone I know in the city I met through Black Betty or at least one degree of separation from there. But being a New York DJ has informed most of Daniel and my ideas about music that can move a lot of people. It also helped me learn to take chances. As a DJ, you can play an oddball track in the middle of a set and if it’s in the right context, people will still dance. With the Phenomenal Handclap Band we wanted to incorporate some musical ideas that might not be exactly what people want to hear, but that we really believe in.

JC: The Phenomenal Handclap Band pulls on a lot of disparate influences simultaneously, everything from early ’70s psych-rock to old-school hip-hop. While the influences are diverse, they all seem to come from at least twenty years ago. What is it that brings those influences together in your minds? And is the exclusion of more modern sounds intentional, or is that just my ear?

SM: ’60s and ’70s music have always been our favorite. Sly Stone, Charles Stepney, and Leon Sylvers are some of our biggest influences. As far as the seemingly incompatible connection between psych-rock, soul, and prog that the Handclap Band has, it’s really not that different from a DJ set from someone like Afrika Bambaataa. There’s a musical (and rhythmic) connection across genres.

The exclusion of modern sounds isn’t on purpose. The band listens to a lot of new music. When we were making the record, I was listening to a lot of top 40 radio hip-hop.

JC: Mister Saturday Night is a party rather than a concert. Do you have anything special up your sleeve that we wouldn’t see at a traditional show?

SM: Okay, that sounds like a dare. Now we have to get something together.

JC: Hahahaha… I like the sound of that… You’re playing with Afrika Bambaataa, the godfather of hip-hop. Any tunes from the days of yore you’re hoping he’ll play?

SM: I heard he used to blow minds by playing “Urgent” by Foreigner in the middle of a hip-hop set. I’m looking forward to him messing with expectations. Also, I’m going to have to check out Keith Farley’s [Farley Jackmaster Funk’s] set. It’s gonna be a good night.