By Ashley Zimmerman
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Until recently, the words Florida and funk have been associated more with a Dan Marino Right Guard commercial than with music. But a group of five South Florida b-boys is doing its part to change that. As Fusik, the quintet has been rocking local stages for four years now, from Transit Lounge in Miami to Dada in Delray Beach.
The sound is the sum of many parts. Part James Brown and Jimmy Castor drum breaks. Part Santana and Can '70s psychedelics. Part Ray Barretto and Mongo Santamaria Latin jazz percussion. Part straight, raw, energy akin to the Budos Band and Breakestra. The group claims members from the famed Unique Styles and Flipside Kings break-dancing crews and hails originally from everywhere from Louisiana to Venezuela. As such, Fusik is the result of taking five flavors and meshing them together into a melting pot that chugs like an FEC freight train.
"I don't think there's a band that's done it the way we have, where the people know us and we're not like outsiders coming into the scene," says the single-monikered Felix, the group's drummer and designated spokesperson. "We're in it, as we know a lot of the b-boys and dancers around the world."
And their commitment to the international hip-hop scene has seen them racking up some serious frequent-flier miles as of late. In August, the band was tapped as the sole backing band for Freestyle Session's 12-year anniversary in Los Angeles, one of the biggest break-dancing competitions in the world. The rest of the summer marked tour dates as far away as France and Spain. As such, the group's reach has multiplied exponentially through word of mouth as well as on the strength of its nine-song debut LP, Only a Few Are Sick.
Besides Felix, Fusik's lineup includes Sanchez on bass and guitar, Nonms on percussion, Chip on keyboards, and Mack, also on bass and drums. The five all met first as friends at Catalyst, a b-boy spot in Miami Springs where dancers and hip-hop heads congregate on Saturday nights. Later, Felix and Mack randomly ran into each other at a Guitar Center, the first time they discovered they were both musicians. They began jamming with mutual acquaintance Sanchez, and percussionist Nonms soon followed. Chip's recent addition finally filled out the sound.
"The first gigs we did were house parties," Felix recalls. "The house parties were like a club; that's how people started to know us. After that, we started to play at Catalyst, which is like a hip-hop outreach for everyone, from MCing to b-boying to graffiti. It was a real dope vibe." But the band soon jumped right into the South Florida scene with gigs at the now-defunct Marlin hotel bar and Jazid on South Beach. Those shows led to regular gigs at the Van Dyke, also on South Beach, and Transit Lounge, back on the mainland. And by this year, they had become tricounty: They scored a residency at Dada in Delray Beach, holding it down the last Saturday of every month.
Now, finally, a new album is due out this fall, although the release date is not yet solidified. Whereas the first Fusik record centered more on the group's direct influences of string-based funk, this new effort digs a lot deeper into the crates. There are cuts like a cover of reggae classic "Stomp" next to some Medeski, Martin & Wood-like improvisation on "Ghost" next to the neck-snappingly fast "Savage." This stylistic spread is a good reflection of their diverse, hyper live shows.
They carry all this energy with no main MC or backup singers — instead, the grooves lead the way. Just check the track "The Grind," where keyboard chops and driving percussion take your mind on a trip up Mount Vesuvius, barely allowing a stop for a water break. But if you like some rap to go with your rock, check out the addictive Kill the Radio EP that the crew dropped with local MC Protoman this past March.
Although the group performs at many breakdancing events, it is also otherwise active in the culture directly — Felix teaches breaking classes at Euphoria Studios in Coral Springs, and Nonms still dances with his crews. And though they mourn the current local downturn in the number of events, they still hold out hope. "The local b-boy scene is in a recession right now," Felix says. "But Catalyst is one of the spots you can always count on. The quality of the scene is still really good, but there aren't jams all the time."
And Fusik feels positive about the South Florida music scene in general. "We feel live music in South Florida is growing, as there are a lot of good bands, groups like the Spam Allstars and their sick horn section, and Ketchy Shuby," Chip says. "When we play in Dada, the crowd knows us. They recognize changes we make in our music, and that's where we play a lot of our new material."
But whether it's in their home state or across the globe, one thing is true: Fusik always brings the funk.