Former Champions Jam into the Future Despite Electronic and Human Challenges

Employing guitar, bass, drums, keys, vocals, and computers, Former Champions alternate between structured song and extended improvisation. The resulting offering is a dancey, trancey, trip-friendly atmosphere for folks looking to get high (with or without controlled substances). They make use of available technologies and human energies in order to explore new musical frontiers and get a nice groove going. Their self applied genre is "electronic rock," but they may fairly be described as a 21st century jam band.

One notable quality of this Richmond-based outfit is that they've got good songs and singers, which is showcased nicely on their recent release, Special FX Machine. Guitarist Matt Walton, keyboardist Ben White, and bassist David Ashby deliver very sweet harmonies within well written, catchy tunes. And driving the melodic beauty is the precise, energetic drumming of Geoff Bakel, who sits at a very modern beat station which features an old-school, acoustic trap set supplemented by an analog synthesizer and sampler which tie into White's computerized rig.

One challenge for the band, says Bakel, is making use of the gadgets while remaining human musicians: "Technology gives us all these tools. You want to use them, but there is that fine line between going too far and losing the organic-ness that I think creates a lot of magic for a live band. We strive to make a hybrid of it all."

If you'd like proof that Bakel isn't just pushing play on an iPod, you ought to check out Presence, his solo acoustic drum album. "One weekend I kinda got into the groove in my home studio and decided to put these little improvised drum pieces up as an album."

Bakel emphasizes how much focus the band is currently placing on getting into the rhythm of putting content online, like Presence, videos, and many short EPs to come. "With all this social media stuff, if you can keep fresh content up, it helps to get people interested in coming out to the shows."

And that brings up another challenge the band faces: being human and not having enough hands or time.

"We like to first and foremost focus on the music and the live show, but we're not at a point where we can afford to do just that. Although we do have a handful of other people helping us in different areas of the business, there's still a lot more that we have to do and it takes some discipline. Working on formatting videos and editing that stuff isn't necessarily where we'd like to be spending our time, but I guess you have to do all that stuff. It kind of comes with the territory of trying to get this thing up and bigger than it is."

The video below exemplifies the way this quartet (quintet if you count the computer) is rocking in the musical and promotional, acoustic and digital, physical and cyber, realms. To see them in fleshy reality, head to the Funky Buddha this coming Saturday.

Former Champions with Gravity A. 9p.m. Saturday, June 15 at Funky Buddha Lounge, 2621 N Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Tickets cost $6-$8. Click here.

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