Photo: Xavier Duah
It Goes To 11: Damien Escobar Details His Custom Violin That He Designed Himself
New York-born violinist Damien Escobar gives an in-depth look at his intricately designed instrument, which he calls "an extension of my body"
For violinist Damien Escobar, his favorite piece of equipment is a no-brainer: his violin.
But like his unique crossover stylings — which meld strings with pop, R&B and hip-hop production — Escobar's trademark violin isn't your average wooden instrument. Its custom design features an abstract paint job that's accented by a Michael Jordan-esque silhouette of Escobar himself.
"I said, 'You know what, I may not be in the NBA and have a sneaker like Mike, so why not have a violin?" Escobar says in his episode of It Goes To 11. "It's a really, really dope expression on music and my take on art. What I do is so unique and so different, I wanted to bring that kind of vibrance to the world of violins."
The New York-born violinist calls the instrument "an extension of my body," likely because he's been playing since he was a kid. He's attached to this particular violin, though, because he designed it himself (with the help of artist Allison Dayka, who he shouts out in the video).
Escobar is currently on tour, stopping through cities around North America until June. If you catch one of his shows, look out for his custom violin — but don't expect him to break into song. "You don't want to hear me sing," he jokes. "This sings for me."
Watch Escobar detail his favorite violin above, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of It Goes To 11.
Photo: Courtesy of The Rose
It Goes To 11: The Rose Introduces The Acoustic Guitar That's Been Part Of Their Career Since The Beginning
South Korean indie-rock band The Rose raves over their prized Taylor guitar, an instrument that has been part of the band's whole career.
The four members of The Rose have shared a lot of instruments in their five years together, but their favorite one traces back to the first song they wrote and recorded.
In this episode of It Goes to 11, meet Mol, the sunburst-finished Taylor guitar whose name fittingly translates to "sunset" in English. "We got to record our first song that we wrote together as the band with this guitar," Dojoon, the group's vocalist and acoustic guitarist, explained.
The quartet describes the guitar as one of the most precious and beautiful items in their collection, and the lengths they went to acquire it makes the item even more meaningful.
"I remember that day it was super rainy," bassist Jaehyeong recalls. "[Dojoon] went to the guitar shop, and he took a taxi, and then he brought this car in the heavy rain." But Dojoon reminded the group that the rainy venture was worth it: "But I was so happy!"
What makes the guitar most memorable is that it's a bearer of the band's history, from the live tour performances to late-night recording sessions. It's been with the group since 2017, and it doesn't seem like it will leave their possession anytime soon. "I will never, ever get rid of this guitar," Dojoon declares. "It will always be right next to me, every time. Right next to The Rose."
Press play on the video above to learn more about The Rose's shared history with the guitar, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of It Goes to 11.
Photo: Courtesy of Cuco
It Goes To 11: Cuco’s Favorite Instrument Is Also His Music Teacher And Songwriting Muse
Mexican American singer/songwriter Cuco shares the story behind the first synth he ever bought, and explains what the instrument taught him about making music.
Singer/songwriter and producer Cuco has lots of gear to choose from these days, but his favorite piece of musical equipment is the first synthesizer he ever bought.
In this episode of It Goes to 11, Cuco introduces his Yamaha Reface CS. While it's a big part of his artistry now, when he first bought the instrument in his home state of California, he didn’t really know how to use it.
“I was kinda confused when I was using it. I was like, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing,’” he explains. “But when I finally got some sounds out of it, I was like, ‘This thing is gonna be really sick, now that I’m getting something, something’s happening with the synth.’”
As he continued to practice and experiment with different sounds, Cuco started to realize that the keyboard itself was teaching him how to be a better musician and songwriter. “It inspired me to just wanna keep writing more,” the artist adds, “because when you kinda get those resources, you get a new wave of inspiration.”
Cuco acknowledges that eventually, he’ll have to retire the synth, as it already has some knobs that "are a little janky," as he puts it. But even after he replaces it, the Yamaha will always have a permanent place at his home.
“I’m never gonna get rid of this specific one right here,” Cuco adds.
Press play on the video above to see Cuco’s full thoughts on his favorite synth — and learn what his mom thought when he told her he was buying it — and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of It Goes to 11.
Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.
Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.
So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.
Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.