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What Is Immersive Audio?: How Engineers, Artists & Industry Are Changing The State Of Sound
Control room at Alpha Centauri Studios in London

Photo: Rob Monk/Future Music Magazine via Getty Images

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What Is Immersive Audio?: How Engineers, Artists & Industry Are Changing The State Of Sound

Immersive audio tech allows sound technicians to think and work in three dimensions, and for listeners to get "inside" the sound. GRAMMY.com takes a deep dive into the past, present and future of immersive audio for home, the studio and live audience.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2022 - 02:08 pm

The quest to provide listeners with the highest fidelity and most realistic audio experience has been ongoing for centuries — Venice's Basilica of San Marco underwent structural modifications in the 16th century to ensure that the seat designated for the city’s top elected official received the best possible sound. Hundreds of years later, we are still seeking new auditory experiences, and the pace of recent innovations suggests that more advances lie ahead.

Immersion has been a throughline throughout our history of audio improvements. Engineers at the Basilica of San Marco employed a split choir to create a "stereo" effect that immersed listeners in a three-dimensional swirl of sound; more recently, works by 20th century composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and Edgard Varèse sought to place listeners in the center of the sound. In the late 1960s, Pink Floyd developed the Azimuth Coordinator, a joystick device that afforded real-time control of sound output from speakers placed all over the concert hall. Today, many performing artists find ways to incorporate immersive audio into the concert experience.

Audio recording technology developed along similar lines. As early as 1939, Disney engineers developed the stereo precursor, Fantasound (which was used to great effect on the Fantasia soundtrack). Stereophonic records came into wide use in the late 1950s and, by 1970, four-channel quadraphonic audio technology sought to create an enhanced and even more realistic sound experience for home listeners.

The mid 1970s saw the advent of 5.1 surround audio, developed by Dolby Labs. Created for home theater and cinema, the format became the audio standard for digital broadcasting. Today, 7.1 surround — a system with eight speakers — is common in home theater applications and recording studios.

All of these breakthroughs have a common core goal: Giving the listener – at home, in a concert hall, and ideally anywhere – an audio experience that fully envelops them in sound for a three-dimensional experience. Recent advances have been nothing short of breathtaking, perhaps fundamentally changing the way professionals and average listeners experience sound. Yet more than 150 years after the dawn of recorded sound, most experts agree that immersive audio is still in its infancy.

What Is Immersive Sound?

Most sound engineers mix live concert audio in "distributed monaural," says Marc Lopez, Vice President of Marketing Americas for d&b audiotechnik — a German company that has been designing and manufacturing amplifiers, loudspeakers and sound systems since 1981. He explains that live sound technicians are mostly just "trying to get sound distributed," but the result can be removed from reality. "It’s almost like you're watching and hearing from somewhere else," he tells GRAMMY.com.

Immersive audio technologies aim to put listeners in a specific place, localizing "sound — not just in front of you or inside your head but all around you," notes Guillaume Le Nost, Executive Director of Creative Technologies for L-Acoustics. Based in Marcoussis, France, L-Acoustics manufactures loudspeakers, amplifiers and signal processing equipment primarily for live sound. Immersive audio is a growing segment of the company’s business. 

Le Nost points out that stereophonic (two-channel) sound has serious shortcomings, especially in a live music context. "When your speakers are 30 meters away from each other, it starts to be very difficult to have a nice stereo experience except [for] people exactly at the center," he says, adding that immersive audio places "the listener inside of the sound." 

How Does Immersive Sound Work?

While quadrophonics provided four discrete audio channels, today’s audio technology moves far beyond, into three dimensions. With immersive audio, says Le Nost, "we can place objects in space." And immersive technology "doesn't define a loudspeaker format delivery," says David Gould, Senior Director of Content Creation Solutions at San Francisco-based Dolby Laboratories. "It just loosely defines something that’s above and beyond."

Instead of merely providing four discrete channels of audio, immersive sound technology is object-based: "You can place a sound in a specific position independently from how many loudspeakers you have; they’re completely independent of each other; that’s really the magic of the object-based approach," Le Nost says.

"It's a lot of work to finagle all the instruments and frequencies to work in two channels and give a transparent mix," observes Steve Ellison, Director of Spatial Sound for Berkeley, Calif. based Meyer Sound Laboratories. Meyer designs and builds audio gear for the professional sound reinforcement and recording industries. 

While quadrophonics attempted to improve upon stereo, a worthy goal, quad sound could be gimmicky in its 1970s applications. "The stereotype of quad is a kind of ping-ponging effect: ‘Where’s the sound?’" Ellison notes. 

The immersive approach circumvents these issues by allowing sound technicians to think and work in three dimensions instead of two. To use an example from geometry, stereo and quad work with the X and Y axes, but the spatial/immersive approach adds the Z axis. "With traditional mixing, you’re mixing a bunch of single channels directly to the outputs," Lopez explains. The object-based approach employs what he half-jokingly calls "mystery processing. You just move the interface around, and it will figure out the best loudspeaker output for you." 

The result is infinitely more versatile and lifelike than quad could ever be.

How Has Immersive Sound Evolved?

Lopez places the development of immersive audio into an evolutionary timeline. "Monophonic delivery provided sound, but not necessarily experience," he says. "Stereo was a happy medium, a practical [way] for living rooms to deliver more of that experience. Quadraphonic sound attempted to put the listener either into the audience or into the band, and 5.1 surround was a more defined execution of that."

For a long time, if you wanted an audio experience beyond stereo, "there was only one way of doing it: you had to get four speakers," says Gould. He notes that with current immersive audio technologies like Dolby Atmos, the user has far more latitude and flexibility. "Think about things like sound bars, upward-firing speakers and even binaural renderers on cell phones," he says. "Now we have far more ways to get that experience."

Immersive audio takes things to another level entirely, he adds. And by definition, it’s not limited to a specific setup of one, two, four or some other number of speakers.

The object-based approach brings another important innovation: scalability. Freed from the requirement of a specific audio setup, technologies like Dolby Atmos are engineered to adapt to the application and listening environment. Debuting in 2012, Atmos enabled overhead sound to cinema audio; two years later it became available for home theaters, and today it’s gaining widespread use in recording studios. 

"Rather than [audio] being ‘burned’ into channels," Gould explains, "you now get these discrete audio objects that can [effectively ask] 'Okay, what is my playback environment, and how do I best render this audio within that playback environment?'" Metadata encoded into the digital audio files also provides critical three-dimensional audio positioning information. "So whatever speakers you have, each sound is coming from the right place," Gould continues. 

Theoretically, there are no limitations on how complex an object-based audio mix can be. In practice, however, it’s more limited but still quite impressive. "In the cinema, Dolby Atmos supports up to 64 loudspeakers," Gould says. "In our home renderer, we support up to 30 speakers." 

Even though immersive audio playback technology is widespread and well within the grasp of the consumer, music still has to be made into an immersive format. Doing so is the realm of the recording studio.

How Are Recording Studios Using Immersive Sound Technology?

Audio producer and engineer Webster Tileston first began to explore immersive audio in 2020 when he experienced binaural audio on headphones. Binaural audio is a kind of three-dimensional effect that can be realized with just two channels, making it ideally suited for listeners using headphones or earbuds. Immersive audio has since become a significant part of his work. 

"My excitement came from the fact that I could mix in Dolby Atmos and deliver a single file format," says Tileston, an Atmos Mix Engineer at Nashville studio Axis Audio. "And I can use that one mixing process for pretty much any playback the client needs." That scalability makes spatial/immersive audio an attractive option. 

Growing use is bringing down the cost of immersive audio technology. "There’s a misconception that you have to spend a ton of money," Tileston tells GRAMMY.com. "There are a lot of affordable ways to get into it." The technology is also remarkably user-friendly, allowing for more creative control. "I'm able to place things in a much more musical way than I would have been able to in stereo," Tileston says. "Instead of having to try to fake depth perception and 'dimensionality' with reverb, I'm now able to accomplish that right away with the space that's around me."

Gould admits that as recently as two years ago, there was still skepticism about Atmos. But at least three popular music streaming services — Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music and Tidal — have begun providing Atmos content; Apple's acceptance of immersive audio in May 2021 was a game-changer. 

"Everyone went from, ‘How will anyone hear this?’ to 'Oh, this is real, and I need to be on board with it,'" says Dolby’s Gould. His company has seen rapid growth, with more than 550 studios now outfitted with Atmos. "A lot of that has come in the past 12 months. Everyone — producers, engineers and artists — has been very excited about the possibilities," he says.

How Did The GRAMMY Award For Immersive Audio Come About & What Is The Criteria?

Recognizing immersive audio’s importance as both a technological innovation and a tool for creative artistic expression, the Recording Academy created a new award in 2005. "A group of highly respected members from the Academy’s Producers and Engineers Wing initiated the idea," explains Michael Almanza, manager of the Academy’s Immersive Audio category. 

Originally called Best Surround Sound Album and renamed in 2019 Best Immersive Audio Album, the category debuted at the 47th GRAMMY Awards. Winners that year were the production team behind Ray CharlesGenius Loves Company. Subsequent winners have included producers of recordings by the Beatles, Beyoncé, Dire Straits, Roger Waters and Alicia Keys.

Eligible recordings must be commercially released for sale or streaming and provide "an original immersive mix — not electronically re-purposed — of four or more channels," Almanza says. Yet a sometimes confusing array of competing file formats and physical media have made entering the immersive audio space challenging. In the past two years, the recording industry has begun to coalesce around Dolby Atmos and immersive streaming, eliminating much of the confusion.

Headed by GRAMMY-winning mastering engineer Michael Romanowski and George Massenburg, a committee at the Producers and Engineers Wing is currently developing a set of technical guidelines for immersive audio. 

How Is Immersive Audio Used In Live Music?

When Leonard Bernstein composed his MASS in 1971, the work featured a pit orchestra, choirs, "street musicians" and rock band. MASS would be performed widely, but capturing and conveying the scope of the piece remained challenging. 

"The idea that Bernstein had was to make the audience feel immersed in the live concert experience," says Keith Lockhart, Conductor and Artistic Director of the Brevard Music Center’s Summer Festival. In 2018, BMC staged an ambitious reading of MASS using d&b audiotechnik's Soundscape system — which Bjork and Kraftwerk have also used on tour. 

Soundscape allowed for an effortless combination of recorded and live elements, North Carolina-based Lockhart notes. D&b is one of a handful of audio companies working on the leading edge of immersive audio for live performance. L-Acoustics and Meyer Sound have developed their own proprietary technologies as well.

L-Acoustics’ immersive technology, L-ISA, has been used by a diverse range of artists including alt-J, Soundgarden, Bon Iver, Katy Perry and Blue Man Group. Meyer Sound’s immersive technology has been employed in performance spaces like Brooklyn’s National Sawdust, theatrical presentations and the popular Immersive Van Gogh exhibition. The increasing prevalence of immersive audio technology demonstrates that audiences expect to be dazzled.

"Anything you can do to differentiate your show from the other shows out there," says Best Immersive Album GRAMMY nominee Steven Wilson, who has used immersive sound mixes in his concerts since 2011. "Whether it's having surround audio or incredible visual production – increasingly these things make a difference to justify the price of tickets and get people out of their front rooms and into the concert hall."

How Can Artists Use Immersive Audio To Create?

"Painting in sounds," says Wilson. "That’s really what making music is." As a solo artist, leader of Porcupine Tree and in-demand collaborator, Wilson has been a go-to remix producer for over a decade, re-imagining classic stereo albums from Genesis, Chicago, Black Sabbath, Tears for Fears, Kiss and others in immersive formats.

Wilson concedes that it’s possible to overdo things when all of these new tools are at hand. "The 'glue' of the track [can be] pulled apart if, for example, things become too isolated," he says. "In an Atmos mix you’ll have a guitar solo or a backing vocal isolated in one of the rear speakers; I’m wary of that." 

Wilson believes that some genres are especially well-suited for immersive audio. "It’s absolutely fantastic for electronic music," he says, noting that the nature of the music encourages expansive use of technology. Wilson’s approach to immersive mixes for rock music tends to be more conservative. "There's something about rock and roll," he says. "The drums and the bass and the guitars are all fighting each other coming out of a stereo or mono positioning; when you start to pull those elements apart, it starts to sound wrong." 

Emphasizing that he’s completely self-trained on Dolby Atmos and immersive technologies, Wilson notes that there’s only one way to determine what works and doesn’t. "You only discover those things by experimenting, by trial and error. I always feel I'm still learning." He’s clearly a quick study: his 2021 album The Future Bites received a Best Immersive Audio Album nomination.

What Does The Future Of Immersive Audio Look & Sound Like?

"Audio has always been the experience of hearing sound," says Axis Audio’s Webster Tileston. "The immersive side of things gives us a more natural way to create and consume it." He notes that he has created immersive mixes from a few live recordings, just for fun. "I remember playing them back and thinking, 'I feel like I’m sitting in this club right now.' And that’s a cool feeling." 

L-Acoustics’ Le Nost believes that immersive audio "is going to become very mainstream, much more in our daily lives. I think this technology has a bright future." Ellison of Meyer Sound acknowledges immersive audio’s role in recorded music, but sees live performance as a major growth market. "You go somewhere that's a shared experience, and you can hear content in a way that you couldn't hear at home," he says.

Lopez of d&b audiotechnic notes that Broadway theaters have been employing immersive technology for nearly 20 years. Likewise, many artists desire to bring audio up to a level that matches their visual spectaculars. Immersive audio in the live context is "a higher-resolution way to [present] what’s going on, to recreate that intimacy, that emotional connection," Lopez says.

"At its core, immersive audio is an experience, regardless of how it is listened to," says the Recording Academy’s Almanza. "Immersive audio is its own art form. And as long as there is a pursuit of excellence in this now-widening field, the Academy will continue to recognize and award those creators."

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Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation
(L-R) Leon of Athens, Katerine Duska

Photo (L-R): Ria Mort, Thanos Poulimenos

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Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation

Frequent songwriting partners Katerine Duska and Leon Of Athens grapple with a relationship full of miscommunication in this emotional duet, which they debut with a powerful Global Spin performance.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 06:00 pm

"Can I love you a little more clearly?" Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens sing in the emotional chorus of their new song, "Babel." "Can we get it right? Can we talk another night away?"

In this episode of Global Spin, the two pop singers — and frequent songwriting partners — effortlessly trade off between Greek and English in a compelling performance. But as beautiful as the bilingual, harmony-driven duet may be, "Babel" chronicles a fraught relationship where, ultimately, the love gets lost in translation.

"Babel" brings the two lovers back to where they started: Frustrated and failing to see eye to eye, but still invested in one another. That narrative pairs with an equally passionate, string-filled sonic backdrop in this song, which Duska and Leon of Athens premiere on Global Spin.

The song's visual component further underscores its message. Duska and Leon of Athens perform the song from a bed, surrounded by candles and rippling water. As they wrestle through their disagreements — both lyrically and physically — the two artists make an attempt to find tenderness, but their best efforts dissolve into frustration and disconnection.

The bilingual duo have co-written several times in the past, and they're no strangers to performing together, either. Their first duet, "ANEMOS," came out in 2019; a year later, the pair released another collaboration, "Communication."

Press play on the video above to get a first look at the latest collaboration between Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens, and keep checking GRAMMY.com every Tuesday for more new episodes of Global Spin.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival
(L-R) Akon and Teemanay

Photo: Matteo Vincenzo (right)

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival

Over plates of Nigerian jollof rice, global superstar Akon and Afrobeats mainstay Teemanay explain the finer points of this staple West African dish — which is also their staple meal on the road.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 05:00 pm

When it comes to music, R&B giant Akon and rising Afrobeats star Teemanay (aka Young Icon) have a lot in common. Not only are they both from West Africa — Akon's family roots are in Senegal, while Teemanay hails from Nigeria – but the two teamed up on the four-song EP Konvict Kulture Presents Teemanay, which came out on Akon's label earlier this year.

The two acts have similar tastes when it comes to food, too — though they might disagree on the finer points. Jollof rice, a staple throughout West Africa, is a dish that both artists grew up loving, even though they hail from different countries within the region.

"For a meal, if they have jollof rice for me, I will give them an extra 15 minutes of free performance," Teemanay jokes in the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

"So the rice is actually smoked, almost like when you cook barbeque," Akon details, explaining what it is that makes this particular dish so special. "When you look at jollof, it ranks in the top five of those things you just can't forget. It's a part of the meal, every meal."

The dish is so essential that Akon hosts an annual Jollof, Music & Food Festival in Atlanta, which features a lineup of music and food trucks. But the pinnacle of the event is the jollof cook-off, in which recipes from different countries compete to see which region creates the best version of the dish.

"This year, Senegal won. But we kinda expect that, because Senegal is really the creators of jollof rice," Akon proudly explains, as Teemanay shakes his head in disagreement.

"I'm in a very aggressive, fighting mood right now," Teemanay shoots back with a smirk. "Nigerian jollof is the best jollof in the world."

Whichever regional version they prefer, Akon and Teemanay can agree on one thing: There's no better post-show meal or tour bus snack out there than jollof rice. 

Press play on the video above to watch the two stars duke it out over their favorite jollof, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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9 Organizations Helping Music Makers In Need: MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum & Others

Photo: Suriyawut Suriya / EyeEm via Getty Images

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9 Organizations Helping Music Makers In Need: MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum & Others

Are you in a position to donate to musicians in a state of financial or personal crisis on this GivingTuesday? Check out these nine charitable organizations — beneath the Recording Academy umbrella and otherwise.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 03:17 pm

Imagine a world where care and concern is distributed in a holistic circuit, rather than being hoarded away or never employed at all. That's the paradigm that GivingTuesday is reaching toward.

Created in 2012 under the simple precept of being generous and celebrating generosity, GivingTuesday is a practical hub for getting involved in one's community and giving as freely to benefit and nourish others.

Since GivingTuesday has swelled not just from a single day in the calendar year, but a lens through which to view the other 364 days. You can find your local GivingTuesday network here, find ways to participate here, and find ways to join  GivingTuesday events here.

Where does the Recording Academy come in? Helping musicians in need isn't something they do on the side, an afterthought while they hand out awards.

No, aiding music people is at the core of the Academy's mission. MusiCares, the Academy's philanthropic arm, has changed innumerable lives for the better.

And through this society of music professionals and its other major components — including  Advocacy, the GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY U — the Academy continues its fight in legislative and educational forms.

If you're willing and able to help musicians in need this GivingTuesday, here's a helpful hub of nine charitable organizations with whom you can do so.

MusiCares

Any list of orgs that aid musicians would be remiss to not include MusiCares.

Through the generosity of donors and volunteer professionals, this organization of committed service members has been able to aid struggling music people in three key areas: mental health and addiction recovery services, health services, and human services.

For more information on each of those, visit here. To apply for assistance, click here. And to donate to MusiCares, head here.

GRAMMY Museum

"Museum" might be right there in the name, but there's a lot more to this precious sector of the Recording Academy.

The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles doesn't just put on immersive exhibits that honor the legacies of musical giants; it's a hub for music education.

At press time, more than 20,000 students have visited the Museum, more than 10,000 students have participated in the Museum's Clive Davis theater, and 20,000 students have participated in their GRAMMY Camp weekends.

To donate to the GRAMMY Museum, click here. To become a member, visit here.

Give a Beat

By now, the evidence is ironclad: Giving incarcerated people access to music and art dramatically increases morale and decreases recidivism.

Give a Beat is keenly aware of this, both on direct-impact and mentorship levels.

The org hosts classes for incarcerated people, in order for them to "find healing, transformation, and empowerment" through its Prison Electronic Music Program, which helps incarcerated folks wade deep into the fields of music production and DJing.

Its On a New Track Reentry Mentoring Program initiative connects music industry professionals with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to transfer their skills into a professional setting.

To become a member of Give a Beat, click here. To donate, visit here.

Jazz Foundation of America

Despite being at the heart of American musical expression, jazz, blues and roots can sometimes feel roped off on the sidelines of the music industry — and its practitioners can slip between society's cracks.

That's where the Jazz Foundation of America comes in. They aid musicians struggling to hang onto their homes, connect physicians and specialists with uninsured artists and help musicians get back on their feet after life-upending natural disasters.

To donate to the Jazz Foundation, click here; for all other info, visit their website.

The Blues Foundation

Headquartered in Memphis, the Blues Foundation aims to preserve the history and heritage of the blues — which lies at the heart of all American forms. This goes not only for irreplaceable sites and artifacts, but the living, breathing people who continue to make it.

The Blues Foundation offers educational outreach, providing scholarships to youth performers to attend summer blues camps and workshops.

On top of that, in the early 2000s, they created the HART Fund to offer financial support to musicians in need of medical, dental, and vision care.

And for blues artists who have passed on, the HART Fund diverts money to their families  to ensure their loved ones would be guaranteed dignified funerals.

For more information on the Blues Foundation, visit here. To donate, click here.

Musicians Foundation

Founded all the way back when World War I broke out, the Musicians Foundation has spent more than a century cutting checks to musicians in times of need.

This includes financial grants to cover basic expenses, like medical and dental treatments, rents and mortgages and utilities. Submitted grant applications are reviewed by their staff and a screening committee. If approved, the money is dispatched rapidly and directly to the debtor to relieve financial pressure as soon as possible.

The Musicians Foundation's philanthropic legacy is enshrined in Century of Giving, a comprehensive analysis of financial aid granted to musicians and their families by the Foundation since 1914.

For more information, visit here; click here to donate.

Music Maker Foundation

Based in North Carolina, the Music Maker Foundation tends to the day-to-day needs of American roots artists — helping them negotiate crises so they can "keep roofs over their heads, food on their tables, [and] instruments in their hands."

This relief comes in the forms of basic sustenance, resources performance (like booking venues and providing CDs to sell) and spreading education about their contributions to the American roots canon.

Check out their website for more information; to donate, click here.

Sweet Relief: Musicians Fund

When music people are in danger, this charitable organization sees no barriers of genre, region or nature of crisis.

If you're a musician suffering from physical, mental or financial hardship — whether it be due to a disability, an affliction like cancer, or anything else — Sweet Relief has got your back.

There are numerous ways to support Sweet Relief; you can become a partner, intern or volunteer, or simply chip in a few bucks for one of their various funds to keep their selfless work moving.

For any and all further information, visit their website.

Music Workers Alliance

The Recording Academy's concern and consideration for music people hardly stops at musicians — they're here to support all music people.

They share this operating principle with Music Workers Alliance, which tirelessly labors to ensure music people are treated like they matter — and are fairly remunerated for their efforts.

This takes many forms, like fighting for music workers at the federal, state and city level for access to benefits and fair protections, and ensuring economic justice and fair working conditions.

Music Workers Alliance also fights for economic justice on the digital plane, and aims to provide equal access for people of color and other underrepresented groups in the industry.

For more info, visit their website; for ways to get involved, click here.

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

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

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

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

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

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.

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