The spirit of Throwback Thursday is alive and well in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Packed onto the dance floors of Minneapolis and St. Paul clubs, a small but passionate circuit of r&b revivalists has come about. DJs, party-lovers and soul aficionados all gather in the name of the groove, as legendary James Brown cuts mix with rarities from local acts like The Valdons. But if not for one man, a cratedigging, funk-obsessed St. Paul native named Brian Engel, this throwback scene might not exist at all.
In a small second-floor apartment crowded with stacks of LPs, cases of 45s, turntables and incense burners, Engel let us in for a glimpse of his much-loved stash of music. He’s one of the leaders of Hipshaker, a rare funk & soul night that’s been running strong for 12 years at Minneapolis’s Kitty Cat Klub. Hipshaker is a household name amongst music-lovers on both banks of the Mississippi river; some of the very best r&b ever recorded–all of it strictly vinyl–is spun there by Engel and his DJ cohorts. The night is a world-class funk & soul party, as good (or perhaps better) than anything happening in New York, Los Angeles, London or Berlin.
“I’d say to the world that there’s a thriving DJ and dance scene here,” Engel said as he pulled records in preparation for an upcoming gig. Engel was drawn to funk & soul, like so many others, through the magic of hip-hop samples. His record collection spans jazz, Nigerian afrobeat, classic rock and neo-soul. His prized copy of De La Soul is Dead leans against a stack of disco promo singles and his Pearl Jam Christmas Fan Club LP sits cozy next to D’Angelo‘s Voodoo.
But the sound of classic funk & soul will always have Engel’s heart. After an hour of pulling records, he picks out Charles Sheffield‘s “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” a shuffling two minute track from 1961 that, to him, started it all. “This is the first,” he said. “I went to the record store and saw this. I thought ‘Fuck me, man that just looks great!'” Engel puts it on, pushes his stereo volume high…and a wooly baritone sax shakes the walls of his place. “It ain’t judging itself or nothing,” Engel shouts as his pride and joy spins atop the turntable. “I felt like this was some real, serious shit. So I got on the train, and it’s where we’re at with Hipshaker today.”
Hipshaker, along with Engel’s other main party, the global-themed Worldwide Discotheque, have made sure that Minnesota never loses touch with the funk & soul that it itself produced in the ’60s and early ’70s. DJs regularly spin obscure but dynamite tunes from locals like Wanda Davis, The Emanons and The Strivers Show Band. When local indie label Secret Stash Records released their wildly successful Twin Cities Funk & Soul compilation, few knew that most of the tracks on their shiny new LPs were recorded directly from the 45s in Engel’s own collection. His collection is a library of hard to find singles, cut by young ’60s groups that loved listening to James Brown and just wanted to get out and play.
These Midwestern act feature prominently on our Hipshaker Rare Funk + Soul Throwback Mix, an hour-long set of all-vinyl tracks mixed exclusively by Engel for Okayplayers around the world. The mix is heavy on the unsung funk & soul heroes of flyover country, and captures the wild joy that Twin Cities residents revel in at every month’s Hipshaker. When asked about what it’s like to spin these classic records, Engel looks up from his turntable and smiles. “I feel connected to people. I feel like I’m doing something right.” Turn the volume up loud and have a happy Throwback Thursday, everyone, from the funky land of 10,000 lakes.
Hipshaker Rare Funk + Soul Throwback Tracklist:
1. The Emanons – “Ain’t No Sunshine” (B-P-L) [Minnesota]
2.The Savonics – “Soul Groove” (TMA)
3. James Brown – “Let Yourself Go” (King)
4. Aalon Butler and The New Breed – “Gettin’g Soul pt. 1” [Wisconsin] 5. Mickey & The Soul Generation – “Chocolate” (Maxwell) [Texas] 6. The Herculoids – “Get Back” (Herculoids) [Louisiana] 7. Rickey Calloway & His Band – “Get It Right” (Camaro) [Florida] 8. Bobby Williams and His Mar-Kings – “Let’s Work Awhile” (Normar) [Florida] 9. Ann Robinson and The Freedom Now Brothers – “You Did It” (All Brothers)
10. Beau Williams – “I’ll Be Home Soon” (Truth & Soul)
11. Black Diet – “You Did It To Yourself” (Piñata Records) [Minnesota] 12. Demon Funk – “You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide” (Demon Funk) [Louisiana] 13. Wanda Davis & The Soul Sensations – “Save Me” (Project Soul) [Minnesota] 14. The Highlighters Band – “Funky 16 Corners” (3 Diamonds) [Indiana] 15. Preston Love & His Band – “Cissy Popcorn” (Hudson’s) [California] 16. Raphael Munnings – “Takin’ You Higher” (Alston)
17. The Strivers Show Band – “Love Episode” (Strivers) [Minnesota b/w of Louisville, KY] 18. Haze – “Are You Free?” (ASI) [Minnesota] 19. The Valdons – “Love Me, Leave Me” (Twin City Movement) [Minnesota] 20. Ray Richards – “Minneap’lis, MN” (Security Records) [not Minnesota]