Music News

Memphix Rising

If you weren't at last Saturday's D-Styles show at the Old Brickhouse, you missed several of the country's best scratch DJs: D-Styles, Ricci Rucker, Mike Boo, and the Valley's own DJ Radar. A lineup this solid hasn't hit town in ages. It's about time some top-tier turntablists started coming through.

Not only that, you also missed two of the nation's preeminent collectors of rare and obscure funk and soul 45s dropping their favorite cuts, DJs Egon and Chase 1. This full-frontal barrage of audio relics is unlike anything the Valley's been exposed to. Its gravitas is only subtly apparent, so let me make it clear: The cult collective Memphix has established a beachhead in Phoenix.

Memphix is a record label/DJ collective founded in Memphis in 1999 by Chase 1, a.k.a. Chad Weekley, Dante Carfagna, and Luke "Red Eye" Sexton. Just a couple of months ago, Weekley moved to Tempe, effectively relocating Memphix's business operations to the Valley (he followed his girlfriend, who's now a grad student at Arizona State University). The label was named Memphix long before any of its associates could claim any Phoenix ties, but it makes for an apt confluence of cities and syllables. Weekley, who promoted the D-Styles show with local DJ Smite, is bringing with him not only a succession of top-tier turntablist shows, but an infusion of authentic Memphis-style dirty soul desperately needed here in the temperature-sterilized desert.

Of Memphix's six 45 rpm seven-inches and two full-length releases, the most infamous is Chains and Black Exhaust, 50 minutes of the sickest obscure black rock and funk tracks from the '60s and '70s, culled from the exhaustive collections of Weekley, Carfagna and Sexton. Chains and Black Exhaust doesn't bear the Memphix logo; instead it's credited to the fictional Jones Records, an attempt at anonymity considering the copyrights weren't cleared.

There were only 1,000 copies of Chains pressed, and today the album is nearly impossible to get. Soon an updated and fully cleared version (as well as a sequel) of Chains and Black Exhaust will be released on Now Again, DJ Egon's (a.k.a. Eothan Alapatt) reissue label, a subsidiary of Stones Throw Records.

Local record impresarios should take note of Memphix's strategies: Limited pressings are an integral part of the Memphix aesthetic, and not by accident. Each of the seven-inch 45s the label has dropped has been restricted to 500 copies, which creates the same aura of rarity as the 45s that record crate diggers like Weekley, Carfagna, Egon and Shadow drool over.

"These will stay in people's collections," Weekley explains in his Memphian drawl, regularly punctuated with a lazy "shyeah." "It's for life. To me, it's important that people really understand the music instead of just having it and throwing it away."

I hadn't heard of Memphix until Weekley moved to Tempe, but with some pointing and clicking it was quickly apparent that collectors worldwide are plenty familiar with the collective, and that the Valley is goddamn lucky to have its presence.

Memphix became a cult phenomenon with its very first release, a split 45 by DJ Klever and Dante Carfagna. Shortly after it dropped, DJ Klever, a Memphix associate from Atlanta, won the prestigious U.S. DMC turntablist competition and went to London to compete in the world finals, bringing Weekley and the Memphix crew with him to the U.K.

"I [played] in front of 5,000 people," Weekley recounts. "I sold like a hundred seven-inches in one night for five pounds apiece." Memphix 1, as the record is known, became almost impossible to get in the States, which obviously limited its potential for profitability, but created a mystique that was only perpetuated by its subsequent limited releases.

Memphix's next three seven-inch singles are in the can, nearly ready to release, and the label has already sold out the 500 copies of each to distributors in the States, the U.K. and Japan. If nothing else, perhaps the "Tempe, AZ" postmark will draw attention to the fact that the Southwest is a viable and progressive market for innovative music.

Last year Memphix pressed its first two full-length albums, the aforementioned Chains and Black Exhaust and Dante Carfagna's Express Rising, releasing just a thousand copies of each. Carfagna, an associate of Shadow's Quannum crew, was responsible for most of the beats on Memphix's six 45s, and Express Rising is a fully realized combustion of the laid-back grooves and subtly funky breaks that the seven-inches provide a taste of. Carfagna's production sounds like DJ Shadow after a handful of Klonopin, each measure subtly different from the last.

Another facet of the Memphix aesthetic is its raw, organic sound, a result of the music not being mastered before its pressing. "We don't do it at all," Weekley says. "If you would see what Dante ran his shit out of, it's so busted. It's like 1969 equipment, and then a PC. We run it through all that, that's what makes it so raw and dirty."

Carfagna is often associated with Shadow, appropriately so. Both are world-class aficionados of vinyl rarities and unparalleled funk historians, and are currently working together compiling a comprehensive discography of American funk 45s from 1967 to 1976. Meanwhile, Chad Weekley is leaving Tempe this week for England to work with legendary reissue label Ace Records on a Memphix funk 45s compilation. Once he returns, he has a slate of potential turntablists he and DJ Smite are trying to get to play the Valley at his monthly get-down.

"Egon played here -- he said people didn't understand the funk. Egon was sayin', Should we even play that?' I'm like, Yeah -- if we don't play it, then no one hears it and they'll never understand it.' So we gotta try to at least, eventually every month, put it in there. Get it goin' where people are dancin' and movin'." Shyeah.

While on the subject of dancin' and movin', a new funk and soul night has recently appeared that deserves mad props for introducing something fresh to the club scene. Lava Lounge, Saturday nights at the historical Firehouse steak house on Apache in Tempe, is killing it with a mix of funk and soul cuts by DJ Jas -- think Marvin Gaye and Billie Holiday -- complemented by the live funk styling of Calumet, a three-piece so infectious that pasty-faced indie rock kids are forming b-boy circles and getting their freak on.

Lava Lounge is the first venture into club land for the unlikely venue, but part of the night's charm is the building's ambiance. The dimly lighted bar is lined with red vinyl booths with candles burning on the tables. The band plays backed up against one side of the dance floor, right next to the crowd of undulating bodies.

The only way the Lava Lounge could be more dope is if Chad from Memphix brought his box of rare funk 45s down and rocked the house for an hour or so.

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