Name Game

Dance stars Funky Green Dogs might hype California, but they're all Miami

Once you get the name, then you'll understand the method behind the dance-hit factory known as Funky Green Dogs. Producers/DJs Oscar Gaetan and Ralph Falcon are easing into evening at an Ocean Drive coffee shop fresh off the heels of another Winter Music Conference and the news that their latest album, Super California, is already churning out dance-floor favorites across the country, even hitting the Billboard charts.

They quickly dismiss this year's WMC, Falcon claiming he missed his own party and Gaetan summing it up with "Fun ... but a big blur."

Then the inevitable question arises.

"The name?" Falcon asks, amused. "It was around the time of our third record, maybe 1991, and it was one of those late-night-at-work things when we came up with it. Originally it was Funky Green Dogs from Outer Space. Basically at the time all these electronic groups were acting real pretentious with their names, so we just wanted to make it obvious that the name shouldn't matter."

"Yeah, we came up with that name thinking that we wouldn't last beyond a few singles," Gaetan adds. "Now it's too late to change it."

So Funky Green Dogs it is, now all grown up and poised to reap the benefits of a scene gone mad. Both Gaetan and Falcon spun the vinyl in the late Eighties, long before "superstar" became a popular prefix for DJs. Remembering the hard hours they logged in basement parties and half-empty clubs just to get a chance at recording, they're skeptical of newcomers expecting instant celebrity.

"It's funny," Gaetan says. "The other day I'm talking to this guy in his mid-thirties and he's all excited that he just got turntables. It's cool that people are interested in [spinning] but too many DJs right now got the idea that they can just put on a record and be playing [British super club] Ministry of Sound tomorrow. They see the perks and glory but don't really care about the music. We had a genuine interest."

Friends since their grade-school years in Miami, Gaetan and Falcon attended different high schools but shared interests in music and production. Each was dirtying his hands solo on the local scene until 1990, when they decided to put their combined skills to the test. The result was a few underground hits, including "U Got Me" and "Together," harbingers of the deluge of club hits and remix top-sellers to come.

Cutting up other people's vinyl into hardcore trance and progressive house gave the DJs quick thrills, but the duo found producing their own sounds more challenging and rewarding. In the studio the producers stick to the straight and narrow.

"We're dance, period," states Gaetan. "Lucky for us it became popular."

FGD dropped the sizzling single "Fired Up!" on clubs in 1996, off the album Get Fired Up! featuring vocalist Pamela Williams, and went from local DJs to internationally acclaimed producers. Then the duo was turned on to a then-unknown vocalist, Tamara. One studio run-through with her strong, soulful style and the guys were hooked.

"Tamara was a very smooth fit," Gaetan says. "The minute we heard her we knew she'd be perfect for our sound."

The trio released two albums on the independent record label Wicked, and after a number of tour dates and heavy club play, major label MCA came calling and signed FGD to the big time.

"With Wicked we had a lot more freedom and trust," Falcon says of the switch to the major. "Now we have to get approval from, like, a board of directors."

MCA may be corporate, but the company isn't stupid. A string of Billboard hits kind of tipped them off to FGD's potential; the label scrutinizes each salvo the group sends its way.

"We didn't know we had an ego until our songs got rejected," Gaetan laughs. "Our recent album was a lot different. Before we just turned in what we liked. Now it's a process of elimination, and that was kind of hard to deal with at first. But it made us work even harder."

Super California continues FGD's evolution with bass-pumping, vocal-driven, remix-in-waiting songs that are sure to go down easy at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday. Tamara again preaches the tenets of faith and devotion while an enticing wave of electricity builds around her. Songs like "You Got Me (Burnin' Up)" and "Rise Up" have already won radio requests, and house legend Junior Vasquez told the DJs he's cutting up Gotham's club floors with a few California tracks.

"The pressure from the label now is to definitely make hits," Gaetan admits. "That's what we're told," he adds with a laugh. "But we never approach albums like that. Nobody can just make a hit. If you could, everyone would."

That doesn't mean hitting the charts is not addictive.

"We've grown to expect it," Falcon says, without bragging. "We've always had number-one hits off our albums, so it's like we need it."

 
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