Until recently, the words Florida and funk have been associated more with a Dan Marino Right Guard commercial than with music. But a group of five South Florida b-boys is doing its part to change that. As Fusik, the quintet has rocked local stages for four years, from Transit Lounge in Miami to Dada in Delray Beach.
The sound is the sum of many parts: part James Brown and Jimmy Castor drum breaks; part Santana and Can '70s psychedelics; part Ray Barretto and Mongo Santamaria Latin jazz percussion; and part straight, raw energy akin to the Budos Band and Breakestra. The group claims members from the famed Unique Styles and Flipside Kings breakdancing crews, and hails from everywhere from Louisiana to Venezuela. Fusik is the result of five flavors mashed into a melting pot that chugs like an FEC freight train.
"I don't think there's a band that's done it the way we have, where the people know us, and we're not like outsiders coming in to the scene," says the single-monikered Felix, the group's drummer and designated spokesman. "We're in it because we know a lot of the b-boys and dancers around the world."
And their commitment to the international hip-hop scene has seen them rack up some serious frequent-flyer miles. This past August, the group was tapped as the sole backing band for Freestyle Session's 12-year anniversary in Los Angeles, one of the largest breakdancing competitions in the world. The rest of the summer marked tour dates as far-flung as France and Spain. As a result, the group's reach has multiplied exponentially through word of mouth, as well as on the strength of its nine-song debut LP, Only a Few Are Sick, released in 2007.
In addition to Felix, Fusik's lineup also includes Sanchez on bass and guitar, Nonms on percussion, Chip on keyboards, and Mack on bass and drums. The five first met as friends at Catalyst, a b-boy spot in Miami Springs where dancers and hip-hop heads congregate Saturday nights. Later, Felix and Mack randomly ran into each other at a Guitar Center, where they discovered they were both musicians. They began jamming with mutual acquaintance Sanchez, and percussionist Nonms soon followed. Chip's recent addition finally filled out the sound.
"The first gigs we did were house parties," Felix recalls. "The house parties were like a club — that's how people started to know us. After that, we started to play at Catalyst, which is like a hip-hop outreach for everyone, from MCing to b-boying to graffiti. It was a real dope vibe." But the band soon jumped right into the South Florida scene with gigs at the now-defunct Marlin hotel bar and Jazid on South Beach. Those shows led to regular gigs at the Van Dyke, also on the Beach, and Transit Lounge, on the mainland. And by this year, the guys had become tri-county: They scored a residency at Dada in Delray Beach and hold it down the last Saturday of every month.
Now, finally, a new album is due out this fall, although the release date has not yet been solidified. Whereas the first Fusik record centered more on the group's direct influences of string-based funk, this new effort digs much deeper into the crates. Cuts such as the reggae-inflected "Stomp" play next to a Medeski, Martin & Wood-like improvisation on "Ghost" and the neck-snappingly fast "Savage." This stylistic spread is a good reflection of Fusik's hyper, diverse live shows.
They carry all of this energy with no main MC or back-up singers; instead, the grooves lead the way. Just check the track "The Grind," where keyboard chops and driving percussion take the listener on a trek up Mount Vesuvius, barely allowing a stop for a water break. But if you like some rap with your rock, check out the addictive Kill the Radio EP, which the crew and local MC Protoman dropped this past March.
While Fusik performs at many breakdancing events, the band members are also active in the culture: Felix teaches breaking classes at Euphoria Studios in Coral Springs, and Nonms still dances with his crews. And though they mourn the local downturn in the number of events, they still hold out hope. "The local b-boy scene is in a recession right now. But Catalyst is one of the spots you can always count on. The quality of the scene is still really good, but there aren't jams all the time," Felix says.
And the guys remain positive about the South Florida music scene in general. "We feel live music in South Florida is growing, as there are a lot of good bands — groups like the Spam Allstars and their sick horn section, and Ketchy Shuby," Chip says. "When we play in Dada, the crowd knows us. They recognize changes we make in our music, and that's where we play a lot of our new material."
But whether the band plays in its home state or across the globe, one thing is true: Fusik always brings the funk.