The Power of Performance: Funk Stage Productions
What is funk music?
Funk music is a music genre described as an urban form of dance or party music that emerged in the late 1960s and became popular in the late 1970s. Along with its counterpart, soul music which also emerged and was popular in the 60s and 70s, funk music is a sect of R&B music that emphasizes different aspects of R&B, specifically a distinctive and heavy beat. The funk sound was created by R&B and jazz musicians and borrows elements from the R&B, jazz, rock, and soul genres. Since its development, funk music has developed as a genre, experienced a decline in the disco age, and finally a revival within the hip-hop genre.
One major aesthetic of funk music was the stage productions for funk bands’ live performances, which were best described as being a form of theater. Each group’s stage production would be based on a particular concept, either from the album or the group’s unique persona. The stage props, lighting, audio, visual effects, and the artists’ costumes were all centered around this concept. Unlike the R&B and soul performances of the era, funk performances can be best described as flashy and individualistic as artists donned outlandish costumes, and the stage design featured elaborate stage props, lighting, and audio and visual effects. Funk bands like the Ohio Players dressed in tuxedoes and furs similar to that of the local “players” from their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, and elaborate and expensive stage design.
Funk band Earth, Wind & Fire’s live performances featured futuristic and space-age style costumes and elaborate stage design. Funk stage productions became even more elaborate as the group, Parliament-Funkadelic, launched their 1976 P-Funk Earth Tour.
The Ohio Players performing their song, “Fire”
Earth, Wind & Fire’s Spirit Tour in 1976
The P-Funk Earth Tour
In 1976, the group Parliament-Funkadelic launched their P-Funk Earth Tour starting in New Orleans. The group, led by George Clinton, a pioneer of the funk sound, performed a series of concerts designed to complement their concept albums. The P-Funk Earth Tour is reportedly the most expensive stage production of any funk band, with a production budget of $275,000, provided by Casablanca Records’ co-founder, Neil Bogart. This was not the only expense for the tour as all 88 of the group’s instrumentalists, singers, and the crew was to receive $75,000 a week. The tour featured several elaborate props and costumes, including a giant 12-foot-high platform boot, a silver car, and a baby spaceship suspended by wire and rigged to fly over the audience. The stage production also included various sound effects produced by a battery of synthesizers, colorful flashing lights, lasers, and smoke machines. One of the elaborate costumes worn had a white fur coat, white fur hat, and long dark brown wig. Overall, the P-Funk Earth Tour was one of the most, if not the most, elaborate funk stage production ever performed.
The P-Funk Earth Tour, Houston 1977
Source – African American Music: An Introduction