Go-go — Washington D.C.’s regional twist on funk — reigned in the DMV during the 1980s, and one of the scene’s signature acts was Trouble Funk. More than 30 years later, the collective — led by Big Tony Fisher — still fills sold-out venues with heavyweight percussion and call-and-response lyrics. Trouble Funk concerts are bona fide jam sessions, so I was determined to squeeze their unrelenting rhythms behind the Tiny Desk.
With 12 members sandwiched into a cramped space, the electricity was almost tangible as they launched into the 1982 banger, “Pump Me Up”, a song sampled in Public Enemy’s protest anthem “Fight the Power” and M/A/R/R/S’s dance classic “Pump Up The Volume.” The drums breaks here are definitive go-go and it was hard to discern who was having more fun: the band or the audience. On “Grip It,” buoyant and staccato horn melodies propelled the song forward, while “Let’s Get Small” featured Trouble Funk’s classic call-and-response chants. “Drop the Bomb,” another notable gem from their lengthy discography keep the energy level high and “Don’t Touch That Stereo” was all raw, unencumbered funk. To conclude the set, they segued into “E Flat Boogie,” their first hit in 1979, with Big Tony’s vocals front and center.
While the late Chuck Brown is often acknowledged as the godfather of go-go (and you can see why during his Tiny Desk), Trouble Funk was a key part of the sound’s second wave. In a city often interrupted by the transient revolving door of government officials and federal staffers, the funky artform is woven into the fabric of this city and inspires a spirit of dance, rhythm and sheer joy.
- “Pump Me Up”
- “Grip It”
- “Let’s Get Small”
- “Drop The Bomb”
- “It’s In The mix” (Don’t Touch That Stereo)”
- “E-Flat Boogie”
Big Tony Fisher (bass), Allyson Johnson (keyboards), James Avery (keyboards), Tony Edwards (drums), Chris Allen (percussion), Larry Blake (percussion), Dean Harris (trumpet), Eric Silvan (saxophone), Paul Phifer (trombone), Derrick Ward (vocals), Keith White (vocals), David Gussom (guitar).
Producers: Abby O’Neill, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, CJ Riculan, Maia Stern, Dani Lyman; Production Assistant: Joshua Bote; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.