And now for a quick “Shit—that was there all along?” treasure hunt: Open iTunes. Click on “Radio,” scroll down to “Urban” and double-click. See the first heading? That’s WeFunk, the hip hop and funk radio show by Professor Groove and DJ Static (aka Nick Foster and Mike Lai). Where does the show come from? Montreal, of course.
“That blew us up worldwide because now we’re on every Mac in the world as a preset,” said Lai. “Ever since that happened we started getting crazy international feedback, daily emails from around the world.” That was about four years ago. The original show broadcasts from the basement-like studios of McGill’s community radio station, CKUT 90.3 FM, every Friday night between midnight and two a.m. After the live show, it’s available on the CKUT site, on the WeFunk site (www.wefunkradio.com) as a SHOUTcast and, of course, through iTunes.
The show is a mix of classic hip hop, new gems, funk, rare groove and a touch of soul. It’s a classy broadcast that schools listeners on the foundations of today’s groundbreaking hip-hop hybrids in a most effortless and enjoyable way. Each mix is strong, tasteful and funky and, although the show is international, Lai and Foster keep a local flavour by referring to Montreal events. It’s a party in a can.
“It was like, we gotta make our shit tight! It’s a lot of pressure, it’s more than a college radio show now,” said Lai, recalling his initial reaction to becoming an Mac preset. They found out about their success through emails referring to the iTunes site—not from Apple itself. “Here are people listening in places that have never had exposure to a lot of the music and they sit there listening to the rare groove stuff, or the funk, or the older classic hip hop stuff for the first time. They can’t buy a lot of that music and we’re their only source so it almost feels like a big responsibility in terms of how we lay down the music. By virtue of what we do and our position on the Internet and stuff, we’ve gotta come correct.”
The international factor has led to steady exposure in underground circuits across the pond. “I have a friend who toured in Europe—he’s a drum ‘n’ bass DJ and he was riding in a car, and he heard my voice! He was like, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ Those people download our shows, put them on a CD and bump it in their rides,” Lai recounted.
He said they also get emails from people around the world telling them the show helps them get through the work day, from students telling them it helps them stay up and study, to those telling them that Static and Professor Groove were the ghost DJs at their parties—the shows were downloaded to be the party engines. Recently the duo was hired to spin at a lavish wedding at a rented mansion an hour outside New York City because the couple listened to WeFunk. They’ve also played in Switzerland three times this year—each time the trips were all-expenses paid. Public Enemy listens to WeFunk and invited them to play a show in New York. An invitation to play in Memphis—one of the key cities for early funk and soul—yielded more than just a gig; they were able to get their fingers dusty and dig up some waxy gold (“record shopping” for the layman).
Things are rolling now but as is often the case, their popularity abroad exceeded accolades from their hometown for the longest time. Although they ran a successful Tuesday night weekly called Rockdeep at the St-Laurent hole-in-the-wall club Saphir, after four years the night lost steam and they shut it down last winter. The laid-back Foster is working on a PhD in neuroscience at McGill University, and he spins at Elevation with Cheeba Cheeba Kid, and Thursdays at the Kunta Lounge. The talkative-but-chill Lai has a new ladies night on Tuesdays at Le Buddha Bar, spins Wednesdays at Lola Lounge and works it out on Scandal Saturdays with DL, A-Rock and Liam at Vinyl, another Montreal club.
“It’s gone full-circle though,” said Lai of the show and their reputations. At a recent Saturday soiree I attended, no less than three people mentioned to me they wanted to hit up Lai’s night at Vinyl later on. “I think our reputation abroad has made people realize they should maybe pay a little more attention to what we’re doing.” For those of you who don’t have the ability to step into your local club and be treated to the hefty record bags of Static and Professor Groove, here’s a multimedia gallery of some of the places they do frequent.
Melissa Wheeler is a Montreal journalist and culture columnist for Maisonneuve. Read more columns by Melissa Wheeler.