SXSW 2013: Chuck D-Bootsy Collins summit

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AUSTIN, Texas -- In his keynote address at the South by Southwest Music Conference, Dave Grohl hit on the theme of "voice" and the importance of the individual in music. On Friday, funk pioneer Bootsy Collins and Public Enemy's Chuck D focused on the primacy of community.

"Groove-ment," Collins called it, conjoining the terms "groove" and "movement" as he spoke to the power of collective action. King Records in Cincinnati was Collins' first label, where he worked with James Brown. The label was a one-stop shop, where records were recorded, mastered, pressed, boxed and shipped. Dreams became songs that turned into tangible artifacts, a product that could be sent around the world.

"Funk is making something out of nothing," Collins said, and funk took root in the South, particularly in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky, and worked its way around the globe in the late '60s and '70s. Even in the disco era, "funk was all over New York," Chuck D said. It was the voice of the black community and an essential building block of what would become hip-hop. "Without you, I wouldn't be here," Chuck D told the bassist.

Collins remains a slender and flamboyant cartoon character/jokester/musical virtuoso, looking as if he just stepped off one of Parliament-Funkadelic's 1970s album covers with his top-hat, jewelry and shades. Chuck D, with his flipped-back baseball cap and T-shirt, was the scholarly rebel, who called for greater emphasis on regional scenes and music.

"How do you expect the community to support the arts when the arts community can't support the artists?" he said. He called for an "occupy the airwaves" movement that would focus on local radio programming and a renewed emphasis on local music.

Such idealism was ground in the realities of what it takes to become a successful musician. Collins laughed about how no matter how well he and his bandmates played, James Brown found fault. "You had to bring your 'A' game every night... It made me practice even more because for James Brown it was never enough," he said.

With George Clinton in P-Funk, freedom prevailed for Collins and his gang, apparent from their first meeting. Collins said he stepped into Clinton's home in Detroit in the early '70s and entered complete darkness except for a black light illuminating Clinton, who was wearing a white sheet and oversized "chicken feet."

"I didn't care what he said," Collins said, "I already knew this is where I belong."

greg@gregkot.com
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The Grammys 2011