King Sunshine
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King Sunshine

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House fans accustomed to their acoustic-sounding, computer-crafted music coming from a pair of Technics have no doubt been surprised by how much local 10-piece "live-house" ensemble King Sunshine sounds like a DJ. Now, after years of sporadic but sprawling club sets, the groove-laden group has finally put their music on wax.

Since founders Dave Austin (keyboards) and Roger Berman (drums) joined forces in Ottawa in university, they have been dedicated to revitalizing house through live performances -- an achievement reached only after relocating to Toronto in 1998 and ballooning to their current super size a couple of years later.

"We were heavily into funk and just getting into house music in first-year university," Berman recalls. "We started playing grooves -- wow, that was along time ago -- primarily four-on-the-floor. It started out as an acid jazz sort of thing and slowly but surely, as we got more into the music and started analyzing the music more, we started to make it a lot more clear and defined."

As the band grew in size, so did its repertoire of influences, and with a quartet of horns added to their rhythm section and vocalists, they were able to take that 4/4 beat and apply it to everything from jazz, soul and funk to Latin and techno.

Their live performances -- supporting such star DJs as Sneak, Mark Farina, Derrick Carter and their personal favourite, Theo Parrish, helped introduce them to Toronto's clubbing community, which has a tendency to be less than receptive to live music. But they've managed to win it over by emulating the DJ approach, building up their climaxes and breakdowns and mixing their songs together into one continuous 90-minute flow.

"Most bands don't try to take their listeners on any type of journey," says Berman. "It's more 'play a song, regroup, play another song.' We tailor our sets so that they mean something."

Despite the groove-oriented nature of their music, they also take pains to avoid the jam-band tag attached to fellow live-house acts like The New Deal, who attract more Phish-heads than underground clubbers.

"We were careful in our production to not have certain sections that go on too long or have five musicians just wanking -- we were pretty intellectual about the whole thing," says Austin, who writes the majority of the music, of their self-titled debut album. "We touched on a lot of different styles in the music. You're gonna listen to one song and you can't say that it's indicative of King Sunshine, which is very reflective of our live show; almost every song sounds different. It's to appeal to a lot of people, for one thing, but also those are where our interests lay."

Their biggest problem has been their size; with 10 people in the band, touring is difficult and expensive, and a local band can only play so many times before the crowds lose interest. Knowing that it would be near impossible to achieve their musical vision with fewer players, King Sunshine have simply avoided it.

But not getting on the road has also meant that they have been unable to reach beyond Toronto and find a record deal. So, with their eyes focused on the European market, they decided to record the album on their own and use it as a business card in the hopes of nailing down a distribution deal, or better.

The album -- heavy on deep house, funk and light jazz -- was recorded over the course of a year in a self-built basement studio dubbed Soul Motion and had professionals brought in only for the mastering process. "Most of the band members are pretty much perfectionists when it comes to making music, in terms of making every element on the album exactly the way we envisioned it," Berman says. "When you're playing live, things happen so quickly you can make a mistake and something could not sound so perfect but it's done, it's passed and people may not even notice. But when you're recording, you wanna make every single beat and rhythm perfect."

While laying down the songs, some of which the band have already been playing live for a couple of years, King Sunshine mixed up live and electronic percussion with digital synths and acoustic '70s-disco band instrumentation to create a sound that's not so easy to categorize.

"We try to recreate the electronic feel acoustically," says Berman. "House originally came from disco so we're just taking it full circle." - EYE MAGAZINE TORONTO


As dance music gets bigger, musicians have to adapt to the trend. Some sell their guitar amps and build home studios, immersing themselves in the electronic music production process. Others keep the amps and attempt to integrate what they can from the formal ideas of DJ culture into their own playing. King Sunshine are a local 10-piece who are trying to solve the problem of making house music live. They've created a sound that works at dance parties, but it comes across less like that of a house DJ than a disco DJ.

"The PAs and mixing boards don't reproduce us the same way they do when a DJ drops a needle on a record that's already been mastered," explains percussionist Lorne Lampert. "It's a smaller sound, and a little rougher."

"We definitely sound a little more disco than techno, but when we play live the kick drum and the bass line are still the loudest elements," adds drummer Roger Berman. "That's the big difference between house and disco, where the kick and bass lines are lower in the mix. House producers took those sounds and brought them up."

King Sunshine have been booked alongside some of the bigger-name house DJs, and played as Jersey gospel house icon Kenny Bobien's backing band for two Toronto shows. They've settled into a stable lineup now and are about to drop their first full-length CD.

Recorded at their own project studio and released independently, the album expands on what they do live – at some points getting very electronic.

Although it was self-produced, the disc is professional-sounding – in some ways a bit too glittery. Most of the band members have either degrees or diplomas in music, so they're not exactly winging it. The album does say a lot about what you can accomplish on a very small budget - NOW MAGAZINE TORONTO MAY 2003


Acid jazz and funk is nothing new; however, “live electronica,” in the vein of The New Deal and Sound Tribe Sector 9, is a style of music that’s still fresh, and waiting to be explored in a larger, fuller arena-one by, say, a ten-piece band. Enter King Sunshine, the jazz/house collective that is considered Toronto’s premier live house music experience. Currently touring in support of their debut self-titled CD on Soul Motion Recordings, King Sunshine has been bringing underground dance culture to the live club stage. Since early 1998, the band's unique performances have been moving audiences with infectious grooves and seamless live sets throughout Ontario and Quebec. Boasting a five-piece rhythm section (drums, bass, guitar, keys and percussion/ sequencers/samplers), three-man horn section and soulful vocals (courtesy of soul diva Christie Nelson), the group summons up sounds of 70’s rare groove and disco with a modern twist of electronica. Utilizing triggered electronic percussion and synths, the band's sound is a futuristic vision of electronic music with the intensity of a high energy funk/soul band.

Moving into the uncharted territory of live acoustic house, King Sunshine’s eclectic blend of deep Funk, Soul, Acid Jazz and Latin, driven by a constant four to the floor translates into a fresh new sound. And much like a DJ, there are no breaks between tracks, instead the music takes the listener on a musical journey, a soulful uplifting live dance experience that has helped the group develop a growing and dedicated fanbase across Canada.

Since they broke into T.O’s club scene in the late '90, King Sunshine’s deep style of house thye have opened for legendary house figures such as Dj Sneak, Mark Farina, Ron Trent, Theo Parrish, Frankie Feliciano and Alton Miller, as well as sharing the stage with Kenny Bobien last fall. They include in their performances live acoustic remixes, along with soulful original material. The result is a live journey that embraces all elements of groove music as King Sunshine gives music lovers a possible glimpse into the future of house music.
- HAMILTON PRESS


LET THE SUN SHINE IN!!!

KS has been to Buffalo 3 times so far, and I've yet to miss a single performance! True to form, they threw down a fantastic, all-live, all ORIGINAL house set that dazzled and moved everyone who was there. The Calumet's outdoor patio was a great spot to host such a vibrant band. I also really dug how this party got some of the culture of Buffalo involved. The chicken-ka-bobs from Off the Wall were to DIE for! I had to go back for seconds! And the art expo, courtessy of Rennessance Studios, showcased some of the most wicked talent this city has to offer. These things added rich layers to the whole night, making it more of an "experience" than a mere party.

Props to the guys who put this together, and to Zuk for closing out the night strong. Whenever KS comes to town, nobody can follow up like Reuben can!

Great night...one of the best Buffalo's seen. Smile

-Chris - Message Board review


I can honestly say that was the best time I've had in a very, very, very long time!! Everything came together like MAGIC. Thanks to King Sunshine, Lazlo, Zuk, Off The Wall, Rennaisance, Terrapin, and most importantly: EVERYONE WHO CAME! (which was an awful lot of people)!!! This was definitely a "who's-who" event. Best crowd I've seen in a bit.

After all the worries...this was a truly magical experience. I'm not "tooting my own horn" when I say it was the best event in Buffalo this year am I? Thanks again everyone!!

Mike Marshall
BrewJam Music - Message Board Review


Extended Idea might be the more appropriate header for this week's column. Last ish, the word of the week round these parts was organic. This week, we expand on the theme, continuing to keep it local and live while exploring human/electronic hybrids.

2001 was a banner year for underground dance music on several creative levels. At the heart of this has been the meeting of live and electronic, stage and studio, bands and DJs. Though this has been going on for some time, there's no doubt in my mind that the global dance music community (as stated last week) is at a crucial crossroads. The meeting of players and electronic producers is no longer about simple experimentation but is a more integrated and necessary push toward an explosion of future sounds.

A number of producers are picking up instruments and incorporating musicians and vocalists rather than straight-up sampling them from records. At the same time, an ever-increasing number of bands are performing sounds traditionally shared by DJs in dance clubs, encouraging audiences to get their groove on in a whole other context. For generations now trained to spot the Technics rather than gawk at guitars, this certainly is refreshing. Toronto has been a hotbed for such open-minded DJs, producers and bands, with live acts such as Directions, Audiophiles, Galactica Blast and last week's EP stars Mambo Urbano entertaining dance-music lovers over the past few years.

Another band performing with DJs and vocalists alike -- and blowing minds as they do -- is King Sunshine. Formed originally in 1998 by keyboardist Dave Austin, drummer Roger Berman, percussionist Lorne Lampert and bassist Marc Shapiro, the band expanded and gelled when Austin enrolled in Humber's jazz program in 2000, meeting guitarist Phil Cada and the horn section of Charlie Finlay, Steve Dyte, Joel Green and Johan Lee.

Seeing themselves as a bridge between live and electronic, jazz and dance musics, King Sunshine blend soul, funk, Latin and jazz influences into a live house experience that merges original pieces with tasteful covers of house classics. They've performed alongside DJs such as Ron Trent, Alton Miller and Theo Parrish, twice supported gospel-house vocalist Kenny Bobien and frequently brought dance-music lovers to their feet while performing with frequent, local vocal collaborators Coco Brown and Kamil and Janelle Dewhurst.

King Sunshine are talented, passionate and committed to the notion of collective, insisting on an emailed interview to bring as many opinions as possible. See you on their dancefloor.

How did 11 people know they wanted to make music together?

AUSTIN: We came together with a love for groove-oriented music. We found common ground in house and funk, and dedicated ourselves to exploring that sound.

Do you all have similar goals?

LAMPERT: Yes. It's kind of an obscure thing at this point, but we all draw inspiration from many musical sources: jazz, funk, Latin and soul, so the goal might be to provide a cohesive meeting point for all these sounds, which is house, and all that house can be.

King Sunshine is known for working collectively, albeit with Dave arranging every piece. How do each of you maintain a voice in the band?

AUSTIN: I arrange the horns, but everyone has a say about what goes down in recording/playing and band biz. We have open communication because it's important to cultivate an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable to express ideas.

CADA: We each bring our own unique style to the group. We recognize each other's strengths and integrate them into the songs.

What's a rehearsal like -- structured or full of improv?

SHAPIRO: With such a large group, we've got to keep it organized when rehearsing for a show. Between shows, though, we get together to jam and play anything from free jazz to minimal techno.

Why no breaks between your songs when you play live?

SHAPIRO: Why stop the music? We've been mixing tracks since the beginning, and our audiences seem to enjoy the continuous flow.

What do you think would help this city come closer in terms of live music and dance club culture?

KING SUNSHINE (collectively): Being open to other people's music and ideas is key. There are so many people from diverse musical styles coming together that it's taking house into new avenues. Deconstructing attitudes around music would help. Right now, more than ever, people are starting to notice live dance music within the scene. - EYE MAGAZINE


nother Torontonian discovery was King Sunshine, a great party band with enough textural and musical changes to keep things interesting. The drummer was very attuned to the texture/excitement relationship, dropping out the kick for a bar to increase the release when the kick came back in. Nice touches of electronic washes, too. The band was very knowledgeable of jazz and funk/disco/groove traditions: the keyboardist quoted a line from Weather Report's "Black Market," and there were a few old-timey swing backgrounds from the horns, complete with James Brown/Tower of Power horn choreography. - JAMBASE.com


Discography

King Sunshine (self titled) Soul Motion Recordings
King Sunshine (second movement)

High On You (Mixed Signals)
Sounds Of June (Mixed Signals)

Mess I made (Produced by Theo Parrish for Sound Signature : Detroit)
Kings Dance (Produced by Theo Parrish for Sound Signature : Detroit)

Angels In Heaven (Westend Records NYC)

Photos

Bio

King Sunshine illuminates disco roots and drop inflections of funk and dance rhythms, reinventing house music and driving the whole fusion over the red line. Imagine nine musicians transformed into one live DJ. Comprised of keyboards/synths, heart pounding drums/percussion, deep bass, slick guitar, intense electronics, hefty horns and soulful vocals. King Sunshine has been lighting dance floors on fire since 1998 as a highly skilled and electric live act. KS has redefined the concert going experience. With the release of their second album Second Movement in fall 06, King Sunshine is poised to branch out to new segments of music lovers worldwide. Experiences at Canadas largest music festivals including the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2005 and 2006, Ottawa Blues Festival, Toronto Jazz Festival, Toronto Harbourfront Festivals and Halifaxs Evolve Festival has brought KS nationwide recognition. Years of sold out club shows and underground parties have led to shared stages with music's finest DJs, including DJ Sneak, Mark Farina, Derrick Carter, Ron Trent and Little Louis Vega. King Sunshines raw explosive energy takes dance music off of vinyl and brings it to the live stage. Emulating a DJ approach by building up their climaxes and breakdowns, and mixing their songs together into one continuous seamless set of music. People have described their concerts as deep and moving and "a powerful, unforgettable, rhythmic experience". The weathers beautiful on the dancefloor!