Meet Joel Van Dijk, Winner of the Who’s Got the Funk? Contest
Originally published by Consequence News
Earlier this year, Consequence, Modern Drummer, and Yurt Rock teamed up in a quest to find the next great funk musician. We began the Who’s Got the Funk? contest by having entrants use a free pack of drum loops created by the iconic Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown) to create a funky, wholly original track. We narrowed dozens of entries down to four finalists, and asked you to vote on your favorite. Now we have our winner: “The Funky FLiP” by Joel Van Dijk!
Van Dijk has been slugging out in the trenches of funk, R&B, Americana, and rock music for a long time, and his win is well deserved. A guitarist originally from Grass Valley, California, he comes from a musical family where his parents both played some guitar and his father played drums. Joel moved to Los Angeles to attend the Musicians Institute 16 years ago and has been living in the city ever since.
In addition to being a busy songwriter and producer, he is a longtime guitarist for Aloe Blacc and is in the process of producing the “Wake Me Up” singer’s next album. He has two sample packs on Splice (with a third in the works), a band with his wife called Mystical Joyride, and three solo albums of his own. His most recent record is a funky and trippy experience called Here Now.
In an interview with Modern Drummer’s Mark Griffith, Joel explains his musical approach: “Over the years I’ve kind of listened to a little bit of everything. I was a metal head, I trained classically, I got into jazz, and funk changed my life. George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic was a major turning point for me. I was into metal and heavy music, then I heard Parliament Funkadelic — which is heavy, but not so negative. Everybody says they listen to everything, but I really do! Recently I have been listening to Hiatus Kaiyote’s Choose Your Weapon, Yussef Daye’s Black Classical Music, and Allen Stone’s APART.”
Read on for our full Q&A in with Who’s Got the Funk? champion, Joel Van Dijk, and check out the winning track, “The Funky FLiP” below.
How did you build the track that won the contest, “The Funky FLiP”?
I started with the loop, obviously. But actually, there were a few loops in the pack that I ended up using. I wanted to get a little more of a grimy feel, so I pitched the sample down. Then I put another one over the pitched down version.
You doubled the drum track?
I’d have to dig back into the session to actually see what’s happening, but that was the essence of it. I’m kind of an audio destroyer, I just do what I want.
After starting with the sample, how did you build it from there?
James Brown is part of my DNA; I spent a good couple of years listening to James Brown and the JB’s. Clyde Stubblefield is one of my favorite drummers, that’s why I jumped on the contest. Everything you hear on my track is in the vibe of James Brown and the JB’s. James Brown grooves, James Brown chords, and James Brown hits. I’m just grabbing from my bag.
You picked “The Funky Drummer” track to use for the contest, tell me a little about the importance of that track to you?
Clyde Stubblefield’s feel, his ghost notes, and his pocket are legendary. On the loop he was playing a lot of open ride stuff, that’s why I pitched it down. I wanted to get a little bit of a more dead hi-hat type of sound. Since the open ride sound was the only option, I pitched it down to get a little bit more of a hi-hat feel. When I built the track and the ride came in, it was more like, “We’re opening it up now!” Then I put the bass part down, a rhythm guitar part, a lead guitar part, and some Moog synths. I used all dominant nine chords like every James Brown track should have. At the end I had to pay tribute to the to “The Funky Drummer” track, because Clyde is the original funky drummer.
Everything is played live; I don’t like chopping things up too much. I do think I hit the master a little too hard. The reason I did that was because I made an Instagram reel for the tune, and I wanted it to sound good on people’s phones. To get your mixes to translate outside of your room, your room really must know what you’re doing, and I have a great room here.
What speakers do you mix on?
Adams A7s. When I mix on them, if there is too many highs, it’s probably almost perfect for a regular system.
What recording platform do you work on?
I’m a Pro Tools guy and have been for many years. When it comes to Pro Tools some people hate, but I just appreciate.
What is your favorite piece of gear right now?
The bass that I played on this track is a Fender Squier Jaguar bass. I actually bought it for my wife, it only has one pickup and it’s a shorter scale. I have a five string jazz bass, but the Jaguar has been getting the job done. It slaps really well, so I’ve been playing it on her record and some other stuff.
What other instruments do you play?
In my teenage years I played a lot more drums, but since I’ve moved to LA, I’ve played a lot less drums because I have some really good drummer friends that I can bring in for recordings. I play enough drums to write and demo a track. I have a Pearl Export kit here, and I’ll bang on it, but I have got mad respect for drummers. The focus, the stamina — it’s such a physical instrument. But I play a little keys, bass, I’ve been working on playing Native American style flutes, and play most anything else with strings.
Who are who are some of your drummer friends that you’ve been playing with?
Bennie Rodgers (aka BrIIght Red) played on all three of my records, he’s a monster drummer. He plays for BLACKPINK right now. My buddy Reggie “Regg” Johnson is playing with Babyface right now, I love his playing. My boy Asa Watkins and I play in church together and he is laying it down with Craig Robinson and Nasty Delicious. I have been hiring AJ Hall from the East Coast a lot recently too, he’s amazing. There’s actually a buddy of mine coming from Italy in in the next couple of days named Piero Pirelli. He’s got a really great touch. Some guys just smack the drums which doesn’t work for everything. Then there’s the “touch guys” who have a little more sonic creativity. I got Piero to play on some of the tracks on my album, the softer songs.
Who are some of your favorite drummers?
Steve Jordan, Clyde Stubblefield, Simon Phillips, and my dad was really into Dave Weckl, he’s just such a perfectionist, it’s great.
What are a few of your all-time favorite records (right now)?
I like music that is a little different, a little extra, and something saucy. In the last 10 years, my favorites sonically and creatively have been Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color, Rosalia’s El Mal Querer is a beautiful mix of flamenco and pop with high-level musicianship and high-level production, and Meshell Ndegeocello’s Comfort Woman. I will listen to that record until I die. My DJ friend in Los Angeles Anthony Valdez posted that, “Everything that people think is cool now was already on this record back in 2003.” It was the first of that spacious R&B sound. Comfort Woman already has that, and it has way more musicality than a lot of these records now. You can really hear her mentality developing to where she is now, I think that record was the turning point.
What’s coming up for you in the near future?
Most importantly, my wife and I just had a baby, so I haven’t slept much recently and I am big into daddy life now. But I am working on finishing up the Aloe Blacc record, my wife Leah Van King’s Americana/folkish album Closer to Love, and slowly rolling out a new Mystical Joyride house music album called House Magic. I am still promoting my newest record Here Now, as I think it’s my best yet, and it’s got the funk!