NZ Week Day 3: Supergroove – Traction

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Artist: Supergroove

Release Title: Traction

Label: BMG

Release Date:

Location: New Zealand (Aotearoa)

Length: 48min 12s

For Cave Dweller Music’s first week dedicated to the music of Aotearoa, I would be remiss if I did not cover what I believe to be a hidden gem of sorts in the worlds of both modern funk and 90s hip hop. Supergroove exploded onto the scene in 1994 with their debut album Traction, an album full of infectious grooves, funky horns, and skilful delivery of bars from lead vocalist/rapper Che Fu, who went on to have a hell of a career as a soloist, garnering multiple platinum releases in albums like Navigator.

Supergroove initially had seven members. Che Fu as the lead rapper, with Karl Steven also on vocals. Steven additionally played keyboard and harmonica. The hella-chunky bass of Joe Lonie is strong and at the forefront of a number of tracks like Next Time and is complemented by the constantly fun guitarwork of Ben Sciascia. On drums (for the Traction album only) we have Paul Russell’s drumwork. Finally in the horns section are Nick Atkinson’s saxophone and Tim Stewart’s trumpet. Worth noting is that in Supergroove’s second album Backspacer, Tim Stewart and Che Fu both left the band in a somewhat difficult breakup over creative differences. In any case, they were both on Traction and did an excellent job here.

I believe Stewart and Atkinson’s work was absolutely key to the success of this album, which has an amazing funky sound, sometimes venturing into an almost 1990s ska-punk feel owing to the guitars & trumpets playing off of one another. Those horns are one of the key parts that separated Supergroove from their contemporaries. In the Traction album, with the guitars and bass alone there is a brilliantly funky sound sometimes reminiscent of bands you know like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but it’s those horns that really set the whole album off, creating a fusion of funk, hip hop and rock that really make this truly Supergroove.

If you actually watch the music video for the track Can’t Get Enough, the 1990s ska-punk vibe really comes across even stronger. The many shots of the band playing and dancing around, all tightly grouped up together in black clothing on a chequered floor – it’s just such a strong visual from that time and place. It reminds me a little of incredibly similar visuals from videos from ska-punk bands like in Kemuri’s video for PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), Reel Big Fish’s Take On Me, or The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ The Impression That I Get.

Despite not truly being part of that movement, the influence is obviously there from the visuals to the way guitars & horns are incorporated into Supergroove’s sound. There are even influences from Michael Jackson in this track, with lyrics calling back to Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ with the track’s constant refrain, “So high can’t get over it, so low can’t get under it’. With its rising horns, classic funky guitars, and brilliant rapping, Can’t Get Enough really has that high-energy funk of Supergroove on display. The delivery of bar after bar here is itself impressive, and the lyrics are just as much silly fun as the instrumentals. If you want serious hip hop, you won’t find it here. In fact, if you want anything serious, look somewhere else. Supergroove is here to party and they’re damn good at that.

Not all of the tracks on Traction roll with that trademark funky, high-energy ska-infused joy, though. The opening track, Scorpio Girls, is a big, dirty, more straightforward rock track that sort of ties in with that sound that returns at the end of the album in tracks like You Freak Me. Here we have the sort of rock anthem that almost sounds like something you’d hear from those big 80s glam bands, but with rap instead of traditional vocals. It’s a fun track that stokes that desire to join in and shout something while air guitaring to the central riff.

Much later on in the album we have For Whatever Reason, which is a somber track that has a drastically different sound one would not expect from the album up until they arrive at this 9th track on the album. This is a very quiet, simple blues track consisting of nothing but forlorn vocals and simple guitar accompaniment from Sciascia. For being a simple blues track about a person’s apparently unrequired love for someone, it is good, if surprising for the album it’s placed on. There are no horns here, no rapping, not even drums. It’s just so melancholy that it feels a little out of place on the album, being so different that it perhaps marks the point where this album takes a turn in sound & style.

The following track, You Freak Me, is an aggressive rock/metal piece that almost feels like a foreshadowing of where the band was to go in their second album. It’s a good track, of course, and fits the album and the band’s sound better than For Whatever Reason does, but it is part of a weird section of the album that, in retrospect, certainly does feel like the genesis of the band’s split. Of course, years later, Supergroove has reunited and put their creative differences aside. Since reuniting they have toured quite a bit and these stylistic differences have come to encompass the eclectic sound that is Supergroove. This is a hell of a band that managed to stir a generation of listeners throughout the south pacific, reaching as far as Indonesia where they did quite well. Give Traction a chance and I’m sure you’ll feel those funky urges too.

I hope you enjoy Traction.

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