During the early 80’s, in the capital of the United States, just a stones throw from the presidential mansion, lived a dirt poor community of black folks. There were few jobs and this community was badly neglected in terms healthcare and education. It was a true ghetto right in the President’s back yard. Against this backdrop, on the outskirts of the city in warehouses and secret parties a new sound was swinging across the neighbourhoods. The sound was electronic but it had the funk too and it was all the way live! Percussive and with a proto-rap toasting sound it was a contrasting cousin to the early hip hop tracks of Sugar Hill.
Influenced by George Clinton and Funkadelic , the sound developed quickly. From Trouble Funk to Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, from Sam the Beast to DJ Kool and Rare Essence these artist were reinterpreting the funk sound into a new style, strictly for dancers.
The Go-Go sound dominated the Washington, D.C. music scene for at least a decade with its heavyweight call and response lyrics and percussive workouts matched with dirty synth-led basslines and the odd great sample for good measure. The bands were best seen live where the audience participation became a huge part of the bands’ performance and the tracks were merged into a non-stop groove.
DJ Kool “Let Me Clear My Throat”
Trouble Funk “Drop the Bomb”
Junk Yard Band “The Word”
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers “Bustin Loose”
Sam the Beast “Gucci Dance”
Experience Unlimited “Da Butt”
Rare Essence “Pieces of Me”
Trouble Funk “Pump Me Up”
Richie Rich “Rockin’ on the Go-Go Scene”
Kurtis Blow “The Breaks”
Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers “Blow Your Whistle”
Despite the fact that only a few of the bands on the scene broke out of the local area, the music has continued to develop and evolve. The hip hop content in Go-Go increased with toasting turning to rap in tracks by artists such as Sam the Beast and DJ Kool.
Next door to D.C., Baltimore’s booty bass music of the late 90’s owes a great debt to the original Go-Go sound. Characterised by heavy bass lines, breakbeats (now faster and more electronic) and highly sexualised lyrics it’s sound is a direct evolution from the early Go-Go style.
Today, there’s also a retro movement in D.C. which takes the same form of the old Go-Go parties, with marathon band sessions where the bands play modern R&B hits back to back and non-stop.