When Gene Wilder accepted the role of Willy Wonka in the disturbingly psychedelic 1971 movie Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, he did so under a very important stipulation, contending: “When I make my first entrance, I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp… As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself…I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.” When probed about why this request (a scene which never took place in the book) was important, Wilder replied: “because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
Steven Tony Julien of Funkineven shares a few eerily similar traits with the enigmatic candy factory owner. Take the immediate aesthetic connections, for example; Dreams of Coke, Julien’s latest release on his Apron imprint, finds him immersed in colourful sugar-rush territory, each 12″ wrapped in blue candy bags & gold seals and sporting a retro 1950’s Coca-Cola style font that can give you a toothache just by looking at it. But Funkineven also shares the unpredictable versatility of Wilder’s character; never staying in one spot, always walking the line between pleasantly entertaining and unsettlingly sinister. Tracks like the Fatima collaboration “Phone Line” showcased his skill at crafting danceable pop tracks, and last year’s Kyle Hall collaboration on the essential FunkinEvil project took the opposite route, showing both producers creating caustic, doom laden acid lines.
On Dreams of Coke, we’re mostly dealing with the bright, whimsical side of Funkineven – after all, Julien has characterized this EP as containing “samples, edits and humour.” But even while showing off the friendly trickster persona, there’s a note of pleasingly disturbing dissonance that sneaks its way into these tracks, and they’re stronger for it. “Dreams” lets the soulful vocals of Level 42’s “Starchild” unwind around a chanting backup choir; padded with a steady kick drum, and begins as a rather straightforward revision of the source material. But when the breakdown hits, trademark shufflingly raw, blindingly bright Funkineven synths beef up the track’s percussion, and lead to Julien breaking free in the second half of the track, rewriting all kinds of loopy synth patterns overtop the monastic chants. Demonstrating tightly wound control of the track’s progression, Julien reworks the classic boogie funk feel of the original into something blearier… not quite gloomy, but certainly less tangibly poppy.
The same disorienting treatment is used in “Ceefax,” which may or may not be an edit of Chicago deep house classic ”Weekend” form Class Action. If it is, it’s certainly gone through a heavy scrubbing: Dissonant jazz organ sounds pipe up at sporadic points throughout the track, and it lurches between rising and falling while rushing onwards, not dissimilar to the famously disconcerting boat ride scene in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. If you’re not feeling a bit dizzy, disoriented or seasick by the end of it, perhaps a repeat listen is required. While ultimately light-hearted, a little bit of darkness and malaise is nestled in every pop moment present that Funkineven employs.
Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of “Coke”, which sounds like a LSD-laden movie intermission from the late 60’s, a gigantic squelching bassline galloping through the opium fields. Clocking in at barely over two minutes, it’s a condensed ray of sunshine that perhaps isn’t meant to be much more than a fun practical joke to play on dance floors, but there’s still something addictive about the unbridled overindulgence of the track’s celebratory funk horns that’s kept this writer coming back to it again and again. Not an average batch of disco edits, Dreams of Coke‘s density may seem confusing on first listen, until one begins to peel back new layers and discover both the pop sensibilities and macabre experimental tendencies lurking underneath. There’s really no way of knowing where you’re going to end up – but for those who find uncertainty more enjoyable than terrifying, it’s a worthy gamble.