Culture  On that funk tip

CKUT's Friday night special, WEFUNK

Since 1996, the mixes of WEFUNK have filled the air on CKUT 90.3 FM. Starting originally as the 4 to 7 a.m. show on Friday morning, the show now holds the prestigious party timeslot of early Saturday morning, from 12  to 2 a.m. Comprised of two hosts, Professor Groove and DJ Static (also known as Nick and Mike, respectively), the show is currently in its 16th year. With listeners across North America and the world, it is arguably CKUT’s most popular program.

As half of WEFUNK, Professor Groove’s specialty unsurprisingly comes from his “skills mixing funk.” After arriving in Montreal from Connecticut in 1994, Professor Groove has fit in well with the city’s cultural landscape, and has helped shape the Montreal funk/hip hop music scene. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from McGill, and now works at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

DJ Static, Groove’s partner, moved back to Vancouver three years ago. Also a McGill graduate and the second half of WEFUNK, DJ Static brought to WEFUNK his knowledge and love of hip hop. “We learned from each other,” Nick said. “We helped each others’ knowledge and love of music grow.” Fearing that WEFUNK would deteriorate and lose its direction after DJ Static’s move to Vancouver, Professor Groove was happy to see the project develop further, despite his partner’s absence. DJ Static calls in sometimes, and since his departure, WEFUNK has received more on-air guests, because Nick soon realized he did not like sitting by himself.

Nick and Mike were paired together randomly when they both joined CKUT in 1996. Growing up listening to music and playing instruments, Nick joined the radio  station (and subsequently started his own show) because he wanted to share the music he loved. “I wanted others to discover it,” he said. “I wanted people to know about it,” ‘it’ being funk. Starting with seventies funk, with artists such as James Brown, Kool & The Gang, and Sly & The Family Stone, Nick was hooked on funk (not the more electronic eighties funk, though –  let’s not mix them up). Currently, Nick spends nearly all of his time listening to music. Whether it’s in the background while he’s at work or when he’s relaxing, Nick marks the songs that grab his attention, to later create his set for WEFUNK on Friday night.

Mike brought into Nick’s love of funk some old school hip hop, such as Gang Starr, Eric B. & Rakim, and Nas. Nick says that WEFUNK was driven exlusively by the music. “Some radio shows are like talk shows, and are based on the hosts. Ours was and is based on the music.”

Though Nick acknowledges the change in the importance of radio in our lives, he believes that rather than disappearing altogether, it has merely changed by becoming digitalized, with live streams and podcasts online. Regardless of how much radio changes, or how small its share of our media consumption, Professor Groove believes that radio will always be different from other sources of entertainment, because it allows us to discover new songs and expand our music library.

In 1998, after 167 shows, Professor Groove and DJ Static started recording them. This helped monumentally, Nick says, when the time to put them up online came. In 1999, they started webcasting their shows, which is why WEFUNK is as well known as it is in Europe and elsewhere.

Considering that Nick views radio as an important part of our lives, particularly in enabling musical discovery, it comes as no surprise that he was pleased when the motion passed to increase CKUT’s opt-outable fee by $1. As a long time McGill student himself, he understands how the bureaucracy within the university works, a structure that I have so far been unable to decipher.

Wearing a blue shirt and sporting an impressive beard, Nick was waiting for me at a cafe on St. Laurent. “I’m drinking tea,” he said when I arrived, “I have to cut back on my caffeine intake.” For someone who’s been on the radio for almost 17 years and whose alias is known on both sides of the Atlantic, Nick was down-to-earth, humble, shy even. He must have been surprised when I asked him if people recognized him on the street, because, as he so aptly pointed out, “They don’t know what I look like.” But one night, walking down a tunnel in the Zurich metro while on one of their tours around Europe, Nick and Mike were recognized by their voices by a random passer-by. If that doesn’t encourage involvement in radio, I don’t know what will.

Download the WEFUNK app or go online to to listen to 24/7 streaming of their old shows. If you experienced the eargasms I did, come to their live show on December 15, at Le Bleury (2109 de Bleury), featuring DJ Akalepse.