Modern funk has taken off and luckily I'm in the middle of it." This is what the now Los Angeles-based Tucson native Zackey Force Funk told me on a late-night last weekend. But the 42-year-old musician and DJ, locally semi-legendary (for good reason) sells himself short. True, the grimy, electronic, experimental and downright addictive contemporary funk music that defines Zackey's decade-long body of work is making waves from Long Beach to New Zealand. But he's not so much caught in the middle of a movement as he is one of its primary architects. And to this writer's ears, Zackey Force Funk is peerless and simply the greatest artist Tucson has ever produced of any genre.
Surprisingly, for a singer-songwriter-producer of his caliber, Zackey never sang or played a note until his early 30s. After a few flings with the Arizona department of corrections beginning in his late teens (drug charges), Zachary Hose—as his birth certificate reads—was given some music production software to pass time while under house arrest. His younger brother, who records brilliant electro-punk under the name N8 Noface, gifted him the software. Zackey then honed a style on a series of recordings marrying '80s funk and electro of Cameo and Egyptian Lover with the netherworld of contemporary avant-garde electronic music. These early efforts were collected on Electron Don, a '16 compilation released by Hit + Run, a centerstage label in contemporary funk.
Further, Zackey Force Funk solo albums and a 2013 collab with acclaimed producer Tobacco, under the name Demon Queen, raised Zackey's profile and level of commercial and artistic success. While pop music in general settled into a fairly conservative period by mid-decade, Zackey's inimitable but accessible mix of high and low art stood in stark relief.
Money Green Viper and Chrome Steel Tiger, his two most recent full-lengths—released in 2014 and '15, respectively, after his relocation to Los Angeles—are triumphs of hallucinatory soul. Zackey's eerie falsetto provides unforgettable hooks but also the handrail in extremely brief song-sketches, where the off-kilter futurism of the synths and drum machines sometimes belie the ingenuity of the concise songwriting. His lyrics, illustrated in titles like "Cocaine Lady," "Zackey Can't Rap" and "A$$$low" alternate between lusty hedonism, abstract threats and sardonic humor. A kaleidoscopic sheen refracts and distinguishes these works even further, and they stand tall amongst virtually any artist's music of this decade.
Zackey occasionally returns to Tucson, usually to perform DJ sets. This weekend, however, is the inaugural installment of a monthly event at downtown's R Bar, which will feature a live Zackey Force Funk set, and like-minded artists. Not a night anyone who's curious about good music from Tucson should sit out.
Saturday at R Bar, 350 E. Congress St.. 10 p.m. 21+. Free.