Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Astro 'Funknukl' Labe is a selectah and record enthusiast from Hobart, Tasmania. To many he is the national treasure who headbutted the former PM, Tony Abbott, but Funknukl is more than that. He knows how to rock a party on the wheels of steel, flipping between funk, soul, Hip Hop, DnB with the occasional curveball (Tool, Ween, The Goodies). Years ago Funknukl started the Soul Sunday Sessions in Hobart, which birthed his crew the Soul Session Soundsystem. Now, post-headbutt, he continues the tradition of playing vinyl-only affairs around the traps of Tasmania. Funknukl also has an insatiable passion for understanding the culture and history of the music he loves. So what inspires Funknukl to dig deep, and how much of the music that made him was in the Liverpool Kiss that he delivered to the mad monk? Funknukl talks to BEAT CONTEXT.
Coming from a different place
I came (to DJing) from a very different angle; having spent my mal-formative years on the punk/goth tip, thinking that I hated rap, all the while scratching my Bauhaus rekids and fighting for my right to party with Mr. Dobalina and refusing to call it a comeback. I was a very late bloomer in terms of hip-hop, dnb, etc…
‘…I'd long since sought solace in music
that I could relate to in my alienation…’
I spent my mal-formative years living on and off the streets of Perth. After being an A grade nerd for most of my school days I grew sick of getting in trouble for correcting my teachers. This led my independent and socio-politically aware mind to seek some kind of 'other', this took the form of Resistance, a socialist organisation. I very soon shifted my mindset to anarchy being the ideal, having only known authority to exist purely for it's own ends. The Dead Kennedy's and (cliché as it sounds for an anglo kid) the Sex Pistols were both big influences for me at the time. I'd been listening to the likes of Jane's Addiction and Faith No More since about the age of 8 so I'd long since sought solace in music that I could relate to in my alienation. Big Black were a massive revelation when I first saw 'Kerosene' on Rage when I was 15, I was just post transitioning from nerd to punk street kid and the idea of geeks on speed making that kind of angry sound was an epiphany…I’ve always been heavily concerned with socio-political themes so obviously that's reflected in much of my musical tastes now.
‘…was always so impressed by how
some of the most downtrodden peoples in recent history
could produce the most uplifting music ever known…’
Enter the golden era of drum and bass (in my opinion), circa 98, I turned on to the likes of Aphrodite, Goldie and Roni Size. Somehow Aphrodite's jump-up styles just hooked me and have never let go. This led me to the realisation that, although I thought I hated rap growing up, 'Mama Said Knock You Out' and 'Mistadobalina' were two of my favourite tunes since they came out. This belated recognition led me to delve far deeper into hip-hop history and the philosophical aspects of the culture. This naturally flowed into my current obsession; funk, the foundation of all hip-hop. My first introduction to funk was Sly and the Family Stone, specifically 'Thank You Fallettinme Be Micelf Agin'. I felt an elation I imagine would have been akin to what Butch Vig felt when Nirvana first played him 'Teen Spirit'. From Sly's all inclusive, everyday people slant to James Browns' paying the cost and Betty Davis' owning her sexuality in a way that was beyond taboo at the time, I was always so impressed by how some of the most downtrodden peoples in recent history could produce the most uplifting music ever known.
'...whilst James Brown fought for 'Black Power',
Sly sang for the inclusion of 'Everyday People'.
Both attitudes equally powerful and relevant to this day...'
Emerging in the early '60s, following on from blues, rnb, doo-wop, rock n' roll, etc. 'Black America' was still very much in the early throes of the civil rights movement. Funk and Soul with infectious basslines, hypnotic drum breaks and catchy guitar and keyboard licks, mixed with both deeply heartfelt and/or powerfully transcendent 'let's have a party' lyrics, sought to rise above the centuries-old oppression of a community and proclaim there presence and unwillingness to be silenced or ignored. Whilst James Brown fought for 'Black Power', Sly sang for the inclusion of 'Everyday People'. Both attitudes equally powerful and relevant to this day. Many others brought their own takes on these themes; The Meters classic, 'Just Kissed My Baby' and Betty Davis' 'Ya Mama Wants Ya Back' on the party groove end of the scale Otis Redding's 'R.E.S.P.E.C.T.', (Immortalised by the late, great Aretha Franklin) Aaron Neville's 'Hercules' and Gil Scott Heron's 'Home Is Where the Hatred Is' exemplifying the recognition of the ongoing struggle faced by the African-American people; an earlier version of the 'For Us, By Us' approach.
‘…there is 'black' and there is 'white'
but who gives a damn, let's jam…’
My political (or apolitical) viewpoint is very concretely influenced by punk, particularly Jello Biafra in my early days. I always credited him with teaching me that respect is the only law (I don't think I'm even paraphrasing him in that) but when I supported him doing a DJ set after his spoken word show and he didn't even shake my hand, he taught a far more valuable lesson: never elevate a man to the level of a god, you can only be disappointed. A few months later I met Steve Albini and he was incredibly humble and respectful. The ethos behind ska-punk is also one I hold very dear. There is 'black' and there is 'white' but who gives a damn, let's jam! In terms of hip-hop I'd have to say KRS-One was my mentor when I first realised what I'd missed out on all those years and decided to delve.
COusins: Punk and Hip Hop
‘…they’re both community-based, D.I.Y. cultures that give disenfranchised youth some sort of hope…’
Punk music and hip-hop are cousins to me. They grew up on opposite sides of town but they both spoke from the same place…they’re both community-based, D.I.Y. cultures that give disenfranchised youth some sort of hope. I wouldn't see it as black and white… The Specials were always on my radar as well as, to a lesser extent, Bad Brains. That's one thing I've noticed through my years of dancing crazy to jump-up and dnb; I'm moving at twice the speed but essentially I'm just skanking. Like anyone who grew up listening to ska, I've had a checkered past but I don't look at black and white…As cheesy and overused as it is, the word 'funky' comes to mind as a common thread. Even Bauhaus, who were the quintessential gothic rock band, had some super-funky basslines. I've always been a lyrics man too so I can appreciate any form if I like what they have to say.
‘…it occurred to me that I was
the sole representative
of that aspect of the culture…’
(To) relay my last Saturday night experience re: the whole punk/hip-hop parallels. It was the local heats for the DMCs and despite being virtually incapable of walking I decided to venture out to support the local scene and catch up with a few of the old heads who, like myself, rarely get out these days. So there I am, feeling like more of an old man than usual, leaning against a wall in the back in a club where I was almost twice the average age, struggling to sit down or stand up. At one point, whilst wincing in pain from my fuct back, I looked down and realised how out of place I must've looked; Dead Kennedys hoodie, leather jacket, skinny black jeans and it occurred to me that I was the sole representative of that aspect of the culture. In the very early days in New York, you would invariably find a punk or two lurking somewhere in the back of the crowd (no, I wasn't there but I'll believe the documentary evidence I've seen).
Headbutting the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott
‘…I acted purely out of my own contempt for the bourgeois scum presuming to 'rule' over other humans…’
(The headbutt) was pure punk rock! I must've channelled Frank Carter from Gallows or something. To say it was out of character, in viewing it as an act of aggression rather than self-defence, is such a massive understatement that we need a new word to describe how understated the word ‘understatement’ is. One of my favourite album titles of all time is Sebadoh's 'Smash Yr Head On The Punk Rock', irrelevant but fun fact. I had no recollection of the incident when the fuzz picked me up the following morning and I'll probably never grasp the import from an outside perspective. I acted purely out of my own contempt for the bourgeois scum presuming to 'rule' over other humans. A friend of mine who's a legendary frontman for The Roobs (and, coincidentally, the last person I'd headbutted, but in a loving fashion) pointed out that it was the most punk thing ever and on reflection for a couple of days, I had to concur. My hip-hop community stood staunchly behind me, especially Greeley with his track 'Free Astro'; at the end of the day it was only two months and I made a lot of people laugh, I'm not exactly Nelson Mandela! I think a world full of laughter is better than one filled with hate and warmongering. I attracted a lot of hate for my actions being violent and hypocritical, these people seem blissfully oblivious to the irony therein.
‘…apparently I was greeted with standing ovations…’
My media tirades the following day were totally candid and far less articulate than I usually am. I'm not accustomed to brushes with the law and was somewhere between still drunk and shock and getting drunk again… Apparently I was greeted with standing ovations (when entering jail). My memory is virtually non-existent, I was extremely stressed and seem to have blocked it out. I heard way too many references to 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here'. There seemed to be a genuine attitude that because I was on the telly I was somehow different…
I’d like to see these so-called powers that be held accountable in a manner that directly reflects the severity of the consequences of their actions to the same degree I have been. I was just stupid enough to have chosen to be shat out of the wrong end of the same system that produces these honourable monsters….
Fun fACt: 'Astro Labe'
My name is an anagram of 'roastable'.
You can catch Funknukl selecting vinyl with the Soul Session Soundsystem and his new crew, 'The Beat Down', around Hobart.