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Q&A/What to SEE/Music

What to SEE: Junkadelic turns 20!

16 February 2022

It’s been 20 years since Ken Allen grabbed a wheely bin and started a band. He explains to Rosalind Appleby how Junkadelic plan to celebrate two decades of making funk from upcycled junk.

Junkadelic are the kind of band equally at home headlining the opening night of the Perth International Jazz Festival, or busking at a suburban street market. This year they celebrate 20 years since they formed with the environmental vision of “making junk out of junk”. Percussionist and founder Ken Allen chats with Rosalind Appleby about the journey and the family fun party they have planned.

Rosalind Appleby: Hi Ken, I can’t believe it has been 20 years since Junkadelic formed. That’s really something to bang on about! How do you plan to celebrate?

Ken Allen: We are celebrating at Earthwise Community Garden – which is where Junkadelic started in 2002 – and we have invited a bunch of the old members and collaborators back to celebrate with workshops and performances showcasing “Junkadelic thru the Decades!” We are also unveiling a brand new junk sculpture we are currently building with students at Subiaco Primary School – we do junk art workshops and well as junk music!

Junkadelic co-founder Ken Allen wearing a leather waistcoat and hat is ripping a piece of sticky tape off a large role
Percussionist Ken Allen, co-founder of Junkadelic,, in the middle of making a junk drum. Photo supplied

RA: Tell us about the early days. Why did you form the group with Dora DeLuca, and how has it changed since then?

KA: Dora and I were members of a community samba percussion group the Sambanistas, but we were both big fans of funk music and we loved the idea of reusing and recycling materials to make musical instruments. So we grabbed a wheely bin, a big chemical drum, some buckets and pots and pans, began to imitate some old James Brown rhythms, and Junkadelic “Funk on Junk” was born!

RA: There’s an incredible energy and sense of fun that emanates from your music – what do you put that down to? 

KA: The rhythms are all upbeat and danceable. Many are based on New Orleans “second line” rhythms, the type you hear on the street and in Mardi Gras parades and which themselves have roots in African rhythms. So when we hooked up with other instrumentalists in 2010 – principally brass and saxophone players who were trained in jazz – there was an understanding and mutual respect for the style of music. The horn players loved getting to bust out their jazz chops on upbeat funky rhythms!

RA: You’ve toured nationally and internationally many times, and been part of some great collaborations over the years. What have been the highlights along the way?

KA: The US trip in 2015 was the highlight of our tours. We began the tour in Seattle and toured with a bunch of like-minded big brass bands down to San Francisco.  We hooked up with that tour through the Honk! Festival world community which we first met in Wollongong a year earlier for HonkOZ. We have stayed close to that community of activist street bands and toured every year to HonkOZ, until recent years. 

RA: The group has been quite flexible, evolving from a percussion group to a funk band and more recently you’ve been collaborating with Dr Richard Walley as part of the Six Seasons Band. How did that come about?

KA: Certainly our greatest collaboration has been with Dr Richard Walley for the Six Seasons Concert Performances.  This features a 12 Piece Junkadelic Orchestra and is fronted by some of Perth best Noongar vocalists including Natasha Eldridge, Boox Kid and Hip-hop MC Flewnt.  The songs tell the story of the Noongar Six Seasons and were co-written with the vocalists and Dr Walley.  The project came about when – after bumping in to Dr Walley several times at various festivals and even collaborating for a jam session on stage with him – we approached him to ask if he wanted to collaborate on writing a Christmas tune to the theme of the Noongar season of Birak.  So it would be a real Western Australian Season’s Greetings song! When we suggested this to him he flat out said “No!” Then he said we couldn’t just do one season, we would have to do all six!! That was back in 2018. 

RA: What are the future plans for Junkadelic?

KA: 2022 will see more Junkadelic street gigs, more Six Seasons concerts with Richard Walley, and we are re-working our Junkadelic Stage show – which we haven’t been able to perform for over a year – with the amazing Tani Walker on lead vocals.  We will also continue our workshops in schools and the community, teaching people how to make drums and play our rhythms. We also have a new collaboration blossoming with the young circus crew from CirQuest!

RA: Let’s say you found an old junky playground seesaw, how would you use it in your band?

KA: We would probably install different drums either end to give us cool back beat, perhaps amplify the squeaks at the pivot point to give it a bit of a hip-hop sample feel, decorate the contraption with Junkadelic colours and perhaps add a junk sculpture to the middle of it. Then we would jump up and down on it, hit it, scrape it, bump it, thump it and junk funk the hell out of it! 

The “Junkadelic 20th Birthday Party” kicks off at 3pm, 27 February 2022 at Earthwise Community Garden, Subiaco.

Pictured top: the musicians and environmental activists who bring the fun to Junkadelic Brass Band. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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