Hotpants on their 5th anniversary, record dreams, and Twin Cities funk & soul
|Hotpants at The Summit Backyard Bash: from left to right Dale Burback, Brian Engel, The Mysterious Justin "Rambo" Salinas, and Benjamin Mena.|
At the Bryant Lake Bowl, on a sunny Thursday afternoon, Ben Mena, one fourth of the funk and soul DJ collective Hotpants is explaining what a ramen record is. The idea seems simple enough, one can guess at the meaning: a 45 so expensive that it renders the buyer incapable of eating anything but ramen for the month following its purchase. When asked if they've bought a lot of ramen records, the DJ's sheepishly smile at each other and nod.
Out of the four young men that make up Hotpants: Brian Engel, Dale Burback, Justin "Rambo" Salinas and Ben Mena, Dale admits to tapping out at $1200 once, the other three seem more hesitant to give an exact figure, but it doesn't matter, the message is clear: any resources they have, Hotpants' spends on records. That's the point of the ramen record, a kind of obsessive need for three-odd minutes of dance music that can push you to empty your bank account in one calculated move. That's real love, what Hotpants is all about.
Minnesota is currently in the midst of a kind of funk and soul revival and rediscovery, a dance music renaissance of sorts. Thanks in large part to groups Hotpants and Hipshaker, it's a movement that's been building momentum for some time and things are presently coming to a head. Saturday, September 22 marks the five-year anniversary for Hotpants Rare Funk And Soul Dance Party and on the heels of Hotpants' sister night Hipshaker's ten-year celebration three weeks ago, it's a watershed moment.
Saturday also marks the release show of the Twin Cities Funk and Soul Compilation, an album of Minnesota hits from the lost 60's and 70's soul and funk scene and a passion project by Secret Stash records and members of Hotpants and Hipshaker. In honor of the occasion, both the Mayor of St. Paul and the Mayor of Minneapolis have declared this week, "Twin Cities Funk & Soul Week."
The album release show and concert at The Cedar Cultural Center will see Brian Engel and Dale Burback DJing in support of a a collective of the original MN artists like Wanda Davis, Willie Walker and The Exciters thrown together in an all-star live band. The release show will be directly followed by Hotpants' Five Year Anniversary Bash across the street at The Nomad. For Hotpants and Hipshaker, The night and the compilation release signals the realization of a longtime dream. a flesh and blood meeting of the music they've been fighting to keep alive all this time and an opportunity to spin records next to some of their heroes. In the midst of the buildup to September 22, City Pages had the chance to sit down and talk to Hotpants about digging, obsession and music.
CP: Who started Hipshaker?
Brian: There were three of us in Hipshaker at the start, it was Ron Wade, Greg Woletski and Me.
CP: And how did Hotpants come about then?
Ben: Justin started Hotpants with Ben Carey who moved out to New York after.
Justin: Well, we used to always go down and hang out at Brian's nights (Hipshaker).
Dale: I didn't know any of these guys, then.
Justin: We'd always have a really good time there, it was on Thursday nights, and their records were always really really deep cuts. Me and Ben were like, "we need to start another night because there should be more nights like this." So eventually we started another night and then everybody kinda came into the fold and then the five of us met. We played two years at Jager (Club Jager) and we finally asked for a Saturday and they gave us a weekend and it kinda just kept gaining momentum and getting bigger and bigger from there.
CP: Would you say the obsessive nature of what you guys do borders on musicology? You seem to have a volume of knowledge about these artists that eclipses most DJ's.
Dale: I would definitely call it musicology.
Justin: If I could do anything for money, my choice would probably be to follow in my mentor Edward Molina's footsteps and go around the country, to museums, the Smithsonian and stuff, and talk about the culture and the history of the records. If I could have any job in the world that would be it.
Brian: It's obsessive, the history, it's musicology for all of us.
Ben: Our tastes are different too, we all have our own particular tastes. These two guys in particular (Brian and Dale) were really into collecting the local records, which helped to get that compilation out. Each of us individually have very different tastes in records.
Dale likes soprano vocals, he's the sweet soul ballad vocal guy, Brian is the funk guy, he has the most records by far too. Brian's two favorite bands are Dyke and the Blazers and Pearl Jam. I'm the Northern Soul guy and Salinas is the Chicano Texas soul guy. Brian particularly though, he's all over the place, he's got blues and R+B records, hip hop, he will fly off the handle. We gotta keep him in check or he'll play something like "Surfin' Bird."
Dale: All of us kind of overlap in some ways though.