There's a good reason why Bendite Gabe Johnson not only represents several funk bands as a booking agent and concert promoter, but also busts out driving dance guitar beats in his own funk group Elektrapod; he's got it bad for the genre.
"I personally gravitate to funk music because of how it makes people feel," explained Johnson in an interview with the Source. "Funk grooves make people want to dance with wild abandon. I'm not a conventionally religious person in any way, but I would say that making people feel this way and tapping into this feeling myself, is my religion and something I try to spread to others."
His dual roles in the music realm mean he sees things from two different vantage points, a rarity in the industry.
As the president of In The Pocket Artists—a full service booking agency in Bend for national acts—Johnson's mission is to bring danceable performances to the masses by making sure his favorite bands—like Sophistafunk and Polyrhythmics—have a place to perform and have all their needs met for those shows.
As a guitarist and songwriter in the six-piece electro-funk and soul band Elektrapod, he takes this self-initiated charge to Central Oregon with the sweat and elbow grease necessary to build a following. As a result, Elektrapod has been getting in front of audiences at a staggering pace, playing The Volcanic Theatre Pub and Bend Roots as well as a show Jan. 10 at The Belfry in Sisters, and a month-long residency at Blue Pine Kitchen in Bend starting in February.
Riding both sides of the fence gives Johnson unique views into not only what makes the Bend live music scene tick, but also valuable insight into what bands ought to be doing in order to help achieve their lofty dreams. In Bend, Johnson says, that can be more difficult than other cities.
"It's tough to make a living playing music here," explained Johnson. "Bend is very fickle and about paying cover charges for local bands which has perpetuated a culture of no-cover venues. This makes it easy to get people in the door, which is a short term benefit, but it also creates a paradoxical paradigm wherein musicians have to book a lot of shows just to pay their rent which in turn creates a situation where they are overplaying the market."
Johnson's bet with Elektrapod is that the eclectic nature of the band's music and its almost over-the-top energetic performances will produce fans that won't care if they saturate the local market with their music. And he might be on to something.
Fronted by Ze Rox—also the lead singer for popular Bend band Jacuzzi—Elektrapod is six musicians with twenty years between their eldest and youngest members, and each one attends to the music writing process. As evidenced by several amateur videos from last year's Bend Roots Revival at Pakit Liquidators, Elektrapod's infectious love for the music they play can spill into the crowd, effortlessly conjuring up one of Johnson's coveted dance parties. Ze Rox barrels through the vocals with style and confidence while the other members burrow behind her, pushing hip-hop, electronica, soul and rock grooves. It's not necessarily a new sound—even with all of the shifting elements—but it is infectious. It's also not the only reason they've been successful thus far.
According to Johnson, even with the lack of a proper full-time live music venue in Bend, a status quo of no-cover shows, and fluctuating turnout for concerts, both being in a band like Elektrapod as well as booking/promoting other funk acts, has something very special to fall back on here in Central Oregon.
"In Bend, there's a very passionate, music-loving community," said Johnson. "The best thing about playing and presenting shows in Bend is that this group of people is filled with some truly great human beings who know their music history, dance hard and give a lot of love to the performers."
8 pm. Friday, Jan. 10
302 E. Main St., Sisters
Tickets $7 at bendticket.com