As disco died, the venue at 701 First Avenue North changed its name from Uncle Sam’s to Sam’s and finally — on Dec. 31, 1981 — to First Avenue. The illuminated dance floor was removed, revealing checkered terrazzo tile — much to the surprise and delight of club management, who had expected to spend a hefty chunk of change on a new floor. The transition meant more live music in the Mainroom, but dance nights still dominated the weekends.
A little bit of everything got played at First Avenue’s flagship night Danceteria, but by the mid 1980s, some specialty nights were popping up. One of First Avenue’s resident DJs, Kevin Cole, had a punk and new wave night called Club Degenerate. Another resident DJ, Roy Freid (who spins as Roy Freedom), started a night in the 7th Street Entry called Break It Up, inspired by the breakdancing craze he had experienced firsthand in New York City.
Break It Up was held every week in the Entry for about a year, and after its run ended, Freid wanted to start a night focused on the Minneapolis Sound of funk and R&B. The music was exploding on a national and local level thanks to Prince; the Time; the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; and others. Minneapolis was hot.
At first, First Avenue’s general manager Steve McClellan was not convinced, but “he finally gave in,” Freid says. “A lot of that had to do with [First Avenue staffer] Chrissie Dunlap. She was one of my big supporters and she really helped us get that thing going.” In late 1985, More Funk — or MF for short — was born.
It didn’t take long to catch on. “It started out slow,” Freid says, “and then it snowballed and it became kind of huge” within a couple months. Freid knew most of the DJs in town thanks to a record sharing group called a record pool, and he brought in guest DJs from all over town such as Cowboy and Alan Freed. (Read Freed’s reminisce about that era.)
Freid felt it was important to have the crowd be able to look up to the booth and not just see some white guy (like him) up there. He made a conscious effort to book black DJs and hosts. “The whole idea was to mix the whole crowd. It wasn’t just going to be one thing. That’s what it ended up being, which was a good success.”
In contrast to the superstar DJ culture of today, the DJs were not the main focus of MF. “We’re just the supplier of music,” as Freid puts it. “One of the big factors that started at MF that we took to other nights was to make the audience the entertainment. We had platforms and risers on the dance floor so people could get up and dance,” he adds.
The audience was the star, but certain members shone brighter than others. Jimmy Jam was a regular, sometimes bringing in artists he was working with at Flyte Tyme Productions. The gregarious producer was always friendly and up for a chat. Not so approachable was Prince, who would often head off to a back corner with his bodyguards.
That party clearly left a mark on him, though. The lyric “maybe I’ll see you next Thursday night” from the song “Superfunkycalifragisexy” was a reference to More Funk.
It was not uncommon for Jimmy Jam, Jesse Johnson, and Prince to give Freid something they were working on, to test it out on a dance floor. “Erotic City” was played for the first time ever at More Funk. “One of the most valuable records I have is an acetate Prince brought me of ‘Erotic City,’” says Freid. “At that point it’s not on a record. It’s not anywhere. I played that just once; he wanted to see what the reaction was.” Unsurprisingly, it went over well.
More Funk ran every Thursday night until 1992, an impressive seven-plus-year run for a weekly dance night. Freid couldn’t recall any specific reasons that it ended. The club had begun putting a heavier focus on bands and attendance numbers at the dance nights didn’t justify taking a night away from a potential live show.
Spurred on by the death of Prince, the band is getting back together for one more ride. Essentially the whole original crew are joining forces to throw More Funk ’16 – Old School 80s and the Mplsound, being held tonight at First Avenue.
Collaborator and party host Alan Freed says there had been some discussion on doing a reunion party amongst members of the original crew within the past year, but the current creative climate in Minneapolis kickstarted the reunion. “Now there’s an interest that maybe wasn’t there three months ago,” Freed says, “We could have done it, but it may not have had the impact that it now has.”
Though the party was spurred by Prince’s death, Freed points out that this is not a Prince tribute party. Of course some Prince will get played — it’s a party based on the Minneapolis Sound in the ’80s, after all — but “More Funk is the headline,” says Freed. “It’s not a Prince tribute, and that’s important because there are Prince tributes even that week.”
Freed thinks that it will be a special night in large part thanks to how true to the original it will be, down to the night of the week. “We’re fortunate to have the same venue involved. A lot of old venues are gone; condos are sitting there. First Avenue remains, and it’s basically the same.” On top of that, the whole original crew will be getting back together for this party, including DJs Roy Freedom, Cowboy, Rock-It-T, and Dean Vaccaro; hosts Scotty P and Freed; and VJs Spot and smitty.
The excitement is understandably high with the chance to put on one more party, but that’s not the only thing More Funk creator Freid feels. “I am kind of nervous,” he admits. “I haven’t really spun since ’95.” He has played music at First Avenue many times since then, but he hasn’t mixed with vinyl in two decades. The added hype from the party isn’t making it any easier on his nerves, but Freid adds, “I went down and practiced a little bit. It’s like riding a bike.”
Freed feels that the party will have the feel of a 40th high school reunion for many people who come — some of whom are traveling from faraway cities to see old friends and relive some of the glory days. However, Freed is even more excited for the people who will be living it for the first time. “We have a group of people who have not experienced this night who now will get a really cool taste of how it was, as close as we can make it,” he says. “Unless you can find a working time machine, you’re not going to get closer.”
Bobby Kahn is a writer, cable access television producer, performer, dance class instructor, accountant, and lifelong resident of Minneapolis. He used to be shy and scared of dancing, but since then he was chosen by the funk to serve as one of its ambassadors.