Reinventing funk for you and me

Andy Frakes

Skylar Spence, an electronic artist pioneering the genre of futurefunk, used to go by Saint Pepsi. He can’t do that anymore; the musician, 22, has gained enough notoriety in the music scene to get a cease-and-desist letter from Pepsi Co.re-skylar spence boston college radio

Skylar Spence isn’t even his real name. He is Ryan DeRobertis, and he’s a Boston College dropout who played a great show in NMU’s Great Lakes rooms in April 2015 after two local acts opened onstage for him.

“A few songs on Prom King are about specific events in my life—a party where I got too messed up, watching a friend’s life spiral out of control and trying to help—but I tried hard not to be too autobiographical because I want my music to unite, above all else,” DeRobertis said in an interview on his label’s website. “I’m much more interested in connecting with the listener than mystifying my personality.”

“Prom King,” DeRobertis’ debut LP under the new name, was released  is the definition of a good time, as his nearly 32,000 SoundCloud followers would attest. When he played at NMU he seemed uncomfortable in his own skin; he stood in the audience before his set, talking to people in the crowd and flying under the radar for the most part.

He’s taken the name Skylar Spence as a stage name because when he lost the ability to perform as Saint Pepsi, he still wasn’t confident enough to slap his actual name on his music and performances.

His song “Can’t You See” is a call to arms for the socially awkward; it’s a shout-out to people who have a hard time loving themselves. “I’m in love with my own reflection,” he sings in the chorus, “and I feel like I could dance all night.”

Though Spence lands every jump in the funk department, he doesn’t bridge the gap into dubstep or hyperactive EDM music; no drops, no wobbles, no nonsense. This is one of many things setting him apart from modern artists in the electronic genre, and I’m a fan. He and his producers (which is to say, him and himself) are eschewing routine to cater to a specific subset of fans. These fans, the people bouncing around the Great Lakes Rooms on that clammy April evening smelling of whiskey and excitement, aren’t asking for a bass drop—they’re asking for songs like “Fiona Coyne” and “Fall Harder.” Spence delivers all they ask for, and more, with this release.

The lead-in to the title track of “Prom King” will have you tapping your foot and feeling the beat in your chest; this song nearly falls into the house-music category. It’s definitely percussion-weighted, meant to be danced to. “All I Want,” track nine of the album, is another facet of the same thing—instrumental house music, sort of, but it doesn’t categorize that easily. Spence’s mixing and producing abilities have given way to a complex range of moods and messages within the album, and even within individual songs.

“Fiona Coyne” is the closing track, and it ends the record with a bang. This is a fan favorite, Spence’s most-played track across multiple platforms, and at his NMU show the crowd was singing along to the chorus before he was done. It’s sweet, catchy and upbeat, with great instrumentation. A bit cheesy? Maybe. But there’s more to it.

Like anything elusive and interesting, one can take great pains to describe and metaphorize the experience of listening to “Prom King.”

Description, it’s been said, is more valuable than metaphor.But the best way to explain this album is simply to shut up and drop the needle.