10 tracks: MF Robots

Former Brand New Heavies members Jan Kincaid and Dawn Joseph pick their favourite cuts

Ever wondered what robots listen to? According to MF(MusicFor) Robots bandmates, Jan Kincaid and Dawn Joseph, it’s upbeat funk and soul. Their new single, ‘Come On With the Good Thing’ is the second release from MF Robots’ debut album, due for release in September this year.

Kincaid and Joseph began writing together when they were both members of acid jazz band, the Brand New Heavies. They hope that their new album will showcase a revitalised sound. “We’re trying to make music that has good energy and avoids blandness,” says Kincaid, who believes that a lot of modern music sounds the same. “Funk is still affecting all forms of dance music 40 years on and for a reason; it’s a celebration of letting go and just getting down,” says Kincaid.

MF Robots’ debut single ‘The Night Is Calling’, expresses this vitality. In the video, the band dance as Joseph sings, “I ain’t gonna stop until the dawn.” Their new single, ’Come On With the Good Thing’, was the first track the pair wrote together and shares the same optimistic energy.

Following its release, we spoke to Jan Kincaid about the 10 tracks that inspired the record.

Steely Dan - Peg

I grew up listening to this album and this song. I was introduced to it by my older brother. The musicianship, songwriting and uniqueness makes this a timeless masterpiece and a great introduction to their sound. This is one of those bands that didn’t really make a bad album. You can find new layers on pretty much every listen and it never gets tired. The groove is so nice too – a must have for any music fan.

Earth, Wind & Fire - September

Another big band from my youth that never gets tired. This is probably the best soul band ever in my opinion. The vision of founder Maurice White to create a brand in both sound and image through sophisticated grooves and beautiful timeless sing-along melodies was his true genius. This tune never fails to make everything feel sunny. It’s truly transportive in that way and kind of universal in its appeal. It’s just a wonderful piece of music. As a live band they were unbeatable.

James Brown - Cold Sweat

James Brown is a visceral force of nature. No artist had more influence on the creation of funk music than this guy and his band, which he ruled with an iron will. His music and his electric live performances had a massive influence on Prince, Michael Jackson and so many others who would not have been able to make the music they made without growing up listening to his music. His influence on black music was really that great. The solid unrelenting and hard edged grooves created by his band, under his direction, made many funk classics that went on to influence the birth of hip hop. It’s no coincidence that his records are still among the most sampled or copied by beatmakers and producers today. This tune was from 1967, when he was starting to hone his new funk sound that would really blossom from 1969 onwards. The interplay between the guitars, bass-drums and horns are funk personified.

James Taylor - Fire and Rain

In an era when we seem to be, in my opinion, drowning in soundalike singer-songwriters, here’s a beautiful song by one of the guys that put it on the map. The chord changes on the verse coupled with the lyrics make it so emotional for me. It’s been covered many times as a testament to how good it is and has stood the test of time as every classic should. It manages to be personal and emotive without being at all self indulgent. This is a benchmark in its genre.

Kraftwerk - Trans Europa Express

A revolutionary sound at the time with its use of synthesisers and electronic sounds. This band are one of the godfathers of electronic music. Before there was house music or techno these guys were really pushing the envelope and sounding like no one else. Again, you can tell how good a track is by how it influences what comes after it. Electro-pop bands like the Human League and Ultravox must have been listening to this stuff. I know Afrika Bambaataa was; it’s the beat behind ‘Planet Rock’. Techno from Detroit onwards started here.

Bob Marley - Get Up, Stand Up

Bob Marley’s music is universal in the true sense of the word. He’s still probably the best-known artist worldwide. His music and lyrics seem to speak to people everywhere on a truly human level. Whether it be a protest song like this, fighting the nature of oppression, or a straight up love song, there’s a simplicity and economy of lyrics that gets the message across. His messages are timeless and as meaningful and important today as ever.

Miles Davis - E.S.P.

Miles is another 20th century icon of modern, progressive music. He was one of the most important figures in the development and transition in the sound of jazz music. Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, he was at the front of new movements in musical expression. Fearlessly individual and terminally hip, he blazed the trail many still follow. His various groups contained some of the brightest musical minds of the time who, on their own instruments, would also have a massive effect on others, including John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock to name but a few. This record from the 60s is still, I think, my favourite album by him and his revolutionary quintet. Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams joined him to make a definitive album of urgent, intellectual and searching, haunting music.

Aretha Franklin - I Say A Little Prayer

I love this version of the Burt Bacharach masterpiece the most. Aretha will always be the queen of soul for me. The gravitas she has is unbeatable. She just makes a song sound how it was meant to be sung and she makes it sound easy in her delivery. She interprets the lyrics and sells them to your heart like she’s living every word. Even if you’re not a religious person she can bring the church out in you. Her voice is sublime and can be raw and sweet at the same time. All hail the queen.

Stevie Wonder - Superstition

Another total original. You always know it’s Stevie by his writing as much as his singing. He has influenced so many singers and songwriters by creating a series of masterpiece albums in the 60s and 70s. This song, from the Talking Book album, is one of his most well-known and most loved. Super funky and immediate, no one can escape the funk of that clavinet. Everyone is on the dance floor by the time the first four bars of the drum intro are over. Great lyrics, masterful delivery, so soulful, so Stevie.

Donny Hathaway - Little Ghetto Boy

Donny in the mainstream is massively underrated, but to those who know his work he is an absolute don. As important to singers as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, but perhaps less well known, as he died relatively young with only a handful of albums to his name. His vocal influence can be heard in so many soul singers and he was a mean piano player and song writer. He’s one that touches me with his voice every time. There are two versions of this song, a studio one and this one from one of the best live albums ever recorded Donny Hathaway Live. Get it in your soul.