Red Hot Kinetix play Belly Up Aspen
When a group of jazz-performance majors at the University of Denver started jamming together as the band Kinetix, playing funk and cover songs at parties, none of them thought they’d still be at it 10 years later.
But their energetic, dance-friendly shows quickly won them an audience beyond campus and brought them into the recording studio and on national tours showcasing their blend of funk, hip-hop and more far-flung genres.
“We just come ready to get down,” said lead singer and guitarist Adam Lufkin. “There’s no expectation that we’re going to do a slow song. The most down-tempo thing we might play is a hip-hop song.”
Kinetix began as a collaboration between Lufkin and fellow Denver music students around 2005, playing the campus party and event circuit. They weren’t aiming to make a career out of the band. As Lufkin puts it, “From the get-go, all we wanted to do was make people party.”
The band gained traction, largely on the buzz about its high-energy, party-friendly performances. It started filling clubs in Denver and then playing around the state at clubs like Belly Up and then bigger venues like Red Rocks.
Kinetix’s 2010 album, “Let Me In,” became a national hit. They landed gigs at festivals around the country, from Wakarusa in Arkansas to Summer Camp in Illinois and SnowBall in Denver, and they went on tour beyond Colorado, going on the road supporting the likes of Flobots and Beautiful Girls.
On Saturday, they return to the Belly Up for a hybrid Kinetix and cover show. Their first set will show off their original material, including songs from their new album, “One Life,” that blend funk and electronic music. A second set will feature all Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.
The band’s trajectory hasn’t been all upward since its 2010 breakout, though. Just after “Let Me In” and that first taste of national success, Kinetix’s original drummer quit, and their keyboard player left to join the Navy SEALs.
“He was just burned out,” Lufkin said, “and he joined the Navy SEALs and did a complete 180 — going from no structure to complete structure. … Then we lost a lot of momentum because we couldn’t get a solid group that was working.”
Over the past few years, Lufkin and company have been doing some musical soul-searching — touring less and finding a new sound with a new lineup. Lufkin says this weekend’s Belly Up show will be among their last where they do their Chili Peppers tribute.
The band has solidified into a quartet, with Lufkin on vocals and guitar, Josh Fairman on bass, Jordan Linit on guitar and Gerge Horn on drums.
Their newest album, “One Life,” released this spring, is an experiment in what Lufkin dubs “electro-funk.”
“We’re playing as a four-piece with computers — I call it electro-funk rock,” he said. “The pop element is gone. It’s more dance music. It’s a lot more geared toward partying and dancing.”
The album takes the straightforward funk rock that Kinetix are known for and blends it with new electronic elements. The result is a catchy, danceable mix of the two styles, combining live instrumentation with computer-born sounds.
“Funk Off,” among the new songs, opens with a familiar funky bass groove and drumbeat that soon gets mixed in with synthy effects and samples. “Dance as One” has computer beats, live bass and a hook that instantly gets lodged in your brain.
The change in direction has excited some listeners but alienated others. Not all of Kinetix’s fans from their “Let Me In” days have come along with them through the shift in sound.
“The ones that were into the pop side of us faded away,” Lufkin said. “We knew that was going to happen, because we’re doing something that’s completely different. But you’ve got to go with what you want to do as an artist rather than what people want to hear.”
The band is admirably trying to use the new tools of electronic dance music to serve its wider musical aims. Kinetix still play funk music, no doubt, driven by rhythmic guitar grooves and bass lines — only with some additional elements we’re not used to hearing in funk songs. They are not, it seems, simply morphing into the kinds of button-pushing do-little DJs that Andy Samberg recently parodied in his viral “When Will the Bass Drop?” digital short from “Saturday Night Live.”
Kinetix’s progressive take on funk is actually not all that different from what the Chili Peppers began doing in the late ’80s. Back then, the rock icons melded together funk with new musical styles like rap and punk to make their first hits, like their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” then found their own genre-bending style on 1991’s groundbreaking “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.”
If the members of Kinetix are looking for a model on how to evolve musically, the Chili Peppers are a good pick. Over their 30 years as a band, the Chili Peppers have gone from the funk-punk and rap of “Mother’s Milk” to the rock of “Bood Sugar Sex Magic” to the more contemplative and game-changing “Californication” and have continued to reinvent themselves.
Lufkin says Kinetix started playing Chili Peppers covers because all of Kinetix’s members were fans and knew the Chili Peppers’ songs so well they could play them without rehearsing. These days their cover sets hit every Chili Peppers album, and Kinetix uses them as a jump-off for improvisational jams within the songs. If their biggest aim is to get people to party, as Lufkin says, the Chili Peppers do the job.
“I don’t plan anything,” he said of the cover shows. “I just try to kind of go out there with the Anthony Kiedis style.”
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