In the dozen or so years that Daptone Records has been in business, the Brooklyn label has assembled a roster of talent specializing in vintage funk and soul to rival any of the countless independent labels that worked in the shadow of Motown and Stax back in the day, including veteran performers Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, and Charles Bradley alongside newer acts like Antibalas and The Budos Band. In the process, they’ve helped to kick start a revival of vintage soul sounds that you can hear reverberating everywhere from underground dance parties to throwback-sounding hits by Meghan Trainor and Amy Winehouse (who worked with Jones’s backing band The Dap-Kings).
For a project with such wide-ranging success, Daptone had a humble start. “It was a bunch of musicians who worked together before,” says Gabriel Roth, who founded the label alongside his Dap-Kings bandmate Neal Sugarman. “We were just recording our own stuff and putting out 45’s and stuff.”
Roth says the label’s transformation from a niche concern to a focal point of a global soul revival has been, “a very gradual thing, and very organic. It’s never been huge jumps and leaps or big moments of fame. It’s always been just fans telling other fans. We’ve always had a great relationship with our fans, so it hasn’t been surprising.”
Huge jumps or no, Daptone’s grown popular enough that it can book Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater for three nights this week for the Daptone Super Soul Revue, which will feature live performances by pretty much the entire Daptone stable. The label will be recording the performances for a live album, which considering that James Brown recorded a legendary live album in the same theater in 1962 is a very big deal for a soul label.
Roth is typically chill about this landmark, and he feels the same way about his label’s role in making soul music more popular than it’s been in decades. “We’re still doing the same thing,” he says. “We’ve never really been in the mainstream. We’ve had a lot of brushes with it, you know, backing up pop artists, and obviously the Amy Winehouse thing. For the most part, our records have never really been in the mainstream, they’ve never been on pop radio, and they probably never will be. But we’re fortunate enough to have a strong and loyal fan base that supports us.”
To celebrate the Super Soul Revue, Daptone’s put together a mixtape that EW is offering as an exclusive free download.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”
Charles Bradley – “Strictly Reserved For You”
The Budos Band – “The Sticks”
Antibalas – “Dirty Money”
The Como Mamas – “Out of the Wilderness”
Saun & Starr – “Hot Shot”
Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – “Sinner”
The Sugarman 3 – “Rudy’s Intervention”
Menahan Street Band – “Make the Road by Walking”