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“China’s Prince” is Bringing Funk Music to the Masses With His Band Click #15

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“The first time I heard ‘Purple Rain,’ I didn’t like it,” Click #15 frontman Ricky Sixx tells us.

Credited with bringing Chinese funk music to the mainstream through the group’s performances on iQIYI’s hit rock music show The Big Band, Ricky has garnered multiple comparisons to legendary musical polymath Prince, who died on this day, April 21, four years ago.

The comparisons often spring from Ricky’s performance style. He’s known for his dancing, snaking himself around the microphone stand while playing the bass on stage. The music, on the other hand, is all their own. As Ricky tells us, the reason funk music has struggled to catch on in China, is that the style is so hard to capture correctly.

“When you play funk music you have a swing feel, and playing that style of music is very hard,” he says, before adding, “If you want to play funk music right, you have to know about swing feel and everyone has a different swing feeling.”

If you want to play funk music right, you have to know about swing feel”

The music, then, is deeply personal, coming not wholly from influences, but retaining that integral, internal “swing feel.” Still, he appreciates the comparisons to Prince, saying, “I’m never going to be like Prince, he’s such an amazing musician, but I have my own scale.”

That scale has shifted through the years.

Ricky began his musical career playing a very different style of music. You might have noticed that his name bears more than a passing resemblance to Mötley Crüe’s bassist, Nikki Sixx. The name is a reminder for fans of Ricky’s early days in underground glam-rock band Rustic, who he joined in late 2009 after moving to Beijing from Hebei province.

“With Rustic, I had the chance to talk to more people. If you stay in a small town you can’t think. Your mind is empty. Lucifer [the group’s singer and guitarist] is really wild, he wants to do everything, try everything. He took us to a different level, even if we weren’t able to do it.”

Over time, Ricky began moving on from the hedonistic hard rock of his youth, tiring of playing the same old songs and feeling himself drawn to disco, blues and funk music. He began experimenting with these new types of music and with new musicians, eventually founding a band called Bad Boogie in 2015, which eventually became Click #15 a year later. Today, Click #15 is primarily a duo, with Yang Ce on keys providing improvisational flair, while Ricky does the vast majority of the songwriting.

Click #15 began their life performing for crowds at the sweaty and cramped underground live music venues of Beijing. With his new group, though, was more ambition, more resolve to study the intricacies of music writing.

“I wanted to be a real musician, you can’t just copy them”

“I started to really practice guitar and learn how to practice playing music in the past five or six years. I wanted to be a real musician, you can’t just copy them. You have to be really serious. You have to tell your band members how to play your own music. For the past few years I’ve been really trying to find my own music.”

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While The Big Band delivered Click #15 their opportunity to make it to the big time (they finished in the top 5 on the hit show and picked up a slew of advertising deals with everyone from Adidas to milk brand Yili in the aftermath), Ricky says that performing on the show was mechanical and that he didn’t learn much through its run.

I felt nervous. Every time I played I felt very nervous. It felt like I was delivering my homework.”

To viewers, he didn’t seem nervous. Rather, he oozed charisma on stage.

That’s experience, that takes lots of shows. When I was with Rustic, I wanted to get on the stage. When I was on The Big Band, I was under lots of pressure.”

During the show, Ricky expressed the sentiment, or the worry, that his biggest desire was to be a full time, professional musician. Now he’s revelling in the fact that he can pay for session musicians to join him in the studio to jam out and make tunes.

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Being a musician is really hard now. I can’t really play in the small venue because they don’t pay you well. Before, I had to make a cover band, I don’t really like that kind of band. I brought music friends to play in the cover band so we can have a good relationship so later we can play shows with no money.”

With more than ten years of performing and making music under his belt, Ricky sounds relieved when he talks about the band’s most recent recording sessions, for their new EP, The Funky Experience 2, released on Ruby Eyes Records on April 15.

“I can hire real musicians to play with us. Good musicians. The good ones understand really fast. For Get Funky, I made all of that myself. I don’t think that’s real music. I want people to play with us, give their opinions,” he says.

In January, earlier this year, he travelled to the US to record the five songs included on The Funky Experience 2. He had two and a half demos he knew he wanted to record, while two others came out during the 10 days he spent recording in Las Vegas.

In addition to the tracks for this record, Click #15 have set out a marker for 2020, aiming to record another five songs within the year. These new songs should help the pair with performance fatigue. Ricky tells us, “Last year, we played the same songs over and over and it made me feel very tired.”

While the release of a new record would usually presuppose a tour in support of it, the outbreak of Covid-19 has put a halt on any plans that the group had to perform their new songs. They’re planning to get back together to practise once keyboardist Yang gets out of self-quarantine, but the rest of their plans for 2020 are down to circumstance.

“If we can do shows we can do shows. We have to at least write five other songs. That’s the goal,” Ricky says matter-of-factly.

Bryan Grogan
    Bryan is RADII's Culture Editor. He is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with an interest in culture stories with a social bent. He can be found at a music show, usually with pint in hand.