[Note: Throughout this article, I am embedding some of my favorite MCFK songs to accompany your reading. Give them a click. These guys deserve it.]
Welcome to Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen:
Technically, Mama Coco’s is a recording studio and band collective based out of Brooklyn, New York. In actuality, it a force of positivity fueled by music. The brainchild of Oliver Ignatius, MCFK began in his bedroom in 2010, before being promoted to the basement and eventually making it to a commercial space in 2012. Since its inception more than 50 bands have recorded there, but for most groups getting music on tape is only the beginning of their relationship with Mama Coco’s.
Similar to how some larger recording studios operate but way more pleasant, MCFK is all about community; calling it a family feels both a bit corny and absolutely correct. When a band records there, they have access to more than a set of mics, amps, and a soundboard; they have access to a group of ever-present and willing musicians, ready to jump in on background vocals, rhythm guitar, or extra percussions whenever necessary. The only thing more present than constructive criticism is support. Once a record is finished, another member of the Mama Coco’s family will write up a press release. This in-house operation, Oliver explains, serves to create a running narrative within the community.
Layne Montgomery, of The Great American Novel had this to say about the experience of recording with Mama Coco’s:
“It’s helped immensely because the community is so large that there is a built-in audience for whatever we release and whenever we play. It’s magical. When we were working on our new record, “:(” [to be known colloquially as “the Frown album”] if a session with another band was finishing up or if people had nothing to do, we’d invite them to come to the studio and play or sing on the new record. A lot of people came by and did very few things (backing vocals here, claps there, etc.) but it was a big deal to me to try and represent what was going on beyond our band on this record.”
This familial sentiment continues when bands move from recording to playing live shows, most notably at MCFK showcases.
Showcases are my favorite aspect of the MCFK way of life aside from the music itself. Anywhere from four to eight bands from the community will perform together at one show, allowing each of the bands to share each others audience as well as promoting the variety and quality of music that Mama Coco’s is capable of releasing. This makes it easy for an unassuming fan of one band (me) to quickly fall into the rabbit hole that is the MCFK catalog.
The communal feel that was present in the recording studio shows up threefold for these showcases. You will almost assuredly see more than one musician on stage with more than one band throughout the course of the night. If a member of The Harmonica Lewinskies has a scheduling conflict, there is probably someone else from The Great American Novel that will be able to fill in. And guest percussionists are always welcome, as long as it fits the mood.
It was in this way that I became a second-cousin to the Mama Coco’s family.
This was taken at a MCFK showcase that took place a while ago. Layne Montgomery, frontman of The Great American Novel is shirtless. I am in the left corner filling in on bass, and smiling like a goon. At the time, I remember being nervous and being surrounded by a lot of people who had seemingly never been farther from feeling nervous in their lives. I thought they were all crazy; this was the realest show I had ever played and there were a pretty good amount of people there. Someone named Dan jumped on stage mid-set and began sharing a mic with me for background vocals. Others were hitting tambourines with great passion. I was scared and just wanted to keep a 4/4 beat.
What I now know but didn’t realize at the time was that this is pretty much what a MCFK showcase is about. The crowd was into the music because even if they didn’t know the song, they knew someone who did. There was no awkward wait through an opener before the band you wanted to see; every band was the band everyone wanted to see. And while there is definitely a bit sibling rivalry between groups, it all clearly stems from mutual respect. I had never seen a show where everyone was so clearly supporting everyone.
The importance of a positive atmosphere was engrained in Mama Coco’s since the beginning. When I asked Oliver about the “family” of MCFK, he had this to say:
“When I first started the studio the intention was to create a different atmosphere. I’d had a lot of unpleasant and difficult experiences recording at studios when I was younger – the vibes were always choked and I could never connect with my artistic self in that context. So the idea of MCFK was to create an environment where the feeling was the most important, to be able to relax people to the point where we could essentially catch the music off guard because that would always produce the realest, thickest, most vibiest results. I was also very discouraged by the energy in the music scene at that time – very competitive, cutthroat, and a lot of egotistical, unpleasant vibes. So we slowly started building this idea of a community, encouraging the musicians to connect, get to know each other, collaborate, cross pollinate.”
One result of this ideology was the production of samplers/mixtapes featuring multiple artists under the MCFK umbrella. See below:
This is not only a pretty killer collection of songs, but further evidence of the positive relationships that exist among the bands that record with MCFK. The last track on this mix, a cover of “The Opera House” by The Olivia Tremor Control, features almost every MCFK regular in some capacity whether it be one lyric or a constant beat in the background.
With all of this cooperation and teamwork, I knew that there had to be some sort of tension that had gotten by me unnoticed. After all, these are musicians. When asked about conflict resolution, The Great American Novel guitarist JR Atkins said, “I can’t speak for other bands but conflict resolution often revolves around Oliver taking off his producer hat and puts his therapist hat on, and we all talk it out then hug or some shit.”
“Or we get drunk.”
Sounds about right.
God Save Mama Coco’s.