Under a bridge in that nebulous zone where SoDo bleeds into Georgetown, Seattle quartet Midpak are making all ages of freaks freak out at a benefit show for Palestinians. In the cramped confines of Belltown's Jupiter Bar, the psychedelically inclined funkateers are inspiring a much smaller contingent of folks to bust moves—including bassist Sam Holman's mother. At a packed show at Barboza opening for Colombia psychedelic band BALTHVS, Midpak open the night by spurring the audience to enthusiastically gyrate and whoop, though few know who they are. 

All of these 2024 shows prove that Midpak can move crowds without compromising with their serpentine, vocal-free tunes that are as danceable as they are complex. The crazy thing is, Midpak sound like they've been transported from a gritty urban club circa 1972—even though all of their members are barely of drinking age: guitarist Nik Jordan is 22, bassist Holman and drummer Ben Rutherford-Kinney are 21, percussionist Daniel Lopez is 25. They've only been around for a little under two years, yet they sound as if they've been honing their chops for decades. They can stretch out and tighten it up with equal panache. "We practice a lot," explains the soft-spoken Holman in an interview conducted at Kinney's pad. "We were all vigilant with the idea that we don't want to sound shitty," Kinney elaborates.

After my first encounter with Midpak at the aforementioned Barboza gig, I wondered how a group of youthful Pacific Northwesterners could bring the funk this filthily, like a combo of studly Motown studio guitarist Dennis Coffey and Kool & the Gang moonlighting as Lightnin' Rod's backing band on Hustlers Convention. I could not believe my ears and eyes, a rare occurrence for your blogger.

Nik Jordan of Midpak. Jimmy Humphryes/@poundingthenail

Midpak—who claim to have no leader, per se, though Jordan acts as MC during shows—arose out of Seattle's febrile jam scene at Seamonster Lounge. (They continue to jam often there and at Rabbit Box Theatre and Café Racer, too.) Jordan had started Midpak with different musicians, but they couldn't gel. When Nik met Ben at Rainier Brewery practice space, they decided to explore their love of hip-hop and funk by performing instrumental versions of tracks by Dr. Dre, J Dilla, Roy Ayers, and other legends, under the Quadraphonic handle.

After this slight diversion, Midpak enlisted Holman on bass, which helped to steer them on the righteous path. Oddly, though, he was more of a guitar player than a bassist and Kinney was more of keyboardist than a drummer. So, half of Midpak were learning their instruments while trying to gain traction, which they did with gigs such as More Music @ the Moore, Sound Off!, and an auxiliary Capitol Hill Pride fest slot at Cal Anderson Park. Lopez was the last piece of the puzzle, adding nimble conga and bongo embellishments that beef up Midpak's already chunky rhythms. (Tyler Richart fills in for Lopez when the latter has other commitments; Richart will be performing at the group's May 24 Central Saloon gig.) 

One reason that Midpak hit upon their instrumental, psychedelic-funk sound is because nobody in the band can sing—although that fact hasn't stopped many other bands from deploying vocals... But I digress. It's a fairly narrow niche in Seattle, but Midpak are following in the august footsteps of True Loves and Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. (A guitarist who's played in both of those groups, Jimmy James, is a Midpak supporter and mentor.) 

"We all really like the feel of instrumental music," Kinney says. "Some of it is driving and it can be really big. But at the core, we all really like minimalistic stuff. We like things that have a pocket or a groove that you can continue and build on. That's why we started Quadraphonic. Improvising over these hip-hop songs, it's such a simple framework, it give you freedom to build on it. 

"Nik, when we were in that band, wrote a couple of originals: 'Evil Intention' and 'Above and Below.' Those were already done by the time we started the band. We hadn't arranged them, but the melody and the idea behind it, we'd already come up with. It's inspired by Santana, and Khruangbin was a huge influence on Nik.

"We didn't realize for a long time that it's a strength that we're instrumental. I always thought we could throw on any vocalist we want and it would be a super-cool vibe. There are not that many instrumental psychedelic projects in Seattle, so it's kind of nice to be one of the few."

Holman says, "A lot of it, too, is we've been listening to this music for a long time. I've known Nik since we were 13. When we were younger, we really loved early Funkadelic. The Eddie Hazel era from 1967 to 1971 when Maggot Brain came out, that was one of our favorite guitarists and bands. We'd been listening to that for so long that when we finally had a talented enough group of people to play it with, we were like, let's try to replicate that in a similar way.

"And there are all these other influences that came along. We have a lot of common ground in what we listen to. Ben introduced us to Channel Tres, who's a soulful house-music producer. Then we started getting into house music and how can we blend that with funk. So we're trying to combine early funk with house and world influences..."

Jordan says, "Jimmy James got me hip to James Brown and all of that stuff. That's been helping me with riffs. Lately, I've been trying to tap in to cumbia, Latin, and African guitar styles."

Kinney adds. "I started getting super into Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. [Daniel] brings all these world-music elements to the band." Lopez says, "I've been practicing Malian and Guinean drumming." Unsurprisingly, Lopez and Richart met at percussion jams in Gasworks Park, where they bonded over their love of West African drumming.  

Ben Rutherford-Kinney and Sam Holman of Midpak. Jimmy Humphryes/@poundingthenail

Richart—who's 46 and also plays with Todo Folklore Cubano—raves about Midpak's enthusiasm onstage and in rehearsal spaces. "I get to be hanging with some kids that are living their dream, and that feels good." He thinks that Midpak aren't so much about virtuosity as they are "about vibes and constructing a sound. It's about soundscaping and making the band sound and feel have a personality of its own.

"The closest thing to a virtuoso in the band is probably Ben, on an instrument you never see him play—the keyboard. He gets really good sounds, he makes really good choices. Sam's strength is that he's really committed to keeping good time and good tone. Ben is a great drummer; he really has fun and it's infectious. Danny has good sounds and is such a good fit for Midpak. Nik is a master at soundscapes. He's really good at making his guitar sound beautiful. The psychedelic trip is real with that guy. He'll take you for a ride with his instrument."

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One of those listeners along for the journey is Holman's mom, Midpak's #1 fan. Her son confides, "She always says, 'You may play the same songs every time, but it sounds different every set.'" Blessed with synesthesia, Ms. Holman described Midpak's music as "a black panther moving through the forest of sound." 

Besides their frequent gigs in conventional venues, Midpak occasionally busk at Cal Anderson Park and by the Shell gas station on Broadway and Pike. A friend gave them solid advice: set up outside of the stadiums at Mariners and Seahawks games. Midpak's sound is, at times, ideal for sports-highlight clips, so it would be a good fit. "We'd love to play at a Kraken game," Kinney says. 

Summing up Midpak's raison d'être, Kinney says, "Listening to music that shocks my core and makes me think differently about music makes some of the biggest impact on my life. Listening to something that's new to me and speaks to me, it's like, 'Oh yes! That's so fucking cool.' I want to be that for other people."

Midpak perform May 24 at Central Saloon. Their Midday EP—recorded with Dave Matthews Band accomplice Ethan Bovey—is available on CD and digitally June 14 via DistroKid.