When one asks about underground S.F. parties, there’s no question that funk, soul, and groove party Sweater Funk comes to mind. Taking place in the basement of an otherwise quiet Li Po Lounge on Sunday nights, Sweater Funk has become one of best weekly parties in San Francisco, attracting returning crowds and out-of-town performers like Dam Funk.
However, due to unforeseen circumstances by the ever-changing mindset of the entertainment commission, the party is temporarily shut down at its weekly location. However, the Sweater Funk crew never rests, and the party will take place Saturday, March 31, at Elbo Room. For those who work Mondays, this is a great chance to experience the party without the work-day hangover. We spoke with Sweater Funk crew member Sean Sullivan about moving the party, his record store Sound Boutique and more.
What prompted the move to Elbo Room?
Actually, we haven’t officially moved anywhere. The Elbo Room gig this Saturday was something we’ve had in the works for a while. We’re going to continue to do one-offs here and there and are considering doing a monthly somewhere if the vibe is right. Doing presentations throughout the last few years like Onra, Steve Arrington, and Amalia & Opolopo have enabled us to share our sound with a wider audience and experiment with different venues.
After the Elbo Room, we’re even headed to Chicago for three-night run. We’re joining up with our Sweater Funk sister Shred One and DJ Mamabear who have relocated there. But, Li Po Lounge is our unique and special home and probably will always be. What I like about Li Po Lounge is that it’s completely unpretentious and we get to do whatever we want. It’s a go-to, or destination spot and remains free of any hipstery-neighborhoody vibe. Kind of like a neutral ground, if you can dig it.
Is there any hope of Li Po coming together again?
Li Po will undoubtedly get it together. They did before and will again. It’s just a matter of knowing which hoops to jump through. San Francisco’s going through changes and Li Po will abide and adapt. When they closed for a few months last year they showed us incredible dedication by working with the city and following requirements to provide us with a home. We have a harmonious relationship with Li Po. I think they feel that without us, Li Po is not the same, and we feel without the Li Po, Sweater Funk is not quite the same.
Now, onto your history. How did you hook up with the Sweater Funk crew?
I was traveling down to L.A. every chance I could to bear witness to our founding mothership night Funkmosphere and spoke aloud, complaining that we didn’t have anything like it in the Bay. When I was quickly corrected and told about Jon Blunck, I called him a few days later. He must have been a bit surprised to get a cold call from this boogie-enthused music nut, but we talked on the phone for quite a bit. We met in person at Funkmosphere a few weeks later after that.
Dam Funk and the rest of the Funkmosphere crew are our inspiration. Jon was in preparation for the Li Po and trying Sweater Funk temporarily at the Casanova. Once I got the call and the invite to the Li Po, it was all about sharing the tunes that I was loving at the time. That first Sunday the crowd was really small but all of us knew we wanted to make it happen.
What are some of the perks of being part of such a tight-knit group?
I’d say the immense dedication to exposing and unearthing great soul and funk music. It’s really a treasure to have a night that plays brilliant boogie and modern soul, let alone be a part of it. I hate to use the term ‘Rare groove’ ’cause it’s so dated, but I think it really does capsulize what we do.
We’re constantly discovering new tunes and sharing them with each other when we DJ. I was really impressed by our last “steppers” themed night where every song that was played was captivating and jaw-dropping for me, and again, for the most part completely unknown. I didn’t play; I just listened, and was so happy.
Sweater Funk keeps expanding and getting deeper. I also think it being exclusively all vinyl is a huge factor for me. I pretty much don’t want to be involved in anything other than all-vinyl DJ night and feel the same way about being a spectator. I’m just not into seeing a DJ looking at a computer screen. It’s hard to tell what is real. One other important thing is that in a crew of 13 DJs, no one bogarts the decks and it’s never the “it’s all about me” show with anyone in our crew. It’s really been like a family to me, no egos, no attitudes and it’s all about the tunes with Sweater Funk.
Tell us a little about Sound Boutique, your music blog and music production group.
It started as an East Bay club night of the same name and evolved into my music blog and now just last year we launched our first 45 release for Nightwind. We have another 45 release hopefully ready in time for our Elbo Room gig by none other than our own SF native future funk prophet K-maxx. It’s a second Sweater Funk approved classic in the making.
K-maxx has been completely blowing our minds with his brand of ultra-smooth modern soul and psychedelic future funk. It’s densely layered, with bridges and changes and is heavy with signing. It’s beautiful really. He’s one of many cats bringing the musicianship and talent back into the modern funk scene. We’re about all vinyl exclusive deals. No digital, no CDs, just wax. If you want these tracks, the purest form you’ll find them in, is on good old vinyl. We’re working on releasing a bunch more long lost but not forgotten old and newly discovered bands with re-issues and unreleased material, as well as more current artists.
Where is a place you usually go to find rare records?
Sad truth of the matter is these days you have to take to the Internet to get the really dope ones. A lot of the rare and interesting records get put up there first. That’s how you can get stuff from Italy, Africa, France and the UK. A lot of these places, especially Japan, have been coming to America since the 60s and 70s, buying loads of dead stock and entire warehouses full of vinyl. Now, every few years these countries show us what we’ve had in our backyard all along. To get some of this stuff you basically have to get it from these markets. Tiny independent labels that only pressed small quantity are now in the hands of dealers and that’s one of the only ways to get them. It seems like everybody, every person and every mom and pop knows about eBay, so if something’s worth something it’ll end up there.
This is all coming from a jaded collector though; fact is there’s still tons of good vinyl if you dig deep enough. Still loads of great records in the states too. And, thankfully there are still great record shops all over the Bay Area, and I’m happy to hear vinyl is on the rise. Higher fees from auction sites are driving vinyl through other avenues. I always find great stuff at Rooky Ricardo‘s and The Groove Merchant on Haight in SF, and Dave’s Record shop on San Pablo in Berkeley, The Groove Yard on Claremont, and last but not least our Vamp shop in Oakland.
What is the idea behind your Vamp shop?
We’re a vinyl consignment shop carrying stuff for sale by local DJs and record dealers. There’s a ton of stuff there and new records being dropped off by our consignees all the time. Fernando Carpenter started it, and I joined up with him and been having great fun with it. It’s amazing to be a part of the record store experience—something I avoided over the years to curb my addiction for vinyl to a quiet roar.
What can we expect to hear from you when you play this Saturday?
I would say our usual formula of modern soul, boogie and steppers will be what you’ll hear from the crew as a whole. With of course, the emphasis on tunes you probably won’t hear anywhere else.
Sweater Funk takes place this Saturday 3/31 at Elbo Room. Tickets are $5 presale/$8 at the door.