Thursday, December 29, 2011


Soul and funk guru The Selecter DJ Kirk has been dubbed the unofficial mayor of San Francisco by friends and peers. Born and raised in S.F., he is recognized for his all-embracing knowledge of soul music through the decades, his extensive record collection, and for producing events like Soul It's the Real Thing. He is also part of the Sweater Funk crew, whose all-vinyl parties are known throughout the nation. Taking place every Sunday in the basement of a Chinatown's Li Po Lounge, the party showcases a spectrum of old soul, R&B, and funk music. All Shook Down spoke with Kirk about the secrets of Sweater Funk and his favorite vinyl records. He plays New Year's Eve at Som Bar with the Sweater Funk members and headliners Opolopo & Amalia.

When did you start producing events and DJing? Which came first?

In the early '80s. Both came about hand-in-hand, since the 'mod' music that inspired us (The Jam, 2-Tone, and '60s soul and R&B), were not being played in clubs. It forced us at a young age to book bands, DJ ourselves, and produce events at the Kabuki, Mabuhay Gardens, Ruthie's Inn, and The Chi Chi Club.

How did you connect with the Sweater Funk crew?

In 2008, my old friend and SF member Sean Sullivan told me about a new party happening at Li Po Lounge that was focusing on medium-rare boogie and modern soul records from the late '70s and early '80s. I was stoked that folks were playing all-original vinyl from a soul genre that I loved, collected, and could only hear when I went to the U.K. Jon Blunck invited me to spin a few records, and I've been a member ever since. As soul music fan, Sweater Funk was the missing link and my motivator to get excited about DJing again.

Why do you think this event has still managed to stay somewhat underground?

In a nutshell, it happens on a Sunday in Chinatown and it is a destination spot rather than the usual hipster highway or downtown spots. There is no money involved, so there are no ads, no handbills, no VIP style, which is neither VIP or stylish. You've heard of the "slow food" movement; we are the "slow club" movement with organic growth, great records. Everyone's invited, no bullshit.

What's one thing about the quite exclusive Sweater Funk crew we might not know?

We love R. Kelly and are big fans of closets... comin' out or going in!

Who have been some of your favorite guests?

Too many to name, but a few include Daz-I-Kue, Spinna, Dâm-Funk, and our homies B-Cause and E da Boss.

Speaking of which, tell us a bit about your New Year's Eve guests, Opolopo & Amalia.

In 2008, we got turned onto Opolopo's mix of Karl Frierson's "Tall Green Grass," and it has become a Sweater Funk anthem. Since then we've been following the future funk sounds of the Swedish duo and are excited to present their U.S. debut. If you dig ONRA, Dâm-Funk, K-Maxx, The Pendletons, B. Bravo, Chico Mann... you're going dig them. They're like the Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn of modern funk and boogie-making, while singing beautiful music.

What made you guys want to book these two for the NYE party?

We love their sound, we want to share our love with as many folks as possible, and they have become our friends. Sometimes stuff just works out perfectly.

Sweater Funk mostly pulls from older jams. What's an element you think is missing in current R&B music?

There's a lack of music that inspires rather than tears down and is not afraid to show vulnerable emotions. In addition, soul music is all about the beautiful black voices. Leave the Auto-Tune for mofos who can't sing. Let's get more complete melodies and songs, not simply the "break" of the day. Like Leroy Burgess says, "create tension, take us up, take us down... music is life." Music should take us on journey -- more Mayfield, more Bacharach. With that being said, there is tremendous new soul coming out worldwide, like groups the Sunburst Band, Cool Million, Kloud 9, and Tortured Soul; you just got to seek it out. When in doubt talk to a progressive mod, they know the deal. Luxury soul forever!

What's one of your favorite vinyl records and why?

That's tough, how 'bout three beautiful songs for the luxury soul diaspora? For the stepper, "Human" by Brief Encounter, which is modern soul perfection with horns, harmony, and production. For the Northern soul smoothies, "You Can Win" by Bileo with up-tempo burner for the disco. If you got any kind of soul, you can't sit down. For the boogie heads, "Never Lookin' Back"

If you could tell the current generation to listen to one record that would teach them about soul, what would it be?

"We're a Winner" by The Impressions. Modern soul begins with black folks getting on the front of the bus, taking control of production, and incorporating new recording techniques. This song has a message, it is from my favorite artist of all time, and it's from my capital of soul -- Chicago. It's like Nadia Comaneci: 10-10-10!

You say your favorite music of all time is '70s modern soul. Why is that?

It's a perfect recipe... the coming together of the great voices from early soul, The Temptations, The O'Jays, Curtis, Ann Sexton, Aretha, Ronald Isley coupled with modern production -- think Gamble & Huff, Barry White, Rod Temperton, and Lamont Dozier. Add in self-determination, aspirational values, a whole lot of cool, and and you get masterpieces. Just listen to any TSOP record.

So you have been dubbed by some as the "unofficial mayor" of SF. What's your favorite thing about this city?

I don't know about all that. Maybe it's because I know the spots that natives dig and the stories that come with them, or maybe I'm just getting old and know a lot of folks. I guess my crazy background is pure San Francisco. My mom is Macanese, a Portuguese/Asian mix from Macau, and my dad is Cherokee from Oklahoma, a true S.F. city boy. My favorite thing about S.F. is that our culture is always seeking ways to improve and make the world a better place. We are not afraid of change or the future. The "we can do better attitude" is fantastic and inspiring. As someone who is a native, I love the transplants who just bring something to the table. Lastly, the coffee ain't too bad either!

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