Monday, February 27, 2012
SF WEEKLY :: SWEATER FUNK LOVE
Li Po Cocktail Lounge
Feb 26, 2012
Better than: Whatever else you were doing last night.
SF Weekly - For many, weekend nightlife ends on Sunday morning. Not so for the dedicated crowd that frequents long-running Sunday night boogie party Sweater Funk. Like a secret nightcap to the weekend's festivities, it's the place to go if you've got a little more dance left in you before Monday hits. Located at Li Po Cocktail lounge, the party has attracted a family of devoted dancers and DJs in its nearly four-year run. Last night's party was no different, as West Coast pop-lockers and vinyl obsessives crowded in the basement to celebrate the birth of locally curated music blog Beat Electric's new record label with the release of its official re-issue of Carmen's "Time to Move."
Chinatown on a Sunday evening is a desolate scene. The streets are empty, the stores shuttered, and the only thing warding off silence is the ghostly hum of sirens and automobiles. Amidst this quiet backdrop stands the loud facade of the Li Po Lounge. A giant glowing red neon sign beckons wanderers to the bar's cavelike entrance. There, two cement dragon statues keep a watchful eye, creating an overall ambiance not far removed from a strangely inviting Temple of Doom. The Orientalist facade extends into the exotically appointed interior with ornate Chinese lanterns, gold-embroidered everything, and a massive shrine to the Earth Buddha.
Squeeze past a battery of touchscreens, descend a two-flight staircase, and walk down a long black corridor, and you'll find yourself immersed in the Li Po's dungeon-like bowels. A discotheque decorated with Space Mountain in mind, there's only one thing that pops out at you: it's dark. The room's constellations and star patterns come courtesy of a scattered buckshot of laser beams and thin rope lighting that the DJs pump to the beat like a strobe light.
Sound for the party is provided by two refrigerator-sized speaker stacks that sound good and punchy in a way similar to Mighty's RLA installation. The music that Sweater Funk specializes in is called boogie. A narrow genre, it refers to the danceable R&B records that began hitting shelves in the later disco years and into the early-to-mid '80s -- think D-Train and George Benson, but slower and more rare. That last point -- rarity -- is the one to stress: Sweater Funk is an all-vinyl party, and the music on offer can be rare and expensive to extreme degrees. It's one of the best parties to visit if you're looking to hear amazing music that you've never heard before.
The dancefloor at Sweaterfunk is always moving. When I arrived downstairs, a circle of breakdancers had already commandeered the back of the room for a session of intense downrocking. In front, the less hardcore crowded around the speakers dancing in couples or bobbing their heads as wallflowers. It was packed, but not too packed that it ever felt uncomfortable.
Beat Electric was already in full swing when I arrived. Taking turns, they played back to back sets of three records each. First up was newest Beat Electric member Ben Johnson, who spun a set of deep cuts on 7" leading off with Together's "You're Just Teasing Me." Up next was Joel Brut, who moved closer to underground disco with Five Special's "Why Leave Us Alone" before surprising everyone with Reese & Santonio's "Rock to the Beat." Black Shag brought it back with a smooth blend into Zena Dejonay's "I've Got to Find a Way." And, finally, BT Magnum jumped in the DJ booth to play the aforementioned "Time to Move" repress.
Not all the mixes were razor sharp, but it was never an issue that anybody seemed to care about. Instead, there was a loose and freewheeling feeling that settled in early on. This might be the best part about Sweater Funk. It's a party that puts the music first, but never forgets that it's a party.
There's a reciprocal relationship between the DJs and the dancers. Often the dancers walk right behind the DJ booth to ask about a record or talk with someone they know. On the other side of that coin, the DJs themselves can often be seen running out onto the dancefloor to get a little time in before changing the record. This intangible vibe is a detail that might go unnoticed, but it allows for the uniquely social atmosphere that makes Sweater Funk such a good night out. It's the kind of place you want to keep returning to every weekend, no matter how bad it might make your Monday.