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Arts + CultureMusicUnder the Stars: Forget Macy's—look to our musical ecosystem...

Under the Stars: Forget Macy’s—look to our musical ecosystem for SF’s revival

Lessons of Sweater Funk. Plus: 4D, Norah Jones, CALIsthenics, Nubian Twist, and more music to buoy your mood

When I attended Sweater Funk, the iconic San Francisco night that celebrates boogie, two-step, and modern funk—strictly on vinyl, mind you—on March 2, it was in the midst of a Noise Pop festival that was lighting up the city.

I was interested in seeing Kendra Morris at Bottom of The Hill and curious about Snail Mail at GAMH, but my wristwatch, close friends, and gut directed me toward wax, being played on turntables.

As we entered The Knockout, a good time was bumping in full technicolor before we even reached the DJ area to greet The Selecter DJ Kirk Harper, DJ Noel, Jacob Pena aka DJ Guillermo, Marky Enriquez aka Proof, Ren, Mustafa Popal, and other DJs from The Bay who rock various parties all over, but chose to attend this one to join in the fellowship.

Before exchanging greetings with folks, we were amazed by all the new young faces, enthusiastically tearing up the dance floor. These were sweaty, smiling dancers who didn’t know what artist was playing on the turntable or which label the song was released on… whether it was boogie, modern funk, or proto-disco…

More importantly, this packed dance floor didn’t care. 

This fresh-faced group of dancers—some skilled and others less so (Sweater Funk has always welcomed dancers of all skill levels: It has been a judgment-free dance zone since the first Li Po Lounge event way back when)—were here for the warm atmosphere, the uplifting messages in the music.

Folkes came for the love.

These new Sweater-Funkers were here for all the core tenets: Right reasons.

Listen, at the start of the party in 2008 at the musty, shadowy cave basement that is the Lipo Lounge in Chinatown on Sunday nights, little crews of DJs from around The Bay, and the world, would convene, do that Chinese Whiskey shot, and then descend into the cave to name-check records, pick the brains of the up to 17 DJs who might pop up with their vinyl bag, and then bug out over that $300 Ebay or Discogs rare record that somebody would put on, sending everybody home hitting the internet at 4am looking for the next rare record to stump the vinyl junkies.

But this new crew? They want to dance. Celebrate life. Feel good. Meet up with friends. That sports mentality to record collecting has faded a bit. It’s been a challenging couple of years for Sweater Funk and the world. Simple pleasures count for triple in 2024. Negativity can always be found, but only those actively interested seek positivity.

All these observations gave me hope that perhaps SF is truly turning a new leaf. And before I get blasted with the “you’re gonna base all that off the vitality of one dance party,” let us run down some facts.

Sweater-Funk, molded after Dam-Funk and his DJ crew’s Funkmosphere club night in Los Angeles in the aughts,  helped to incubate and grow the careers of Onra, Benedek, XL Middleton, Moniquea, The Pendletons, Psychic Mirrors, and numerous others. Mayer Hawthorne and Leroy Burgess, the King of Boogie, played the party’s first-year and fifth-year anniversaries respectively.

I’ve received numerous emails and DMs concerning the event and crew over the past 10 years from Montreal, London, Japan, Berlin, Austin, Texas, New York, Australia, and other global sites. Sometimes the world gets the importance of something before the 415 does.

The entire city tourist ecosystem makes money on Pride Weekend, New Year’s, and Halloween… It’s a fact. But Sweater Funk has brought in its own share of tourists, and record enthusiasts, to visit the party, talk with the DJs, and confer about where they can find records in the city. From those conversations, one can easily assume the same tourists are sent to record shops up and down Haight Street and other digging spots in The City.

People come to Palo Alto to work in tech and San Franciso to shop for records. It’s a cultural thing like record shopping in London or Paris. Even former Gap Inc. chairman Bob Fisher told The San Franciso Standard that the city can’t control what flagship stores close downtown, but “one crucial solution is the abundance of entertainment, eating, and cultural activities that can only be found in major urban cities. If we are to stay competitive, we need to better utilize the city streets to create joyous gatherings as a part of the culture of consumption.”

Maybe City Hall should create a Sweater Funk Day? I’m serious. It’s a city-wide treasure that other folks from around the world look to San Francisco through, as this Ambassador of sorts. Our music ecosystem is one of the factors that will help us recover and thrive—it’s a sign of the power our scene has that radio station KEXP, the legendary Seattle alternative-indie-global nonprofit radio station that has been broadcasting for 52 years, is opening up a satellite San Francisco station.

Over the past three or four years, outsiders, people who are not familiar with San Francisco culture, have been taking shots at The City. It completely makes sense that another West Coast city dealing with its own version of a tech economy dominating a metropolis to a fault, searching for its soul after COVID and so many other factors, would see through all the political talk and divisive clap-trap and understand this city has so much creativity brimming under the now common Friday news dumpage—Macy’s closings and robot taxis and etc.

KEXP is a national radio station with great taste (our little band The Umbrellas is on their playlist—they get it and get us), so their inclusion into the Bay Area music ecosystem is a big step and I think a turning point. When people, companies, and organizations want you, for you?

That’s a win, people.

But hey, bud……It’s Under The Stars. A quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes and thinking outside the margins. 

Always, get in where you fit in.

Let’s Ride!

CALISTHENICS, (MC JUICE + ALL NATURAL) “PAPER THICK” FT. E-40, CASUAL, AND DEL THE FUNKY HOMOSAPIEN 

As a cardinal rule, I buy ANYTHING by Grammy-winning Georgia Anne Muldrow because it’s money to support one of the most tapped-in and versatile producers in hip-hop, soul, progressive black music, jazz, or whatever else she has cooking in the lab. And oh yeah, she can sing too, write, and rap—pulling out that Swiss army knife all-purpose drill, 24-7, but most definitely NOT a tool. 

Just to be clear.

Her most recent production project, CALIsthenics, released by Golden State Entertainment, a record label owned by Bay Area basketball team Golden State Warriors, combines two legendary Chicago hip-hop acts, MC Juice and All Natural, with the air-locked funky and sparse production of Muldrow.

CALIsthenics’ first single, “Paper Thick,” features Bay Area hip-hop icons E-40 and Del the Funky Homosapien, as well as Casual from Oakland’s legendary hip-hop collective, Hieroglyphics. It’s epic, yet quick and svelte. A massive posse cut from the 510 in a really long time. It’s those voices, Mang.

Pick up the release here.

4D, JUXTAPOSITION (LOTEK)

One of the most beautiful, genius, and straight-up gangster aesthetics of jungle, when it’s done well, is the ability to pose questions through quotes and sound clips amidst a blizzard of Amen breaks just going off. While the sweetest, most melodic samples grab you by your humanity, tuck your soul in like a seatbelt, and you become one with whatever type of ride ensues.

Photek, Ray Keith, Paradox, 4 Hero, UFO, Total Science, and Digital, (including his all-timer –Ras ’78 VIP MIX, because he just lets the damn drums speak—they gotta a story to tell that uses no words, but you will understand) are some of the best, ever, to do it.

You can hear those influences throughout producer 4D’s release, Juxtaposition. It follows in the footsteps of those early 90s jungle and hardcore cats from the UK who sprinkle commentary, news snippets, fastball beats, and hip-hop stretches, along with references to the economy. Making a very dark style of humor that fits this audio pastiche, including the canned laughter, quite well.

Founded by Soeneido, Lotek is an all-Jungle imprint out of the Bay Area that I’m just now finding out about and excited by. You will be too.

Support this label and support Bay Area Jungle. It’s foundational to our DJ culture, and we need to preserve it desperately.

Pick it up here.

NORA JONES, VISIONS (BLUE NOTE RECORDS)

“For me, everything Leon does is soulful. Soulful people are gonna do soulful shit.”

That’s exactly how emcee, actor, and author Black Thought, as told to Bandcamp Daily a while back, likes to refer to the subtle genius of Leon Michels: A saxophone player, producer,  former member of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, backed up Lee Fields, played with Menahan Street Band, and has his band El Michels Affair.

I won’t front. I only found out that he produced the new Nora Jones joint Visions, from a post on Twitter by the Big Crown Records account.

For once… that app did its damn job.

There is an easiness between producer and vocalist: Soul, blues, country-twang, and even a little spotty Wu-Tang tension all work on one cohesive album. Like that banging egg, cheese, bacon, and bagel sammich you get from around the way at the corner store—-it goes down easy without fanfare.

Recorded during the pandemic Jones noted that the two would just jam out on ideas, her singing and playing piano and Michaels on the drums. I don’t necessarily follow Jones, she’s great, but Visions feels like what always seemed to be circling underneath all those highly produced albums. Minimalism. Cutting to the chase. No matter what version of Jones is being delivered. I dig this album. It’s Daptone, country-soul, Stax with some unidentifiable way deep in the buttermilk too.

But for those keeping score, tell me who else could produce two singularly different but fully realized records by Black Thought and Nora Jones?

Leon Michaels is on an extended run and Grammy people must pay attention. The beat heads and retro-soul heads have been, knowing. It’s time other folks get familiar.

Visions is a great starting place. More about the record here.

NUBIYAN TWIST, “LIGHTS OUT” (STRUT RECORDS)

Since forming in 2011 at Leeds College of Music, Nubiyan Twist has been one of those impactful UK groups that bring jazz, global grooves, and soul that feature electronic elements, chest-out horn-led melodies, and in-the-moment recontextualization. Known for making boppers—joints that warrant being played at a sun-kissed outdoor festival-type atmosphere—their amalgamation of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s big band stature makes this nine-piece outfit a must-see in-person experience.

But don’t just rely on the semantics, they can pass the ear test of veteran musicians too.

Last month, as one of the Sun Ra Arkestra gigs was drawing to a close at GAMH, DJ Guillermo was playing records after their final set as the crowd was leaving. There were maybe 15-20 attendees still around at that time. He had played a tune or two by the time the band started coming out in their street clothes with instrument cases in hand. Nubiyan Twist’s “Jungle Run” had just settled into its groove when the baritone sax player walked up and started vibing hard with the track. As soon as Guillermo mentioned that the band was from the UK, the baritone sax player quickly responded, “They always are.” 

Pre-order their new album, Find Your Flame, which will be released in May, here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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