The gift of a mixtape has long been a means of sharing one's treasured and inspiring musical discoveries with others. For Bay Area DJ Christina Chung, aka Chungtech, her prolific habit of making mixtapes combined with an addiction to digging for records made for the perfect foundation to becoming a DJ. “It really was friends who kept telling me to 'just DJ already' so finally after years I went and bought some 1200s from a former electro DJ in Salinas along with a bunch of his records too. Being able to cue more than one record at a time really was a game changer and thus the DJ in me was born,” she says.
While her DJ debut came sometime in 2002, it wasn’t until 2008 that she found her comfort and crew in the form of a party and now collective called Sweater Funk. As a member of the tight-knit group, she can often be found in a sweaty basement pulsating with funky grooves on Sunday nights. We caught up with Chungtech and talked about her early DJ days, Sweater Funk moments, and balancing her busy daily life. She supports this Thursday, [9/17] for Modern Funk Fest at Elbo Room and you can catch her Sunday nights for Sweater Funk at The Knockout.
How did you connect with the Sweater Funk crew?
In August of '08 I threw a party at Poleng (RIP) called Times are Tight inspired by Funkmosphere in L.A. and the bboy/bgirl/funk dance scene in S.F. I figured if I could do my contribution to bridge those two worlds I might meet other like-minded folks along the way, and then a few weeks later Jon Blunck of Sweater Funk OG and I literally bumped booties together on the dance floor at the Stones Throw Appreciation Party at Mighty. Dam-Funk was on last and him, Sabrina (also of the crew), and I were the last ones on the dance floor basically having the same reaction to every song and everything Dam was doing and it was clear that we needed to know each other ASAP. I gave Jon a leftover flyer to the Times are Tight event that I had on me and he gave me one for a brand new party called Sweater Funk and one side of our flyers were literally the same — so it was just meant to be.
Is there a secret initiation when you join Sweater Funk?
Two months after I met Jon I was invited to DJ at Sweater Funk. This was in the early Sweater Funk days when there could be two people or 52 people there and it didn't matter — it was always fun and full of energy. I must've either had a hunch or knew that it would be kind of a jumping in, make-or-break set because I still remember the feeling, energy, and stares all the way from the back of that stanky basement room where people were standing on the couch barely lit by the Sweater Funk nightlight that was on the side of the back wall. Maybe it's hyperbole now that I'm looking back, but that feeling was so real because I was actually nervous when I put the needle down for the very first track, “Nightlife” by Kwick. For every other song that followed it was like fuggit, if I only get one chance to DJ this weird but magical basement funk party, let me make it count and be memorable. Afterwards I was dizzy, elated, and happy to make new friends and I think the show-and-prove worked. Spit was spat, hands were shook, secret Chinatown opium den doors were opened, fingers were poked, blood was dripped, and contracts were drawn.
What's been most fulfilling for you as a member of the crew?
Annual crab night dinner and being part of a West Coast funk movement that started with us playing a lot of old music. Now it's totally normal to be weaving in artists who are making music who I know, love, appreciate, admire, that I never would've imagined happening in the early days! We've gotten chances to travel and play music with so many amazing DJs. I really wanna connect with other DJs in Japan and help take Sweater Funk there next!
Who has the best record collection?
Oh geez, this is a crazy question! Pretty much everyone in the crew has records that I want and am after and many of us have our own unique sound and then there are some records that get blown up because we all fall in love with them and are totally okay with playing it three times in one night. Like the one copy that seems to exist of Bruce Grant's “Enough is Enough” that Jon has, for example. The best collection isn't necessarily made up of the most expensive or rarest records, and now that I think about it probably The Selecter DJ Kirk has had a collection that's informed, taught, inspired, and impacted me the most. It's hyper-organized and pretty wide-reaching in the Sweater Funk sound and he always manages to surprise me with amazing new-to-me tracks year after year after year.
In a world of big money EDM shows, how do you think Sweaterfunk holds its own down?
That's an interesting question! I don't think any of us are really going to any big money EDM shows so it's hard to really know. In general, one thing that's really different about us compared to so many other DJ nights both digital and vinyl is that we play a lot of songs in entirety. Last night we played all eight minutes of Alicia Myers “You Get the Best of Me (Say, Say, Say)” start to finish — sometimes you just gotta go there! The great thing though is that for the most part, our audience is down for the ride. We'll be DJing with Tuxedo at 1015 Folsom on November 6 and that'll be an interesting mix of funk and hip-hop/Stones Throw heads plus 1015 cats and Mayer Hawthorne obsessed chicas, so that'll be an interesting experience!
What do you think about popular artists like Tuxedo incorporating old-school feels into their contemporary sound?
I'm down with Tuxedo! I actually haven't listened to the entire album yet, but I saw them when they had their album release party in SF. Their DJ set was made for me — it had SweaterFunkmosphere classics mixed with hip-hop and all kinds of other dance joints and I loved every second of it. I like that I can hear the influences in Tuxedo's sound and that it comes from a place of actually knowing this music, being a part of that culture and scene, (Mayer Hawthorne was our guest for Sweater Funk's one-year anniversary party), who gets it and is creating music moving forward with it.
What's a song you like to sneak into your sets during Sweaterfunk?
While there's no real guidebook for what can and can't be played, it's no secret that a few of us will always have some Inspector Norse on hand if and when the moment calls for it; it’s happened. Lately it's been about Thundercat, The Galleria (which Sweater Funk Jacob introduced me to), even playing some Loose Ends, which I never really used to do at Sweater Funk. A new recent focus is trying to get the next DJ to not cut off my favorite part of this Japanese boogie 2-step-ish track called “Plastic Love” by Mariya Takeuchi. It happens every time!
Can you give us a taste of what's gonna go down at Modern Funk Fest?
Oh, I'm so excited about this… well it's definitely going to be a San Francisco take of the other iterations of the M.F.F. that's happened in both L.A. and San Diego. Everything is intentional — from having it be at the Elbo (which was originally going to close its doors days after our event but now has a temporary extended lease on life) which has been a hub of modern funk for a long time with the 41Funktion doing their thing before Sweater Funk was even around! So of course we had to include them in the lineup as well. Bottom line is every performer has something unique to offer from Brian Ellis (who plays keys for Egyptian Lover) going bananas on the keys to XL on keytar, Moniquea (yay to awesome women in funk!), and Diamond Ortiz funking it up on the talkbox, K-Maxx making everything silky smooth with that Soul4Feels, and Starship Connection is just the uber funk talent team right there. Eddy Funkster from Funkmosphere, Hotthobo Randy from Voltaire Records, and myself will be on the DJ support line so come early and funk with us all night!
Lastly, what's your typical day as a mama, DJ, event maker, hustler, look like?
It's not uncommon for a day to start or end by going to bed in the A.M.’s and then waking up around 7:30 and doing my daily text message exchange with friends where we check in about how little sleep we got but all encourage each other to try to get more the next day. It's hilarious and motivating — always failing and succeeding at the same time. I usually get woken up by my two-year-old who likes to wake up laughing, which is the best way to wake up when all you wanna do is sleep some more. We negotiate the OOTD(Outfit Of The Day), take off for daycare where she'll have breakfast and a masked rave party with all her little munchkin friends. I teach a social movement/leadership/culture keeping class at a local high school with a bunch of rad students a few days a week through a local org called Oakland Kids First, and then head home to get some play time in, hang out with neighbors and either cook or grab dinner. These nights reading books to her is reciting lines from Rappers Delight and Stetasonic's Talking all that Jazz from this book on hip-hop poetry she's obsessed with. Sometimes I fall asleep myself just putting her to bed, but really once that's done then my night can begin so I'll often get to crank on my own projects then which can be anything from booing up with my boo (who helps make all this happen), recording a mix, prepping for a wedding DJ gig, going out to DJ, planning an event or scheming on one, digging my brain into a new high school that'll be opening up in Oakland that I'll be doing some work for, doing some brush lettering to relax and chill out, sketching stuff for a kids clothing line I want to start… then crashing later than I want to and doing some version of it all over again the next day. It's a life that has both predicable routine and total variation, which is an interesting crux of balance and hustle!