Sweater Beats is a name that started popping up on quite a few festival lineups in the past year, as well as in various remix packages from an increasingly more prominent list of electronic producers.
His originals and remixes have also been buoyed by the social media savvy, co-promotional reposting tornado on SoundCloud and Hype Machine and by his peers, like Hotel Garuda, Autograf, and Giraffage. Add to that the producers he’s remixed, like Flume, Galantis, and most recently, Snakehips, and you may make one of the following assumptions: Either this guy is really talented or exceptionally nice to attract that kind of attention. After sitting down Antonio Cuna, aka Sweater Beats, and seeing him perform I learned that both assumptions are true.
7th Street Entry is a small club in Minneapolis attached to the iconic First Avenue. It has a kind of “show in your friend’s creepy basement” vibe to it, assuming your friend’s basement can hold a couple hundred people. It’s a perfectly sized venue for someone as focused on intimacy as Sweater Beats.
By intimacy, of course, I mean his focus on creating a solid, meaningful connection with his audience by being up close and personal. But also, intimate in a baby-making way, as that is the kind of R&B infused electronic music he likes to make and play.
I arrived ahead of his show to sit down for an interview with the young producer, to talk about his transition from DIY to signing to a major label, family, donuts, and otherwise. His manager Jared led me backstage and down a long set of shady, narrow steps to the green room, which turned out to be more of a cave with heavy coats of matte black paint and a checkered linoleum tiled floor.
Antonio sat perched on a ledge along the far wall, feet dangling and a pleasant smile on his face. The rest of the ledge was covered in clothing and backpacks, and he pushed the pile next to him away and invited me to sit. His rider was clearly a modest one and looked to comprise of two bags of prepackaged vegetables, a bottle of Jameson (still full), and a case of bottled water.
I was a little surprised there weren’t donuts, one of his favorite foods and one typically supplied to First Ave by a local shop called Glam Doll. I asked if they had any donuts for him and they hadn’t. I’d intended to ask him for a review of them, being a donut enthusiast myself. His eyes lit up at the mention of donuts and he quickly pulled up his phone to find and pin them for the next morning.
His preferred donut, if you’re wondering what to bring him at a show, is a more simple donut that isn’t super rich or going to make your head vibrate from a ton of glaze or frosting.
With the windchill that day, the temp didn’t get above 10 degrees, which seemed appropriate for a stop on a tour dubbed, “For the Cold.”
“Yeah, it’s uh, it’s really cold,” he said with a smile. “some of my homies on the tour are from the west coast and they don’t really know what to do when it gets like this.” Just do what we do, layer up, drink, and wait for it to be over. Growing up in DC, then relocating to NYC, he’d clearly had enough of a taste to know what to do, which of course involves his namesake.
Starting out as sweating, then moving to Sweaters and later appending his name with Beats (so he didn’t have to compete with Macy’s for SEO/search results), he clearly knows what he’s doing. After signing to Big Beat Records, he unloaded all of the business and marketing work to the label. Does he miss any of that work from his DIY days?
“No, not really.” He answered with a laugh. “It’s been really nice, they’re a really tight team, and they take care of you like family. Now I can use my time to focus on making music.” So far, the move appears to be paying off. His upcoming EP, also the namesake of his tour, is a six-song shift in direction and sound dynamics. If there’s a monetary value of having the mental room to noodle on larger concepts around to evolve your art, I’m going to assume that value is very high.
Cuna’s first love in music was emo, and that was the music he learned to play, but ultimately not the same type of music he would go on to create. What prompted the pivotal shift to electronic music? “When I first heard Ratatat, they were doing something really different and really catchy. That kind of drew me in and led me to Daft Punk.” That made sense. Daft Punk is kind of the gateway drug to electronic music. Listen, and you’ll typically hear a traditional 4-5 piece band represented, but it is distinctly different, specifically electronic, and led a lot of people like Cuna to rethink the way music is made and how it should sound.
I asked how he describes his music to his mom. “Man, she was there for the emo stuff, all the practicing, and has followed it all. She’s been super supportive, so I don’t really need to describe it to her. She knows.” Okay, so do you know how she desribes it to other people?
“It’s just Sweater Beats,” he says with a laugh, “and she loves it.” Who needs a sweater with words like that? Read up on Sweater Beats and you’ll find a uniform experience: Really nice guy, super humble, inclusive and a contagious smile. Check out his Cookout Mix for Sirius/XM below, and keep an eye peeled for his name on a slew of festival lineups in the coming year.
Author’s Note: Our interview was cut short when he had to get onstage for set-up, so Antonio offered to finish up after the show (See? Who does that? Nice people do that.). The basement room the first half of the interview was in echoed with opener Different Sleep and I opted against recording. After the show, I was a few drinks in and simply forgot. The content and quotes from the interview were carefully pulled from a somewhat soggy memory bank.