Label of the Month: Soul Clap Records
Label of the Month: Soul Clap RecordsJanuary 4, 2023
“At one point, we just looked at each other and realized: if we don’t do something, we’re going to end up Bar Mitzvah DJs for the rest of our lives,” exclaims Charlie Levine, as Eli Goldstein, his partner in DJ-producer super-duo Soul Clap, breaks into an accompanying laugh.
Luckily, Charlie and Eli figured things out pretty quickly. Childhood friends from Boston who had been DJing together since 2001, they’ve since become champions of deep, leftfield soul vibes in an ever-techno-heavy landscape. Their career now includes constant international touring, putting out countless original tracks and remixes, working with funk and soul icons like George Clinton and Egyptian Lover, and supporting dozens of other eclectic-minded DJs and producers in their community, all stemming from their acclaimed residency at New York’s Marcy Hotel.
Not least among all of this has been running Soul Clap Records, which has somehow released more than 450 tracks since its 2012 launch, filling a niche for luminous, unpretentiously funky jams. In preparation for the label’s 11th anniversary, Soul Clap Records is releasing a double-LP remix compilation of some of its biggest hits, and the duo themselves are announcing a fundamental change in how Soul Clap operates, taking their community-minded activism to fight climate change.
Photo by: Jonny Rios
Charlie and Eli joke about but don’t discount their roots getting 13-year-olds moving to Lil Jon, claiming these early gigs pushed them to expand their musical boundaries. A stint soundtracking fashion shows at Macy’s even led them to create one of the crisp, tech-laced extended edits (of Stevie Wonder’s “Love Light”) that would become their dance floor calling cards. But as “two rave babies running loose in Boston,” they aimed for a more underground audience, and a banging East Coast party culture kept them up into the wee hours.
“We came in at the tail-end of the ’90s rave scene,” says Eli, “when there was some of that wildness and hope left. There were still some loft and warehouse parties going in Boston’s Chinatown, and we were traveling to places in New Hampshire, Maine, Western Massachusetts and New York. You would have to drive three, four hours to get to the party, with six ravers packed into a car. The best parties had several rooms with different music, or several genres in one room—deep house, hardcore, trance, drum and bass ambient, all in the right order. Someone like Boston’s DJ Bruno or Pete Moss putting on beautiful, deep music with the sunrise was a really influential thing.”
“Fast-forwarding a little bit,” says Charlie, “there was an era right after raves where it was all about the bigger clubs. Avalon and Axis were on Lansdowne Street, right across from Fenway Park where the Red Sox played, which was kind of funny. They hosted bigger underground people like Josh Wink, Richie Hawtin, even Tiësto. Then there was the Black and Latin soulful house scene at Utopia Sundays and Courtney Grey’s Soul Revival at Villa Victoria, and the more Chicago/West Coast jacking house scene, which was at Bump on Sundays at Phoenix Landing. Those parties were all about the dancers. It was such exciting energy, you would learn to dance by watching and trying things out.
The two scored a residency at Aria when the club’s DJ Kon took them under his wing, where they leaned “a lot about disco records, diggers’ cuts, where the samples come from.” Kon became a mentor, as did Caril Mitro, owner of a record shop called Vinyl Connection. “Caril had been a DJ tastemaker in 1970s Boston,” Charlie says. “She had brought a lot of sounds up from New York. Her partner Tom was a digger and collector guy. OG seekers like Dimitri From Paris and Louis Vega would come to the shop, they had their signatures on the wall. Vinyl Connection wasn’t just some record store, you had to know about it to find it. And you had to pass the test. They had one listening station, with speakers instead of headphones. If you went in and immediately chose something whack, everyone would hear it and you’d get the boot. We learned so much there. We had these three parts: rave, soulful house, and digging.”
Photo by: Jonny Rios
Photo by: Jonny Rios
As Soul Clap grew more confident, they began promoting themselves with a series of “Great White Hope” mix CDs, which they passed out at networking spots like Miami’s annual Winter Music Conference, their track-list and contact info printed on inserts. Those CDs, and their subsequent MP3 rips, spread their exhilarating style of mixing rare groove soul and pumping house edits with Latin beats, deep techno, and classic hip-hop across the country. The series’ title played on the nickname of Boston Celtics basketball legend Larry Byrd (featured on the cover of volume one, burned in Eli’s basement in 2006), but had a deeper resonance.
“We didn’t choose the title Great White Hope, it was given to us,” Charlie says. “We used to drive down to Francois K‘s Deep Space dub night at Cielo in New York. On the way back we would stop at Dance Tracks, a record store in the Lower East Side that was super important to the scene. One time, a brother who was hanging out saw me and Eli and we got to talking. He said, ‘Oh, y’all are the Great White Hope.’ We did choose the name Soul Clap, which is rooted in the gospel tradition, and we’re two Jewish guys. In the rave scene it was all about colors coming together. Our original logo is a Black hand and a white hand clapping together.”
“When we were coming up, the house scene was very Black and Latin,” Eli adds. “In the real house scene, there were very few white kids, we were in the minority. But now it’s shocking how much it’s flipped, especially since the white dominance of the EDM industry took hold. We want to make sure Black and Latin voices are amplified, and we communicate where this music comes from.”
Another, all-vinyl mix series called “Torch Bearers” was recorded in Eli’s basement on four turntables and two mixers, and paid homage to the aforementioned originators. “That was real training for us, says Charlie. ”We would set up DJ obstacle courses. One of us would go in when the other was out and fuck up all the knobs and settings. So you’d have to figure out everything on the fly, which is what you have to do in a lot of party situations.” Eli laughs and says, “But once we discovered Ableton, we said we are never recording mixes like that again.”
Photo by: Jamie Jar
Against the mid-2000s backdrop of an international dance music scene locked into minimal techno, soulful mixes like these stood out like neon spray-paint on a concrete wall. The duo’s productions were also evolving. In 2007, they moved into a studio space, and DJ-producer Adam Collins gave them a nudge to put out original music. Their first releases were on tiny El Salvador-based progressive trance label Itzamna and their friend Paulo Reachi’s influential Argentine minimal techno label Airdrop. “But ultimately, we’re Soul Clap,” says Charlie. “So as many early records as we made to fit into minimal and tech house, we had this whole other soulful, crate-digging part.”
It was a chance encounter in Brooklyn that brought out their freakier side. “We went down to one of the early minimal festivals called Minitek, which had Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Konrad Black, Matthias Tanzmann and Martin Buttrich all packed into this venue at Coney Island,” Charlie says. “The fire marshall came and busted it, the artists weren’t paid, thousands of us were strewn on the streets, all of us high, it was chaos! Eventually, we said, ‘what’s this Marcy Hotel thing we keep hearing about?’ We got there and went into the wrong entrance. We went into an apartment that turned out to be our dear friend Zev’s, then walked into another apartment that turned out to be another friend’s, smoked a joint that was in their ashtray, then went downstairs where the party was. It was perfect, everyone was there. At that time, we’d never seen that many big names in one place. And it was a place you had to crawl out of a broken window to get out of. And let’s just not talk about the bathrooms.”
We swiftly move on from the restroom and back to reception. Marcy Hotel was famously not a hotel, though “people stayed there and even slept through a party or two,” Charlie says. “Those were the type of parties that didn’t really get going until 1 pm the next day.” The site was, in fact, an old machine shop, converted into a renegade party space by Zev Eisenberg and Gadi Mizrahi, AKA Wolf + Lamb. “We saw them, and it was like looking into a mirror. We just immediately clicked,” he continues. “I think at that time it was our age similarities, our taste similarities, maybe our Jewishness played into it a little.” Wolf + Lamb had started a label and seized on Soul Claps edits, including another calling-card anthem, Womack & Womack’s “Conscious.” Soon Soul Clap were DJ fixtures at the Marcy, melding with Wolf + Lamb to form the collaborative Crew Love project.
“I think the Marcy was a reaction to everybody playing the same stuff, coming from years of minimal techno and the Burning Man electronic music scene,” Charlie says, “We were just like, fuck it, let’s play pop music. Let’s play something from four decades ago, or something really slowed down, some old school R&B. People loved it. Zev and Gadi had terrific A&R instincts and built a whole community around the Marcy with really talented people. The Visionquest guys were there, Nicolas Jaar, No Regular Play, Jamie Jones, Lee Foss, it just goes on and on. Damian Lazarus, Lee Curtiss, Shaun Reeves, Seth Troxler, Deniz Kurtel, Greg Paulus, Maayan Nidam were all a part of the mix. Most went on to successful careers.”
Photo by: Jonny Rios
Soon, young producers like Nick Monaco were sending demos to Charlie and Eli themselves. “It was kind of a natural progression to start a label for tracks we liked that didn’t quite fit anywhere else, it felt like an exciting creative endeavor,” says Eli. “Looking back, the first five releases were so important. First, Night Plane‘s “Heartbeat” has an almost floaty krautrock-meets-Burning Man style. Then Nick Monaco’s “Butterfly,” which cemented this long, deep friendship. Third was DJ Kon’s All About Youx EP — it was incredible to come full circle by putting one of our mentor’s music out. “Next was The Last Dance EP by Baby Prince, AKA Gadi from Wolf + Lamb, with Navid Izadi, one of his last records, rest in peace. Just such an incredibly beautiful EP.”
“And then we went big with Dancing on the Charles, which was a compilation of all-Boston producers, something that had never been done before or since, and which expanded to four volumes. Those releases stamped where we were with the label at in that exact moment in time: eclectic, but rooted in deepness, funk, and live instruments. We get all the music on the label from our friends, or their friends, it’s this huge community.” Those friends include legends like George Clinton (who the duo built a deep relationship with), Sly Stone, Robert Owens, Nona Hendryx, and Kathy Brown; New York disco bands Midnight Magic and Underground System; and Parliament Funkadelic-adjacent production crew FSQ.
Was it hard making the switch from artists to the business side of running a label? “We’re still making that transition,” Eli laughs. “We didn’t even really get our accounting sorted until three or four years ago. The business part of it took a long time to figure out. Now we have a great new manager Christina, and we’ve mostly always broke even, which seems pretty successful for a dance music label.
Photo by: Jonny Rios
“We’re luckily in a strong position because 2023’s release schedule is stacked, thanks to COVID delays. Besides the 11th anniversary compilation, we’ve got a couple great albums from our Italian family, who have been part of our Italo Funk series, and our first New Directions in Funk compilation curated by XL Middleton, one of the leading voices of the contemporary LA funk scene. We have an incredible double A-side by the Illustrious Blacks, a New York performance duo, produced by Seven Davis Jr. We have the remixes for our first hip-hop LP, Insides Outed by WayOfLife, an MC currently incarcerated in Nebraska, who is recording all his raps in solitary confinement on the phone. Those remixes are by Nickodemus, Stacey Hotwaxx Hale, Ponchartrain, and Mr. V.
“And we have our side labels, House of EFUNK which was born out of our annual Movement Detroit festival after-party that has an upcoming release with Charlie and Doc Martin, and a compilation coming out to coincide with this year’s party featuring Jon Dixon, Lady Monix, Charlie Soul Clap, Amp Fiddler, and Alton Miller. We have a Josh Wink record which is incredible with us being longtime fans of Josh, a relationship we’ve been building since opening for him at Rise afterhours in Boston in the 2000s—so that’s coming full circle, too. And there’s even going to be new Soul Clap music on Soul Clap Records.”
2023 will see a fundamental change in Soul Clap itself. Eli has long been involved in DJs 4 Climate Action, and is getting his master’s degree in climate science and policy. As part of that, he won’t be traveling anywhere by plane for the next year. Charlie will be the touring representative of Soul Clap, while Eli concentrates on residencies he can reach by train as he completes his studies. “This is a big transition but an exciting experiment to see how DJs can reduce travel,” Eli says. “I’ll also be making some ‘climate music.’ I’m not sure what that means yet, but maybe some will make its way to the label someday.” A clear case of acclimatization? Yep, and you can thank the change of climate for that.
Marke B. is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter.