Interview Hayley Joyes
Photography Dennis Duijnhouwer
If you were to slit the wrists of Charles Levine and Eli Goldstein, the chances are they would bleed a dirty 127 BPM all over your kitchen floor while doing a bloody-wristed electric slide to Cameo’s “Word Up!”.
The duo have been kicking it together since their teenage years, and over the last 15 have reshaped the way Boston club kids get down with their Midweek Techno and Yo Yo Yo! ’90s parties. Soul Clap are accidental trailblazers of the ’90s revival movement with Charlie and Eli’s parachute pant-clad monikers: Chuck D & Stereo MC spinning everything from UK garage to G-funk. To these guys the ’90s ain’t about cheesy dance music and bad garms, but a huge part of their fun loving attitude and musicality. A big part of Soul Clap’s movement is the raw soul, funk, ’90s hip-hop and disco they collected during their upbringing. The vocal styling and tight production of names like Nate Dogg and Parliament are firmly imprinted on their tracks, DJ sets and dancefloor mantra: EFUNK (Everyone is Freaky Under Nature’s Kingdom). Injecting funk into dance music is just how these guys do.
The twosome hooked up with forward-thinking deep house label Wolf+Lamb in 2008 to release Soul Clap R&B Edits, a 12-inch featuring refixes of Jamie Foxx’s “Extravaganza”, R. Kelly’s “Sex in the Kitchen” and Lonnie Liston Smith’s underrated smooth jazz track “Dreams of Tomorrow”.
Wolf +Lamb handed them the reins to sub-label Wolf+Lamb Black and ever since they have been pressing up vinyl and throwing parties. This year saw them release Wolf + Lamb vs. Soul Clap DJ Kicks (!K7 Records, 2011) a compilation album they put together with label owners Zev and Gadi. ’SUP caught up with Soul Clap while they were sunning themselves in Florida at Wolf+Lamb’s new Florida outpost.
What have you guys been up to this morning?
Charlie: We are just hanging out at the Wolf+Lamb house in Miami. We’ve found a super new organic breakfast spot. We had amazing pancakes with blueberry, raspberry and a new berry called Marion berry – he’s the crackhead mayor from Washington D.C who got reelected even when everyone knew he was a crackhead, and now I guess they’ve named a berry after him (laughs).
Can you explain your ethos behind EFUNK?
Eli: Well EFUNK means “Everyone Is Freaky Under Nature’s Kingdom”, and part of EFUNK is bringing a new sound of funk into dance music. There’s P-funk with Parliament Funkadelic and there’s G-funk, like West Coast rap, and those were both huge influences on us so we felt the direction our music was going in was related to funk. It’s not supposed to be a genre. EFUNK is about trying to change the way a dancefloor works at a party or a rave. Instead of stepping side-to-side or jumping up and down, we want to slow it down and get people moving their hips – that’s where the freaky part comes from.
Eli, how did coming to the UK in your younger years influence your musical taste?
Eli: My father worked at Oxford University and every summer we would go over there. I was influenced from a very young age by UK radio and when I was 13 I picked up a copy of a music magazine, and it was kind of like a crash course in UK dance culture. The year that speed garage was big in the UK, I heard a mix by The Dream Team and fell in love. I’d already had a taste of the NY house and garage stuff and was already into jungle, drum and bass, hip-hop so it kind of bought everything [together] for me.
Can you name your favorite UK garage tune?
Eli: “R.I.P Groove” by Double 99 and “Gunman” by 187 Lockdown.
Charles: DJ Luck and MC Neat “A Little Bit of Luck”.
That’s gangster. Talking of gangster, can you explain a little more about how you ended up sampling Goldie’s seminal drum and bass track, “Timeless”?
Eli: At the time we were really into stretching the boundaries and sampling different types of music and I started messing around with that sample. We played it to Damian Lazarus who went nuts for it – I guess he’s got a back-in-the-day connection to drum and bass with Goldie as he licensed it.
That’s a pretty awesome result from Goldie. Are there any other bootlegs that have had a similar result, say Jamie Foxx?
Charles: This has now happened a few times in our career. We start out by bootlegging something and end up getting massive approval from the artists. We’ve done an edit of a song called “Baker Man” by this ’80s group Laid Back and they ended up finding out about it and saying they ‘love the song’ and want to release it legit. With the bootlegs, we only put them out on vinyl. It’s more for the DJs. I don’t know if Jamie Foxx has heard the song.
I love the way you guys flirt with all these different styles in your DJ sets. You must have been eating Stevie Wonder for breakfast and Chaka Khan for dinner. Who are your funk and soul influences?
Charles: When I was about 13 I was in summer camp, I was in a P-funk cover band and we did all the hits. I had camp counselors [who were] deep into funk giving me musical tips. I went to a Parliament Funkadelic show when I was 12, there was a group of us white boys and our camp counselors at the show. We were the only white people and the youngest in the room. Just soaking it in. Eyes wide open. They had people on the stage wearing wedding dresses and diapers. Life-changing shit.
Eli: My father is a jazz bassist, he played a lot. If he wasn’t playing bass he was playing jazz records. There’s been jazz around me since I was born.
Your logo and album artwork is similar to that of cult ’50s southern soul and funk label Stax. Was this intentional?
Charles: I’m glad that you catch on that we are referencing the Stax logo there, that is definitely intentional.
Eli: The point of our logo is that we really try look to the past and re-contextualize it for today. Like looking backwards but doing it a new way. Really our logo is a tribute to Stax and how important that label was for music. That classic soul sound has never been my biggest influence. I have the utmost respect for it, but for me it’s more jazz funk, like Donald Bird, Roy Ayers for me that’s where the soul came from for me.
Charles: I’m definitely into the Spinners, the Drifters and Curtis Mayfield and Parliament, as I mentioned earlier.
Your DJ sets are varied and you have a really good knack of mashing multiple tempos. Where did this fearlessness come from?
Charles: We try hard to play as many different styles as possible and make them fit into our DJ set regardless of energy or tempo. We like to be able to keep it moving and telling a story like classic disco DJs Larry Levan or for house, Frankie Knuckles. We think about this all the time. We think about how music of any style can be played in a DJ set and we try and make that the reality in our performance. We play a lot of disco records and our mentor, DJ Kon, has an insane record collection and taught us how disco records work in a room.
Did you see many of these DJs growing up?
Charles: Well disco house was the sound that was always playing in the raves we went to around ’96-’97.
Eli: Daft Punk were huge. All the Chicago stuff that was coming out around that time had disco samples. House is what we do and there is a big disco influence.
How did the ’90s parties come about and what was the response when you brought it to London?
Eli: It really started when Charlie was studying abroad in London in 2001 and we were sitting in student housing watching some throwback video show, it was all like cheesy dance and Snap and we were like, ‘The ’90s were so dope!’ So in 2005 we decided to do an all ’90s party.
Charles: It was a popular Tuesday night party in Boston. We decided to take it on the road. We did it in London at the Star of Bethnal Green and it was like, ‘Holy shit, London knows how to do this thing!’
Eli: They dressed up soooo much more than in Boston!
Then of course you did the mammoth party at Hearn Street Car Park in East London with Danny Rampling, Rob Mello and Robert Owens. How was that?
Charles: Except for the weather, it was a smash. It was dope. Danny Rampling put on a great show. Big ups to Rob Mello, he was amazing. Well Robert Owens just didn’t show up. He said he was snowed in.
Would you ever consider having some sort of ’90s sound clash?
Charles: I would say we would gladly battle any ’90s DJ. Bring it! We will get fucking ironic on you. We’ve had some pretty amazing moments.
When you were over in London last summer you worked with Stoke Newington producer and vocalist Ben Westbeach. What came out of that?
Charles: Ben’s become a good friend, we did a track with him called “In The Park” [on the DJ Kicks album]. The tune was produced by SECT [Sergio, Eli, Charlie and Tanner], our Boston crew. We’ve had a lot of fun hanging out with him.
Eli: We also made a track for his new album Strictly Rhythm.
What’s your creation process in the studio and how do you work collaboratively with the Wolf+Lamb guys?
Charles: Generally we produce in bed or on the couch. We are far away from sitting and staring at a studio monitor.
Eli: We like to plug one laptop to another and use Ableton to jam. For me, I’m more about the drums and sampling.
Charles: I do the majority of the song writing, basslines and melodies. The kind of old school sounding software synths we like to use are the Arturia Minimoog and the Korg Legacy. When we are in one city we share hardware pieces with Gadi and Zev.
Both you Gadi and Zev have a huge pool of musical resources for the DJ Kicks album, how did you go about selecting the tracks?
Eli: We have nine exclusive tracks that artists from the label created just for the mix. It compiled itself. We reached out to the artists and they all just wanted to do it. It just kind of captures where we are all at right now.