Words: Thomas H Green
Photos: Yonathan Baraki
Published in Mixmag April 2011
Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap are having a business meeting. If all business meetings were conducted like this Mixmag might be tempted to become a businessman.
It’s mid-week, it’s noon, and Charlie Levine and Eli Goldstein of Soul Clap and Gadi Mizrahi (Lamb) sprawl on a huge shaded bed by the swimming pool at the back of their suburban Miami bungalow. They have only recently risen and are barefoot, in shorts. There’s a warm breeze and a hot but not scorching sun. Palm trees shadow the scene. The trio sip fresh carrot juice with a squeeze of lemon, each tapping attentively at a laptop. The meeting might even be in their jacuzzi if it didn’t happen to be broken.
Zev Eisenberg (Wolf) is staring intently at his computer. He’s on a property website. He’s suggests the four of them should upgrade their living arrangements and take over a nearby mansion once owned by Al Capone. It’s up for rent. “We can afford it,” he adds. The idea is received enthusiastically. Zev cursor-clicks through the meeting’s agenda. Stickers, flyer art, the Miami Music Conference, a Radio 1 Essential Mix, flights to Berlin, pricing a remix of ‘Congolal’ by Tensnake (they decide not to in the end, “because the original is already amazing”), a European tour for their new DJ Kicks mix album – all these matters are quickly dealt with. No fuss, all done in an hour while chilling in the tranquil Florida heat. Then they begin to drift away, and the sound of super-mellow deep house begins once again to percolate from various corners of the house.
“It’s my favourite time of the day,” says Zev, who remains. “My time to commune with the vegetables.” This he proceeds to do.
Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap – let’s just say WLSC from here on in – do things their way. It’s taken them far. New Yorkers Wolf + Lamb achieved global recognition for their underground Marcy Hotel parties at a disused machine shop in Brooklyn. They used their success to promote a growing stable of labels – Wolf + Lamb digital, bootleg/edit imprint Wolf + Lamb Black, vinyl-only Double Standard and, at the top of the tree, Wolf + Lamb itself. The pair embraced dance music after rejecting puritanical Hasidic Jewish backgrounds. They went from minimal techno to something deeper, slower and sexier, harking back to the roots of house music and influences such as David Mancuso and Larry Levan.
“When Gadi and I were playing techno the ratio of men to women was disturbing to me,” Zev explains at one point, “I didn’t like playing to 75 guys and four girls at the end of the night. Something was wrong.”
“We went down from 127 BPM to 119 BPM over a period of six years,” adds Gadi, “and there was a point when we left everyone behind.”
Over in Boston, Massachusetts, jazz-loving Eli and funk freak Charlie were earning a living DJing corporate gigs and pop parties, but they really wanted to push into more rewarding territory. When they hooked up with Wolf + Lamb in 2007 Soul Clap’s natural affinity with hip hop and r’n’b, together with the slower pacing they’d learnt from the Norwegian cosmic disco scene, fitted right in. The quartet clicked, socially and musically, at the Marcy, and now Soul Clap do their own YoYoYo 90s Jam parties and make a special point of championing vinyl.
WLSC are the core of what they all refer to as “the family”, an extended collective of names including Nicolas Jaar, Deniz Kurtel (who’s also Gadi’s girlfriend), SECT (Soul Clap with fellow Bostonians Sergio Santos and Tanner Ross), No Regular Play (Greg Paulus & Nick Debruyn), Lee Curtiss, Slow Hands and Voices Of Black, all of whose work is currently carpet-bombing contemporary clubland… in a soothing sort of way. So far, so East Coast city hipster – so what the hell are WLSC doing sharing a house in Miami like some stoner ethernet Monkees?
“I led the charge, purely for health reasons,” says Zev. “Winter in New York is not a productive environment and from the minute we arrived here it’s been so pleasurable.”
Zev, 28, looks a picture of well-toned fitness, wandering around in a fetching gold leotard. He’s easy-going, intellectual and articulate; even faintly Zen. His “time to commune with vegetables” means it’s all go in the kitchen with salad, stock, soup, a juicer – but the “health reason” he spoke of is cancer. He has it for the third time, and has decided to reject surgery and chemo and deal with it holistically via diet and lifestyle changes, notably the massive consumption of ground flax seeds and their oil. He talks persuasively about how processed food is a killer, about the medical-industrial complex focusing on profits rather than cures. He’s great company – funny, thoughtful and light-hearted – but he excuses himself from much of the partying that goes on. He has to. “The first time I went around the UK, I really shouldn’t have been touring,” he admits, “but I’d been working with Gadi so many years to get to that point that I did it anyway.”
Now he stays home, takes care of business, meditates, exercises. The quartet has no external management and Zev is, as Charlie puts it, their “social media mogul”. He will, however, be on the DJ Kicks tour, and is really looking forward to it.
Poking around their home, Mixmag comes across a 12” by Uncle Luke, aka Miami bass maestro Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew. It features a Latin lady pushing her naked bum and bits towards the camera. Eli laughs. “That used to be on the wall,” he says, “but we changed it for a Miami Vice compilation.” Probably wise. Beneath it Eli, 28, sprawls on a sofa with his laptop. He’s shirtless with multiple tattoos, lightly bearded and wearing glasses. He’s the mixologist of Soul Clap, an intense yet genial presence. He has a tooth with ‘Dr Levin’ written inside tattooed on his arm in honour of his 94-year-old grandfather, a former dentist. “He hates tattoos but always forgets he’s seen it and tells me, ‘I like that one’,” Eli laughs.
In the glass-fronted cabinets where most households keep knick-knacks, crockery or books WLSC have an Akai APC40 Ableton controller, a Vestax DIG410 Digital Delay Unit and more. “We have a unique production style,” says Charlie, “sitting around on this couch rather than crammed away in some soundproofed studio. We’re all auditioning sounds all the time. In Gadi’s room, with monitors on the bedposts, we can lie on his Tempur-Pedic mattress, super kicked-back, with synths all around. It’s so comfortable you can do it all day long.”
Charlie, 29, with clean-cut, youthful features, is the most immediately American of the four, given to animatedly declaring matters “Awesome!” and “Ill!” He emanates an effervescent, unselfconscious bounciness, tempered by a studied musicality. If the new DJ Kicks mix is anything to go by, Soul Clap’s skill as edit kings of ‘Extravaganza’ fame and progenitors of self-styled E-funk is being taken to a spacey new place by all this warmth and Miami mellowness. The compilation isn’t so much a history of WLSC – it has nine new tracks on it – but instead, as Gadi puts it, “everyone in the family tells their own piece of the story”, from avant-garde subterranean throb to Jan Hammer-ish jazz disco.
As the balmy evening closes in we climb into Charlie’s blue Prius to check out a couple of favourite haunts. Driving past endless neighbourhood churches (Total Change and Empowerment Ministries, anyone?) they track down a food truck – not a Brit-style kebab van but a lorry with a kitchen called Jefe’s Original Fish Tacos & Burgers, parked opposite Florida Firearms and a neon-lit pay-by-the-hour motel. They stuff themselves with fish tacos, then head to the Electric Pickle, a venue where they put on parties. It’s a quiet midweek night but it’s clear they adore the place, a small wood-panelled room with a disco ball and a capacity of 200. It’s the kind of joint where their intimate afterparty vibe works best, and they know it. They need to own a room, which is difficult to do with larger venues – although they’re giving it a go on the European tour.
“We can’t have opening DJs,” explains Gadi. “That time when no-one’s there is the most important time because you’re creating an atmosphere in the room before people walk in.”
Gadi, 34, is a slight figure, gamin, stoner-eyed, his dark hair swept across his forehead. He is considered and careful, but also mischievous, a listener and, without doubt, the sharp strategist and A&R behind the success of WLSC.
“When Nicolas Jaar sent through his first track about a year ago I deleted it because it just sounded like an ambient mess,” Zev recalls, “but Gadi heard in it what Nicolas Jaar would become and brought him to where he is now. The way he develops young artists is almost like an academy.”
As we head home after a beer or two LSC (no W) decide to end the night with a Philly blunt, the hip hop cannabis bombs created by using a cigar to wrap some grass. The trio spend their days occasionally firing up weed in a little brass pipe, but the blunt is spankadelically strong. Charlie and Eli fool around with ideas on a tune called ‘Vic Tanny’, loosely based around Funkadelic’s ‘America Eats Its Young’. Mixmag stares vacantly into the cosmos and listens.
The gloopy, bubbling weirdness and vocoder diatribe of the production syncs perfectly with the marijuana haze. It occurs to us that whereas deep house has always taken itself way too seriously, a genre dominated by back-in-the-day dad-house bores, WLSC and their extended family bring three essential ingredients to the party: sexiness, light-hearted funky humour and a hefty sprinkling of stoned ketamine ’n’ weed sonics.
It does take a moment to get to grips with WLSC’s deep thing, especially if you’ve been listening to anything banging. The next day, sitting by the pool, they ponder their attempts to pull clubbers into their groove. Naturally, some resist.
“Every single show we’ve ever played someone comes up and says, ‘Can you pump it up?’” says Gadi.
“Eli even has a tattoo on his arm saying ‘No Requests’,” adds Charlie. “These lunatics come up in the middle of something cool and funky and start clamouring for Lady Gaga or David Guetta, waving their cell phone. You pocket their cell phone for a bit. That confuses them.”
“It’s about confidence,” Eli continues, “about trusting your instincts, saying, ‘OK, right now we’re at 124 BPM, the tempo’s pitched up, but you know what? If I play this 90 BPM hip hop track, it’s going to create a frenzy, building energy to a higher level.”
“If the only way you can get a reaction is to hit every single mix harder, it’s not really an outcome,” Charlie concludes.
“We used to get booked at shopping plazas to play to no-one. We learned to paint this musical landscape – it’s the art of playing to no-one to everyone.”
The art of playing to no-one to everyone? That doesn’t make sense. And yet somehow in the early hours, when Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap have taken over, it does. The music is pouring out of them: the DJ Kicks mix, Soul Clap’s ‘Social Experiment’ mix on No.19 Music, hordes of edits and original material on all the Wolf + Lamb labels. Theirs is a sound – subtle, unhurried, soulful and psychedelic – that will utterly permeate clubland by the year’s end. You could call it taking care of business.
‘Wolf + Lamb vs Soul Clap’s ‘DJ Kicks’ (!K7) is out now. See www.wolflambmusic.com for details of further releases.