BY: Greg Scruggs
What’s a Jew to do on a February Friday in Miami? Instead of the obvious – evening prayers and matzah ball soup with retired snowbirds – I drove out to a low-slung bungalow in Miami Shores, a quiet neighborhood far from South Beach, Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House (RIP), and these guys. My hosts for the evening, lying shirtless in a king-sized bed with laptops and synthesizers at the ready, were decidedly uninterested in kiddish. Stumbler, on the other hand, was de riguer.
Welcome to Shabbat with Soul Clap and Wolf & Lamb, a quartet of DJs whose summery flavors of house and disco, along with a deep arsenal of funk, soul, and R&B edits, are conquering dance floors and warming the cold hearts of techno heads, one Berlin club at a time. Soul Clap, aka Elyte (Eli Goldstein) and Cnyce (Charlie Levine), originally hail from Boston, where they were mainstays on the local dance music scene, running a string of nights from Midweek Techno to YoYoYo 90s Jam (most recently with editions in London and Miami). In the last year, however, their infectious edits – like Jamie Foxx’s Extravaganza – have catapulted them to new heights, and they gave up Eli’s parents’ Cambridge basement for a 2010 summer stint in Berlin, followed by a few months wintering over in Miami. With a relentless touring schedule – Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and the U.S. – home base is unclear, but the future is bright.
Their recent success has come very much in collaboration with Wolf+Lamb (aka W+L), the duo of Zev Eisenberg and Gadi Mizrahi who run a series of labels of the same name, and were formerly the proprietors of the infamous Marcy Hotel in Williamsburg, ultimately shut down by a Hassidic blog sting. More on that later. As everyone’s names make abundantly clear (Zev and Gadi are Hebrew for Wolf and Lamb, for one thing), these guys are like the Fantastic Four of Jewish DJs. This, despite Zev’s deadpan warning, “We don’t like being around Jews.” Zev and Gadi, both recovering Yeshiva students, nevertheless let their guard down to let this decidedly un-frum Heeb reporter hang out at their Miami pad and later hit their favorite spot, The Electric Pickle, to get an inside look at some of the most forward-thinking dance music producers you’ll find on mp3, vinyl, CD, or otherwise in 2011.
Before we dove into shoptalk, however, there was the tricky issue of religious identity. Zev was raised in Brooklyn to Hassidic parents and, ironically in a way, discovered dance music a decade ago while at rabbinical school in Israel. “They would just rave it up for days and days,” he remembers, before diverging into a brief history of Goa trance and its migration to the Promised Land. Gadi was born to Israeli parents, grew up in the States, and also went to yeshiva back in Eretz Yisrael. He’s the quieter of the two, but they both agree on the assertion that they are “self-hating Jews to the max.”
Soul Clap’s background was a relatively friendly Reform Judaism in Boston that most of us are familiar with. Charlie explains, “I’ve been Bar Mitzvahed, I went to religious school from third grade through high school. I lost my virginity to a Jew. That’s part of it.” (Gadi shrugs that off: “When was the last time you fucked a Jewish girl?”) Eli and Charlie even went on Birthright together when they were 26. A potential early career highlight was just missed when Soul Clap almost DJed a Bar Mitzvah that was presided over by Charlie’s former Temple Israel rabbi. Nonplussed, Zev told Soul Clap when they first started working together, “I’m going to get all the Jew out of you. I’m going to make you hate it too.”
Like it or loathe it, however, W+L’s background – and Zev’s fluency in Yiddish – made for some interesting encounters in their former Williamsburg digs. While we were discussing Goa, which has in recent years been overrun by Russians and accompanying prostitutes from the Caucasus – Zev reminds us, “If there is one thing that Hassidic men love, it is Russian hookers.” Why is that relevant, you may ask? Because, as Gadi explains, “My first landlord asked me if he could borrow my place as I was leaving so he could take a hooker into it. Really big, fat, fucking Hassidic guy with dandruff on his shoulders, picked up a girl off the street in Williamsburg on the south side. Can I? This was fucking strange shit . . . but I let him.” Zev clarifies, “The problem was that I spoke Yiddish and I opened my fucking big mouth to him, and then he became our buddy, and all of a sudden he was asking to use Gadi’s bed.”
But W+L became rightly famous for the Marcy Hotel, a former machine shop that they rented and converted into a live/work space for DJs, musicians, and artists. The fake website advertising luxury accommodations only underscored how much it was a labor of love – and not a profit engine – to throw what were easily the best underground house and techno parties in New York City for the last few years. A few worlds collided during the fake Bar Mitzvah party for Seth Troxler, a W+L artist who has always believed he is a Jew trapped in a black man’s body. They went for broke, ordering pink yarmulkes embossed with the date, the Marcy Hotel, and Seth’s name in Hebrew.
Coincidentally, it just so happened to be the first party that Zev’s father attended. Charlie intervenes, “When he shows up, he looks like an Orthodox Jew and the partygoers think it’s part of the show.” After all these years of not understanding what his son had been doing with his life— “You have a party? For what?”—he understood. More or less. “It summed up the whole vibe that Gadi and I have,” Zev elaborates. “It’s just about fun and enjoying life. That’s a very strange concept to ultra-Orthodox people. As much as they convince themselves that it’s fun to serve God, it’s really not. That party just summed it up perfectly – it’s a joke.”
On a similar note, after several summers in Berlin, the mecca of dance music, the crew has become disillusioned with the formal, cerebral tone of techno. In short, Berliners were too damn serious and both Soul Clap and W+L were moving in a decidedly more American direction – lighthearted, warm, feel good music. How to get that message through to the Germans? Print a sticker – “House Music: The Solution to the German Problem” – and surreptitiously stick them in a few Berlin music institutions, like Berghain and Panorama Bar. There was an uproar, they claim, but the sentiment, and the subtle ode to Woodly Allen’s “crazy dark humor and sarcasm” by using the same font he uses for his title screens, was worth the potential disapprobation in the scene.
As far as snarky stickers go, however, W+L were even more nervous about their first one: “Since When Do Jews Make Techno?” While Zev is still adamant, “It’s a conscious decision that Gadi and I made a long long time ago not to play up the Jew part of it,” they nevertheless aren’t going to pretend otherwise, and together with Soul Clap have begun compiling a list of Jews in dance music à la Adam Sandler: dOP (all three), one-half of Art Department (Jonny White, né Brett Rosenberg), Damian Lazarus, Guy Gerber, Guti from Desolat, Miguel Campbell, and Mayaan Nidam (“wait, she’s Israeli, doesn’t count,” says Gadi). Shaking his head, Charlie explains, “We are discovering Jews in dance music all the time.” Fans come up to Soul Clap at parties to show them their Star of David necklaces.
The next step, naturally, is to form the Jewish House Mafia, a decidedly groovier and less obnoxious alternative to commercial club faves Swedish House Mafia. More accurately, they’re like a house and techno kibbutz. Charlie opines, “As much as these guys renounced their religious connection, the whole operation of the Marcy Hotel and Wolf+Lamb has this kibbutz feeling. Everyone helps to clean up. It feels like a religious cult.”
Sadly, all good cults must end—thankfully this one in a less dramatic fashion than Waco or Jonestown. The Marcy had become a favorite for British party tourists, who would book flights to New York if a party was announced more than a week in advance. The Guardian wrote an article about the Marcy, which was in turn posted on the Hassidic überblog Vos Iz Neias? The comments, if you have even a basic grasp of Yiddish, are hilariously unbalanced, from a query if they are the same Wolf and Lamb as the Manhattan kosher restaurant (response: “I don’t think the Williamsburg location is glatt”), to lots of lamenting at how they are yiden who have lost their way, to some thoughtful character references. The end result, regardless, was a kibosh on parties at the Marcy, which had flown under the radar chiefly by taking place on Shabbat. A Friday night party with a Saturday day cleanup meant that the Hassidic landlord was almost guaranteed not to drop in for a visit. On the plus side, Zev’s parents received some complimentary neighborhood gossip – he is the first Eisenberg to make it onto Vos Iz Neias?
Stories told, grievances aired, the crew roust themselves from the studio/bedroom and begin putting themselves together for the night. I explore their pleasantly adorned house, indoor pool and all, and note the 2 Live Crew and Miami Vice records on prominent display for inspiration (Uncle Luke for Mayor!).
Gadi, the label head, and I then sit down for a chat, where I get the skinny on the dizzying output of the W+L family. Garnering the most attention recently is W+L Black, an edits-only label whose takes on funk, soul, disco, and R&B are selling like vinyl hotcakes after the crew plays them out at clubs for three or four months pre-release. Soul Clap in particular has been rocketing to stardom on the strength of their edits, ranging from Stevie Wonder to Womack & Womack. W+L Music, their oldest label, is digital-only, which means they can test the waters with new artists on Beatport for essentially no overhead. W+L Records is a vinyl and digital label that only features closer confidants of the W+L family, like critically acclaimed wunderkind Nicolas Jaar. Its releases are very much in the public eye of dance music mavens, so they are produced to careful and exacting standards. Finally, Gadi has his own personal label, Double Standard, which is quieter music, vinyl-only.
Soul Clap is particularly hyped for the February release of their mix on Jonny White’s No. 19 Records, Social Experiment 002. The foursome is also eagerly awaiting the March release (out at press time) of their mix for the legendary DJ Kicks series on !K7 Records. Eli is downright giddy: “It’s been my dream my whole life to do a DJ Kicks – I bought my first one at 14.” The mix consists of all Wolf + Lamb friends and family, and has a deep sound to it that moves through tempos and moods. Music for when you get home from the club, they explain.
But we hadn’t gotten to the club yet at midnight on this Shabbat, so we suit up and drive down to the Miami Design District for a Friday night session at The Electric Pickle, what the crew calls the new Marcy – they can book a party there whenever they want, know the owner, and are generally treated like regulars from the moment they arrive at the door. Mayaan Nadim was headlining and they try to support their own when in town. In the car, Zev bemoaned how he lives in the Catskills and now winters in Miami. A vicious cycle, that American Jewish identity. He shrugs his shoulders, and we head into the party.
Download: Soul Clap – Lonely C (ft. Charles Levine) [http://rcrdlbl.com/2011/02/24/download_soul_clap_lonely_c_feat_charles_levine_] Free track from Soul Clap vs. Wolf+Lamb DJ Kicks, released on March 14th.
Greg Scruggs first met Soul Clap when they laid down an all-vinyl, pre-1991 live mix for his May 2007 WHRB orgy (not what you think) “From the Autobahn to I-94: The Roots of Chicago House and Detroit Techno.”