During Thanksgiving weekend, the Brooklyn-based duo return home to Boston to chat about their sophomore album, decades-long DJ career, and friendship.
All photos by the author.
It might be a holiday riddled with some troublesome undertones, but Thanksgiving's still a time to go home, enjoy mom's cooking, and argue politics with family members scarcely seen. It's also a day to reflect and relive memories past, when many young people return to their parent's nests and see high school friends. All in all, it's time to feel like a kid again. What better way to do that than revisit your most cherished vinyl that's been living in your parent's basement for a bit?
That's how it goes at least for Soul Clap, the DJ and production duo of Charlie Levine and Eli Goldstein, one of Boston's most notable exports in dance music today. The pair have been based in Brooklyn since 2014, but when they head back to Beantown—as they did over the long over the long Thanksgiving weekend for a short break from their international tour in support of their new, self-titled second LP—they get a chance to head back to Goldstein's childhood home, the gutted basement of which once served as an ad hoc studio space for the duos first edits and tracks. To this day, it still houses a large fraction of the duo's 10,000-record-strong vinyl collection
On a Saturday afternoon, Eli's father, a college professor, greeted me at the door of the house with a friendly, suspecting smile, said "You must be here for Eli," and ushered me into their home by the reservoir, brimming with books and memories. I went to the basement, where Charlie and Eli were shuffling through their sprawling collection of records, spinning old classics, chatting about influences on their edits and productions, and nailing down what informed their aspiration to be, in Eli's words, "more like a funk band than an electronic act."
Recorded under the guidance of newfound friend and funk legend, George Clinton, their new album—which came out in October through their Brooklyn disco family's Crew Love collective—features a host of the duo's longtime friends and collaborators like Billy "Bass" Nelson, Nona Hendrix, and their longtime DJ confidants, Wolf + Lamb. This cast of characters all lent their talents to the futuristic disco odyssey of the album—it's a mix of funky experimentation, filtered through a stripped-back, house-oriented approach. Like their beloved marathon DJ sets, the album's jacking, seductive, and most importantly, fun as can be.
"I think it's all about sharing the music," Charlie says. "That's how we learned about a lot of this stuff," he said. "It's trainspotting. It's digging; finally coming across the records that we've been hearing for for years."
There was more than one sneeze and coughing attack throughout the afternoon as Eli and Charlie wiped the dust off of some of the most prized and rinsed records in their collection, from slamming deep house, to the records they played back when they got paid in Puma tracksuits.
THUMP: What was one record that influenced your approach to production?
Eli: ["Hercules Theme"] influenced everything. It important because it brought out the housier side of DFA records, at a time when nu-disco and rock were so big. It brought in this element of live performance which has really influenced us as we've gone forward with our own live performances. It's very electronic-oriented, and has a lot of party tracks, but also features amazing vocalists like ANOHNI, and Kim Ann Foxman.
Charlie: There's also a connection there with Morgan Wiley and Carter Yasutaki from Midnight Magic, who both contributed heavily to Hercules and Love Affair. Morgan played on our record, and we're putting out Midnight Magic's new stuff on our own Soul Clap Records.
Let's hear something that really reaches back to your interest in disco and house.
Eli: ["Padlock"] is fucking amazing; definitely one of my top ten favorite records in our collection. I've bought it at least three or four times; I have two at my house and one or two laying around here. It's just one of those records where you need to make sure you always have a fresh copy.
Charlie: These Larry Levan edits of Gwen Guthrie are the perfect fusion of disco and reggae; it's Sly and Robbie produced stuff with Gwen Guthrie. "Peanut Butter" is on here, when I probably heard first on Dimitri From Paris' After the Playboy Mansion. The other one that's super dope is "Seventh Heaven." That's the jam. What's cool about this record is it's all mixed together, with that Larry Levan magic.
Listening to these picks, you guys really seem to like to ride the line between genres, favoring more crossover-style producers.
Charlie: Yeah, definitely. ["De La Bass"] is another amazing record that bridged the gap between UK garage and house music in a time when there were a lot of similarities. He's an amazing producer, Mousse T. I remember hearing this one on a mixtape; some local DJ mix of deep house that I would always listen to on car rides home from raves, because they would be such long trips. Another producer like that is David Alvarado from LA. He's the master of deep tribal.
Let's hone in on a pick that has some significance to your early years as DJs.
Charlie: ["Be Thankful" by Omar and Angie Stone] is a cover of Curtis Mayfield. The A-side features Guru from Gang Starr. On the other side is the Blaze remix. Blaze is dope. They're both an essential piece of the New York puzzle.
Eli: Hip-hop was really important for me early on, particularly Gang Starr. They were huge for me when I first got into DJing. I knew about Guru who worked with DJ Premier. I wondered "what does DJ Premier do? What does that mean that he's a DJ?" So I was really curious about it, and I started playing with my dad's turntable to start learning how to scratch. He got mad, but ended up giving me the turntable, and I would just play around with it. It was the summer after freshman year of high school when I went to a rave and I thought "that's the kind of DJing that I want to do."
Do you remember which party that was?
Eli: Yeah it was called BOOM, in Nashua, NH. It was the summer of 1996.
Charlie: My experience getting in to DJing was really similar, in the mid 90s. I remember seeing Juice, and these kind of movies, like Wild Style. There's a really timeless, epic scene of Grandmaster Flash doing a battle routine in Wild Style. I had a job back at this ski shop then, and we used to watch all these skate videos and DJ battle videos. That was when I knew that was what i wanted todo. This guy DJ Turbo from my high school sold me a pair of Gemini belt-drive turntables; little did I know you can't do a damn thing on belt-drive decks. I was really in to the hip-hop side until I went to my first rave, which was a Hullabaloo party in Toronto. It was a Happy Hardcore rave. They also had a house room and a jungle room, and that party was what pulled me in at first.
In the video for "In Da Kar" you guys are living in two worlds: a live action, glamorous world, and an animated one, that depicts the horror and injustices of our system. There's a futuristic aspect to it as well. You guys run out of gas when you're driving the car through these scenes, and I'm wondering if there ever was a moment for you when you felt like you couldn't go any farther?
Charlie: I've felt at times that things start to plateau. We had a very exciting rise with a lot of hype behind it, and a very exciting time when there was a lot of emphasis on a lot of other North American duos who were coming up at that time. Some of that subsides and it comes time to release material and there's a lot of excitement around there, and touring. And then things start to flatten out again. In the four years since we put out our first album, we've been meeting amazing people like George Clinton and Louie Vega, and working with them, it also seems that there's a lot of repetition in the lifestyle of constantly touring. Sometimes it feels like, without purpose, only to keep working in these markets. So now that we have this new album, that's filling the car up with gasoline. And I don't feel like the car has ever run out of gas. I don't think the light ever went on. To keep it full, oiled and lubricated, the key is to constantly be releasing music, doing things that are inspirational, and working outside of just touring and performance.
What are a couple of your go-to classics?Charlie: [The Soul Survivor's "Get Down" (SJU Dub)] was from the deep house days; 1997, Glenn Underground. The label's from London; I got it at Satellite records and paid that import price. I used to play this at the Puma store. For a while we had a "residency" at the Puma store and they paid us in track suits. We were definitely wearing all Puma velour track suits all the time.
Eli: [Derrick Carter's "Got Change for a Twenty?] is an all-time favorite of the Visionquest guys. It's one of ours too; an OG Marcy Hotel classic when we were spinning there a lot.
Eli: Scott Grooves is a Detroit producer and DJ who remixed both P-Funk and Daft Punk. We met him at Winter Music Conference in 2004 at a Giant Step party, where we were introduced to him. He was super nice even though we were nobody at that time. We didn't get back in touch with him until Nick Monaco met him in Detroit, and told us that he was hanging out with Scott, and how nice he was, and that he remembered hanging out with us. Then we hit him up, and he played our first House of EFUNK party at Movement, and we've just gotten closer and closer with him. He has this project called Overdubs, playing instrumentals of classics, and then different band lineups overdubbing over them. It's the inspiration for our live set as well, DJing plus musicians. The first time he did an Overdubs performance was at a BBQ we did last year in Detroit. Then he did it again in Miami for us, and again at the Movement party this year.Charlie: One of the guys in Overdubs called Hazmat who plays the talk-box and is an amazing synth player, also features on our album on "Synthesizer Girlfriend."