Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.
Charles Levin and Eli Goldstein met as teenagers in Boston. Together they’ve laid the foundations for Soul Clap Records, a label that has become synonymous around the globe with hi-quality, soulful, funky house jams. Over the years the pair have worked with an army of funk royalty, folks such as George Clinton and Sly Stone, and built a vast family of creative friends, like FSQ’s Chuck “Da Fonk” Fishman and Greg Paulus. This month sees the imprint celebrate 11 years in business with a remix compilation that features an equally star-studded cast, a long list of luminaries that includes Life On Planets, The Fitness & Pony, Colleen’ Cosmo’ Murphy, and XL Middleton. It was a real pleasure to speak to both Eli and Charlie about the anniversary, and what they wish they knew before they got into this game.
You`re about to release your 11 year anniversary compilation, so big congratulations are in order. When you first started out did you think it would go on this long, or maybe you didn’t think about the future then?
Eli: Thanks! It feels like an accomplishment to do anything for 11 years, especially in the music game. When we started the label, we were just going with the flow. There were exciting artists that were hitting us up and we wanted to build with, and it felt like a label was the best way to do that.
Charlie: But we really didn’t know what we were doing. It’s kind of a miracle we made it this far and didn’t go bankrupt…
How have you been marking this anniversary?
Eli: We were originally going to celebrate 10 years of the label last year, but we had a big digital distribution migration and had to focus on that, so we’re kicking off the celebration in 2023. January we were Beatport Label of the Month! This month we’re dropping the 11 Year Anniversary remix compilation, with 10 remixes from new and OG label artists, plus a DJ mix of some of our label favourites from the last 11 years.
Charlie: Then we’re celebrating it all with a double release party on February 25th in Brooklyn, first at the Razor-N-Tape record shop, and then at C’mon Everybody, where we’ve done several label residencies over the years. Finally, we’re going to take it all on tour with label birthday party celebrations in Boston, Detroit, LA, Cleveland and hopefully some other cities later this year!
Soul Clap in 2023, compared to 2012, how much do you think you guys have changed personally?
Eli: Where to even begin here… since 2012 I got married, moved back to Boston – after 3 years between Berlin and Miami – moved to Brooklyn, opened a club / restaurant – Black Flamingo – bought an old summer camp in upstate NY and turned it into a commune / farm with Wolf + Lamb and some other homies, had a kid and then moved to the country full-time, and now I’m getting my master’s degree in climate science and policy. It`s crazy to write it all out and see how much has changed in 11 years. Through it all I’ve learned a lot about self-care and spirituality and being grounded… and Soul Clap and the label continues to grow and evolve!
Charlie: Yeah, so much has happened in the past 11 years, looking back it feels like another life all together! I wish I had my current sense of self, mindfulness, and healthy living back then. In 2012 I was totally living the bachelor life in Brooklyn (laughs)… Nowadays I’m coming up on almost 6 years in, rooted in Miami – in love and with a smile on my face!
I feel like the energy was just so different then, more innocent in a way. You know, we’ve lost a couple of really close friends since those days, namely Navid Izadi who was at the heart of our Crew Love collective and Sa’d “The Hourchild” Ali, a founding member of FSQ – FSQ are core artists on SCR, collaborators and dear friends – and part of our bridge to the world of Parliament-Funkadelic. Grieving those losses, which happened almost back to back, really changed me in a deep way. Through it all I’ve kept pushing with music and I feel these days I’m in a powerful creative groove with my music, organized in my DJing, effective in the studio and wiser playing piano thanks to my amazing teacher, Sharp Radway!
And your music… how much do think that has changed?
Charlie: Our love for the history and culture of house music has remained as strong as ever. We’ve also maintained our eclectic tastes in DJing and production, with influences coming from funk, disco, jazz, hip-hop, r&b, and beyond! Our DJ sets are more high energy than before, like back when we dropped our DJ Kicks in 2011 we played music peaking at 120bpm and now we’re getting up past 130bpm easily. That is certainly a considerable difference in tempo, but maybe indicative of the new energy of these times!
Eli: Another thing back when SCR began, we were still fresh off of our 2012 debut LP, EFUNK. Now in 2023 we’re three Soul Clap albums in with countless remixes, edits and coproduction projects, plus Charlie’s Lonely C album… collectively there is just so much more music around us that is us! Oh, and then there’s been the LIVE performances we’ve managed to pull off… we’re just generally more experienced and have become more dynamic as time has passed.
If you could go back 11 years, what would you have said to a young Soul Clap about life, and also about pursuing a life in music?
Eli: I think that we were lucky that our careers didn’t really pop until our late 20s, so we really appreciated everything along the way after so much hard work to lay the foundations. But I still would tell my young self to be even more present in the moments. Especially taking quality time with friends, because you really never know when you’re going to lose someone close to you.
Charlie: I would have told myself to keep my head in the game! I’ve had a lot of fun getting lost in the party over the years which lead to late nights, some epic musical moments and making some seriously close friends, but I know I’m guilty of pushing it and I think if I could go back I’d give myself a little reality check pep talk that maybe all that big fun was a way of avoiding the real issues inside that I can now deal with much easier with some clarity in my mind!
How do you keep things fresh? Where do you find your inspiration these days?
Eli: MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC! There is always so much amazing music coming out. Sometimes it’s not right on the surface, but often the digging is where the real inspiration comes from. And working with exciting, original artists for the label all the time is another great source of inspiration.
Charlie: Then there are still moments when we get to connect with legends that we have always looked up to, like Timmy Regisford recently reaching out to us to play the Shelter’s 32nd anniversary party… that’s some exciting shit!
So much new music, so many new artists surfacing constantly. Do you think about that much and how you fit in to what’s going on? Or do you just do your own thing?
Eli: George Clinton said it best, “If you’re not messing with the new shit then you’re just corny”.
Charlie: And how about a page out of the book of NYC DJ Justin Strauss “I just keep doing my thing and every few years people catch up.”
You have always been big vinyl releasers. Would you say you have embraced the digital revolution of music? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Eli: We’ve always embraced the power of technology to push creativity. We were playing CDs on dual rack mount CD players, then bought Final Scratch aka Final Crash – which then became Traktor – right when it came out and then were on Serato and always kept messing with CDJs. It’s all about using what’s out there to try new things and experiment and keep it fresh…
What is your opinion on the work involved in being a successful artist in 2023 versus a decade ago? Do the main aspects remain the same, or has it changed dramatically?
Eli: The main difference is that there are just so many more artists. The competition is fierce. Plus social media takes a lot of time and some people focus on that too much, instead of honing their craft. Our careers took off in the early blog / Facebook / Soundcloud era. We were able to utilize those platforms to get our message out. But there’s always been an element of popularity contest with DJs. If you can get people to go to your party, then you’re going to get booked. Crucially, we’re at a moment now where it’s more important than ever to support local scenes / DJs / producers. That’s how we build a sustainable industry. Less flights are better for the planet. But also, sustainability for our own health as artists and for our communities, not just for the planet.
Charlie: It’s also time for the black and brown / queer / trans artists that have always had to work that much harder to get on. Electronic dance music was born as a subversive movement of marginalized people, now it’s our duty to uplift those voices!
What was Soul Clap`s very first release? How do you feel about that release today?
Eli: Well, our very first vinyl release was a 10” yellow record called The Giraffe, with a Franco Cinelli remix on the flip out on Airdrop Records – thanks to our homies Paulo Reachi and Henry Glucroft. Gotta shout out our brother Pat Fontes who mixed that for us. Sadly, he has since passed… He was a real staple of the Boston scene, he was the owner of Satellite Records and a resident with us at our old Weekly Techno Wednesday night in Cambridge and he was a dear friend! Anyways, back to Giraffe, listening back there are some harmonic similarities in the chord progression and some drum sampling ideas that we still apply today, but most of all what remains the same is that back then we sorta stuck out doing something different and we’re still there today.
What do you think is your most significant release?
Eli: It’s gotta be the 2015 Funkadelic and Soul Clap release, In Da Kar, which also featured Sly Stone… Who would’ve ever seen that coming back in the day! Or maybe the Crew Love anthem, Love Train, with PillowTalk and the gang, that one really made some waves.
Charlie: You know, this next one started out as a pure bootleg, but our edit of Laid Back’s Baker Man is still today one of our most popular tunes, which even got the nod from Laid Back themselves who loved it and released it officially! Tim and John are awesome guys and truly LAID BACK (laughs). We got to spend some good quality time with them in their hometown of Copenhagen.
Is there a release that you thought deserved a lot more love than it got at the time?
Eli: It feels like perhaps our second and third albums could have gotten a bit more love. Especially, on the WTF album on Fools Gold, the cut Come To Me, with Sha-Lor – that`s a special one that we wished would have made more of an impact.
Soul Clap seems like an ever-extending family. Who are the key members of your tribe these days aside from you, Eli & Charlie?
Charlie: First and foremost, our manager, Jonathan and the 2plus2 fam and our label manager, Christina. Then there’s Chuck “Da Fonk” Fishman, the mastermind behind the band FSQ. Then of course there are the long-time collaborators like Greg Paulus, Taylor Bense, Morgan Wiley, Life On Planets and some new ones like Seven Davis Jr, XL Middleton and the Illustrious Blacks. And then there are the label artists like Zeynep Erbay, Capofortuna, DJ Rocca, Lele Sacchi, Orio, Liam Mockridge and so many more…. Oh and gotta shout out Mariesa and the Liaison agency, we’re working together for the second time around and have so much history together.
You`ve both moved out of the city and I know you are in different places. Where are you both exactly?
Eli: Charlie’s in Miami and I`m in the Hudson Valley, upstate NY.
How do your lifestyles – both of you – today compare to that of 10 years ago?
Eli: I chilled the fuck out! I still have my “Slave To The Rave” tattoo (laughs) but these days it’s more about family time, time in nature, creative time… practicing meditation and yoga. Trying to make myself a better person and the world a better place.
Charlie: You know would ya believe it, I think I’m might actually be finally getting my shit together (laughs)! My head is the clearest it’s been in ages and I feel like I actually know what I want, which makes me much happier! All this is a recipe for being a better partner to my lady, a better friend and able to spread more love to the world around me.
How do you make it work with you both in different places?
Eli: This can certainly be a challenge, like for example writing new music together which always works best when we’re in the same room, but we do have some hacks. There`s some software we use called Audio Mover, that our homie Phil Moffa suggested, which allows us to listen to 320 mp3 quality audio in almost real time. This way only one person steers the ship, but we can both listen remotely! But besides music, yeah living in two different places results in us living very separate lives, but we always manage to find a way to bring it back in the name of Soul Clap!
Do you enjoy traveling and gigs still as much as you always have, or are a few easier located jobs, and earlier nights more welcome?
Eli: I still love any kind of gig. Early night. Late night. Playing disco to old heads. Playing UKG to kids. Whatever really. As long as I can get out and dance and share music with people… it’s the best!
Charlie: I feel like I appreciate my gigs more and more as time passes. It’s just such a privilege to be able to get behind the decks and rock out and call it a job. I don’t think I have a favorite hour to DJ but I have to admit that when the gigs come back to back to back, sleep is more important to me than ever before.
How do you guys go about finding new music to play? What is your preferred method?
Eli: Digging for records always wins. During the pandemic I didn’t get to go to record shops for over a year, so I did a lot of digging through my own crates, playing things that I`d forgotten about on my live streams. That was fun, but getting back to Europe and hitting my favourite shops to buy new music was the best. I went with an empty record bag, filled it up and then still had to ship a bunch! I got to hit Serendeepity in Milan, OYE and Sound Metaphors in Berlin, Love Vinyl and Phonica in London, Rush Hour in Amsterdam and more… Nothing beats finding a gem on wax, and also the social time at record stores is unbeatable.
Charlie: Yes, vinyl is still king. I don’t mind buying wax online at all. I use Discogs, it helps if you know what you’re looking for, but, for example, if you buy something and want to dig what else you might have missed by that artist or on the same label, then bam it’s all there! Then of course the digital revolution that is Bandcamp has been a joy for discovering new music. I buy the bulk of my digital music from there, alongside the tidal wave of promos that come flowing in daily. It can feel overwhelming but there’s always something good in there, especially if it comes from on the ball outfits like Shine PR.
What new artists do you feel have really got something at this moment?
Eli: Here’s some new ones and some that have been around but don’t get enough love yet… Jitwam, 79.5, Say She She, Choosy Lover, Rochelle Jordan, Nu Genea, Treyzz, Saucy Lady, p-rallel, dreamcastmoe…
Charlie: Conclave, Da Chick, Zopelar, Ian Fink, Jon Dixon, Ladymonix, Musclecars, INVT…
Who are the artists that you regard as legends? What artists from the past have directly inspired and impacted the world of Soul Clap?
Eli: There are so many artists that are absolute LEGENDS of House that have deeply influenced us in creating Soul Clap, people that we are lucky enough to today call peers and friends. Louie Vega & Kenny Dope, Roy Davis Jr, Armand Van Helden, Josh Wink, Doc Martin and Felix Da Housecat for example.
Charlie: Then bridging the gap into the world of funk and soul and beyond, we have people like George Clinton, Nona Hendryx and Amp Fiddler, who we’ve worked with directly, and they still continue to shape our tastes and impact our world! These folks should all be considered legends for their contribution.
Having known each other for over a decade do you think you have a kind of telepathy between you when you play?
Eli: Actually the answer to this question is yes! There are often times when we cue up the same record or pick the same next record.
Charlie: Working together for so long, there`s a lot of creative overlap and brain synapse linkage thru the musical ether!
Do your tastes – when A&R ing for the label- sync? What roles do you both play in the A&R aspect?
Eli: I guess over the years I’ve done a lot more of the A&R, but Charlie is still very much involved before we move forward with the bigger projects. These days Charlie is stepping up his A&R game, focusing especially on bringing in music for our House of EFUNK sub-label that focuses more on the house / DJ side.
Charlie: I just signed great records from Doc Martin and Josh Wink, two of our all-time favorites. I think that illustrates the differences.
Eli: Charlie has a better ear more straight-ahead club music and I’m looking a bit more for funky and eclectic new sounds.
Soul Clap records has put out some great stuff over the last few years. From your EFunk releases to your Italian comps. I`ve particularly enjoyed the Italo Funk comps. What`s your connection to Italy?
Eli: The Italo Funk compilations began like any good Italian story… over a meal! We were in Reggio Emilia playing a gig with Low Heads, and a bunch of homies from the area came and joined us for dinner: DJ Rocca, Ricky from Funk Rimini, Rame from Capofortuna. We were talking about how we have so much love for Italy and vice-versa, and realized that we had to make it official with a compilation on Soul Clap Records. We have deep roots in Italy thanks to our crew in Milan, Bologna and beyond, Lele Sacchi, Cristian Croce, Serendeepity Records and Uovo and Rame from Pastaboys.
Is there going to be a third one?
Charlie: We certainly hope so, Italy is a place that`s just flowing with great music and culture! It`s also, one of our favourite countries to visit and perform in.
You have always released your music on vinyl format. Does this format remain crucial for you for the future?
Eli: Vinyl will always be our first love. However, with my climate work I`ve been learning about the terrible ecological impacts of the production process. “Vinyl” gets its name from the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic material that records are made of. PVC is a petroleum-based material often produced under terrible working conditions, and with toxic byproducts that pollute the communities where it`s made. Luckily there are companies that are working on better production processes and material for pressing vinyl, like Evolution Music who have developed a bioplastic material for records. But we need to push to make serious changes as quickly as possible.
This month Soul Clap releases it’s 11 Year Anniversary compilation. The album is so heavy I almost dropped my laptop… and the remixes are pretty amazing too! I particularly like the Collen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy remix. Do you guys all know each other from Boston?
Charlie: Eli connected with Colleen via The Loft in NYC. She’s one of the proteges of David Mancuso and carries on his spirit. It was only after getting to hang out that we made the Boston connection. Eli and Colleen got deep on that topic on when he was a guest on her radio show.
The lyrics on The Fitness & Pony track are very risqué! Ha. Pure filth in fact. But seriously… Such a cool track. I don’t know so much about the artist or the remixer, fill me in..
Eli: The Fitness is Darien Pons, Pony is Ian Placentino and these two absolute gems are some of Montreals finest!
Charlie: Initially we met through mutual friends and they quickly stole our hearts as kind, loving, hard-working and extraordinarily talented artists; the exact type of personalities you would hope to join a collective.
Eli: The remixer on this project, Afriqua is Adam Longman Parker, a born Virginian transplanted to Berlin after a stint studying concert piano at Royal Academy of Music in London. Afriqua is a powerful talent who released his debut LP in 2019 on the legendary R&S Recordings.
Funk, Soul, house grooves have been the signature sonics of Soul Clap. How do you see the sound of SC evolving?
Eli: Well, we’re certainly always evolving, but perhaps not necessarily in a linear direction. In some ways a true evolution for Soul Clap is a deeper mastery of our original impetus, so in that sense perhaps the growth is cyclical, like we expand outward to pick up new influences and techniques but always bring that back and apply to the source inspiration.
You’ve remained on top of your game for over a decade, when a ton of other artists have come and gone. What do you think has kept you in the game for so long?
Eli: A deep love of the music and a respect and appreciation for the culture. Plus, I love to DANCE. We’ve been doing this since we were kids and we know it’s for life.
Charlie: Thank you for such a compliment! I remember speaking to one of our heroes, Todd Terry, about how to stay so committed to house music for so long, and he looked at me with a smile and said “Charlie, it’s all we know!” (laughs) This really resonated, at some point I`ll just look in the mirror and say, shit… I’m HOUSE and I’m PROUD! I’ve got so much more to share and say and do in this industry before I’m through, in fact in a way it feels like I`m just getting started.
What are you working on for the rest of the year?
Eli: I’m having my second kid in March! Then my master’s thesis on developing a framework for a climate pledge in the electronic dance music industry is due in May, and I graduate the day before our annual House of EFUNK party at the Movement Festival in Detroit. After that I’m finishing building and setting up my studio in my garage, and getting deep on making music that connects with nature and climate action. I’m excited to be focusing on playing more around New York City, and other gigs that I can get to by car or train, Boston, Philly, DC, Richmond… Just building locally and enjoying my family and community.
Charlie: Yes indeed very happy for Eli to have such a blessing with his family and proud of him for his climate work! I’m equally excited to focus in on these “residencies” in 2023, but also very eager to get back out there on the road outside of North America and reconnect with so many wonderful parts of the world that suddenly felt quite distant during the pandemic! So, while Eli is focused at home, I’ll be out there representing for Soul Clap on the road. Also I’ve been writing music and remixing like mad under my Charlie Soul Clap moniker. I’ve got a solo remix on our 11 year compilation, and another solo project coming out with Life On Planets and Greg Paulus on Nervous records, I’ve remixed the Kerri Chandler collaboration, and the Moodymann collaboration from Louie Vega’s last Expansions NYC album on Nervous, I’ve got an E.P. with Doc Martin coming out on our House Of EFUNK imprint, and a collaborative E.P. with Amp Fiddler in tow… Oh and then there’s the side project I’ve got going with Tom Trago called Compass! We’re 2 releases in with a follow up E.P., all released in conjunction with Amsterdam’s Rush Hour Records. So yeah, MUSIC continues to be my path!
I must ask. Most people do a 10-year comp. What’s the reason for 11?
Charlie: We always manage to do things differently (laughs), but seriously the pandemic came and slapped us right upside the head in terms of anniversaries, so we’re celebrating our 10th year as an 11th year.
Eli: Actually we’ve been Soul Clap since 2001 officially, so we’re also celebrating 20+ years in this wonderful world of House!
Soul Clap’s 11th Anniversary compilation is out now, and can be ordered direct from the artists via Bandcamp.