BPM INTERVIEW: Heart and Soul Clap of Brooklyn

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Hanging with Soul Clap on the Roof deck of Canibal Royal (Photo by Ashlyn Fulton)

When we met up with Eli Goldstein and Charles Levine at Canibal Royal, the two looked as though they had just ransacked a thrift shop on Bedford Ave. Goldstein’s retro jumpsuit, aviator glasses and thick black beard made him instantly recognizable amidst a crowd of performers hanging backstage. To his side, I see the approachable Levine wearing a colorful, geometrically inspired button-up paired with his signature smile. He went in for a kiss on the cheek before making introductions.

It was Soul Clap‘s sixth annual appearance at The BPM Festival in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Once again billed as a top act on Crew Love lineup, the two were most certainly in their element, despite the fact that they would be taking the stage earlier than expected. Former neighbors Greg Paulus and Nick DeBruyn (No Regular Play) were running late due to flight delays. But this little switch up caused them no sweat. After all, these two are pros.

Since 2001, Goldstein and Levine have offered their funky perspective to America’s house music scene. Largely inspired by the 70s disco and funk era, Soul Clap has managed to solidify their voice in a crowded space. Now living in Brooklyn (by way of Beantown) they are keeping the spirit alive by participating in local collaborations and playing major music events, from steamy warehouse raves to sold-out club shows.

While Soul Clap’s musicianship has undoubtedly shaped the borough, their reach goes far beyond Brooklyn night life. These guys are men about town, having boasted residencies at numerous New York nightclubs and making regular appearances at citywide festivals throughout the year. Plus, Goldstein has recently dipped his toes into culinary endeavors with the opening of Black Flamingo – a vegan-friendly Latin haunt and disco cave located  near the Marcy Ave. M stop at 168 Borinquen Place.

See what I mean? Vintage gear. Veggie tacos. Vinyl. Their craft might bring them to scenic spots around the globe, but it’s easy to see why these boys just belong in Brooklyn. We found a quiet spot on the beach club’s top deck to discuss their foundations, Funk Bomb, and of course, fashion.

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Photo by Ashlyn Fulton

FW: 2016 was huge for Soul Clap! You released a new album, you played a sold out New Year’s Eve party at Good Room . . . how did it feel to close out the year?

Charles: It was a crazy year, 2016! It’s true. Musically, it had been four years since the last album, so that was a big accomplishment. Plus, it was full of a lot of exciting memorable firsts for us, like playing Coachella for the first time.

Eli: For us, 2016 was definitely significant. We did a track with Louie Vega on his album which got nominated for a Grammy.

FW: Whoa, Grammy nominated artists, Soul Clap!

Charles and Eli: Well . . . (laughs)

Eli: We don’t actually get a Grammy. If the song wins a Grammy, then the engineers get one, for sure. Now, if it gets a platinum or gold disc, then we get that.

Charles: So we don’t get the statue, but we get credit as being on a Grammy nominated album. Whatever, we can say we’re grammy winners. We’ll have to print some statues on 3-D printers. In fact, let’s print all kinds of awards! (laughs) So there were those high points, and then, with Prince dying and us coming around and doing a tribute to him – it really was a pretty impactful time. We experienced lots of big things in a very weighted musical year. 

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Sean and Megan catch up with Soul Clap at BPM Festival (Photo by Ashlyn Fulton)

FW: I remember last year during BPM, the Crew Love party took place the day after Bowie died. It was very sad, but wow, it made for a great day of music!

Eli: Yes, that was super emotional. It was a celebration of his achievements, and of course, the power of music. It’s great to celebrate [the legends]. Being DJs, it really gives us the power to play their music and celebrate artists of the past. Colonel Abrams was the last one big one that we lost. Surprisingly enough, not as many people seemed to know a whole lot about him. He was an 80s funk and soul singer, who turned into a significant voice in house music.

FW: So you’re not going to play a Leonard Cohen heavy set today then?

Eli: You know, he died right after Trump got elected. That was especially demoralizing. I was playing Leonard Cohen tracks that weekend. And, David Mancuso! None of this [club] culture would be here without Mancuso. He reminds us what the core of this whole dance music thing is supposed to be: friends coming together in a safe comfortable space, to really come together and dance and be free. It’s the heart of it, you know. Him passing really reminds us of that.

FW: Speaking of inspirations, what inspired you two to record Funk Bomb?

Charles: It started as a jam session between Eli and myself at my house. The first synth we ever had was the Korg MS2000, and I was dialing in on that. [Meanwhile,] Eli was laying down some awesome drum stuff, and programming samples. So it all began as just that one synth and us.

Eli: We started calling those beats the MS2000-Funk Bomb. But, we went ahead and knocked that off because it was way too nerdy.

Charles: We created those sounds, and then ended up at Red Bull Studios. Billy Bass Nelson from Funkadelic came in and did the bass line. Wiley from Midnight Magic came and played some keys, and then John King –  he’s another guy in Crew Love – a fantastic jazz pianist who grew up with Greg Paulus and Nick DeBruyn from No Regular Play, brought in a jazz element. We filled it all out at Red Bull, and it took on a life of its own. Doc Martin, who we brought [with us] on Holy Ship, just did a remix of Funk Bomb, which will come out soon.

FW: You just mentioned fellow Brooklyners, No Regular Play. How have your close ties to Brooklyn helped you in your collaborative efforts?

Eli: The whole Crew Love thing started with Wolf+Lamb at the Marcy Hotel in Williamsburg. That started back in 2005 I believe, and then closed in 2015.

FW: And the Marcy Hotel was akin to an artist co-op, correct?

Charles: Artist co-op? Yeah, pretty close.

Eli: It was a building, and the first floor was a space that’s now the Boiler Room. Actually, we just did a Boiler Room event there recently. Zev and Gadi of Wolf + Lamb kind of developed the space and had friends move into the apartments. They eventually took over the whole building and they were throwing parties. It became a space for an extended family of artists and musicians to stay when they were coming through New York. Then we came into the picture around 2008. The first round was the Vision Quest guys (Ryan Crossen, Shaun Reeves, Lee Curtis, Seth Troxler). So then we arrived, and No Regular Play came in the second wave as well. We were all working together. That was the center for collaboration and doing parties, and that developed into the Crew Love collective.

Charles: And circling back to Funk Bomb – all of those studio musicians are New York-based. Without the New York connections, those collaborations might not have ever happened.

FW: So the setting isn’t the Marcy Hotel anymore, but you’re still playing parties in New York all the time. We had a great time at I Feel Love, and then you sold-out Good Room on NYE! 

Eli: Good Room was great. New Years is always kind of weighted, because you get the crowd who doesn’t always go out. But that was a really good vibe. We had another good party with the MATTE Project at The Marina [in Inwood].

Charles: That was pretty dope, that was a real Crew Love party in New York, and the venue is awesome because you’re dancing in the sand! Plus we did a lot of cool stuff at Output, and it was a big year for Eli’s club, Black Flamingo.

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Black Flamingo Night Club (Photo credit: Insomniac)

FW: Yeah, how’s that going? I know you had your album release party there late last year.

Eli: It’s been going really well! It’s my baby. There are a bunch of investors, and this guy Bryce who’s the GM and the heart and soul that makes it tick. I do the bookings and help with all that.

FW: And what is Black Flamingo bringing to Brooklyn that hasn’t been served before?

Eli: Things happen so fast in New York, but when we opened the doors a year and a half ago there weren’t any small bars paying warmer electronic music like house and disco. You had Bossa Nova in Bushwick, but that was about it. We wanted a DJ spot that was intimate but focused on house and disco. Black Flamingo is in Williamsburg, right by the bridge.

FW: We can get down with that. Did you set a fierce dress code, because we have to know, what is the inspiration behind your outfits? Every time we see you guys, you bring something fun. You know, you’re kind of like the “David Bowies” of house music!

Eli: Oh wow, that’s such a compliment! Vintage shopping is a key element, late 80s early 90s, era specifically, Charles’ shirt we got in Tokyo at this place called Pin Nap.

Charles: Yep. Pin. Nap. The dude who works there is very funny. He’s a Japanese guy with a full afro, and he’s got a bunch of 90s nostalgia gear. He’s always like, “Come. Come. Let me show you.” He’s got lots of Alf.

Eli: That place is absolutely smashing. They have a whole Cosby sweater section. Every time we go to Tokyo we’ve ended up in that spot.

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FW: So he’s like your wacky clothes dealer?

Eli: For sure. The other place I love is KOKO ROKOKO. That’s my main go-to in Chicago. They buy a bunch of awesome 80s and 90s stuff, plus they are friends from Boston. I don’t want to give away too much of the secret, but I always want to shout them out, because it’s one of the best places in the world!

FW: So what’s next for you guys? Gonna chill after the big year, or just keep chugging along?

Charles: We’re just going to keep on pushing!

Eli: We’ve been playing around with a live element, which we’ll showcase at some festivals this summer, like Movement and Electric Forest.  That’s been new for us, and that really came [to fruition] while we were working on the album. We’ve got some new releases coming out on Classic Records. Classic started with Derrick Carter and Luke Solomon. It was big in the early 2000s, but they are back now, so we’re excited to be doing house records for them. Also we’re doing a Fabric mix that’s coming out in April.

Charles: And that was another big thing that shook the scene – Fabric closing, and then reopening! Wow, I guess 2016 really was a weird year.

FW: . . . And with that, I think we can all agree that 2017 is off to a pretty weird start as well. Thanks Trump.

In the sake of tradition, Soul Clap shows no signs of slowing down. You can catch Eli Goldstein vs. Eli Escobar at Black Flamingo this Saturday, February 25th. You can also catch Soul Clap Records veteran Ahmed Hashid’s special birthday set at the Bushwick A/V event at Studio 299 next weekend.

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