As Wolf + Lamb, Zev Eisenberg and Gadi Mizrahi have seen their smooth, stylish take on house and disco recently strike a powerful chord in the world of dance music, elevating them from throwing parties at their own beloved Marcy Hotel in Brooklyn to headlining events all over the globe. In the course of their ascent the two formed an alliance with Charlie Levine and Eli Goldstein, aka Soul Clap, a Boston DJ duo known for their versatility and crowd-pleasing antics. The foursome have since kept up a relentless touring schedule, spreading their often sexy and intimate sound homegrown by a family-like roster of talent on the Wolf + Lamb label, including Nicolas Jaar, Deniz Kurtel, No Regular Play, and Tanner Ross. When K7 Records came knocking asking for an entry in their illustrious DJ Kicks series, the crew made an unusual proposition: Wolf + Lamb vs. Soul Clap. We interviewed the crew on the first night of their DJ Kicks tour in the lobby of New York’s Hudson Hotel prior to that evening’s party at Good Units, the hotel’s multi-level underground venue, with Gadi unfortunately delayed in transit from a gig in Montreal.
Wolf + Lamb vs. Soul Clap DJ Kicks tour returns to NYC this Sunday at Cielo.
Prefix: How did the ‘versus’ concept for the mix arise?
Eli: We were going do some shows together over the winter and Gadi suggested this sort of tag-team wrestling concept even before we did the photo shoot. So when they came to us about the DJ Kicks we had the concept lined up. It was originally going to be two discs, a club mix and an after-hours mix, but then we thought about doing just one when we couldn’t license anything for the after hours mix. We thought ok, we’re just going to do a club mix but then we realized it was 75% our own in-house stuff anyway so we just made it a family affair. But the after-hours second disc exists! Now it’s just an unofficial promo thing, ‘after-hours at the Marcy,’ with some classic pop jams.
Zev: When we starting making the mix we had never really worked as a team before. It turned into a whole orgy of production where there was music being made in every room. At the end it was no longer a ‘versus’, it wasn’t me picking a track, then Charlie picking a track and so on, instead it melted into a group concept. But the wrestling pictures came out pretty fucking awesome.
Prefix: They look very artsy, like David Lachapelle.
Eli: They really turned out more beyond than we had expected. That’s all thanks to Will Calcutt, the Spectral/Ghostly guy, Gadi said we had to get Will for them.
Charlie: We didn’t intend it this way, but it totally turned out like superhero versus supervillain, with matching colors! It looks like Eli and I have the American flag, ‘go get ’em superheroes!’ Then there’s Wolf and Lamb, from New York, they’re the dark and edgy bad guys.
Zev: If you look at the photos, where first it’s two teams and then it’s a dog-pile, it’s almost the whole story of this thing, it started off one way but then everyone ended up in a knot. The crying pictures ended up being the album cover. The whole thing is comedy.
Prefix: The group production process that you guys have going on is quite remarkable, it’s like the Warhol factory. ‘You and I are a group, and you remix it, and then we’re a group, and these other guys remix it..’ How long has it been going on that way?
Eli: As long as I’ve been paying attention to the Wolf and Lamb label it seems like that’s been the philosophy behind it. Someone’s hanging out at the Marcy with Gadi and they make a track, Zev hears it and wants to remix it, and so on, and that’s continued, even though there hasn’t been one physical space. We kinda have it now in Miami but the Marcy was the spot in New York, where everyone came together.
Zev: It was actually Gadi’s idea. First Gadi and I shared a yousendit account, and then Gadi gave it to Lee Foss, and encouraged him to send us stuff. Everyone was using sendspace and it was so unprofessional looking. And then suddenly there was all this traffic! Every day all this stuff was coming off the wire – it was like the CIA tapping into people’s communications – we had access to everyone’s ill music. Once the label grew a little more and we went off into our own distinct sound this became a way that we could keep tabs on one another. Even if I was in India or whatever, everyone was still up-to-date about what everyone else was doing. You could even send a draft – everyone else would get it, you could comment on it, get in there, it really helped foster this community atmosphere. At the Marcy we just had people in the studio constantly, that’s how it became a factory. As for remixing, several times we tried to get other artists to remix the music but it was often so far from the specific vision that Gadi and I had at the time. After doing that several times we decided ‘that’s it, this is on lockdown, we need to restrict it to those who are up on what the sound is right now.’
Prefix: So the yousendit wire is like a little social network.
Zev: in some bizarre way…it’s pretty amazing.
Eli: As DJs it’s helped us so much, in the last year gaining stature and popularity, the ability to have this unique base of music has spoiled us a lot. Most promos are very uninteresting, because what I can get off the wire is way more experimental. More than anything what’s driven us is Gadi and Zev’s creative nurturing – they never told us what to do, even though their vision is specific. It was always ‘try different stuff!’ As a result we have access to this stream of experimentalism, while regular promos aren’t cutting it, they just sound like people keep doing the same thing.
Zev: Sometimes you’ll hear a track that’s a re-interpretation of a sound that you introduced like six months before. It’s very incestuous in a good way. Especially when we have these sets we play that are very specific. It’s hard to find music that fits in so it’s really nice to have this constant stream of music.
Charlie: It also provokes a friendly spirit of competition from a production standpoint. If you see that Nicolas Jaar is sending out track after track after track, you think, ‘well I better step it up and keep contributing.’ Overall we operate best as a collective and this way we can see what directions the others are taking. The bottom line of this DJ Kicks is that it’s body of work that represents almost the entire crew. Without that body of music carrying the compilation there’s no way it could be as dope as it is.
Prefix: The mix is quite fluid, there’s several points where I can’t tell what’s what.
Charlie: That’s Eli’s magic! Master Chops, that’s what we call him.
Eli: Haha I didn’t know that!
Prefix: The organizational difference between the wire and getting promos is that with label promos, someone’s in charge of the label, making decisions about what gets sent out, whereas the wire is more democratic.
Eli: You also are comfortable knowing that other people on the wire aren’t going to share it. After DJing for a long time, my attitude is that I want to have exclusive music, tracks that no one else has – the idea that everyone is sharing everything, I’m not into that. Exclusive tracks are always gonna set you apart as a DJ. With the wire we can still be like that.
Zev: I completely disagree with that but that’s ok [Laughter]. It’s basically Eli and Gadi versus me and I don’t know who else. Someone was once telling me about italo-disco is that the whole thing about it is that nobody else has these records, it’s all super-rare. I don’t see any benefit in that. Somebody else can take your entire collection of music and get booed off the stage. It’s not about the tracks you have – it’s about how Chops weaves that shit together.
Charlie: Yeah but there’s something to be said for having exclusive tunes. When a song is really hot and really amazing with a ton of hype behind it, every Joe-schmo DJ tries to weasel it into their set and therefore play it out! Right now it’s Benoit & Sergio’s ‘Walk and Talk’ – which is on the compilation – it’s the ketamine anthem of the generation! [Laughter] Now there’s a bunch of guys out there wearing it out.
Eli: You see guys play an entire set of instrumental, boring tech-house, and then they play ‘Walk and Talk’ because it’s a hot song.
Zev: This is what I don’t understand. That’s amazing! That’s a good thing for the crowd, instead of getting their heads thumped in all night, they at least get one little ray of sunshine in their souls…I think that’s wonderful. Who cares if it gets worn out? That’s the point of music.
Charlie: I beg to differ! Compare it to another song that’s been around since the seventies and been available to a very small group of people – that song has a longer shelf life.
Eli: With ‘Extravaganza’ shared it digitally, it was only on vinyl. It wasn’t available to purchase, it wasn’t available on promo digitally. You had to make the conscious effort to rip it. So we had about a six month shelf life with that track. With dance music people get tired of stuff so fast. To have that extra time with a vinyl-only release gives you a chance to blow people’s minds before time passes and they’re like “there it is again, there it is again.”
Charlie: It gives you a leg up as a DJ. That’s what the vinyl thing was all about. If you wanted to have ‘Walk and Talk’ as part of your DJ set you had to have it on vinyl. Without physically owning the song it couldn’t be a part of your repertoire. You would scour the earth for that record! And then find it and then rejoice – ‘ooh, now it can be a part of my set.’
Eli: Sorry we’re just preaching now, but digital also means that everybody gets so lazy. I see it in people’s sets. You can just play whatever’s popular on Beatport. Putting in work actually makes you a better DJ, it makes you appreciate more what you’re doing and you can share your appreciation with the crowd. That’s the whole argument. We grew up very differently from Gadi and Zev. Wolf and Lamb started as an open-source label, artists sharing things, working together.
Zev: I had this disagreement with Gadi. There was a point not too long agao when I was on the phone with him right when I got to India. He wanted to make Wolf and Lamb a vinyl-only label and I fought with him tooth and nail. The market is too small as it is, we’re already grasping for straws, so I believe that anything that’s going to pull your cards closer to you is counterproductive. We get six months circulation of all these tracks anyway because we have them before they come out. And then we promo it and our friends get another month or two, and by the time it reaches the public, let everyone play whatever they want, I don’t care. Everyone needs all the help they can get, the more people that have the copy in their iPods, ripped, or downloaded off iTunes, Amazon, Beatport, whatever, the more people will come support the shows and let us blow their brains. That’s my very simplistic way of looking at it – I’ve never been sidetracked – I keep getting flack for this! The vinyl-only thing with edits is about respect for the people whose music you’re editing. The Wolf and Lamb black label never made money – the cost of the vinyl is recuperated by sales, it breaks even. I could put out one black record a month for the rest of my life – I feel completely karmically balanced putting out edits on vinyl because there’s no profit.
Prefix: You’re concerned about getting more people into what you’re doing, but at the same time I recall one time when I overheard you turning down a gig because it was too big.
Zev: That particular deal was just about room size. We’re all up against room size now. Every promoter would rather do it in a much bigger place, but we’re still a little behind in figuring out exactly how to adapt our sets to bigger rooms. That’s what we’re working on right now.
Eli: In some cases I don’t know if it’s possible to play the music we want to play in a big room. Tonight is an eight-hundred person room. Maybe in another six months we’ll be ready for a bigger room where we can play the same stuff and people will be open to it. The key is the ratio of people of the party who are there to see us – not people showing up to a club who are going to wonder ‘where the fuck is my pump-pump-pumping shit?’ We need people who are into the sound. Right now I think eight hundred is the perfect size in New York, which is one of our strongest markets.
Charlie: We’re working on what’s next, to make something that’s truly an experience, more like a show, more like a concert, with lighting and production, trying to meld clubbing with theatrics.
Zev: The opposition to a big place isn’t about keeping it underground. It’s more about the fact that you struggle with a big room. You need faster and harder. We’re all learning tricks. Most people if they get booked to play a big room, they just pack it on a little harder, up the BPM a bit.
Charlie: But it’s intimidating! We’ve seen it at festivals, where DJs who you would think would be used to it come off the stage shaking asking ‘How’d I do?’ ‘Well, you pumped it really hard, and you played it really fast, and you sounded like everybody else, but at least you didn’t get booed off-stage.’ They’re nervous in these big-room or festival environments. They think there’s only one direction to take it.
Eli: That’s why it helps having a partner – there’s always someone to back you up. If a crowd doesn’t respond to a song Charlie’s gonna come and say ‘keep it deep, it’s gonna work.’
Prefix: You have someone on your side – ‘keep the faith! don’t worry!’ It’s like someone spotting you at the gym ‘you can do it!’
Zev: New York is my scene, I know it really well, we’ve been doing parties here for many years. Gadi and I watched the techno scene walk away from our parties. We got down to like ten percent of the original crowd, and then a whole new crowd came in to appreciate what we’re doing now. I think that alot of the people who are coming to our shows now aren’t on the techno circuit – they’re just into this stuff, they don’t really like dance music that much maybe, this temperament works for them – if it was any faster they’d go back to an indie rock show.
Eli: I agree with that completely. The first time we played big cities we were expected to pump it, people were like come on, where’s the energy? The second time around, those people were gone and the people who had a great time the first time brought their friends. So we had a crowd that was there because of what we were doing. It’s more like being in a band. So many big-room DJs get interchangeable. I don’t wanna dis DJs who work that way – different people have different priorities. We’re more about pushing boundaries and educating people, maybe not having people go crazy. What we’re doing is different, and we’re trying to push it as far as we can.
Zev: None of us have a choice. It’s a drag if the crowd doesn’t get what you’re trying to do, but it’s worse is if you ended up playing what you didn’t want to play and the crowd was into it, and you feel like a cheap slut. If you play to a venue and they don’t get your sound, talk to your agent about being more careful next time. In the last year or two, it’s been getting better, the venues and parties are much more suited to our sound. Gadi and I played five years ago in Costa Rica and cleaned the fuckin’ place out. Cleaned it out. We were the last two people standing there. We didn’t have any trance with us to play.
Prefix: The sound on the DJ Kicks definitely sounds like a body of work made by a group of people. On the whole it feels chill and downtempo, it’s pulling elements from hip-hop, it’s like an instrumental hip-hop tape.
Zev: Charlie and Eli have a big advantage that they know the slow jams that people go crazy for – they can work a room at like 100 BPM. Gadi comes from hip-hop. Everyone’s influences work together and push each other forward. A lot of us maybe sometimes wanna make a track that’s like 114 but we have to aim a little higher. With this mix we knew we could go a little more downtempo and we had an outlet ready for it.
Prefix: It’s a super headphone record. I have a lot of record nerd friends who wouldn’t consider themselves house fans at all, they’re more soul and jazz and reggae types, and I feel like I can play this for them and they’ll dig it.
Eli: That’s definitely one of the goals in doing a DJ Kicks. We all grew up listening to them. From Carl Craig onwards, that was the first one I caught. Then I heard Kruder & Dorfmeister, DJ Cam, Nightmares on Wax – the series kept expanding in different directions. For me part of the goal of doing this was to do something that can stand alongside those – a slew of tempos and styles that’s still together as a homogenous work.
Zev: There’s a lot of people that can’t tolerate techno. We started off on the techno circuit, but now we’re coming into our own, getting away from that, the music is increasingly more marketable, let’s say, to a broader audience – the more soulful, the more vocals, the slower things go.
Prefix: The other aspect that feels kind of hip-hop on this mix is that it’s like two minutes of each track.
Eli: That’s something else that Charlie and I have tried to bring to our dance music mixes – finding the core of the song. Find the bit that’s gonna work on the mix, it’s not about the track, it’s about keeping it moving.
Prefix: I have a question for Charlie. Who is Lonely C?
Charlie: Lonely C is a nickname that Gadi gave me that stuck for this record. I had been working on solo stuff, not sure how to present it. I had a moment over the summer with this new life of traveling and being in the spotlight, and for me being more insecure on the outside than Eli, I maybe had a more difficult time getting used to it. Out of this there came a creative burst. It was coming from a very vulnerable place, I’ve always wanted to sing on a record, which takes some guts. So I found a middle ground with this altered voice, this child voice. Look, there was something on a wall in Berlin hotel that said “I love you but I’ve chosen disco.” For a lot of DJs and musicians you have to choose between your craft and your happiness and this track is speaking to that.
Prefix: It reminds me of 808’s and Heartbreak, where you’re listening to a sad robot. Who doesn’t like that? Or Berlin-era Bowie – coming from a vulnerable place, and needing to become a machine to express it.
Eli: This is more like becoming a muppet.
Charlie: Becoming a muppet..and becoming a man! [Laughter]
Eli: it’s a darkly comic track.
Charlie: There’s a follow-up to this song that will be on the Soul Clap album with this other guy from Boston, Black Orpheus, he’s also singing in like a weird child’s voice. Maybe robot children voices are the new trend.
Upcoming 2011 Tour Dates:
05.08 New York, NY: Cielo
05.12 Vancouver, Canada: Fivesixty
05.13 Seattle, WA: Chop Suey
05.14 San Francisco, CA: Public Works
05.15 Los Angeles, US: Standard Downtown Rooftop
05.20 Chicago, IL: Smart Bar
05.22 Toronto, Canada: Footwork
05.27 Mexico City, Mexico: Convadonga
05.29 Detroit, MI: DEMF