The multi-venue, multi-night, so-close-we-can-almost-touch-it Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival is almost upon us, with the likes of Floating Points, Daniel Avery, Virginia, Regis, Matrixxman, Afrika Bambaataa and MK among the many aural delights in store for the County of Kings' after-dark revelers. (Peep here for the full lineup.) One of the fest's most anticipated parties features a pair of house music's best-loved duos, Masters at Work and Soul Clap, who will be spinning at Verboten on Friday, November 6. MAW needs little in the way of introduction—suffice it to say that the team of Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez and Louie Vega have been among house's most influential figures for the past two and a half decades. Soul Clap's Eli "Elyte" Goldstein and Charlie "Cnyce" Levine—currently touring in support of their new, and excellent, Watergate 19 mix-CD—are, relatively speaking, new jacks, but since leaving their native Boston and rising through the ranks of Williamsburg's Wolf & Lamb/Marcy Hotel scene in the late '00s, they've done themselves proud. After all, how many other young production units can lay claim to having worked with George Clinton and his P-Funk comrades? (Answer: not very many.) In the run-up to this Friday's get-down, the two twosomes lobbed a few questions back and forth, and here are the results.
Masters at Work interview Soul Clap
When and where did you guys meet? What qualities did you see in each other musically and as DJs? How did you dress at that time? Let’s hear about the attire.
Levine: The first time I ever met Eli was outside in the parking lot of a rave called All Out Sunshine held at some country club in Connecticut. I was in high school—it was about 1997, and a very rave-y free time! We were wearing very big pants back then. Eventually, though, we had a mutual friend who really properly introduced us. His name was Vegan Pete, a.k.a. Hardcore Pete. Back then, there was a lot of crossover between the hardcore punk-rock scene and the rave scene in Boston. Pete knew both of us were DJs from the neighboring towns of Brookline and Cambridge, and thought we’d hit it off. He was right–that was almost 20 years ago!
Goldstein: I was probably wearing UFO fat pants, a baggy Polo shirt and my hat to the side. We were both in high school and learning how to DJ, and at that time there weren't so many DJs so that really drew us to each other. Musically, Charlie was playing more disco house, and myself more garage, so we met in the middle. Plus we both loved jungle, so that helped.
When writing a track or song, how does the process work? What are each of your contributions when making a record?
Levine: I’ve typically lead the music writing for us, but no Soul Clap production is complete without both of our passion and contributions. I tend to do melodies, basslines, vocals, etc., and the initial sequencing. Then Eli comes in, we work on getting the final arrangement, and he heads up the mixing and engineering to get that Soul Clap sound.
"It still blows my mind to this day that we had the opportunity to connect to the Mothership!"
Goldstein: Charlie comes up with a lot of the ideas or we sit down and jam and come up with something together. I'm much more about drum programming and finding samples. He plays and sings. Then I do the engineering and mix down.
Tell us about your experience with George Clinton and the Funkadelic/Parliament family at their studios in Tallahassee.
Levine: It still blows my mind to this day that we had the opportunity to connect to the Mothership! All I can say is that we not only ended up with a record with George (and Sly Stone for that matter), but also with the incredible friendship of Chuck “Da Fonk” Fishman and Sa’D “The Hourchild” Ali (2 of the founding members of FSQ). These are the guys that invited us to What? Studios in Tallahassee, Florida where we initially went just to meet George and see the vault where they keep all of the multitrack tapes of original recordings of P-Funk. I mean, it was like stepping into P-heaven, there was so much history around us! We began working there, jamming with George to get a feel for each other’s style, but mostly working with the young guys hanging around the studio in Tally– like the young producer Ricky Tan, current p-funk keyboardist Danny Bedrosian, and many others. But it was the session at Red Bull studios in Los Angeles about a year later that everything came together and we actually recorded "In Da Kar”, “Shake The Gate (Samplecopydoopitthenweloopittostupid)” and “Peep This” with Nick Monaco.
Goldstein: It really has been of the most amazing experiences of my life! We went down to Tally with no expectations and ended up producing two on the first Funkadelic album in 30 years, plus getting an EP for our label. George is still a powerhouse in the studio, and we learned so much from him. Working with such a musical inspiration and legend has been amazing, as well as becoming part of the P-Funk family. And the two guys who made it happen–Chuck “Da Fonk” Fishman and Sa'd "The Hourchild" Ali– are basically our uncles now.
When DJing at a gig, how do you guys decide to start your set when at a festival or club?
Levine: Prepping for clubs versus fests require two different approaches. That’s mostly because at a club we have lots of time to stretch out, versus when we play a festival, when we only have an hour or two to prove our point. At a fest, we usually choose from an agreed-upon body of music that reflects where we’re at and the current Crew Love sound. At the club, it could go any which way.
Goldstein: For club sets, I love to play all night. Opening up a room when no one is there is one of my favorite times to DJ. You really get to feel out the room and the sound system. Play really creative music and set the vibe for the night. Playing at a festival is much more about choosing the current jams and getting our musical message across in a shorter time.
Clubs or festivals? Favorite club, favorite festival?
Levine: That’s a tough question to answer because both scenarios have seen some triumphant moments. Like for example, it feels like time is standing still when the magic is really happening at clubs like Trouw that used to be open in Amsterdam, or the old Club Eleven in Tokyo…when you’re playing all night long and really going on a journey. But then at the festival, with so many people in one place like at Movement in Detroit, everybody’s joining into the same energy. You’ve got your time to shine, but only for a short period, so you gotta work it! It’s a fantastic challenge!
Goldstein:The Electric Pickle in Miami is still one of the best clubs in the U.S. TV Lounge in Detroit is great too. Watergate in Berlin is always amazing. And my favorite festivals are Movement Detroit and Mi Casa Holiday in Mexico.
Whiskey or j-ski?
Analog keyboards or plug ins, and why?
Levine: I wrote some of my favorite Soul Clap stuff using the Mini V soft synth from Arturia, and it taught me the basic ins-and-outs of an actual Mini Moog, so in that way the plug-ins are such a tremendous learning tool. Plus the versatility of using a virtual synth is almost limitless. But bringing home an analog piece, especially a vintage one from another time…there’s just something so special and sexy about it and it just sounds like nothing else! Once we started buying them, it quickly became a passionate obsession. We’ve got a nice collection going, but there is sooooo much out there, it’s one of my favorite parts of this job!
Goldstein: Soft synths are super powerful and convenient for producing when traveling. But I love the classic sound of analog and it’s so great to have everything at your fingertips with synths. Plus, analog synths are a great way to learn about the history of electronic music and production.
Tell us about this new spot we're hearing about in Brooklyn, Black Flamingo.
Goldstein: I'm the music director at Black Flamingo. It's a vegetarian restaurant and cocktail bar upstairs, and small basement club downstairs. We have classic Klipsch Speakers, Macintosh amps, and wood walls so vinyl sounds warm and amazing.
Levine: Hats off to Eli and his team for opening this incredible spot... and to his wife Andrea for designing such a delicious menu! The spot is dope, classy, and has already made quite a name for itself. I’m lucky to have another incredible hang out to call home!
Two favorite Masters at Work records?
Levine: Man! That’s a tough one… off the top of my head I’m hearing Voices' "Voices In My Mind" (MAW Mix) and Mafikizolo's "Loot" (Afrikan MIx). There are really too many!
Your favorite all-time vinyl album (meaning your all-time vinyl album where you like the entire album beginning to end and it’s a timeless piece for you)?
Levine: For me, it’s an even tie, so I’m gonna give a two-part answer but the band has got to be Funkadelic—I just can’t decide between Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On or Let’s Take It To The Stage. But those two albums made me the proud freak I am today!
Goldstein: Miles Davis—Bitches Brew.
Soul Clap interviews Masters at Work.
What was it like working with Tito Puente?
Gonzalez:Tito Puente was amazing to work with—his energy, his thought process—just vibe, period—was really dope and inspiring. This is a musician who had done it all at that point…until us—and did some house music as well.
Vega: It was surreal. When we first met him, they introduced us and said, “Meet these guys, they are big dance producers,” and he said, “Dance music, now that’s a big word!” But then he laughed and said, “Let’s do it!” His nickname in the studio was One-Take Tito, which is why you see sometimes on versions of tracks we recorded having that name. Tito was really down-to-earth and warm, and we became good friends and family for many years, and recorded several records together.
Kenny, we hear you are a collector of classic cars. What are you whipping?
Gonzalez: I have a '67 Impala convertible and a '52 Ford F1 pickup.
Louie, where do you get your hats?
Vega: I collect many hats, but I do like Bailey’s Hats and I order them online. Some deliveries come with up to 15 hats at a time!
Louie, talk to us about your fly-ass roller skates.
Vega: Aha, yes, I roller-skated for many years back in the day. I thought I forgot, but I went out with Anane Vega and some of our friends, and caught the bug again to skate. So I went and bought a new pair–went original, like having an original Moog in the studio. Ridell Boot 297 with a Snyder plate and All American white wheels. I’m back in the rinks workin’ the wood!!
Where did you two meet?
Vega: Kenny and I met through a mutual friend, Todd Terry. He introduced us back in 1990 when I was playing at a club called Roseland after my Studio 54 and Hearthrob residencies. Todd Terry I knew back in ‘86 when he first made records like Royal House, Todd Terry Project, and Black Riot. He used to bring me reel to reels of his music fresh out of the studio, and I broke them all here in New York City first. I heard a record Kenny did and asked Todd about him, and Todd said he knew Kenny.
Gonzalez: Louie wanted to do a remix of "A Touch of Salsa." It never happened, but we formed the Masters At Work production team, and the rest is history.
Is it true that you two have never performed as Masters at Work in Brooklyn?
Vega: Kenny and I have never played as Masters At Work in Brooklyn at a club. This will be the first time ever and at Verboten along with you both!
What’s the story behind the iconic heads logo?
Gonzalez: My man Kab-One did the original logo that was used on the Cutting Records release. After a while, we placed the heads like that when we formed MAW Records.
Pancakes or waffles?
Gonzalez and Vega: Waffles with some chicken—Roscoe’s-style, LA! We love some chicken and waffles!