In the summer of 1996, when Eli Goldstein was 14, he discovered something that would quite literally change the course of his life. Was it politics? The writings of the Beat generation? Drugs? Vegetarianism? No. It was two-step garage. Though that obviously sounds a bit fatuous, it's kind of fair to say that it did. Change the course of his life, that is. Without it, he might not have bonded in such a covalent fashion with partner in sonic shenanigans Charlie Levin, and in turn they might not have formed the dancefloor dominating duo that we now know as Soul Clap.
Goldstein would visit the UK with his family when he was young. His dad Gary Goldstein is a physics professor with a collaborator at Oxford, so each summer the family would decamp across the pond and generally visit London for a spell too.
“I never slept a lot as a kid, so I'd be up late listening to the radio, and I started hearing this music, like UK dance music,” he says. “I'd picked up this issue of Muzik magazine, now defunct, and it had on the cover a Dreem Teem mix CD. I was into hip-hop, I was into jungle, I was into house, but that UK garage sound, with the basslines, it felt like it had all those elements put together. It grabbed me.”
He immediately started buying up as much UK garage as he could find, first from HMV on Oxford Street and also from Massive Records in Oxford, then specialist stores like City Sounds and Croydon's influential Big Apple. “You could order online from them, and I guess this was really early on in the days of online ordering,” he says. “Any money I made working I would spend on vinyl. I'd be spending everything on records.”
In his search for all things UK and garage, Levin came across a mix album, blended by UK garage godfather Grant Nelson and Norris 'Da Boss' Windross, called 'Ride the Underground'. It just so happened that it featured a host of tracks from Nelson's Nice N' Ripe, the label he founded with George Power in 1993. A rather specific long distance love affair was born between Goldstein and Levin, and the label pioneering UK garage sounds a few thousand miles across the Atlantic.
The pair knew each other from high school in Boston. Their mutual buddy Vegan Pete introduced them and they'd go to all-ages punk concerts. But it was later, through a shared love of the garage sound, one they would both be found crate-digging for in their local store Vinyl Connection, that galvanized their friendship. “It was searching for Nice N' Ripe records that lead us there,” says Levin. “We ended up finding a bunch there, on our own turf. It was this quest that brought us together early on.”
“It was perfect, because Charlie was into a more disco-house kind of sound, and Nice N' Ripe really brought it all together in a way that no other label really had,” adds Goldstein.
When Charlie went off to college in Los Angeles, he took with him a mixtape that Eli had done with UK garage classics on one side, and two-step classics on the other. “It was literally a cassette tape,” says Levin. “I brought it to LA and started bumping it at college and all my college friends went bananas. No one had ever heard anything like it. A lot of them hadn't even heard much dance music, let alone something so special. So I ended up dubbing copies of this tape and rolling it out to everyone. We all knew the words to all these UK garage jams!”
When it came to Levin's senior year at college, he seized an opportunity to study abroad and came to London. Through trawling for garage, he'd come across the label and now management and booking agent MN2S, or Milk N 2 Sugars as it was then known, exponents of house and garage in the capital. He cold-called owner Sharron Elkabas offering to intern and came to the planet's UK garage capital for six months.
“It was the love of garage which led me to this internship, which in turn taught me so much about the music industry,” he says. They offered him a full-time position once his internship was over, but immigration laws meant that he was shipped back to the US instead. It was at that point that he decided to 'roll the dice' and return to work with Goldstein. Once again, it was garage music that appeared to be pulling them together.
They'd both travel to the Miami Winter Music Conference to see Nelson play when he was over plugging his Swing City label, which followed Nice N' Ripe. Goldstein, who was also immersed in drum & bass — at this stage working in a dedicated drum & bass record store in Boston — was convinced that UK two-step, with its R&B flavours, was about to explode in the US. But it never took root. They would be found playing tracks like Tina Moore's standard 'Never Gonna Let You Go' in side-rooms at drum & bass nights like The Ritz at Venu. “It should have blown up,” says Goldstein.
“I guess it took 10 years and hip-hop dying to leave a place for dubstep to become the new pop music in America.” The vacuum came a little too late for garage and two-step, then.
Searching for material to play was easier said than done. It was a case of expensive postal costs from UK record shops, eBay, and the odd rare find in the US. “You couldn't find that stuff in the US at all,” says Goldstein. “Maybe at a used record store you'd find older stuff that someone had sold, but you didn't get any of the new garage here.”
Fast forward 10 years, and Soul Clap are unearthing those roots. Having got hold of the entire Nice N' Ripe catalogue, recently bought up by MN2s and veteran London music publisher Westbury Music, they've compiled 'Nice N' Ripe All-Stars', a retrospective album taking in classics from Grant Nelson's pivotal label and featuring a handful of re-edits by the Soul Clap boys themselves too. It's been a labour of love. “This music has always spoken to me, like so deep in my psyche, in my heart and soul.
To me it's still the ultimate dance music. It just brings everything together in a really positive, danceable way,” says Goldstein. “I feel there's a lot of garage nostalgia in music right now, even if people don't want to talk about it so much. For kids who were a little younger than me, garage wasn't cool when they got into dance music. But for me, I've never had any down points, just unadulterated love for it.”
The album features many of the cornerstone tracks from the Nice N' Ripe heyday, from 24 Hour Experience's 'Emotions' and 'Mantra', to Dub Syndicate's 'The Big Chill'. “They gave us literally everything,” says Levin. “It was almost a whole hard drive full.”
“We went for some of the jams that were weirder, with a few broken beats and different tempos,” adds Goldstein. “But the track we both knew had to be on there was the Industry Standard track 'What You Want'. You can never top it. It's one of the best garage tracks ever. And Grant Nelson's 'In My Soul', which we did an edit of. Amazing. Those R&B stabs, and the full-on '90s R&B vocal on it.”
The pair have crafted a few of their own edits of classic Nice N' Ripe moments, including Urban Myths' 'Pop No Style', Planet Detroit's 'Find the Way' and even the aforementioned and perhaps untouchable 'What You Want'. Interference — however respectful — with such classics might not sit well in some circles. Had they considered that?
“We've already noticed some people saying, like, 'Soul Clap, mixing this? What qualifications do they have?'” says Goldstein. “So it's been a little risky on [MN2S's] part, but in the end it will bring the music out to a whole new group of people who would never have heard this music. And that motivates us, sharing this classic music. It's an amazing label with such a deep catalogue that kids wouldn't know without something like this.
“It's about sharing the history of dance music — whatever that may be — coupled with the fact that it's a label we have intimate knowledge of. We still have like 100 Nice N' Ripe records in our collections. So all the haters, go buy some Nice N' Ripe records and then we'll talk about who's qualified.”
Now that's fighting talk.
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