–This is an interview I did earlier in the year for Pulseradio, reproduced here (because it’s interesting, and W+L have gone from strength to strength since then).
In the past 18 months, Wolf + Lambs rise has been nothing short of meteoric spotlighting the careers of Nico Jaar, Deniz Kurtel, Slow Hands and a host of the new wave of house, techno and disco artists. Label boss Gadi Mizrahi isn’t short on ideas on what makes a successful label. In barely five years he and partner Zev Eisenberg have turned a tiny web label into one of the most revered and forward thinking production stables in electronic music. Having just teamed up with Soul Clap to mix the latest installment of the DJ-Kicks series, he is heading to Australia for a string of dates in March. He spoke to Lachlan Holland about the evolution of Wolf + Lamb, how to properly run an underground party, and spreading the right kind of love…
So you’re in Miami at the moment? Gadi: Yeah we’ve been planning on doing a Snow Bird thing for years now, and it finally worked out. It was always Zev and myself that wanted to do it, but now we have Soul Clap on board we can pretty much go anywhere and not get bored.
And your running some parties there? I’ve always believed that if you had one amazing club in your city then you could build a scene around it. This club called the Electric Pickle started to be that amazing club, lets say two – three years ago. They’re constantly renovating, the size is perfect and intimate, the staff and owner are just all about it, they’re all about the right music and vibe. Every year I play there five or six times, as well as during the WMC. It’s kind of replaced the Marcy for us, which is in Brooklyn. The Marcy became kind of taxing as it got more popular. We were always worrying about not getting shut down; it was a completely illegal venue. Once the Brits found out about it, we had to slow it down a lot more. That’s a whole different level. The venue was never that big and more people start to catch on once the Brits come over.
Now we do parties at the Pickle all the time, and it’s great. If you haven’t been here to this venue, you have to. It’s one of the best venues in America right now, so we’re lucky to have that connection. The guy who owns the place and built it with his own hands is a huge fan of the label, a really good solid DJ and has been shopping for records his whole career. He’s really into what we’re doing. So it’s like a dream right now, we’re all planning on doing this every year. It’s kind of funny; when we told people we were thinking of going to Miami I guess they imagined South Beach, which is really silly. Nobody can really live in South Beach, really, no one wants to.
Because it’s fake? It’s not even fake, it’s retarded fake. No one really lives there. We don’t live there. Everyone who has fake tits from all over the world will fly in there to hang out with people like them. It’s ridiculous. We don’t go there.
So where’s Electric Pickle located? It’s in the design district, across one of the bridges from South Beach. It’s being gentrified, its kind of ghetto but there are also a lot of good restaurants and galleries and venues and stuff, it’s got its own little world there.
Going back to the Marcy, when did the parties there start? The Marcy started renovating five or six years ago, we had run parties before then, around the beginnings of the 2000’s, but the Marcy started around 2005. The impression of New York (from outside) from around that time was that it was difficult to throw parties there. You’d read about parties being shut down, Rudolph Giuliani going after the club scene etc. Can you give us some insight on what it was like to run parties through that? That is definitely true, and it’s starting to happen again. Over the last few years in New York it’s become harder to throw parties, Illegal underground parties.
We got around it because the Marcy was more like a small house party. My philosophy on throwing parties is, don’t try to be a pig about it, and the city will leave you alone. I’ve had cops show up, but I just made sure they were aware that it’s really mature, supervised and all that, and it was usually totally cool. I never really tried to make money off of it; we used to have two for five beers. It was never really a business model for the city to shutdown; we were always geared towards incredible music and having good artists from around the world to play at this really intimate party. The vibe just resonated and the city didn’t [try to stop it]. And I was never too high to talk to the cops.
“It’s become such a fucking monster right now, I only have one release slated for it. The quality has to be so high with Wolf + Lamb, every record I put out for it has to be a statement, there’s a lot people paying attention to it.”
The truth is, in New York, you can get away with doing this. Always. There was always just one thing. Noise complaints, you could never get by that. In a city that’s the one thing you always have to worry about. So Zev and I kept moving the party about into different spaces inside the building, the first floor. We’d also done construction from day one on isolating the sound, and of course talking to the neighbours. And if you do these things only once every month or two months, it’s too inconsistent for people to catch on. There were all these ideas that Zev and I had about keeping it special and not being a pig about it – doing it too often, charging too much etc. We tried not to upset people.
Its funny, there have been times in the last few months I’ve heard, that there have been parties calling the cops on each other, and clubs in the city would call the police on some of the underground parties. The legitimate clubs in the city are starting to feel that the underground parties are starting to take people from the city, and the city parties. But for Wolf + Lamb, and the intimate parties we had, it was always just like an apartment. We could only fit two or three hundred (we later annexed the outside so you could fit like another couple of hundred). Nobody ever wanted to shut it down, it was never a glutinous thing, it was always special.
So the relationship with the other promoters and people in the scene were important for that? When we did parties on the same night as somebody else we were close with, we’d try and cross-promote it so that people could just hop between the parties. A stamp from one party meant you could get in half price at our party. So we always wanted to keep a good relationship with the others. We were in that position where our close friends were throwing parties on the same night. For a moment it felt like a rivalry, but then we realised if there are two or three really cool things happening, then it might be an incentive for people to come out who wouldn’t usually come out, because there’s literally so much to do. There’s like ten hours of partying, its like an extravaganza, you can just hop from party to party. We were trying to figure out how to turn that situation into something positive, and it worked out.
You started Wolf + Lamb as a label around the same time, can you tell us about when you decided to take that step and how it all came about? Zev and I met, and we moved in together, and we both quit the jobs we had at the time, and we started to DJ together. And then we were like “what do we do now?” We started going to the city clubs, and the way the city club works, is a night is owned by a certain promoter, you know, they’ve worked with the club for years, and there’s no reason to start with a different promoter, so it’s really hard to get into that scene. So we tried to throw a few parties out there, but that didn’t really work out. We tried to DJ at other people’s parties, and that was fine but it didn’t really work out either.
We realised at some point, specifically after going to Mutek, which was a really cool underground festival when we were starting out, that all our favourite DJ’s were producers too. We made that connection, you can stay a local DJ, but you can’t really go out there and tour unless you have your own production. So we had to start producing. And this was out of necessity, trying to figure out how to make it out there as a DJ. So then we started producing, and we were like, we have to put this out there somewhere, but there were only a few labels – Perlon, Ghostly, Cadenza – which we would want to be on and realised we would have to produce music for them, which was very counter productive to the creative process. So this goes back to how Wolf+Lamb is really diverse in the output. It’s not consistent at all in sticking to the same genre. And it’s all built around these ideas that we had when we were thinking about how to get our music out there.
So you started W+L to avoid having to compromise your sound? We started our own web label to put our productions on. To this day, neither Zev nor I have put out our original production on any other label. So we made wolflambmusic.com. Different things began to feed into it, the parties, the label and other things. No Regular Play were really into our parties, and started to send us music, and also the Visionquest guys, who were really young then and had almost no production out yet, Sean, Ryan, Seth and Lee. We had a party with them, and they were just these new kids who were just starting to produce.
“Programming for Wolf + Lamb has become more difficult for me, because its become more popular, and a lot more people want to be on it because they know we can make their career. That sort of power is a little scary for me, makes me a little uncomfortable, and with Double Standard its much more pure, because nobody is really paying attention to it.”
I became really close with Lee Curtiss, and started making music with him, then did a few releases with all those boys. Those were the first records that were really noticed from the label, the first pressed vinyl records were Lee’s [Curtiss], then Seth [Troxler] then Zev and I. And by the third, it had started to become something serious, a lot of people were paying attention. But it was still a while before we went on Beatport, and a few years before we became a record label.
Sounds like a pretty good start? For me it was a really nice, natural progression on learning how to run a label without any real costs. So by the time we started with vinyl I already knew how to program a little bit better, and I’d had time to figure out how I wanted the label to be, who I wanted to be involved, and stuff like that. When you start straight out with a vinyl label, your not always thinking “oh these kids are cool I want them to represent our label”, all your thinking is you want great music. Which sounds fine, but that’s actually a little bit to fault as well, because years down the line your label is still going to be represented by these artists, so you have to be sure about them. And I see labels starting off, with their first few releases, and I often think, “do you even know who these people are? “
There are thousands of kids, in Leeds and Manchester, who are just making music, copying other people, trying to make the Jamie Jones sound, or the whatever sound. And I don’t think many of these labels actually get to know these kids and make sure that these people are who they want their crew to be. I talk to Jamie, and I say you’ve got to be careful, because whatever it is, whether it’s Visionquest, or it’s Hot Natured, these kids are walking around representing you. Just make sure you know who that is, because you want proper representation.
So with Wolf + Lamb, you keep a very tight-knit crew? Yeah, and it’s more tight-knit now than ever.
In managing Wolf + Lamb, with the guys that come on and release, how do you get the most out of them? The first thing is, I never know where the next person is going to come from. It could be through a friend, Im a little tricky to find as I don’t keep a facebook or myspace, most of the demos I get I don’t really listen to. This kid recently called me on Skype. And at first I thought that was a little stalkerish, especially because I don’t really have my name out there on Skype. It felt a little bit personal, but I started working with them. I actually have a very personal and intimate relationship with the people that I work with, when it comes to music. Not in terms of directing how their music should sound, I keep that very open. I always want people who’ll bring diversity to the label. My motto is usually, keep it very deep, and weird and different.
I’ll work with the new kids pretty closely; I’ll give very specific feedback. It’s very intimate, and deep, and specific when I’m working with our artists. They can go in any direction they want, you know almost none of the music on Wolf + Lamb and Double Standard is for the club, it just has to be this edgy forward thinking sound. Once I’ve decided to take on a project, I’ve got a really close connection to it.
“Once the Brits found out about it, we had to slow it down a lot more. That’s a whole different level.”
Right now, we have Voices of Black, these two kids from Brown who Nico Jaar introduced me to. And when I’ve got artists Ill be in correspondence with them at least once or twice a week, talking about everything. When they join Wolf + Lamb now, they’re looking at joining two major agencies, one is Geist (Europe), and the other is Most Wanted (US), it’s a big deal, so I’ve gotta be really sure these kids know what they’re getting into. Sometimes they’re like nineteen, twenty years old and this is the beginning of their musical lives. So I try to guide them from there. In this Industry, I really think you can sell yourself short by putting yourself out on XYZ labels, that are up and coming, and aren’t putting out a lot of high quality music. Everyone wants their music out there, but I’ll try to tell them not to do that. You know, if you hold off long enough …
With Nico Jaar, right off the bat, there were people approaching him, and every few days he was saying “Gadi this persons’ approaching me”, and he didn’t really know which labels were which, so I said “Just focus on making music, we can put your output on our label, and when the right people are approaching I’ll let you know.” Right now, the amount of people approaching him for remixes is crazy.
I try not to take on new artists, more than like two a year, because this whole label management thing is really my life. Besides trying to DJ and tour, I work on promoting the profile of the artists we have. Even down to what name they’re going to use. Half the artists that come to us, they’re putting out great music but they have some funny strange name and I say, “we gotta find a new name for you”, build a profile for you with another name.
Can you give us a few examples? [Laughs] Well, Slow Hands name was Addled. And I was like “I don’t really see that working”, so he said, “you know I was always a fan of Eric Clapton, he had this other stage name he used to go by, which was Slow Hands”. I thought yeah, that works, because it goes with what he was, and still is, making, which is very slow-mo disco, very 10 pm, slow chuggy Mark E kind of stuff.
This new artist that I just signed from Israel, who writes some really incredible deep sounds, he was going with the name Peeny Flow, and I was like I don’t see that working out so we found him a new one, DoubleHill, which is very strange and different. So even down to the logos, these artists will have a name, and Ill go and look through thousands of fonts, to find a cool logo for stickers.With No Regular Play, we have here in the US the National Public Radio, which is like a station that goes all over, and its initials are NPR, so we took that font and instead of it being NPR, it was NRP, No Regular Play. The whole marketing side of this is super fun for me, because it’s all underground, we’re not really making any money off it, we make money off touring but not off of records and parties or things branding-wise.
You’ve got Double Standard as a vinyl only Imprint, what are your plans with that? I’m always thinking to get it out there more, because the music is getting so good on it. I’m thinking of getting it out on digital, because we already have two vinyl labels. I think it will take a long time with Double Standard, but something very special is going to happen with that label. The music we have on it is so exciting; the next two releases are really special. I’m building it; I love it, its super amazing to me.
Programming for Wolf + Lamb has become more difficult for me, because its become more popular, and a lot more people want to be on it because they know we can make their career. That sort of power is a little scary for me, makes me a little uncomfortable, and with Double Standard its much more pure, because nobody is really paying attention to it. I sell out, like 500 copies per release, but it doesn’t have that same thing, with Double Standard its much more pure, your not having that whole Wolf + Lamb thing behind you. They’re not gaining the same thing out of it, so programming Double Standard is much easier for me than Wolf + Lamb. It’s become such a fucking monster right now, I only have one release slated for it. The quality has to be so high with Wolf + Lamb, every record I put out for it has to be a statement, there’s a lot people paying attention to it.
You’ve achieved a lot in such a relatively short amount of time, you must take some satisfaction from that? It’s amazing. What crosses my mind is how the UK press and the hype is really dangerous. When it peaked last year, I think I lost my mind for a few months trying to take in what it all meant. Being really hyped so much. At the time, it kind of drove me a little crazy because it wasn’t expected and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
Yourself and Zev, along with Soul Clap, have just finished the latest DJ-Kicks, did you carry this pressure into it? The DJ-Kicks thing was an opportunity to do something really different with a mix; that was the attractive thing for us. We had this opportunity to do something that would be high profile, but at the same time be creative in a way that would be different from anything that happened before. Before we did this, almost every other DJ-Kicks had been about taking a DJs favourite tracks that they’d been playing out, put tin git into a mix and getting it out there. For me, I’ve already come around to what had happened in the UK, and now I have Double Standard to do what Wolf + Lamb used to do for me: putting out underground releases. So now, with Wolf + Lamb, I’m trying to see how I can do things differently, ways that I can use that hype and that machine.
I’ve been watching the other labels do their thing for years. Minus for instance. We were looking up to Minus when we were starting out. But what Minus has become now, is something I would hope Wolf + Lamb wouldn’t become. Perlon was also something we were looking up to, but now they sort of disappeared. They don’t really make edgy music and aren’t really talked about anymore. So we don’t want Wolf + Lamb to go in that direction either.
With this opportunity, we can do something and take it in a different direction. We have this super strong family that’s really talented and really close, and we have an opportunity to do something that hasn’t really been done before. Soul Clap and Wolf + Lamb have been touring the world these last 24 months. Instead of taking the tracks we were playing out, we decided to call out to all of the Wolf + Lamb artists and extended family, and ask for exclusive tracks for this thing. We have ten exclusives for the mix that were mostly made for this mix. Everybody just got to it, and a lot of what was made was their best stuff.
In terms of licensing, this was a lot easier as well. In the previous [DJ-Kicks] mixes, they would just go and get the Larry Heard thing licensed or a Gemini track licensed, but rather than that, ninety percent of the licensing was just Wolf + Lamb or direct with the artists because it was exclusive. It was way easier to put together. A lot of the tracks we play when we DJ would be complicated to license. I don’t even know if we could get a Moodymann license anyway, or an Omar S, it would just be a hassle.
What it turned out to be is, I think, like a statement. And the fact we’re all coming of age, in terms of our production ,at the same time as a family. This family, this showcase and this whole direction, is really strong. I know there are other labels doing a similar thing. Cadenza have their Vagabond showcase. But with this I think its slightly different because we’ve all become like very best friends, with a similar vision. I think Minus has that as well, but nobody considers them underground anymore.
You guys often bring up Burning Man as a strong influence on Wolf + Lamb. Do you think the family aspect to your label comes from that? I think so, definitely. We all try to go together, but some of the younger kids aren’t really ready for it. There are a lot of drugs and debauchery: you don’t have to get involved in all that, even though that is kind of part of the experience there. Soul Clap’s going to come this year, Zev and I have done this for eight years. We’ve tried to take a year off it, but there’s nothing else like it. Its expensive, but the experience is like that once a year holiday you’ve gotta make out. You get a lot of music festivals, like Glastonbury, but I don’t think there’s anything like burning man.
A lot of people like to focus on Burning Man, when they talk about Wolf + Lamb, but we’re all from New York, so we’re actually not very ‘Burning Man-like’, in alot of ways. We’re too cool for school a lot of the time, over here in New York, but that’s kind of what balances us out. We have this ‘fuck-off’ New York attitude, but then we go to Burning Man, and we’re charged with all this hippy love…. I’ve tried to fight it sometimes because it’s a little too hippy for me, but I’ve accepted it into my life, because it’s what I need. I am kind of a shy person, with a New York attitude, and I need to go out there and get that experience every year.
I feel like Australians are way closer to this sort of attitude than New Yorkers. I see the Australians that I met working and touring, they have kind of a West Coast, San Francisco attitude. Everyone that I met was always helpful, and totally forward and outgoing. That’s kind of what you need.
You’re coming to Australia next week, what can we expect to hear from you over here? Musically, I do love playing edits, deep house and nu-disco. Our sound right now, all of the DJs share a very playful, non-serious party vibe. I’ve got a really good feeling about this tour, I think the Australian laid-back vibe and easy way is going to go well with this party sound I’m going to bring. I think there’s something that’s going to click with the attitude that you guys have over there. I’m coming over for a total of about ten days so I’ll get to hang out, and I’m really looking forward to it.