Like most musicians, Soul Clap have been using the quarantine as a much-needed opportunity to slow down and reflect. The electronic dance duo––made up of Charlie Levine, now based in Miami, and Eli Gold, who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley––formed in Brooklyn in 2001 and spent the next twenty years on the road. “It’s been non-stop for decades,” Levine says. “I think we both welcomed this opportunity to recharge.” Lockdown has meant different things for each artist; for Levine, it’s been a chance to take his dog to the beach and finish some long-running creative projects, and for Gold, it’s meant quality time with his young daughter and applying to graduate school. In September, he’ll start at Bard College’s masters program in climate policy. “I don’t see us being able to tour until the spring at the earliest,” he says, “so this felt like the perfect chance to go for it. I’d been itching to get back to my activist roots.”
In the immediate future, that activism has taken shape in Rave The Vote, a new virtual event series aimed at boosting voter registration. Featuring DJ sets from underground tastemakers like Seth Troxler, A-Trak, and Yaeji, as well as conversations with social justice leaders, it’s an awareness and education campaign to push young people to the polls. Here, we sat down with the veteran DJ-producers to talk about how the initiative came together and ways that fans can get involved.
Let’s start by talking about what this moment means for dance music. It feels like this period of reflection has revealed how flawed things were.
Levine: Absolutely. It’s strange and frightening to think that the industry will never be the same, but that’s probably a good thing.
Gold: Everybody’s like, ‘I just can’t wait until we get back to normal. When can we go back to normal?’ But as time has gone on, I think we realized that normal wasn’t great. Normal wasn’t working. So I’m excited about the new era that’s going to come after this.
Levine: I think it’s important to remember that dance music has deeply political roots. Disco was born out of the gay rights movement and the audience was predominantly the Black, latin, and gay communities who were marginalized and didn’t have spaces to be themselves. Now, it’s this white, Eurocentric, multi-billion dollar industry, but it doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. There’s a lot about the scene, frankly, that needs a gut-check.
Can you elaborate a little about what needs work?
Gold: For one thing, the unsustainability of touring has to be addressed. As a DJ, you really only have one revenue stream, and it’s horrible for the planet and your mental health. Also, the lack of representation of Black people in dance music has really come to light recently and is a disgrace. They created this music. They built this scene. It should reflect that.
Levine: As hard as it is to see how bad or off-track things may have gotten, we aren’t powerless. We have the power to make changes in our industry, and this is a great moment to take those steps.
How did you decide to take action?
Gold: We got the idea for Rave The Vote last summer, and the plan was to have a proper tour. We were going to go through swing states in the midwest and universities, you know, smaller cities we don’t usually get to play. We got some pretty amazing artists to sign on immediately––Seth Troxler, The Black Madonna, Justin Martin, and Mija all said yes right away. From there, we just started moving. We got partnerships in place with promoters. We started booking gigs at schools. And the idea was to remind people, mostly young people, that voting is a fundamental right. We’re fortunate to have it, we should exercise it. And while we’re at it, we should lobby to help those who aren’t allowed to vote––because they’ve been incarcerated, for example––get their chance. The fact is, a lot of what young people are told about voting is bullshit, like that their vote doesn’t matter. Even if you live in a state where the electoral college is bright, solid blue, you can still make a huge impact locally and on the state level.
Levine: Also, this other idea that the system is broken so it doesn’t matter who’s elected… I’ve gotta believe this previous presidential election disproved that. Because look, everybody agrees Hillary was not a perfect candidate, but the damage that’s been done to so many people because of the person we ended up with… It’s hard to overstate. And beyond that, there’s the Supreme court… Young people today seem pretty up on this stuff, don’t get me wrong, but if there’s an opportunity to reach people who haven’t quite grasped it yet, why not? Rave The Vote was born out of that. It was saying, how can we harness the power of music to drive this message home?
How have you had to pivot to make the event work during lockdown?
Gold: It was actually really beautiful, how it unfolded. Jonathan McDonald, our manager, planted the bug with Alaistar and Max [of Infamous PR] and they got super excited about the possibilities of this being virtual––like how much bigger the impact could actually be. How many more people it could reach. They helped put together a team that has had so much energy and excitement, and made this what it is. I don’t want to say it’s good timing since it feels like the world is falling apart, but I do think people are feeling particularly engaged and eager to get involved politically. And the fact that all these amazing artists are available, because they’re not on the road, is a gift.
Levine: People are fired up. You can feel it. As soon as we announced the project, that day, I got texts from so many people saying they wanted to get involved. That grassroots style and energy is what gets these initiatives off the ground.
If everything goes according to plan, what impact will Rave The Vote have?
Levine: It’s easy to say, ‘If I had it my way Trump wouldn’t renew his presidency,’ but it’s bigger than that. It’s about coming together so that we can actually address things like systemic racism and climate change and economic inequality. Despite what the markets might say, huge percentages of young people are losing their jobs. We’re going to be dealing with the fallout of this moment for a long time. So at the very least, we need to have a say in how we deal with it.
Gold: That’s right. Our mission is less about getting a republican or a democrat into office and more about getting young people to vote so that there’s a higher likelihood that whoever gets elected is someone they actually want. Also, I’ll say this again, voter suppression is a huge, huge issue and part of this initiative is to make sure people understand what that means, how it’s happening, and what we can do about it. That’s super important to me.
What about this campaign are you most excited about?
Levine: The satisfaction of hearing that people have registered. Because it’s so easy. One of our friends, the artist Life On Planets, said it took him two minutes. Two minutes!