Jonathan Toubin’s got soul, and that’s more than a tired, overused phrase. In fact, he’s got approximately 20,000 45 rpm singles’ worth of it stowed away at his home in New York.
“I haven’t counted,” said Toubin, calling from Sardinia on a few days off from his current run of European festival dates. That’s a lofty collection even for the most obsessive of crate-diggers, but there’s a practical application to Toubin’s record fetish. As the maestro behind New York’s wildly popular Soul Clap dance parties, the DJ scours the record bins every chance he gets to feed his musical monster. To call the singles in his collection deep cuts doesn’t quite do them justice. They’re castaways, the kind of purebred early American soul records that sound so familiar but never caught on with mass audiences.
“Even in the Sixties people didn’t buy these records,” he said. “That’s why they’re rare. In their time, these were sort of underappreciated things. It’s always been my hope that there’s some sort of justice that occurs.”
Most of the gems he weaves in and out of his five-plus-hour Soul Clap sessions are new even to Toubin, a reformed punk and hardcore kid who only turned to his soul bread and butter in recent years. Combing through singles to find the relative handful that make up a Soul Clap set is a delicate science, he admits. Sequencing records requires navigating around awkward fade-outs, while every night brings a certain amount of variability depending on the energy of the room.
“It’s kind of like having a toolbox or something,” he said of his singles. “If you’re an electrician or whatever, you get the call, but you don’t really know what the problem is until you’ve seen it for yourself. Every record is like a tool. You know what they do, but you don’t really know what you need to use until you get there.”
There’s no proper substitute for the Soul Clap’s sweaty retro energy, but Toubin’s Souvenirs of the Soul Clap compilations — volumes three and four of which were released in May on Norton Records — get pretty close. Featuring tunes from Sixties dark horses like Gene Burks, Eddie Bridges and his Lowriders, Ervin Rucker, and Jasper Woods, the comps are lovingly curated throwbacks to fringe music from a fondly remembered musical era. Mastered in Chicago with a thoughtful ear for keeping the warmth of the original recordings, the records offer fans a crash course in Toubin’s stylized soul world.
For a generation of millennials who missed out on Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, Toubin represents a sort of thrift store conduit to the music of 50 years ago, a purist link to the past in an EDM-driven age where dance music and laptops are inseparable. Through Soul Clap, he’s giving music a second chance at finding an audience, a responsibility he says he doesn’t take lightly.
“A lot of quality things develop a following later,” he said. “I just hope that one way or another, some people will catch on to these songs. I want the artists and songs on these records to take on a life of their own, and maybe I’m the mediator, like one of the literary critics who brought Melville back or one of the art critics who found out about van Gogh.”
Now that Toubin has returned home from his travels, he’ll move his party outdoors for a free daytime concert in Madison Square Park on July 29, and he’ll play the fifth annual Full Moon Fest on August 1. Outdoor shows make for a different experience from those staged within the confines of an intimate nightclub, but Toubin is excited about the prospect of preaching to the unconverted.
“I figure there’s still a bunch of kids and adults out there who still don’t like what’s being dished out,” he said. “They need an alternative, and what I’ve been trying to do is say, ‘Hey, here’s a possibility. You can listen to this.’ I know I’m not going to win or supplant the mainstream, but I like to stand up for people who want something different.”
Jonathan Toubin will spin in Madison Square Park on July 29 for New York Night Train. For event information, click here.