"At first we wanted to build an army but it was the wrong approach," Gadi reflects. "It's like a family more than everything. Lee's always here, and Seth and Shaun as well. It's the best feeling it's ever had right now." If Wolf + Lamb was a body, Gadi would be the heart: he tends to be drawn towards emotional bonds, and when discussing label events often extols the pleasures of communal experience. His partner Zev would be the mind: calculating consequences, evaluating costs. To Zev, the benefit of such a brotherhood is that it streamlines group artistic development: "Right now the artists are here every other night working on music. Everyone learns what the direction is and they can hit it. Everyone decides together, figures out the sound together."
The sound lab is one reason why the label's morph from minimal to deep house has turned a lot of heads this year. Elegant and spare, restrained and ethereal, the sound is on full display on Seth Troxler's recent Ibiza Voice online podcast, which showcases the new world of Wolf + Lamb. Notable 2009 releases like Seth's own "Aphrika" and Wolf + Lamb's Brooklynn EP are testaments to "the regional sound," Zev explains, "inspired by the cute Williamsburg girls you see everywhere."
A style shift from minimal techno to deep house may not be that much of a shock in the context of larger musical trends. In Zev and Gadi's case, however, the origin of their turn towards the deep end is likely to surprise: it's in part the influence of Burning Man, the yearly festival of expressive hedonism and neo-hippie excess in the Nevada desert. But it wasn't the sounds they heard there that affected them, it was the sounds they didn't hear, the sounds that the festival's energy and atmosphere started to inspire. "The music at Burning Man was always a problem. First it was a lot of psy-trance, and now it's breaks," Zev explains, "in the beginning we were playing more minimal techno, but at times it felt inappropriate. Burning Man is much more of an upbeat place, everyone's waiting for it all year. So we started playing house. Two or three years ago, we started putting music aside for Burning Man that was inappropriate anywhere else. There's more soul in it, you have an opportunity to appeal to that side of things. About two years ago it came to a point where we couldn't play any of the darker minimal music we had, everyone was just too happy. We had to play Sade, the hits. After that year, the sound changed. We wanted to start making music for that mood all year: not dark, ecstatic."
While the duo had contributed their own sculpture and party to Burning Man's DIY bacchanalia for a number of years, 2007 saw them working with artist Harlan Emil. It was a typically random New York encounter. "One day I saw this guy on his bicycle just standing staring at the sign in the window." Zev recounts. "He asked if this was the Wolf + Lamb who had done stuff at Burning Man, adding 'I'm an artist, I've done this stuff out there....' I was starting to walk away...because people there are nuts, I mean, nuts in a good way....but then I looked at the photo of his sculpture and I froze. This piece the year before was for Gadi and I the best piece out there. We were marveling at how well it was made and how clever it was. We knew right away it was fertile for some kind of collaboration."
Photos of the sculpture recall artworks by the likes of James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson that invite the spectator into an immersive world of shifting sensation, except that in the case the minimal, futuristic structure was built to party. "The walls were angled for the reverb, like a big speaker," Gadi explains. "Harlan was aware of the sculpture's acoustic properties—he engineered our sound system into the walls of his sculpture. He got in touch with us because he was looking for some kind of sound component." Zev adds, "The sculpture is this big open blue thing. From the outside you couldn't tell there'd be a raging party in there. In the morning there was this beautiful time where it transitioned back into a sculpture. It was built in such a way, during the daytime, whenever it wasn't cloudy, the walls were the same shade as the sky, from twelve to three. You couldn't see the horizon."
Having undergone a house music conversion, Wolf + Lamb are now headed full steam in their new direction, detractors be damned—or in some cases, embraced. Take the promo for Wolf + Lamb's Brooklynn EP: the feedback quote that Zev and Gadi pulled for the flier is from International DJ Magazine: "Sorry a bit too deep for me." Why make a criticism into your marketing testimonial? Because as Zev says, "when Pete Tong doesn't like your track, you know you're doing something right." "'Too deep,' that's the genre," Gadi announces. "We tell artists when they come to play here, this is your opportunity to go so deep. When they play and don't go that deep, it's kind of a letdown. You're hanging out with like forty people when it's packed, it's the right place to go as far out as you want."
The duo's playfully snarky attitude also runs rampant on the Marcy Hotel's website. "A couple of years ago, we had to make a website for the parties. We couldn't figure it out: what does a party website look like. What the fuck do you write? 'Our parties are awesome.'" Zev recounts. "My background is corporate design. I had just worked on a project for Trump Tower. The site was Gadi's idea: the Marcy Hotel, he said just do what you do best, make another gaudy, disgusting over-the-top corporate site." The result is enough of a wiseass prank, a dead ringer for a blandly lavish accommodation that not everyone is privy to the joke right away: "We get sent really crazy stuff, people send their resumes looking for jobs," Gadi adds. "About a month ago someone said they had been to the hotel and loved it and wanted to come work here….Around New Year's there's a lot of requests for reservations, even though the site says we're booked until 2011."
"We were thinking of making a wine bar here," adds Gadi. "We thought, yeah, Brooklyn hipsters can get into wine, it can be this cool thing. We got ourselves a liquor license but we realized we don't want to be open to the public. Then the first party we had was an after hours party. We were opening at 4 AM when you can't serve liquor anyway." "After one party, it was clear this wasn't going to be a wine bar." Zev continues. "They register each liquor establishment with the police department. 'Oh that inconspicuous looking door is actually a bar, so go bother them whenever you drive by.'" Lesson learned, the original plan was scrapped, and now Wolf + Lamb parties are mostly laid-back, informal affairs, with the booze scaled back to Pabst and champagne. "It's part of this philosophy that if you don't act like a pig, cops will just stay out of your way," Gadi explains. "I think it's true. When cops see the party, no one's really getting drunk here. You can't really get drunk on PBR. When we sold Stella, people were just getting sloshed, bodies everywhere."
Even the loyal crew that shows up for a Marcy party has in turn become part of the design scheme—as a community developed, so it became a set of human stereo monitors: "We have the same control group, we can tell when things change over time, we can explore different sounds, you can test things," Zev explains. "We want to get our stuff between Moodyman and Omar-S," Gadi adds. "The digital label is also a test. Why dump 3000 dollars on a kid you just met before you get a chance to see how it is to communicate about the tracks and work together. Then you realize that the kid's a dick, for whatever reason it's not a good idea to work together. It's still a playground, it has some attention, but not like the vinyl, which is a global thing. Having to invest in vinyl, even seeing where things are going, is necessary for it to be globally accepted that we're making music. You have to put out vinyl to get people to pay attention. Even if we sell out the vinyl, it doesn't pay for itself, because of the costs. You're in a losing situation, but if you sell it on Beatport, you lose less. No one's really making money, breaking even is like you're a winner."
"It makes everything more sustainable in the long run," Zev concludes. "Minimizing the impact means we can do this for a lot longer. We raised the price of the party until it made it worthwhile for us to put the time and effort into it. When everything makes sense for us, we can go on doing it, it sustains itself." This ethos is at work as Wolf + Lamb continue to expand their musical horizon in 2009. The label will diversify to include edits from Boston's Soul Clap, as well as tracks from No Regular Play, a group Gadi calls "hipster crossovers." It's a bright time for the crew, and Gadi sums up their current optimism when he remarks, "every time we add another artist working hard to give us tracks to play out, the party gets more intense, every time we add another friend, caring and loving, the family gets tighter and tighter."