Joe Claussell has long been one of New York City's busiest dance figures, thanks to his work in all areas of the house community: as a highly respected DJ, producer, remixer, label-head (Spiritual Life Music and Ibadan), and record-shop owner (Dance Tracks). Spiritual Life has released tracks from a host of New York nu-house teams including Claussell himself, Mateo & Matos, Blaze, Slam Mode, and frequent production partner Jephte Guillaume. And his Sunday club night, Body & Soul (with fellow residents François Kevorkian and Danny Krivit), re-created the vibes fostered at the birth of modern dance music -- David Mancuso's Loft sessions during the early '70s -- with a varied mix of vibrant music ranging from Milton Nascimento to Masters at Work to Cesario Evora to Kevin Yost to Fela Kuti. In his productions, he's often mirrored that eclectic mix of styles, dropping in plenty of acoustic instruments and rich percussion patterns.
Like Kevorkian, Claussell is a veteran of the disco era, an enthusiastic participator at DJ sessions from near-legendary figures like Mancuso and Larry Levan. Raised in Brooklyn, he learned musical diversity thanks to the wide-ranging tastes of his seven brothers. He began working at the New York record store Dance Tracks in the late '80s, and after forming a partnership with new owner Stefan Prescott, turned it into one of the leading vinyl sources in the city. Claussell turned to production with a few remixing credits, and in 1996, launched Spiritual Life Music with the single "Stubborn Problems" by Timmy Regisford.
Spiritual Life soon became the home for productions embracing all forms of groove music from the past few decades, as comfortable working through Caribbean folk and salsa rhythms as the expected deep house. (Not surprisingly, the selection at the Dance Tracks store featured the same philosophy at work.) Tight releases by two of New York's best producers (Slam Mode with "Fiat Mistura," and Blaze with "Directions") increased the label's visibility during the mid-'90s, and Claussell moved into production with great singles by Jephte Guillaume ("The Prayer," "Kanpe") during 1997. He also formed a second label, Ibadan, and released his first proper single, the 1997 Brazilian house workout "Escravos de Joe."
The same vibes fostered on Spiritual Life material also found a workout at Body & Soul, the Sunday evening club founded by Claussell with François Kevorkian. His first full-length, Mix the Vibe, was released on NiteGrooves in 1999, followed later that year by his proper debut, Language. A Spiritual Life compilation, Spiritual Life Music, is also available. ~ John Bush