Image via Soul Supreme/Instagram
Show your love of the game by subscribing to Passion of the Weiss on Patreon so that we can keep churning out interviews with legendary producers, feature the best emerging rap talent in the game, and gift you the only worthwhile playlists left in this streaming hellscape.
Jaap van der Doelen spends his Sundays drinking espresso and revisiting Cuban Linx II.
Imagine writing and arranging a song with a friend in another country, emailing parts back and forth until you’ve created something you both feel good about. Now imagine that friend (allegedly) putting it on an album without consulting you, and then for a label releasing that album and (allegedly) telling you you never wrote that song. You’d probably feel swindled. Perhaps angry enough to enter into a prolonged legal battle that will last for years and cost tens of thousands of euros in legal bills – all in the hopes of finally claiming your 33% stake of a modest hit record that only made a few thousand. In this non-hypothetical, you might find yourself ice-skating uphill trying to find justice in the completely alien legal system of another country. This is what happened to Noam Ofir, better known as Soul Supreme. For him, it’s a matter of principle.
The first time I came across Soul Supreme’s music was through Joe Kay’s Soulection radio show. Somewhere in his mix, he played “Huit Octobre 1971,” a Cortex song famously sampled in MF DOOM’s “One Beer.” My ears perked up in equal parts recognition and bewilderment. I knew the song, but not like this. Instead of the soothing kind of swing I was familiar with, its drums hit harder, the keys were played with a distinct, funky eagerness. And when I found out the guy behind this cover version had placed it as a centrepiece within an album full of his own compositions, all of which swayed between instrumental hip-hop, jazz and funk, I needed to hear more.
That all happened before I even knew he lived in The Netherlands – just an email and an hour’s train ride away from me in Amsterdam. A few months after I first contacted him, we met a few blocks from his home at a friendly neighborhood coffee bar. “Hi, Noam! The regular?”, the staff asked with genuine amity. We soon found our place in the pleasantly janky establishment among pastel-tinted cushions. Ofir was at ease, even though we were meeting to discuss his heated legal battle with a former friend, the Norwegian DJ, Fredfades.
The case that Soul Supreme wages could set an important precedent in the application of copyright law and the rights of musicians. It’s currently even being used as a study subject at the Juristenes Utdanningssenter (Lawyers’ Education Centre) in Oslo, Norway. It’s something that Ofir never could’ve suspected when he started out as a DJ in his native city of Jerusalem. Back then, he was pulling all-nighters for next to nothing, and enjoying every second of it. “Because it’s such an extreme city—it’s poor and highly political, a lot of tension—the underground scene is insane,” Ofir explains. “You have a mix of every kind of person in the world. Small clubs with Muslims, Christians, Hasidic Jews, foreigners, all kinds of people in the same place. It’s much more receptive to any different kind of music. It’s very open-minded, unlike the city itself. That’s what I grew up in. That was my environment.”
Inspiring as it was, Jerusalem eventually started feeling small for him. With his head swimming with ideas about graffiti, hip-hop, jazz and funk, he decided he needed more room to spread his wings. And so he moved to Tel Aviv, where he soon started to organize big parties and produce his own tracks. But Ofir was mostly attracted to music with a groove – the kind that originates from Black American culture. Around 2014, his country’s lack of familiarity with those grooves started to chafe with him. “There is some stuff from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but Israel does not have a strong history of soul and funk,” he explains. “I felt like I was no longer challenged. The levels in the genres I worked with, production-wise, DJ-wise, especially back then, weren’t that high. I needed to be somewhere where most people were better than me, so I could improve.”
He picked Amsterdam. The capital city of The Netherlands had a lively scene full of popular venues, most of its inhabitants are fluent in English, and many of the international musicians he admired frequented the city both professionally and recreationally. In Israel he’d DJ’d along renowned acts like Damu the Fudgemunk and DJ Shadow, but he found out that didn’t get him much further in Amsterdam. “I only got shitty gigs. So I had to get a regular job,” he reminisces without entitlement. In fact, working more regular hours and not having to gig four nights a week, cleared up a lot of free time to dedicate towards his production skills.
He studied jazz for a minute, though soon found out he studied better by ear. Ofir also got an audio engineering degree, and started to record his own interpretations of songs that he loved. It was mostly an attempt to “reverse-engineer” his favourites, and get an instinctive feel for what made these songs great. Filming himself while playing instrumental covers of acts like Dilla, Pharcyde and Madlib also did a lot towards building a social media following. Demand for the 45” vinyls that he pressed up of those renditions soon grew. One of the people admiring his videos was Fredfades, who sent him an appreciative message, and asked if he’d be willing to collaborate.
“I had been following Noam’s (Soul Supreme) stuff and chatting with him for a long while as I always thought he was an amazing keyboard player, and we share a lot of taste in music,” Fredfades wrote on his Facebook page in January of 2019. The DJ had debuted four years earlier with Warmth, a mostly instrumental hip-hop album that may not have had the most inspired of titles, but whose basslines and keys certainly delivered on the promise it held. In the years after, he moved more into electronic music, often maintaining the jazzy moods with which he originally made his name. Collaborating with Soul Supreme seemed like a natural fit for the both of them. “I sent him a simple groove I did on the MPC (drums and chords), and he layed down most of the keys that’s audible upfront and on top of the finished mix, plus a bassline,” Fredfades continued.
According to the Norwegian DJ born Fredrik Øverlie, the base of the song was then passed on to Jawn Rice, who did some editing and percussion. It was then sent on to Washington, D.C. singer Davon Bryant, known as Dreamcast, who added vocals to the song. Fredfades and Jawn Rice eventually presented it to the world as “Show Me How,” the second single to their joint album Jacuzzi Boyz. “The whole song was a super fun process and collaboration in any way, and I want to give another extra shoutout again to Soul Supreme and Dreamcast for blessing me and Jawn with their keyboard works and the vocals,” Fredfades concluded his Facebook message.
It was a surprise to Ofir, who’d worked on the song a year prior, and had heard little since. Still, he was glad the music was out, even though his name wasn’t on the single’s artwork. “He said the graphic design team forgot to include me as a featured artist, but he wrote me a message saying he was super sorry,” Ofir says. “But his statement about the first single was mostly about me and the vocalist—so I felt like he appreciated me. He knows what I’ve done, and acknowledges we’re doing this together.”
Ofir never communicated with Øverlie other than as friends. So when Mutual Intentions, the label releasing Øverlie’s music, started shipping out the album despite never having dealt with Ofir, alarm bells didn’t yet ring. “Sometimes you sign a deal a day before release, or even a month after,” he explains. “It’s all based on good faith.”
The Jacuzzi Boys album had already picked up a bit of steam online, with other tracks being premiered by platforms like Complex UK. Ofir however, hadn’t noticed, until a friend pointed out to him that “Show Me How” had become its biggest song, picking up seven-figure streams on Spotify. For a relatively unknown musician like him, this was huge. But neither his artist name, Soul Supreme, nor his birth name was to be found anywhere in its credits. Meanwhile, Mutual Intentions still hadn’t reached out to Ofir. At this point, the producer was getting antsy and contacted Fredfades, whom he still believed to be a friend. “I think he’s going to pass me a royalty statement. But what I see the next morning is a money transfer of 600 euros, no statement. And it says ‘Buyout for Jacuzzi Boyz LP features.’”
Ofir couldn’t believe what he was seeing. No buyout had ever been discussed, let alone agreed upon. “I never sell rights. Part of being an indie musician is that I own everything I do,” he notes. His collaborator told him it was a mistake and this was a boilerplate text he forgot to replace. Øverlie instructed him to contact Andres Dahl, his “money guy” at Mutual Intentions, the Norwegian label that had released the music. Ofir figured that he should get a third of the master rights, since he was one of three collaborating musicians who collectively wrote the track. For the other songs he contributed to, a similar structure was offered.
Dahl, the director of the music management and publishing company Paperclip, which holds a stake in the label, did not agree. He informed Ofir that instead of being registered as a composer, they’d note him as a ‘B-performer’ with Norwegian rights management agency Gramo. In layman’s terms, this meant he was to be paid as a session musician on the song, not as a creator of it, let alone part owner of its recording.
To deny him ownership was in itself baffling to Ofir, but more than anything, it was the tone in which the message was delivered that rubbed him the wrong way. Suddenly, it wasn’t so much about the money, but about someone telling him he did not create what came out of his own mind, that he had no claim to his intellectual property. “All I care about is my ownership,” he stresses. “It’s not about what amount of money that translates to. I want my part of the ownership, whether it’s worth a lot or very little. I’ve done songs that made no money, and I want ownership of them too. It’s how I feel about my music— these are my rights.”
After three years of failed attempts to come to a resolution, Ofir took him to court. It would probably have been an open-and-shut case in a country like The Netherlands, where intellectual property rights for creators are already firmly anchored within law, through precedents like the case of Martin Garrix against Spinnin’ Records. In that case, the Dutch Supreme Court decided in December of 2021 that the master rights to a recorded piece of music belong to the person who initiated the first recording of said composition, and carried the financial responsibility for that act. It set an important and clear precedent for proverbial bedroom producers, working on compositions from home with their own equipment.
“Unfortunately, such a precedent hasn’t been set yet in Norway,” says Soul Supreme’s Dutch lawyer Bindu de Knock. “It makes this an interesting and potentially very important case for musicians collaborating within its borders and across nations.”
“Andres Dahl argued in court that it is important labels own the rights, because they invest in the music and need to protect that investment,” Ofir says incredulously. “Because they’ve invested in marketing, which all happened a year after the song was made, they claim ownership of the song. And they say I cannot prove I’ve invested in the music. I bought the studio. I invested my time— my life into being a musician. That does not count? They argue they paid for PR—How does PR create a song? In today’s world of bedroom producing, they don’t invest in its creation, they invest in the right to commercially exploit music. Exploitation does not equal creation.”
When reached via e-mail, Fredfades and Dahl declined the opportunity to respond to the allegations. The latter stated that though he believes that Ofir’s account “does not in any way represent the actual circumstances of the case,” they “do not wish to contribute to public debate about the case” while legal proceedings are still ongoing.
“Show Me How” might have been a hit for the label, but it wasn’t the kind that allows one to retire. By the time Ofir had it taken down from Spotify in an effort to force the label into recognizing him after being ghosted for ages, it was at a little over 3 million streams. That amounts to a few thousand euros, so anything the song could’ve made him has already been dwarfed by the tens of thousands in legal bills that have piled up over the years. And though the Norwegian court decided in his favor after he appealed its initial decision, that decision has in turn been appealed by the label. It’s now up to Norway’s Supreme Court to decide who actually owns a song: its writer or its publisher?
“This should all start a discussion,” Ofir states. “Everybody is talking about how Hollywood and major entertainment companies steal, but indies do it just as much. If not more. Most indie artists don’t have lawyers and don’t know their rights. Sure, there are really good labels who care for artists, but there are many who don’t. And more people should know. Not just artists, but consumers as well.”
Ofir might be a romantic who had a cynical world slap him in the face, but he still refuses to accept that the music industry will always be a pit of snakes. It’s hard not to love that in him. “Maybe, we as consumers should not support labels that steal from artists,” he says. “As a listener, I wouldn’t want to help a company that doesn’t treat musicians fairly.”
Perhaps something good has come out of it all. Rather than losing his appetite for art, Ofir has taken it all in as inspiration for a new chapter in his life. The producer is currently in the home stretch towards finishing up a new Soul Supreme album: a bona fide concept record about the court case, written while it was raging all around him. “I’m just figuring the last pieces of the puzzle – the art, liner notes and how it all ties together to communicate the story,” he notes excitedly. “I usually focus just on the music, but since this one has a concept, it’s a nice challenge for the brain.”
A 17-track saga sprawling across a surprisingly succinct 34 minutes and 39 seconds, the instrumental album maintains a narrative flow while delivering a ton of ups and downs. Even in its darkest moments, the album sounds like music created out of a love for creating music, rather than a vent for frustration. One more reason to hope that its title, Poetic Justice, will finally be delivered.