El Michels Affair

El Michels Affair

Photo: Emilia Ruiz-Michels


The name El Michels Affair first appeared in 2002 on a 12″ single from Soul Fire records entitled Easy Access. The release was the product of a loose collaboration between Soul Fire session musicians that featured saxophonist and organist Leon Michels. In 2007, El Michels released his first full length record, Sounding Out The City.  At the time, the budding retro soul scene consisted of mostly organ quartets a la The Meters and of course, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, of which Michels was an original member. Leon Michels, who was 18 when the recording of Sounding Out The City began, had just released Thunder Chicken, the first record by his high school band The Mighty Imperials. At the time of SOTC, Michels was just discovering early rocksteady, afrobeat, and 60’s garage rock, which inevitably crept its way into the songwriting and recording aesthetic. He purchased a Tascam 388, an 80’s 1/4″ reel to reel 8 track intended for home recordings, and began recording music in a 10×10 box with no windows that also doubled as his childhood bedroom.  Upon it’s release, it received some rave reviews and the small deep funk community ate it up, but due to lack luster promotion and distribution the rest of the world was slow to catch on to the instrumental gems featured on SOTC, which Michels appropriately labeled as “Cinematic Soul”.

However, in 2005 it found it’s way into the hands of the people who were organizing a series of concerts for Scion that paired bands with MC’s. El Michels Affair was contacted about playing one shows with Raekwon The Chef. The show was such a success it led to a tour, and then to another set of concerts that featured multiple members of the Wu-Tang Clan. This eventually led to the release of El Michels Affair’s second record, Enter the 37th Chamber which introduced them to a much larger audience and has been their most successful release to date.

Michels has since gone on to produce and co-produce many releases on the Truth & Soul label, as well as records by  Aloe Blacc, The Shacks, Chicano Batman, and Lee Fields. He is a key player, songwriter, and co-producer in the psychedelic rock/soul group, The Arcs. He’s written songs with Adele, Jay-Z, Travis Scott, Ghostface Killah, Aloe Blacc, and has performed on records by  Lana Del Rey, Cee-Lo, and Dr. John amongst many others.