DJ and musician Eli Brown chats about balancing his different creative ambitions and what makes a great live show before he plays Hideout Festival 2022.
A product of Bristol’s vibrant underground music scene, Eli Brown has been putting the hard work in for years. From the beginning, he chose to ground his music in dark and sinister sounds that subvert the typical expectations for upbeat and feel-good club music, creating a unique vibe that instantly got him noticed by some heavy hitters, including a blockbuster double collaboration with genre legend Calvin Harris.
His insatiable creative curiosity has led Brown’s musical career to split into two in recent years. In one strand, he’s signed to major label Polydor Records and working on a forthcoming album. On the other, he’s continuing the DJing work with which he began his career and taking it to ever greater heights, including the establishment of his own label, Arcane Records.
It’s clear that Brown’s ambitions aren’t stopping here, with work continuing on new records for both Polydor and Arcane, and a huge show at London’s Printworks venue under his belt. With his career only set to grow, we sat down with him to chat about balancing his creative ambitions, his favourite live venues and getting back to playing live music ahead of his set at Hideout Festival this summer. Catch him live in Zrce, Croatia from 3rd – 7th July 2022.
- Jacket Song For The Mutes
- T-Shirt Armand Basi
- Necklace Sweet Lime Juice
Why were you drawn to the idea of dark, foreboding sounds? Was there a tension there that appealed to you?
I think it comes from drum and bass, which is a very hard, dark sounding music. Growing up listening to that, it was all quite heavy, dark sounds, people like Ed Rush & Optical, that really had an influence on me, particularly when I was first starting to produce music. And I think that’s rubbed off in my productions, really. I had a career as a drum and bass artist before I moved into the Eli Brown house and techno space. All those influences really impacted on my music now. When I started doing this project, I found that there was a lack of real high energy, high intensity, but still retaining a dark moody sound to the music. That’s kind of what I was trying to do when I first started to make these changes. It’s something that I’ve always retained throughout my career as Eli Brown has developed. I always want my tunes to up tempo, really driving music, but still retaining that of dark, moody energy that I think stems from my drum and bass.
Describe the experience of being noticed by Calvin Harris – what was that like?
It was a very weird one. It wasn’t something that I set out to do. I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with people as my career has evolved, I find the process of collaboration interesting. I think you always learn a lot from working with other people. And Calvin’s always been someone I’ve massively respected throughout the years. His music has crossed over massively, and has been globally successful. I find a lot of dance music that’s done that can be quite cheesy and uncool in a sense, and not necessarily particularly good, it just becomes successful because it’s a fad or whatever. But what I’ve always respected about someone like Calvin Harris is he’s always done it in a really credible fashion, and his success is undeniable because he’s so good. To collaborate with him was never something that was on my radar at all. But he reached out to me on Instagram, just as a result of like playing quite a lot of my stuff. And we just started off a dialogue, and I just sent him a few ideas, and it sort of forged into a collaboration. Really quickly from the space of sending him an idea, we had a first track written, basically scheduled for release within about a month. So it was a really, really good process, it was always done remotely, I’d send him an idea, he would send it back and forth, and it was done. It was really fluid and really good to work with him. I feel really privileged.
How do you find collaborations, like yours with Talk Show on Trouble? What’s your selection process?
It depends really. I’ve collaborated with vocalists and producers, and the processes are slightly different. I always try and approach people that I really respect, musically, and also have kind of have a similar vibe to me. Sometimes it’s fun to collaborate with people completely outside of the box. For example, one of my releases I did was with a punk band called Talk Show. That was something that I actively wanted to do in terms of trying to find something that wasn’t being particularly done in dance music at the time. Punk and dance music does go hand in hand, way back to people like The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers and things like that. But I felt that currently, there wasn’t anyone really doing that. So that’s what drew me to them. In terms of other producers, a lot of the time, it just happens naturally, people you bump into on the road touring, you’d strike up a conversation about perhaps working on some music, and sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Some of the other vocalists that I work with,are just people that I’ve heard of who I feel are really talented. It’s just about getting in the studio with a lot of people and sort of throwing mud at the wall and see what sticks a lot of the time. A lot of my creative processes are just working on lots and lots of music and about 10% of it actually sees the light of day, even if that to be honest.
What brought you to start your own label, Arcane Records?
I’ve always wanted to have a label, so to have one now, it’s been a great, great process. I get sent a lot of music, and a lot of it, I’ve always wanted to put out but never had an outlet, so having a label has given me that opportunity. I find my sound fits quite in the middle, in terms of it’s not full on techno and it’s not like tech house. It sits somewhere in the middle. So I’ve always felt that sometimes my music and a lot of the music that I’m playing needs a home that fits in that sort of space and there weren’t a lot of labels out there doing it. It was really an outlet for my more clubby underground stuff, to put it out freely and as frequently as I wanted. I’m signed to Polydor on a major label perspective, but I still have the freedom to release underground music. I’ve done that throughout some on my own label and some others. But my label really tries to encapsulate what’s in my DJ sets, really And that was kind of why I set it up.
- Necklace Bysarachristie
- Top Pariah
How does your work with the likes of Polydor and Fifth on Acid mesh with your solo label work?
The idea was with working with Polydor was to do an album. I wanted sign with them to do a bigger project around Eli Brown. The whole COVID thing has kind of put a spanner in the works on that front and put a delay on it. Because during COVID, I was writing a lot of music, but my music is very club based, so to not have a dance floor to test it out meant that doing a bigger project just didn’t seem right. But the plan I would like to do is to release an electronic album. And they appreciate that I’m an underground dance music guy, so a lot of what I do is not going to fit their model, and they’re quite happy with me releasing on independent, which is how the dynamic works, that kind of thing. I find that with dance music, the underground stuff really feeds into the overground stuff, particularly for what I do. My music’s not massively daytime radio, I’d like to have a track that perhaps crosses over at some point, but it sort of builds from the underground. And I think that whole independent record structure really, really helps with that.
How do you use different spaces to your advantage when DJing?
Every show I treat differently, I don’t play the same set. I have a big pool of music that is constantly evolving. I download 200 to 300 tracks a week, then there’s a process of whittling that down into like 30 to 40 that I put in a playlist, and then it’s about breaking that down even more to possibly five new things that I might play a week, really. And that that is some of it is A&R stuff that I’m looking for, for the label, some of it’s promo, some of it’s stuff I download and purchase myself. But I’m always trying to think about the venue, the venue and the crowd is really important. You know, I wouldn’t pay it play packs. Also, the time of day or night and who you’re playing with as well also impacts what sort of style, what sort of tempo and energy you want to bring to a set. Something like Printworks is a massive warehouse with amazing production. It just feels like we want to play big, heavy warehouse influenced tracks, whereas, something like a small underground club in New York or something like that, you might look at some slightly different music. That might give you the opportunity to perhaps play some deeper, darker stuff that you couldn’t play when you’re playing in front of 3000 or 4000 people. The main thing that’s going through my mind is the venue, the production, who’s playing the set time and stuff and I guess that’s part of being a DJ, not just turning up and playing the same set everywhere.
Do you find yourself more comfortable or accustomed to those larger spaces like Printworks, or those smaller underground spaces? Or is it totally contextual?
I’ve been DJing a long time and all types of venues, and I wouldn’t say there’s one that I particularly prefer. What I would say is my music is definitely made for big warehouse spaces, it’s a big high energy sound to it. So those bigger venues, I feel really suit my music and perhaps that’s slightly leading me to say that I enjoy playing those but equally, some of the best times I’ve had are those unexpected 300 capacity, sweaty basements, where the crowd’s right up in your face. The one thing I would say about the bigger venues is, sometimes you’re so far away from the crowd. Because there’s so much production and things like that, you sometimes feel slightly detached from the crowd, you just feel like you could be DJing in your bedroom. Often it’s so dark or so many lights, you can’t really, apart from perhaps the front row, you can’t really feel what the crowd is doing. And you can’t make eye contact with them. Which is totally different, to, like Fabric room one, where the crowd is right up there.
- Jacket and Jeans Song For The Mute
- T-Shirt Armand Basi
- Shoes JORDANLUCA
- Shirt Nicholas Daley
- Sunglasses rag & bone
- Necklace Bysarachristie
What has it meant to you to get back to playing live shows?
It was an amazing experience. I think most people, nobody knew how long this was going on. There were times that it crossed my mind, am I ever going to tour again, particularly internationally. Pretty much one of my first gigs back was Creamfields I played the Steel Yard stage to 10,000 people or whatever it is, and it was a massive moment coming back, just seeing people back doing what they love, and us as DJs being able to do what we’ve wanted to do for the past two years of spinning, sat at home making all this music. So yeah, it was really emotional. And particularly going back to America, as well, there were times I never thought I would go back to places like that. So to go back out to America, I did quite a lot in in autumn of last year in the States, and that felt amazing to be back. I’m just looking forward to going back to some of my favourite places globally that haven’t been able to do, I’m going out to South America next month, which was always a place where I love dtouring before the pandemic, but it hit those guys. particularly hard and it’s been difficult to get back there. But I’m finally going back there. Next month, I’m sure I’ll get the same buzz, as I have in places like playing back in England, playing in America. So I’m really excited. I think you speak to most people, it’s totally reinvigorated everyone’s energy. Clubbing, touring, all of that. It was often was taken for granted, I think people definitely don’t take it for granted now.
How do your approaches to DJing and music production vary?
I think it definitely comes from the same place. It’s ever evolving, really. I’m writing tunes to play and I’m permanently getting inspired from playing, the two things totally feed back into each other. Whether that’s being in a club listening to another DJ, hearing them pla, and that’s inspiring me to go back in the studio and write music or being in the studio and picturing going to South America, places like that and trying to run tunes with that in mind. That’s something that was really hard during the lockdown. For me, personally, there was no source of inspiration. And while I didn’t struggle to write music, I found that it was it was massively all over the place stylistically, because there’s no clubs or live gigs to really pull it all together. So that’s been something that’s been really interesting since the autumn of last year which has totally realigned my sound in terms of what I want to do and where I want to go. That’s really good to sort of get that clear idea in my mind as an artist. It’s really hard when you don’t have that.
What’s the calendar looking like for you?
The calendar is looking really good in terms of a lot of mainland Europe, places that I’ve never gone before. It’s sort an interesting period for me, because I’ve had quite a lot of success just before the pandemic, so my touring schedule was looking really cool and interesting. And then we had the pandemic and I had to start a little bit from scratch again, because, obviously, England sort of woke up first. But then over Christmas time, there were more COVID lockdowns in mainland Europe, so, things that I had planned for that period were knocked back and cancelled. So going into the summer, it’s really, really exciting to be going to places like Finland, Italy, that I’ve never been, which are not too far afield. I do love mainland Europe, it’s so easy for us to take it for granted because it’s so easy to get to. It’s something I often say to people in America, I love mainland Europe, because you can be pretty much anywhere in two hours., but each music scene is so different, and each country is so different. I’m back to South America and then in the autumn autumn, two, three weeks in North America and a bit more South America again. So it’s exciting. Just can’t wait to get back to some of these festivals that have just been cancelled for the past two, three years.