With a new EP about to drop on Repopulate Mars, we catch up with a D&B defector whose 4/4 productions have been hitting all the right notes
Based in Bristol, Eli Brown is a house producer who's definitely on the up right now - one of those names that, every time we look at a club or festival line-up, seems to have sneaked one more place up the bill.
He wasn't always a househead, though. His roots lie, instead, in his hometown's fertile drum & bass scene. But it's only since he embraced the joys of the four-to-the-floor kick a couple of years ago that his star has really started to rise, with his work appearing since on respected labels such as Relief, Toolroom, Repopulate Mars, ViVA and Skream's Of Unsound Mind.
With plenty more already lined up for 2018, it looks like we're only going to be hearing more from him this year. So now seemed like a good time to grab the lad for a chat...
You're known as a house/tech-house producer these days, but I gather your roots lie in drum & bass... what can you tell us about that?
"Yeah, my background is in drum & bass, something I've been involved in for many years. The whole Eli Brown project kind of happened as a bit of an accident, really. During the summer of 2016, I went to a ton of festivals and listened to a lot of house and techno, and I came away really inspired to get in the studio and see what I could come up with."
What was behind the decision to concentrate on producing house rather than D&B?
"As I said, it wasn't really a conscious decision. I guess writing music, for me, is all about being inspired, and right now I’m really loving all sides of house and techno music. And as a result, getting in the studio and writing new tunes is super fun."
Some of your earliest releases came on Skream's label Of Unsound Mind label. How did you come to hook up with him?
"I've known Skream for years through the drum & bass connection, as we used to hang out at festivals and club nights we used to play together. When I wrote some of my early Eli Brown stuff, I sent the tracks to Olly anonymously to try and get feedback. And that proved to be a good move, because he signed my debut EP to Of Unsound Mind!"
One of your biggest tunes to date was Tech This Out, which has a distinctly rave-y feel to it. Do you feel that having a knowledge of dance music history is important for young producers today?
"I don’t think it's 'important' because, again, I think writing music should come from whatever inspires and influences you - and that can come from anywhere.
"However, in my own personal experience, I've been listening to dance music all my life. My older brothers and sisters used to hand down rave tapes to me and my friends when we were kids, and we used to trade them like football cards! As a result, all my influences tend to come from various forms of dance music, whether it's rave, drum & bass or mid-90s house. Hopefully you can hear that in my music."
You seem to have stuck mostly to a small group of well-respected labels: Of Unsound Mind, Toolroom, ViVA and Repopulate Mars. Is it important to build those kind of longer lasting artist-label relationships?
"I definitely think so. I’m really lucky that some of these great labels have actually shown an interest in my music and, to be honest, I’m chuffed to bits to be releasing on labels of this stature, in my relatively short time producing this music."
With all that you've learned, do you have any plans to launch your own label at any point?
"It's definitely something I want to do at some point in the future. Right now though my priority is being in the studio, trying to write new music and DJing as many places as I can!"
And what about an album - any plans in that department?
"Yeah, an album is something I would like to do, I’ve actually written several albums under different guises in the past, and it's a fun process that allows you to showcase your talents a little more: it gives you the freedom to experiment, because it's not like every track on an album needs to be a club smasher.
"That said my career is still in its infancy, and at the moment I’m enjoying writing club-focused tunes to play in my DJ sets. So for the foreseeable future I'll probably stick to that!"
Your next release is the Guru EP on Repopulate Mars. Talk us through the three tracks...
"It's an EP made up of new tracks that I’ve been playing in my DJ sets for the last six months and all three have been going down really well. The lead track, The Guru, has a big Indian sample that’s instantly recognisable, and that drops pretty hard.
"Alone In The Dark, the second track on the EP, is a little more melodic but has a real high intensity to it, and then finally Warning is a straight-up club banger! I guess like all my releases, I like to have high-energy tunes that feature prominent samples or hooks that people will go home from the rave remembering. Hopefully, people will dig it!"
Finally, where can people hear you playing in the next month or two?
"I’m all over the place, but I’m really excited to make my debut in Cardiff on 9 February, and heading out to Crssd Festival in the States on 4 March is another one I cant wait for! Also, I’m playing fabric on 23 March, which is definitely one to tick off the bucket list..."
Words: Russell Deeks Pics: Chelone Wolf
Eli Brown's Guru EP is out on Repopulate Mars on Friday (9 February) - preorder your copy here.