so after Roc offered such an interesting interview, I switched it up for Eli’s interview by asking Roc to pose the questions. i guess these guys know each other pretty well (or Roc is a stalker)… which is interesting cause whenever am hanging out with djs, sometimes I wonder how we’ll they really do know each other. you always see djs bro’ing it out at clubs, but do they really know each other?
so by the time you finish reading this, you’ll know a lot more about Eli and even Roc… go up to them in the club and ask them to be your bro… (ok maybe not the Roc)…
also remember to pick up the Roc x Eli Money Lotion 12″…
You grew up between Harlem and the upper east side? is that right? tell us about that neighborhood and your experiences that led you to djing…
I grew up on 97th and Amsterdam so you’re kind of right. My block in the 80′s was a lot like how you might picture New York in that time. Basketball court across the street, projects, abandoned buildings and right next my building was a huge lot filled with trash. But the cool thing about that area is two avenues down you have West End avenue and two avenues up Central Park west. So I was exposed to all sorts of cultures, races and classes growing up. And of course this was when Hip Hop was really blasting off with Beat Street and Run DMC, so it was all around me and I was definitely participating in every way I could. Breaking, writing graffiti and wearing windbreakers and tight LEES. All that. It was really a special time and I’m glad I got to experience it. As far as deejaying goes, it actually just fell into my lap. I had been collecting records for ten years already and I was definitely the pause tape master in my crew so I was completely ready to take it to the next step. One day this dude I knew brought over two crappy turntables he didn’t need anymore (he had just robbed a club for their Technics) and a small pile of records. It was like a revelation. I can still remember to this day the first thing I did was put the Pharcyde’s “Passing Me By” acapella over Downtown Science’s “Room To Breathe” instrumental in like 5 minutes and it all clicked for me. Plus they were in key (do it yourself if you don’t believe me)!
Give us a run down of the “footwork” era and being at one point under bobbito’s wing, your first productions came out on fondle em?
After school Bob offered me a job at his store (we grew up in the same building so he was definitely looking out for me) which at the time was only a half year old. Footwork was basically a combination of Flight Club, Turntable Lab and Sound Library. For a kid straight out of school it was an awesome job. One day Primo would be there, the next Lord Finesse. All you really had to do was play records and sweep the stairs (which I was terrible at). Bob also helped me out with DJ gigs and I started opening for him at 2 Eyes on Saturday nights. Eventually I got my first residency at this place Pravda through filling in for him there.
My first record did come out on Fondle Em and I still think it’s the most popular record I’ve made to this day which is baffling cause it sounds like a steaming hot piece of shit to me when I hear it now! After that record Bob really encouraged me to get more into dance music production and I actually put out some house records with him including a cool white label remix of Angie Stone’s “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You Anymore.” I remember Ayers asking me how the process of putting out a bootleg record worked at some Scion party like 6 years ago. Amazing!
You are sorta known in certain circles for really being able to hold down the commercial clubs but in a classy way, still sneaking in good music and never getting 2 tacky.. I mean I’ve looked thru your laptop before you don’t have any modern party breaks, what’s the secret? and do you approach you gigs when your booked as an artist or for your production the same way?
I never played party breaks aside from Kenny Dope ones or that really good one Spinna made and of course Time Zone and stuff. We always talk about this though and I think sometimes you underestimate yourself and the crowd. I remember one time you came in to Home at 1am and I was playing P.Y.T. and you were giving me shit about playing an RnB classic at prime time but I don’t think you noticed that the whole place was rocking! I think I set some boundaries for myself no matter how cheesy the club is and try and make up for it in other ways. As far as the cooler gigs and production stuff, you never really know. I mean sometimes you have to play “Push It” no matter what. But in places like Stockholm or Sydney I will definitely do me and hope the crowd stays with me. There’s always a risk of someone thinking “This guy flew all this way to play the same shit I always hear?”
Anyway whatever, can you email me “Be Faithful”?
if were going to talk djing lets talk influences, give me some of your top NY djs that have helped make you who you are.
First there were all the radio dj’s I listened to but that was before I was doing it so if, say, Red Alert was train wrecking (which he tended to do!) on the air, I didn’t really notice or understand what was going on. So once I started deejaying I was listening to Stretch Armstrong on the radio but maybe more importantly in clubs also. Pre – Ronson and A.M. Stretch was so fucking good at playing rock and Hip Hop (also , and most people don’t know this, Reggae) and way smoother than those guys ever did. I used to go to Bond Street Cafe, Buddah Bar and I learned so much. I think Stretch brought almost a House music style of playing into Hip Hop as far as using the volume knobs for mixing and playing so flawlessly. You can hear everything I learned from watching him back then every night I play.
Another person who really showed me a thing or two was Goldfinger. I used to do a party at this club 95 Leonard and at some point Goldfinger started deejaying with me. I remember the first night being a little salty that I had to share the night with him but the minute he got on, he ripped it so much harder than me and the place went to another level and I was immediately thrilled to have him aboard. I think his general enthusiasm and excitement really translated into his playing, and that’s what I picked up from him. If you’re bored or bummed out, people can tell and it’ll show in your set. Goldfinger was also never scared to play some Cameo or Guy during prime time. Before hearing him I think my sets were a little more regimented and I really let that go after doing that party with him.
My other influences are maybe more obvious. People like Danny Krivit, Timmy Regisford, Kid Capri. You know the deal.
Im 30 and I feel trapped between guys like you and stretch a few years older than me and the sorta younger people who think diplo or z trip were the first djs to play cross genre. Do you feel disconnected from the younger generation of djs, their tastes and their ways of approaching djing? how much of that is related to technology? Do you feel like the last of the Mohicans, meaning the last or second to last generation of djs to make it in clubs playing records?
I’ve always felt a bit disconnected from my peers so nothing’s really changed. There’s always some reason to feel it also. Whether it be record collections, taste in music, style of mixing etc. I mean back in the day most deejay’s would go “digging” in the bootleg section of Rock N Soul for their classics while I was cleaning out my bank account to make sure I had the real 12′s because they sounded so much better. Now that all these young kids are playing bad sounding mp3s and scratching over terrible dance music it’s probably worse than ever but it also allows me to have more of an identity so it’s okay. People can come to 105 Rivington on a Wednesday and hear me play my house and disco 12′s and it’s almost like I can speak a language that is dying out. It gives you a leg up in a way. We all know technology is a gift and a curse and I think the best way to overcome it all is to understand both sides.
SO whenever I talk to you the whole white people irony thing its kinda lost on you, have you figured out any of that shit yet? I mean I get the whole thing I grew up relatively burby, but I also had a wealth of experiences after I left high school that show’d me the other side of the coin. Do you totally not get it or do you just pretend not to?
Hahaha! Well I am half white so I get it a little. I was super into alternative music in the 80′s.
I went to this Junior HIgh School in Spanish Harlem that was a public school but you had to get into it. So they picked kids from all over the city and a lot of kids came from P.S. 41 which is like the good white pubic school downtown. That was my real introduction to alt music outside of the MTV hits. I remember this girl Dana made me mixes with the Cult and INXS on them. I was really into it. Also, we had a station back then called WDRE and they played the Cure, Erasure, OMD, the Smiths and all that stuff. I loved Jane’s Addiction and even saw them live like 6 times in ’89 or ’90. I remember when Nirvana was just some band who had a decent album out on Sub Pop but was no Mudhoney. But once Pavement came out I was utterly confused how anyone could like them and that was the beginning of irony really taking over right? Yeah I didn’t get it at all. Maybe it was an American thing? All those English groups seemed to have a foot planted in dance or soul music even if they didn’t wear it on their sleeve. But that 90′s era of indie rock was a total bummer.
I remember once in school going to a white party and it was like two skinny guys playing soul 45′s and flailing about aimlessly but with a hint of “isn’t this CRAZY we’re dancing to black music!” Yeah totally over my head I guess. I dunno you’re the one that always tells me I don’t get it. I just don’t care for it I suppose.
What do you think about the whole white disco scene? I think people call it “NU Disco” Can anyone who comes to this music thru this kinda James Murphy indy rock kinda road really make it and play it as well as people like you who got there thru hip hop or house and techno and djing?
You’re trying to get me to talk shit! No… I think it’s cool and I really am enjoying the music that’s coming out of it. I haven’t really heard any of these dudes dj except for Tim Sweeny and some mix cd’s. I just don’t really like the whole Jack White approach to music being brought into dance music. This whole only using vintage gear and vinyl and making such a point of it that you’re making more of a negative statement than a positive one. And dance music is all about positivity to me. You shouldn’t restrict yourself in anyway whether it be bpm’s or audio, otherwise you have no idea what Ron Hardy or Larry Levan were really about.
Your a big house music fan, name a few of your favorite “body and soul” style house songs and tell us how the blunt smoking hip hop dj finds himself eyes closed dancing and singing along to songs about god an love? Will the ironic white people ever make it to this point too or are they doomed to that sort of “look what im doing, ha ha ha” irony thing?
One of my recent favorites is Copywright – He Is (the Ferrer and Sydenham mix). It’s an intense cut and I don’t think it always works but if you had the right crowd it would probably be the highlight of the night! I love that gospel dance music combo like Sounds Of Blackness – I Believe (the David Morales mix). So good. You have to realize that when I started deejaying in clubs, just being able to play Hip Hop was never enough. This was 12 years ago and you could still play disco classics for your crowd and they would love it and playing songs like “Work It To The Bone” and “Hot Music” at prime time was a must. I mentioned before the club 2 Eyes, well they used to have a house dj downstairs who was incredible. So I would go down and listen to him after I was done opening up and I really started to understand and fall in love with house. But I hadn’t smoked any weed for a few years by that point!
I don’t know if the ironic masses will ever catch on. If James Murphy plays it maybe? Everyone loves that song where he tuned his voice down to sound black so who knows. I notice a lot of those DJ’s always playing dubs though so I feel like they’re always trying to get rid of the vocals for some reason (hmmmm).
Give me a few of your top production influences.
Martin Hannett, Rick Rubin, Larry Heard, Arthur Baker, Masters At Work.
Im always pushing you to make your music more accessible and kinda sell out a little bit, do you think the sorta rules you make for yourself or the uncompromising way you work are holding you back in any way?
Probably. But it’s ok. It’s taken me ten years to get to the point where anyone knows who I am outside of New York so I’ll just keep doing my thing and maybe in ten more years I’ll make some money. Mostly though I think it’s important to maintain some kind of identity and it’s hard to keep that while compromising.
Are you doing your own album or just keep remixing? what about top 40 production? what’s your plans for 09 and beyond.
Both. I am getting pretty far along in my album. I’ve got some great songs ready and I’m really excited. There’s some techy stuff, soulful vocal house, disco, new wave, everything.
I also did a lot of tracks on Pase’s album and a few on Amanda Blank’s although I’m not sure how many will actually make the final cut on hers. Aside from all that some remixes for big rock groups that you’ll probably never hear and also some great small bands like this group Club Feet I just did a remix for and I love it. I’m also doing a band with Amanda that’s gonna be very poppy and fun. We already have an e.p.’s worth of material to put out.
Everybody knows you as this sweet geeky guy who likes comic books and records and nerding out and shit, but tell us a little bit about your dark side, you were out last night partying with the Hardy Boyz at 3 30 on a Monday and your married. Tell us more about your double life, Everybody sees this positive guy but I’ve seen the underbelly, talk a little bit about the hater within and how you manage to keep that side in check and stay so positive all the time?
Ummm you’re making me sound like some weird creepy Patrick Batemen type or something! I don’t think I have a double life. I’ve always loved night life but I also love having dinner parties with my wife and friends or, yes, comic books and sci-fi. I am super critical about music and deejays, much like you, but I’ve been trying recently to let go of all that and relax a little. I used to have trouble enjoying myself at all if the deejay wasn’t good or whatever but there aren’t too many good deejays out there so if you ever want to have fun you have to let it go. It’s really easy to be judgmental and snide and it basically gets you nowhere.
Your really into Batman and I think Superman even more and Fleetwood Mac your like border line creepy about the Mac tell us about this and is there anything you like more than Superman and Stevie Nicks?
It’s all because of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, my favorite movie of all time! There’s this scene where Stacy is waiting for Damone to pick her up to go get an abortion and they’re playing this obscure Stevie Nicks song in the background. I watched it so many times I started to love that song and eventually found myself in a very intense love affair with Stevie and the Mac. It hasn’t ended yet… One of the best presents I ever got from my wife was the 45 of “Go Your Own Way” with the original version of “Silver Springs” on the b side! As for comics, I love Batman waaaaay more than Supes. His mythology is way more intriguing and multi-leveled. I’m hard pressed to think of anything I love more than the Mac or Bats.
Of all the people I know your one of if not the most “new york” without trying to be. Like its never an act it just is. As a transplant im inherently envious of this and aspire to one day not seem like fuckstick from Virginia. It seems like in this day and age its getting easier and easier for people to come to ny and not have to become new yorkers, is williamsburg like china town but instead of the chinese its “ohio town” What do we have to do to earn our spot in your city? do we even have to earn it anymore?
Well New York is going to be whatever it is at the moment. So if Ohio town is what’s happening, those people will have kids who will grow up that way and that’ll be New York. I mean my dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is Greek with a Jewish mother. I’m willing to bet you won’t find too many people with my background in any other city. I also grew up in a time that I think a lot of people our age associate as New York at its realest or whatever so maybe that’s it. I remember when Pase lived here and he told me he never went above 14th street and I was blown away! If you live here it’s good to get on the train and go to Central Park and even Washington Heights and really get to know this city. Go to the Whitney and the MOMA, and when you go out at night don’t just go to the local bar… go out on your own to a party you’ve only heard about and experience it. But I think if you didn’t grow up here there’s a little something you’ll never really have. It’s definitely a bond we share and I think it breeds a certain type of person.
Speaking of ny, besides the pizza spot on St Marks and A for Italian ice where I can always find you on a hot summer day what are your top ny spots? Just really new York shit, pizza, bagels, italian, etc etc…
First of the coffee place on Waverly is always popping. If I can get a seat on the bench you can find me there or else on a stoop across the street giving yuppies dirty looks. Also the bench in front of Olive’s on Prince street is prime real estate if you can get it. You can definitely catch me eating outside at Cafe Mogador, I was raised on that food. The best bagels in New York are Russ and Daughters and anyone who says different is lying. And if you don’t get em with Belly lox, you’re soft!