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Eli Escobar's Seaside Sessions: The Story of 'The Beach Album'

As the iconic New York DJ and producer Eli Escobar unveils 'The Beach Album,' his ninth studio venture, he welcomes us into its creative journey that stretches from his Manhattan base to the Rockaways amidst the pandemic. In the past three years, Eli’s sound has undergone a profound metamorphosis, paralleling his decisive rise as one of the city's preeminent DJs.

THE STANDARD: You just dropped your 9th album, 'The Beach Album', which is the first of the three albums that you produced during the pandemic. Why did you wait so long to release it?

ELI ESCOBAR: The Beach album was 100% created during the first month of the pandemic. I was very quick, because we had downtime and that was new for me. I felt an urgency to create. Normally, I get a therapeutic release through playing music live and connecting with people. I just felt I had to channel my creative energy into something. After creating it, I put it away very quickly. A lot of it is upbeat and danceable, it just didn't make any sense at the time. So, once I was finished with that body of work, I started other projects that came out during the pandemic. These were slower, more melancholic. They mirrored more of a 'this has been going on for a while' point of view, and they seemed to fit into the musical landscape of that time. So, I put those out first.

Did you make any adjustments before releasing it?

The Beach album was set aside for about three years. Sometimes, I don't connect with my own music once it's been made, and I just sort of forgot about this album. I was busy making new music and focusing on new projects. But when I listened to it again, I felt it deserved to come out. So, with no adjustments, I got it ready. It was already mastered. It was just about getting it pressed and ready for a digital release.

"Listening to this album feels good; it's a reminder that something beautiful emerged during a not-so-nice time." – Eli Escobar

The album cover features a photo of a quaint beach house in the Rockaways. Is this the actual residence where you crafted your music?

I just picked that house on our block simply because it says "beach" on it. There wasn't a specific reason; it's just that sometimes, when I make music, I take photos of my environment at the time and attach them to the demos. I took a picture of this house on a sunny day and attached it to the album files. Maybe I should bring a copy of the vinyl to the couple who lives there as a surprise! 

What can you tell us about living by the beach with your family in the Rockaways, is it something you miss?

Living out there for such a long time was my first experience in what felt like a suburb, especially since I grew up in Manhattan. I have friends from Queens who might not like to hear I called the Rockaways, which are part of Queens, as a suburb. But that's just how you look at it when you're from Manhattan. The experience was very hard because it coincided with such an uncertain time in the world. There were fantastic aspects, like having a garden and always-accessible outdoor space, not to mention the beach. But then, there was the mundane side I imagined suburban life would entail, and I realized I'm not made for that. I need to have lots of activities outside of my house, lots of action and lots of people around me. That just suits me better.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve been sitting on this album for 3 years. How does it resonate with you today? 

To be quite honest, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this music, because my recent work has taken a different direction. I've stopped sampling and started making more electronic-inspired music, reconnecting with my love for synth-pop, EBM, electro, and techno, and really just having fun with those influences. This album sounds similar to my earlier work, especially my first album, "Up All Night," which people loved. So, I suspected they might enjoy this one too, and it seems that's the case. I haven't received this many compliments on an album since that first one, which feels great, and I'm obviously happy about that. However, I don't foresee creating much more music in this particular style, at least not soon. There's no real reason for it, other than wanting to explore new sounds, processes, and new ways of creating music.

Eli Escobar by Kenny Rodriguez
"Like many, I lost my job for a while, but I also found something valuable—the opportunity to be creative and produce a lot of music."

What memories surface for you when you revisit this album?

The album reminds me of that early pandemic period without the associated trauma. While certain aspects of the pandemic's onset may trigger trauma or PTSD, this music remains a source of positivity and sounds uplifting. It embodies the happier memories from those early days in the pandemic, rooted in creativity. It acts as a snapshot of that era, capturing the downtime, uncertainty, and fear that defined it. Like many, I lost my job for a while, but I also found something valuable—the opportunity to be creative and produce a lot of music. Listening to this album feels good; it's a reminder that something beautiful emerged during a not-so-nice time.

The album is also a poignant reflection of surviving the pandemic in the city. Could you delve deeper into the experiences, emotions that inspired the themes and sounds of the album?

This body of work mirrors the initial weeks of the pandemic. I work fast, you know. Once I commit to a project, I just get to it, and I'm done in, like, two weeks. This was made before we started to understand how long this period of isolation would last, before we knew how long it would be before nightlife would return. There was still hope then. 

How did it come up?

We left for the beach in quite a flurry. I stayed up really late the night before we left Manhattan, sampling a million records because I didn't know how long we'd be away. I figured I should have a bunch of stuff to mess around with and just have fun. That's how those songs came together, based on the samples I picked, and why it sounds the way it does. If you listen to some of the samples like, "gotta find a way today," or "something inside of me telling me to go ahead," you can tell I was focused on messages of hope and perseverance. A lot of times, I can envision the way I want the album to sound before I start laying it down, and I did with this one. 

Eli Escobar by Kenny Rodriguez
"I DJ very differently these days because I have complete freedom."

Most of the tracks are crafted for the dance floor. Do you enjoy spinning your own tracks when you DJ?

I rarely play my own music when I DJ. Currently, there's one remix I did for Rex the Dog that I'm really happy with, so I've been playing that a lot. It's probably the most I've ever played something I was involved in. But the track is fundamentally his, which might explain why. Generally, I can't get into my own music in the club. If another DJ plays it, it surprises me, which can be a nice treat. However, there are perhaps three tracks of my own that I’ve played. Interestingly, it's not about testing them in the club; often, I play them years after they've been released, reaching a level of comfort where I think, "Alright, I really like that one; I'm going to play it out."

This is unusual, as DJs often preview and test their new tracks in the club.

This likely stems from my own insecurities, being too attached or too close to my music to enjoy it in a club setting. I become too self-conscious, noticing mistakes or things I would have done differently in the mix. When I'm DJing, I need to stay in the zone, in the moment, and hearing my own music disrupts that. So, I don't see a point or feel a need to play my tracks. I don't view DJ sets as performances or shows, which distinguishes my approach from some others. When I started DJing, I didn't have any records out, and the concept of playing my music never occurred to me. So, I don't feel compelled to do it.

You’ve been a constant presence across New York’s dance music scene since the early ’90s. How do you think your approach to DJing have evolved over the decades?

I DJ very differently these days because I have complete freedom. Professionally, as a DJ, I've been on the scene since '93. However, it was not until the late '90s that my career truly began. Early on, I was just a person who was there to play what people wanted to hear. At the time, the latest music people wanted tended to be pretty great, so it wasn't too bad. But I was running through the basic sets you had to do if you were a working DJ. Now, people come specifically to hear me play, and a lot of times, I play all night. Thus, my approach has fundamentally changed. I can really tap into how I'm feeling that day, creating a narrative in my sets, which I always try to do. It's pretty important to me. The consistency in my approach has completely transformed.

Photo by Kenny Rodriguez
"I make what I'd like listening to myself, say on the train or in my headphones. A lot of that comes from my inspiration from the late '80s and early '90s hip-hop albums that I devoured as a teenager."

And how did you evolve as a music producer?

My approach to music production started to shift around 2014 or '15. I began making music without worrying about how it fit into the rest of the electronic world in terms of genre, tempo, length of songs, or even formats. I gravitate towards the album format, which I know isn't exactly popular right now. It might not even make much sense since people are into singles and streaming songs. But I decided I wanted to do whatever I wanted. If that's a two-minute interlude or some weird street noise in my songs, so be it. I make what I'd like listening to myself, say on the train or in my headphones. A lot of that comes from my inspiration from the late '80s and early '90s hip-hop albums that I devoured as a teenager. The way those albums were arranged, even if I wasn't making that kind of music, influenced me.

It was liberating, this transformation.

That switch really changed everything. Suddenly, more people got into my music, which was kind of funny. More so, my music got more attention, and that's when the [British independent] label Defected came into the picture. I made albums with them as varied as my album 'Up All night.' I've stuck with that approach since then. Now, if I feel like dropping a beat tape today and a techno EP tomorrow, I go for it. I'm not concerned if anyone's listening; I just need to be into it myself. It's logical for me since my music tastes are so varied. Why limit myself to creating or spinning just one style?


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