Artist of the Month: Eli Brown

The Bristol-born DJ and producer talks to Beatportal about how he went from making songs in his bedroom to collaborating with Calvin Harris, launching his own label, Arcane, and becoming one of the biggest names in techno.

9 min
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May 13, 2024
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By
Ben Jolley

Over the past few years, Eli Brown has ascended to the top tier of techno. In fact, he’s one of the most-streamed names in the scene worldwide – and for very good reason. When Beatportal catches up with the DJ and producer, he’s at home relaxing during a rare weekend off ahead of a big run of US shows including gigs in Atlanta, San Francisco and at EDC Las Vegas.

Brown has, quite literally, come a long way since his early days making music in his Bristol bedroom. “I've been into music for as long as I can remember,” he recalls, adding that this lifelong interest stemmed from his dad, who shared his love of Motown and Northern Soul from a young age. “Something was always playing, either in the car or at home.

Aged 10, he was introduced to electronic music when his dad bought him his first record, Leftfield’s pioneering 1995 album Leftism; “that really shaped what I’ve been into ever since,” Brown remembers. Around the same time, he recalls that a friend's rave-loving older sister would give him cassettes with DJ sets on them. This led to Brown becoming “hooked” on iconic British acts like The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, as well as rave and early jungle.

Growing up in Bristol had a huge impact on his teenage years too. While Brown remembers bands like Massive Attack and Portishead being popular, a moment that “sent shockwaves through the city” was when Bristolian d'n'b producer Roni Size won the Mercury Music Prize in 1997.

Check out Eli Brown's 'Artist of the Month' chart on Beatport
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Wanting to experience such sounds for himself, Brown started going raving. However, the only clubs that would let him and his friends in, around the age of 16, were jungle and drum & bass clubs. Not that they minded, as d'n'b was “all we wanted to listen to”.

Naturally, this prompted 17-year-old Brown to buy a set of turntables and start DJing in his bedroom. “I became obsessed!” he enthuses, adding that his adolescent years became “totally defined” by those genres. Around the same time, he also started to produce his own music a few years later: “I always had aspirations to make a career out of music, but until I started making my own tracks it was just a pipe dream”.

While going to university in Liverpool and experiencing club sets by DJs like Carl Cox, Dave Clarke, Luke Slater and Green Velvet led to him discovering house and techno, Brown’s studious years also allowed him to start playing out at local club nights. However, he came to the realisation that “in order to progress, I would need to write and produce music”. Luckily, he moved in with a guy who not only had a small studio set up but started teaching Brown the basics.

“From there, I kind of spent every waking hour trying to make tracks,” he recalls. Although it took a year or so, he then started getting songs signed. This led to DJ gigs outside of his home city of Bristol and, also, internationally. The turning point was achieving his first big record in the drum ‘n’ bass scene, which went to number one in the UK Dance Chart. “That’s when I started to think this could actually be a reality,” he says.

However, while he started out with a d’n’b project, Brown decided to switch sound and started making house and techno. “It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just wanted to experiment with making other stuff, and bring the energy from my d’n’b productions into the house and techno worlds.”

After sending some of his tracks out, Brown signed with scene-leading labels, including Skream’s Of Unsound Mind, Toolroom, Ultra, Filth On Acid, Trick, and Drumcode. Several collaborations with dance music king Calvin Harris - whom he connected with via Instagram as the Scotsman had been playing his songs out - propelled Brown beyond the underground in 2020. “We decided to send some ideas back and forth,” Brown recalls, adding that the tunes ("Moving" and "Don’t You Want Me") came together quickly. “It’s incredible to have the support of one of my heroes,” he says, adding that, because they are both from the UK and share similar musical influences, “it felt quite natural.”

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Around the same time, he decided to launch his own record label, Arcane Music, firstly as a place to release his own productions. “I felt that my music didn't always fit into certain boxes,” Brown says; “it was often quite hard to sign my music to a label as a result.” He suggests this is down to his love of all types of techno: “I like everything from the harder end of tech house through to techno, and I wanted to represent that with the label.”

Running his own imprint has also enabled Brown to give a platform to like-minded artists. “I’m lucky to get sent some great music, and I love supporting this in my DJ sets, and by signing records, I love to the label,” he says. “Whether it's a new artist or established artist, I don't mind… as long as I'm hammering the tunes in my sets.”

More recently, in March 2023, Brown scored a huge hit with his peak-time pumper "Be The One." While he says they would get a good reaction when he played them out, he didn’t expect them to blow up as much as they have. “You never can tell which tunes are going to be more successful than others,” he suggests. “Sometimes it's luck of the draw. However, I feel that putting vocals over techno was something that was being largely ignored at the time and, as a result, that helped these tunes cut through.”

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With more of the globe’s population listening to techno than ever before, he feels that the scene is in “a great place.” The rise of hard techno, he adds, has had “a bit of a strange effect on the whole scene, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For me, techno is something that's been around for so long… trends come and go, but techno is here to stay. That's why I love it so much.”

Although Brown has been DJing at clubs and festivals internationally for the past 15 years, including recently selling out a New York show in under 30 seconds, he doesn’t take such bookings lightly. “I definitely didn't expect the level of success that I'm enjoying at present, but this definitely hasn’t happened overnight,” Brown says, adding that he has “played for just five people in some random places.” Consequently, he still feels “surprised how things have progressed for me; I never take this career for granted. I feel so lucky to be doing this as a job and traveling the world.”

As for the rest of 2023, Brown is gearing up to release two tracks - "Trick Daddy" and "I Got Money" - on his label. “I’m really proud of these songs and the support for them has already been insane. To have it coming out on my label is amazing.” In general, he teases “plenty of new music this year; I have a release dropping almost every six weeks and some big collaborations on the way, so get ready!”

Beyond releasing music, Brown has got some big ambitions for 2024 – though he says “the goal posts are ever-changing”. Alongside wanting Arcane to become the number one techno label - “that’s something I'm really striving for this year” - he’s excited to take his high-energy techno to more places across the globe. “When I set out on this journey I had no idea where this road would take me, so I’m just glad people like my music,” he reflects. “I want my music to reach as many people as possible around the world and, hopefully, turn them on to my sound: the Eli Brown sound.”

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Eli Brown's two-tracker Trick Daddy/I Got Money drops on May 17th via Arcane Music. Buy it on Beatport.

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