Introducing: Eli Brown, Bristol’s Unstoppable Mystery Producer
Eli Brown is suspiciously successful for someone who’s been in the game for just four years. His first release, Can You Feel It / Acid Test, came out on Skream’s Of Unsound Mind label in 2016. Not long after that, Solardo, Lethos, Fitzpatrick, and Skream could not stop dropping his tunes.
Brown seemed to fall out the sky and behind the decks of every major dance music event on the planet. He didn’t rise to the top so much as apparate there. His productions are made for stadiums, euphoric dance tsunamis with soaring vocals, infectious samples, and crep-stomping beats. His tunes ooze confidence. His DJ sets better described as puppet mastery than performance. For a total unknown, Eli Brown seems too good to be true. Which, of course, he is.
The artist, currently known as Eli Brown, has been in the business for significantly longer than four years. He grew up in Backwell, a village and civil parish on the outskirts of Bristol. He spent his teenage years soaking up Bristol’s golden era of underground, back when jungle and drum & bass were raging through the UK, swallowing up anyone with an appetite for rave and energy to spare. Roni Size and his Reprazent crew had just beat Spice Girls and Radiohead to win the Mercury Music Prize. Along with Massive Attack and Portishead, Bristolian artists were redefining UK music.
Brown and his mates dived in head-first, spending their weekends at jungle clubs in Bristol, delighted equally by the music and the lax door policies. Brown says the energy and creativity and potential hung thick in the air, so it’s no wonder he soon turned to producing.
“Back then producing was hard to get into,” Brown says, speaking from his studio in Bristol. “It wasn’t like you could just put a program on your computer and make tunes. You needed certain hardware to make music. That appealed to me, so I saved up and bought a sampler.” He pauses, then laughs. “I had no idea how to use it for years.”
Brown figured out how to use the sampler while at uni in Liverpool. “Northwest always had a strong house music heritage while Bristol was more bass music,” he says. “So going up there, I went to Bugged Out, which brought me onto Dave Clarke, Green Velvet. I started DJing at clubs and focussed on making music, and that’s when I started releasing records.”
The artist currently known as Eli Brown had a lucrative career as one half of a drum & bass duo. He toured his act around the world for several years, making friends in high places along the way. In 2016 Brown played Glastonbury and spent much of the weekend with his friend Dan (AKA Eats Everything). “I watched his sets and saw Carl Cox play Arcadia, and I just came away from that experience feeling really inspired,” Brown says. “And I thought alright, I’ll make a few house tunes. See what happens.”
He sent his first house track to Skream anonymously. They’d become friendly through the dubstep connection and played a lot of gigs together. “I sent it anonymously because I wanted an honest opinion without preconceptions,” Brown says. “It was a risk that he wouldn’t listen to it because he probably gets sent thousands of tunes. But luckily, he liked it.” So much so that he snapped up Brown’s first EP.
Feeling validated, Brown locked himself away in his studio for six months producing house tune after house tune, submitting them to his favourite labels. He was essentially breaking and entering his way into the scene, producing so many bangers labels had no choice but to pay attention. In 2017 he released his Sumatra EP on Toolroom Records followed by Hysteria on Repopulate Mars. Solardo soon booked him to play their Solardo Sessions at The Warehouse Project and then their room 2 residency at Hï Ibiza. Since then, he’s not slowed down for a single minute, wrapping up his first world tour just in time for the 2020 Year of the Shitstorm and consistently producing music whatever the weather.
“It’s been good to have a successful second career,” Brown says. “A lot of DJs try. It’s highly competitive and hard to sustain a career in music. Music genres change and styles change and what’s cool changes. So to do it a second time round on my own feels like an achievement.”
Stand out moments for Brown have been performing at EDC in Vegas and releasing his second EP Got The Power on Skream’s Of Unsound Mind imprint. “That was a big moment for me,” he says. “It was one of the tunes that broke through and really helped my career.”
More recently, his peak-time floor-filler “XTC” with Solardo has been a game-changer, topping Beatport’s tech house charts and racking up millions of streams. And then there’s Calvin Harris.
“Calvin started playing my records out last summer, and we’ve been chatting on email ever since,” Brown says as if it’s no big deal. “I sent him something in January, and he was bang into it, so we wrote two tracks together. They’re part of the Moving EP that came out in April.” Brown pauses then laughs. “Yeah, teenage me would never have imagined that happening.”
Brown might have spent 2020 at home rather than on the road, but he’s continued to produce music throughout lockdown, starting work on an album and lining up releases until the end of this year, some on his new label Arcane Music. With his latest single “Immortal” on Armada Subjekt he’s pushed the boundaries of the genre, combining dramatic instrumentals and trance build-ups to create an emotive dance masterpiece.
“I wanted to make a big epic song to play at the end of my festival sets,” Brown says. “I’m excited about it because I pushed myself. I used a full vocal. I think it sparks emotion and I’m really happy with it. I managed to play it a couple of times before lockdown.”
When Brown catfished Skream back in 2016, he didn’t have a plan at all. “I was just loving the music,” he says. “It’s probably what I like doing the most, making tunes, and it was the same when I fell in love with jungle. Even now, I’m still discovering new genres and scenes, and that’s what keeps me inspired and excited. Discovering new music, getting new influences.”
In a post-COVID world, Brown hopes we can reconnect with the joy and value in clubbing, and not take it for granted. “When I was young, clubbing was inclusive and fun. It was all about hugging your mates and making new friends. I hope when clubs and festivals re-open, we can take the positives from this pandemic, like supporting the NHS and the BLM movement. I hope that feeling of togetherness and inclusivity encompasses clubbing again.”
Eli Brown’s latest release “Immortal” is available to purchase on Beatport.
Alice Austin is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. Find her on Twitter.