A hip-hop, house, disco, and R&B producer and DJ, Eli Escobar has been known as one of the most diverse spinners in New York since 1999. His activities vary from hosting hip-hop and house radio shows to curating the popular summer block party Tiki Disco. Recently, he's been putting the finishing touches on the upcoming EP Body, which is chock-full of diva vocals and '80s acid house influences. We spoke with Escobar about the concept of Tiki Disco, the heyday of Paradise Garage, and how to party until dawn. He plays this Friday, May 23, at Beatbox for a special afterhours dedicated to Paradise Garage.
Since you are a multigenre DJ, do you find it harder to keep up with new musical selections, or have you got your formula down?
Well, I was way more into hip-hop in the '90s. At this point I am mostly concerned with dance music. A lot of people ask me how I keep up with new music, and I guess it's something I just never stopped doing since I was a young boy, buying 12-inches with whatever money I could scrape together. I like to play any music that I love from whatever era. but I would never restrict myself to only playing older stuff and not still checking for new music -- especially because there's tons of good stuff out now. My main formula is to check Traxsource and Beatport a few times a week and listen to lots of podcasts and mixes to hear what I might be missing. There's just so much! I also like to go out to shops and buy vinyl-only stuff, and then transfer it to digital so I can play it off my little USB stick.
You're known for co-founding one of New York's most popular summer dance parties, Tiki Disco. Can you give us the concept of it?
It's a fun dance party that happens in the summer, outdoors and for the most part bi-weekly. It's been mostly in Bushwick but we've also brought it out to Rockaway Beach. I'd have to say that what has made it so special is the crowd. When we started the party, we were so surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was and how into the music and dancing people were. It felt like something I had waited my whole life to be able to take part in. And it's only grown and gotten better since the beginning. I think people were relieved that the music wasn't so dark and lacking in vocals. We aren't scared to have fun and [to] subscribe to the idea that dance music should be therapeutic and exciting, full of peaks and ecstatic moments. I like to dance to techno as much as anyone, but sometimes the next day you realize you don't remember anything you heard. We are trying to give people memories that will last a lifetime.
If you were to take Tiki Disco somewhere in the world, where would it be?
Maybe Greece. I played a gig there a few years ago and had the best time. Then I stayed an extra night and did an unannounced after-hours [set] and it was even better. It would be great to do it on one of the islands on the beach.
Last week, you had your last house radio show Delancey Music Service with East Village Radio. What were your feelings about the end of EVR?
I've learned that nothing lasts forever. My three-year party at Le Bain here in NYC ended just recently, as did another radio show of mine. So this is just the way things go. I feel sad, because EVR was a great outlet for underground music and I was proud that it came out of my home borough. I loved doing the show, too, because it was a great way to experiment with mixes [and] new songs, and the feedback from listeners was always great. I'm hopeful someone will pick up where they've left off and a new era will begin.
Will you be taking the show elsewhere, like a podcast or ...?
Not entirely sure as of now. Stay tuned!
The preview of your upcoming EP Body is very danceable with great vibes. What were some influences going into it and when will it be released?
Thanks! These two tracks, I think, were made in the same day or weekend. I was just going through some random a capella records I had, looking for samples, and built the basic beats over the samples I ended up using. Simple stuff. Sometimes people seem to like the tracks that took the least amount of effort to make. They like the rawness, I suppose. The EP will come out on May 26 on Beatport and June 9 everywhere else.
This Friday's party will be a tribute to Paradise Garage. For those that aren't that familiar with it, can you give us a brief history?
Probably the most renowned club in NYC's history, if not the world's. I started going clubbing about five years after it closed its doors, so I was never lucky enough to go. But there is a legacy that the club and Larry Levan left that you can feel to this day. The music Larry played every week has lived on. I grew up listening to the radio station WBLS, and their main DJ Frankie Crocker went to hear Larry every weekend and added the songs he was playing to the station's playlist. Songs like "Hearbeat" by Taana Gardner were successful due to their play at the Garage. So even us kids who were too young to go heard the music in the streets.
What's a track that you think truly represents the Garage sound?
I'd say probably Loose Joints "Is It All Over My Face." One of Larry's all-time greatest remixes.
Since the underground will run until 8 a.m., what advice do you have to those who want to keep their stamina up until the early hours?
I hope the music will be enough to keep everyone going. I don't do drugs so I wouldn't know what to suggest to those who do. Just get a good disco nap in and come dance and let the music do the rest.