"It’s like a mixture of educating and listening. That’s what a lot of us in Soulection try to do."
The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. This week we spoke to Filipino producer/DJ ESTA, a rising name in the Soulection roster alongside artists like Carmack and Sango. He breaks down his favorite old sounds and new styles, his riveting Boiler Room set that has the internet ablaze, and how he and his squad are rewriting the rules of the instrumental beat scene from within.
What’s your background? Where are you from and how’d you get into producing? I grew up in L.A., Harlem Parkway, until I was ten. Then I moved to the East Bay up north, then ended up here in Temecula. This is where I discovered production, in high school. I was a sophomore and my best friend introduced me to [the beat making software] FL Studio. I went to his house one day and just got hooked. My parents are from the Philippines, but they came here at a young age so they’re pretty hip to everything. They definitely inspired my musical taste. My dad's favorite album is like The Chronic from Dre, and then he’ll have like Kelly Clarkson on his iPod. And my mom is like a huge R&B/soul listener. Her favorite singer is Janet Jackson.
I'd heard that when you first started putting beats out and promoting them, you were sampling old theme songs for TV shows like Doug and Rugrats? Aw yeah, that's crazy. I used to be big on Tumblr, so I would like try to be involving myself with whoever was following me, and ask what I should flip next. I did it on a weekly basis, so one week it would be like Doug or Justin Bieber, something wild like that. And they caught on, so it worked out.
What’s the philosophy behind the source material you choose to incorporate into your beats? I like to bring back things I thought were overlooked or slept on. Or if not that, a famous song that I'll put my touch on and make it more modern, so that the younger people or the people not into it get a different look on it. It's just to educate them to a new sound, like curating. I think that’s what a lot of us in Soulection try to do.
How’d you first get down with the Soulection crew? What exactly is the nature of your working relationship? It doesn’t even feel like work honestly. We’re like family. It just works naturally. I don’t even think I’ve asked them for anything actually. Like reposts, or...I mean if they like it, they’ll put it out, that’s how it works. I had a beat showcase, in Temecula. There was probably less than 30 people there, and Andre Power, one of the founders at the time—he also sells vintage clothing and he was vending there—overheard my set. We chopped it up a little bit after and then he reported me to [Soulection boss] Joe Kay, and Joe emailed me a few weeks later. And we’ve just been building ever since. It brings together all the true listeners. You can guarantee all the people that listen to Soulection, they’re going to appreciate it. It’s like a built in audience. Because before, I couldn’t put this stuff out. Or like when I was on Tumblr, they would think it was like different. But now I could put out anything, or just experiment, and they’ll put it on Soulection and they’ll get it.
Would you rather be in a position to give beats to bigger artists, or get your own name up as a performer? I definitely love studio producers, so I would love to work with bigger name artists. To be honest, the shows are not my passion, really. I love playing for people, but I would love to just lock myself in a room and make music all day, pitch it to bigger artists. I mean I'm actually surprised I have any attention at all. You know, it’s never been like this—its always been the singer, rapper in the forefront and we’re like behind the scenes, which is totally cool with me too.
"I'm surprised I have any attention at all. It's always been the rapper in the forefront and we’re behind the scenes--which is totally cool with me too."
You guys just played your first Boiler Room set in London and tore it down. How was that? It was crazy because we’re based in L.A., but they never reached out to us to come play at Boiler Room here. It was like a huge accomplishment for us to be able to do it out there in London. I honestly don’t watch too much of the Boiler Room sessions, so I think I was underestimating the outcome of it all. It's like a huge thing. I mean, I knew I had to come correct. I was really just practicing for like two hours before the show, ‘cause I don’t have turntables, so whenever I get a chance to practice at a little gig or something, I try to do it big. But yeah, that was a crazy. I totally underestimated that. I thought I was gonna play beats for a few people in a room. Of course, my mixings not that great ‘cause I’ve only been DJing for a year and a half. But every other detail, whether it was like the sweat on my shirt or something—people at home is gonna call that stuff out! So I had to keep that in mind too.
Spinning in a nightclub, your job may be to play the hottest records out that everyone knows. On the other hand, at an EDM festival, fans aren't there to hear their favorite songs—it's more about the overall escapism. You guys land somewhere in the middle. You'll play a Young Thug single, into a Ginuwine remix, into some instrumental no one's ever heard. Yeah, yeah. We just try to keep people involved. It’s like a mixture of educating and listening. Having them reminisce on a song they liked before or like showing them a song they slept on. Reminding them how good a song was when at the time it came out.
'90s R&B records are core sampling material for young producers now the way soul music from the '60s was for producers since hip-hop started. Why do you think the '90s have become so relevant with young listeners? It was just a great time for music. And music got really bad a few years after. Like, everything sounded the same at one point on the radio. Lil Wayne was on every verse, featured on every song. The beats were just terrible, and then it got into that time when EDM and R&B collided. People are still figuring out how to mix the two. And it's weird that actually happened too. I don’t even know how that happened. I like where it’s going now, though.
What do you have coming up next? I have a few gigs here and there, but I decided to lay off some gigs so I can focus on my album. I’m definitely still in the early stages, but I want to start soon. I’m collaborating with lots of vocalists. I want it at least 90% vocalist, so hopefully it comes out cool. And oh yeah, I’m gonna put out a little 5-track house EP, I think people are enjoying my house stuff and it’s still pretty new to me. I want to see how they react to it. I love house because it teaches me so much. It’s like a whole new genre, a whole new sound that I can incorporate into the R&B side of things.