Posted on 19 February 2015.
By Dustin Shrader
The alluring DJ Escape has toured the world, seen and done it all. Although he still continues to tour, nowadays the legendary spinner is serving up something different. I chatted with Escape about his appearance at Atlanta’s The Heretic, his new partnership with Playgirl and what exactly he is doing that has all his fans losing their minds.
Fenuxe: You’re touring your new party right now. It’s called Serve, right?
Escape: Yes. OK. This whole Serve started over a year ago at a place called Shanky’s in New York, and it was called Sunday Service. I was given the control to finally be an artist and do me whereas for 15 years I’ve spent my time on the road catering to the crowd, and playing the hits, and not really having an identity as an artist.
I stepped back and said, “I want to give people something that’s me.” I stopped doing the pop mixes, and I started producing and doing all original stuff and catering to my thing. Fast-forward to now where I have Served, and I’ve been doing this party over a year. It’s my baby, I own it, I run it, I’m the resident and the day of the resident in New York died a long time ago. To have a consistent residency every week is just unheard of.
F: Yeah, that is different.
Escape: I know the recipe, because I’ve been on the sidelines for so long. To where it’s not just me I showcase my guests, and my residents are Tom Stephan, Stephan Grondin, Razor and Guido, Manny Lehman, who else. I brought in some of the new guys Billy Lace, I just brought on Cindel. Hector Romero, That Kid Chris. What I basically do is I play once a month by myself, and then I showcase my talent. I’ll open up the room, put the talent on and then for the last hour-and-a-half we tag team back and forth and really create lives. The Magic.
Escape: That’s my recipe for what’s going on in New York. I have new records with so many artist that I’m getting ready to drop. I have a new record with Robin S, called Shout-It-Out-Loud, which is a little preview of up in my Sound Cloud. I have a new record recovered Frankie Knuckles, Workout. I have a new record with Veronica that’s up in my Sound Cloud.
Escape: I have Christine W. coming in in a couple weeks. I have a new record with her coming. Brand new record with Alan T. Brand, new record with Sandy B. As you see, the list goes on and on. I’m reaching for that old school talent that everyone forgot about.
F: Yeah. Yeah, I can definitely tell.
Escape: Everyone’s forgotten about the artist, and I feel it’s my job to remind everyone what’s up.
And I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as like that dinosaur DJ with that tired circuit sound. I feel that circuit sound is in the stone-age. It’s been 15 years, it hasn’t evolved. It’s the exact same thing. What I’m doing is old school New York. It’s different. It’s fun. It’s party. It’s familiar without being commercial.
F: I understand.
Escape: You’re not going to hear any radio record when I play, at all. No Rhianna, No Lady GaGa, No Britney Spears, nothing like that.
F: All right, so nothing mainstream at all?
Escape: Nothing mainstream, you’re going to hear underground artist. You’re going to hear vocals. You’re going to things you know, done up in a brand new way. I just did new mixes to Tonya Garner the Heart Beat, to First Choice Love Sensation. I mean, I’m reaching for soul. I’m reaching for disco. I’m reaching for ’90s. I’m across the board, you’re going to hear new things of things that you would never imagine could never be done up in the club.
F: There is nothing better than ’90s era music.
Escape: Yeah, and I have an arsenal of over 300 exclusive things that I’ve made, that I play. I played 85% of my own material when I go out and play. I’ve only chosen a couple cities to even go entertain this in right now.
F: Which ones?
Escape: I mean, I’ve worked at The Heretic and I’ve worked with Allen for years. And I haven’t been there for over a year-and-a-half so it felt perfect to come back in and re-introduce what I’m doing now.
I have Boston, which is one of my strongest markets. I play there all the time.
F: Got it.
Escape: I’m bringing my Serve party to San Francisco monthly starting May 30th. I’m there with Christine W. and Hex Hector.
One market I’m missing where … it’s funny that I got my start and I don’t have it right now, is Miami. I was a resident at Liquid from ’98 to 2000. Score moved back into the Liquid Place, and they haven’t called me to work.
F: Yeah I was going to ask if you have made it back down there, yet.
Escape: I’ve been trying. I’ve been reaching out, and just, nothing. And I find that a little weird. With all this theme I have going on and what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.
F: Right. I mean, have you spoken with anyone at all there? Or?
Escape: Yeah, and I know the owners. I just, I don’t know.
Escape: I just rack my brain. Maybe you could provide a little blurb, you know, I mean … Miami is where I got my start. So to re-launch myself in that market would be, everything.
F: Of course.
Escape: And I use to play every market. I’ve gone around the world and back. As I said, doing the commercial thing and the pop thing. And playing everything that everyone wanted to hear. And it wasn’t gratifying because I step back and after 15 years of making a lot of money and touring. And, I step back and I have no identity and, yeah, I made a lot of money but what do I have to show for it? I have a house. I have a car. But people never got to know me.
And having New York now, like this, people are getting to know me because I’ve put it down their throats. And if they didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be succeeding.
F: That is true.
Escape: And succeeding on a weekly basis.
F: How often do you play a week?
Escape: Play once a week. This is my party, that’s all I do.
I travel. I’ve been traveling once a month. I have Atlanta in February. I have … Hold on, let me open up my tour dates. Not much.
F: Oh, okay. Is there a specific reason?
Escape: Because I haven’t been entertaining it. When I go back into the cities, I’m going to run the parties and do it my way.
F: Hey you gotta do what makes you happy.
Escape: I have Tampa at G Bar, March 14th. I have Voyeur in Philly may 23rd. Rise in Boston, April 11th. And then I have some blues I work there in Boston. I work in Boston a lot. But those are really my cities. And then to top it off, Playgirl has made me the official sponsor/spokesperson for their new app called PlayR.
F: Yes! I want to talk about this. Tell me more.
Escape: So, Playgirl is pretty much coming out of the closet. They’re coming up with this hook up app. And I’m the spokesperson. I am the DJ and they’re helping me out, where all these cities and advertising and really getting the word out there.
F: Great? How’d that partnership come about?
Escape: Well, the person involved in the company I’ve known since I was pretty much known 5 years old. He’s followed me and knows what I do. He thought I’d be a perfect fit.
F: Aw, that’s nice.
Escape: Now, I’m just trying to evolve the business and take things to the next level. And shape the sound from yesterday and to today to make them relevant. Then you know, the gay scene use to be at the front of everything and now it’s stale.
F: Yeah, I’d agree.
Escape: And I maintain a high level of respect from all my artist and all my roster. Everyone does things for me to do it. And I’m able to create events for pennies. To where a promoter would have to pay $15,000 to create the event.
F: So, about the Playgirl app. What’s different about it? What’s going to stand it apart from say Grindr?
Escape: There is a lot that’s different. It’s gonna have my music and exclusive stuff from me incorporated in it. You’re going to be able to check in at a location and have people know that you’re there. And it’s going to list what you’re listening to. So let’s say that you’re at the gym and you’re listening to Escape.
It’s going to have all my DJ’s and artist exclusives and I’m going to have exclusive material on there once it gets all launched.
F: Oh cool, that’s really cool. I’ll have to definitely download that when it launches.
Escape: It’s available on the Android right now. And on the iPhone we’re waiting on the Apple store to
F: Guess, I’ll have to wait. I’m an iPhone user.
Escape: I mean basically, the clientele of Playgirl for a long time was the housewives. And now it’s changed, it’s the gay man that is hittin’ up Playgirl.
F: I’m surprised it’s taken this long for them to market toward the gay community.
Escape: Yeah, and I have my dancers, I have a lot of people I work with and they’re all coming on the road with me. Those are my looks. My personality of the night. I’m not just offering DJ. When I’m doing a show it’s a show, it’s an experience. People are going to walk out with something they can remember.
F: Right. I mean, it’s an event.
Escape: It’s an event. They’re going to get as you say served.
F: Sweet! I know Atlanta is ready to get Served.
Escape: When I was doing the party at Shanky’s all the performances were unannounced. They would just be surprises. So on the closing night, I had Vernessa Mitchell come out.
F: Wow, gosh. I’ve never experienced anything like that. So, I’m hoping I can get to come out and see it.
Escape: Yeah, I mean … I’ve just been able to pull out all the stops. All the artists right now, want to work with me. I mean, you know, between Getting Robin S, you know, Inaya Day and Veronica, everyone. I have CeCe Peniston wants to work with me. I have Jocelyn Brown. Every artist wants to work with me right now, and I’m going to slowly work with them all. I mean, I’ve produced a record for Alan T called Shade which is my biggest track I’ve done in, I can’t even remember, since Worship Me.
F: Ooo, that is quite a roster.
Escape: So, I have so much material, I’m just going to unload it all at once.
F: No time like the present.
Escape: And all my DJ’s and my artist are all remixing or putting their own spins on all my material.
F: When will all the new stuff be available?
Escape: I’m saying in the next 6 months. I want to roll everything out for Pride.
I’ve been holding onto to things for a while, making it exclusive to my parties. So like Robin S, I did over a year ago. It’s ready to roll. I’m just trying to set up all the details in my label and distribution.
F: Okay, got you.
Escape: I want to promote it the right way, because my music isn’t disposable and there’s so much garbage out these days, that I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle.
F: Just take a look at iTunes, yeah, I agree with you.
Escape: iTunes. Beatport. It’s like finding a needle in the hay stack. I search for hours and I find one or two good things.
F: Yep. I agree. I’m quite selective to what I listen to myself.
Escape: I had my Sound Cloud taken away where I only put up official remixes. And it took me like 5 months to get my Sound Cloud back. When the only reason these DJs are putting up these bootleg mixes and they’re able to do it. It’s just like a slap in the face. My Sound Cloud is soundcloud.com/DJescapeee. I entice people to sign onto there and follow me. I little clip of Robin S, a little clip of Veronica. I put up one minute teasers.
And more stuff is coming and a lot of stuff, I cater to the clubs, I don’t put up online. Just cause I don’t want it out there. I don’t want people stealing my ideas. But then again a lot of stuff I do, the vocals are inaccessible to anyone. I am able to get such stuff that you can’t even think about. Like to name a few, let me go into my folder here … music … my edits… Heartbeat, I did Love Thing, I did All Cried Out, I did Madonna’s new one, Living for Love. I did the Quick Thing. You know every now and then, I’ll do a cool commercial record, I did Clean Bandit, Rapid B. I did Natalie Cole, Living for Love. I did Jody Watley, Want me Like I Want You. I did for this weekend, Valentine’s Day weekend; I did Diana Ross, Stop in the Name of Love. It’s really endless the amount of stuff that I’ve done. I’ve done Julia Roberts, I Want You. I mean, I could really go on and on for days. With the exclusive material that I’ve done and a lot of it is just for Sundays. And I’m going to play some of it on the road I’m going to drop these that you really can’t hear, like anywhere else.
Escape: I did Where Love Lives. The material goes all the way back to the ’90s. That’s what I … I take people back. To where like they know all the records but now it’s being presented in a new current way. They’re like, Wow. I haven’t heard this forever. What is this version?
F: Yeah, Yeah. It’s fresh, it’s new.
Escape: Yes. I’m all about making the old new and relevant. Giving people things they know without hitting up the radio. If you want to hear the radio go in your car, go to a cruise in bar. If you want to dance, I want you on my dance floor. I want you to enjoy the music. I want you to go home with a memory and say,” I can’t believe you played this” or “Wow, I haven’t heard that in ages.” This is played with this. I go for the experience.
F: And that is what people want.
Escape: At the end of the day, the most gratifying thing to me is when I open up my email, and I get people writing to me, “Wow, I can’t believe you played this at this party.” And it could be a party from like 5 or 10 years ago. “I still remember this and this I will always remember.” That is the most gratifying thing to me in the world.
F: I can imagine.
Escape: People that actually it, get the message. I play around with words all night long. So if you’re really listening and you get into what I’m doing. It’s a journey.
It’s a foreign journey. The name Escape comes from … Leaving your problems at home, whatever your problems are, or bullshit is, come into the club escaping from reality, getting on the dance floor and just letting go.
And I give you a full journey. I tell a story. I am not one of these DJs that come on and play Theft Tribal BPM all night long. I start off with the old and then I make the old new. And it’s a journey. Start off at like 124 BPM and I’ll go to 128 and 129 and then I end down tempo. I don’t end all fast and up. I always choose records with meaning to end. I end a lot with records like Robin S, I Want to Thank You. I end with Erasure, Give a Little Respect. I always pick a song with meaning, where you can walk out and say, “Wow.” And, I like having the crowd interact and sing with me. So, I have a pile of songs that I’ve redone, where I can have the crowd interact. I shut the music off and they’re going to sing with me.
F: Nice, that’s always the best.
Escape: Yes, and not many DJs can pull that off.
F: No, No, No, they can’t.
Escape: I learned from the best. I had good teaching in me in the ’90s. I learned from Junior Vasquez. I learned from Danny Tenaglia. I learned from the best of the best at the best time. Before it got all watered down.
And I took the best qualities of all these DJs and I molded into what would be me. And I mean I started producing in 98 is when I made Worship Me. And I started engineering for Junior Vasquez and … just, it’s just in a whirlwind and all the people that were there with me and helped me create myself. I’m right there with helping them recreate themselves and become relevant again.
I’m very loyal, I’m very stand up and when people are there for me, I’m there for them across the board.
F: And there’s nothing more gratifying than that.
Escape: No, that … and that’s why I came up with the equation I have. It’s more gratifying for me to showcase everyone … at the end of the day. I’m not the only person that everyone forgot about. Everyone forgot about all my challenges and they haven’t become relevant. The people I’m using, you don’t see playing everywhere.
F: No, that’s true.
Escape: But they’re all relevant to me. And they’re all talent and can really do it live. They’re not just playing off a play list or playing pre-mixed sets. They’re actually thinking like myself of what to play next. There’s no rhyme or reason, you go with the flow. You read the dance floor and you feed off the energy off the dance floor. I never go into a night knowing what I’m going to play. I know where I’m going to start and I know where I’m going to end.
F: Right, everything else is fair game.
Escape: Everything else is catered to the dance floor. Where I’m going to go? What I’m going to do? Am I going to go harder? Am I going to go softer? That’s all catered to … No, what are you doing eating all that ice? (laughter) Everything changed on the dance floor and the experience. You know what I mean, I embrace everything. If it’s a good record, I play it. And I showcase all my friends records and talent. And I’m about bringing back the old and embracing the new. You know and really having a full circle of people that can stand next to me and do it. If… And I’d try everyone. If there’s a DJ that can, old or new, and stand up next to me and perform like me and be able to keep up, I’m down. That’s what it’s all about and I’m not going to name the ones that can’t but I’ve named the ones that can.
I love playing at the Heretic. It is a smaller room. It’s intimate, you know, it’s always packed. The vibe is amazing.
F: It’s definitely one of the better spots here in town.
Escape: And Allen is amazing to work for, it’s been an institution for over 20 years. Which means he knows what he’s doing.
F: He sure does.
Escape: He brings in one guest a month.
Escape: He has great residents, between Lydia and Mike Pope, they’re stand up people that know what they’re doing.
F: I’ve been there a couple of times when they’ve played and they’re good.
Escape: I’ve known them both for a very long time and they both come out to hear me all the time. And they’re both good DJs. He has a lot of other great ones that work there that I know but those two stand out to me, and I know them.
I have a lot to say and this has been a long time coming. The last person to create his own brand and do what I’m doing is Peter Rauhofer.
F: Yeah, that’s true.
Escape: And if you go back in history, he was the last one to really hold that residence and he showcased all the new talent. So all these new guys that are playing right now, came up through Peter.
You know, I came up through a day of Junior Vasquez.
F: So, final question: What’s the long term goal then, from where you are at right now?
Escape: The long term goal is having served in all the major cities. showcasing all the right talents. Changing the sound from that dated tribal chug to fun house music. I play some tribal, I play some of the Brazilian stuff but not a whole night of it. As I said, it’s a journey and when these other guys play you get that all night long. From start to finish. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Commercial vocal after underground vocal and it’s the same thing all night long. It gets a little boring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, it’s fun, it’s energetic but it gets a little boring. The BPM are way too high. There’s no groove. There’s no soul. It’s a different demographic.
F: It is. A lot of times it’s just stuff we can’t really move to.
Escape: No. And people enjoy it but there’s no options. I’m creating an option. At the end of the day, I want people to see the difference, and see the option, and make choices for themselves. It’s not my goal to go compete. I just want to give people options. I’m not going to step into a market and compete.
F: Do you think you’ll ever get to the point to where like. Okay, I’m done, I’ve done all I need to do. I’m good to stop here.
Escape: No. I’m going to get to the point where I’m at now. I don’t want to DJ many full nights. If I play for 2 hours and just showcase what I’m doing and have my other talent do it, that I believe in. I’m good. I want to jump into producing the events.
I want to be the event producer. I want to showcase my brand. Showcase what I’m doing, showcase the artist. That’s where I’m at I’m at a different space and time. I’m happy.
I’m not working for promoters, I’m working for club owners. It’s a whole other vibe. What New York has enabled me to do is step back, which is the next step of throwing my own events and be the party. And I did that not but choice, I did that because I had to do it. It was my only option. If I’m not going to create the opportunity for myself, no one is going to create it for me. And I’m just going to have all this talent and be shelved with it. And I refuse to do what everyone is doing and just put it online and give it away. And remix all the pop stuff for free. And all these DJs that have done that have killed the market. Because I would get paid a lot money to do all my remixes and there was a choice few that were able to do that. Myself, Ralphi Rosario. And now, we find ourselves not getting paid because everyone was doing them for free.
Escape: And we put out quality records.
F: Yep, the internet, it’s blessing and a curse.
Escape: So I mean, quality speaks.
F: It does.
Escape: And actions speak louder than words. And I’m ready to create some action and some difference and something new. Something old but new and familiar and an experience. And that’s what I want people to know my name as. When people think of Escape, I want people to go, wow.
Not only is he an amazing DJ. He’s an amazing producer and he throws amazing parties.
F: Is there anyone you would like to thank personally?
Escape: My remix partner, Tony Coluccio, we could shout out. Without him, none of this would be possible.