The DJ Cookbook spoke to Eli Goldstein about Venezuela, on being part of a big Venezuelan family, DJing in Caracas and what it’s like to experience a socio-economic crisis and off course baseball.
Q: What is your connection to Venezuela?
A: My connection to Venezuela is my wife Andrea. Both of her parents are Venezuelan but she was born in the US. Andrea grew up between Caracas and New York. We fell in love got married and she took me to Caracas for the first time in December of 2011.
Q. How many times have you traveled to Venezuela since?
A: I’ve been to Venezuela 4 times. I’ve gone 3 times for Christmas and I was just there this April. I’ve been to Caracas and Margarita Island.
Q. Have you noticed any significant changes in the country since you began traveling there?
A: Yes, before the first trip I had heard all about the problems with the government and the safety issue, like don’t go out by yourself, always look behind your back and I remember the first time I was there we were walking on our way to dinner it was around 8pm and some guy was walking down the street towards us with both his arms inside his t-shirt and he started saying “hey gringo, hey gringo”…So even though nothing happened and it wasn’t even late at night that was already a problem. But I just feel like compared to now; to see the shortage of everyday things is really affecting people. We had to bring so much, we had to bring suitcases filled with toilet paper, medication, toiletries, pretty much everything that you need is not available in the stores and if it is you have to spend hours standing in line to be able to buy it.
Q: According to Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice Caracas is the most dangerous city in the world; did you feel you were in danger while in Caracas?
A: Yeah, like I said, you don’t go out at night and if you do you are very aware of your surroundings constantly. Driving home there are no cars in the street at like 10:00pm it is really weird and that definitely puts you on edge. I remember we went on the subway a couple years ago and everybody had this blank stare, scared they were going to get robbed or scared of each other, that’s what that stare means, I’ve only seen that stare in situations where everybody is on edge with each other, you just don’t know, you know…
Q: To add insult to injury not only is Caracas winning in criminality, Venezuela has the world’s second highest inflation rate, there are basic food shortages, the country’s infrastructure is ready to collapse and oil prices, the country’s main source of income continues to sink. Does being in Venezuela feel like a dose of reality check?
A: Yes for sure it is definitely the third world and it puts things in perspective, all the stuff that they don’t have and that we are so lucky and used to having in the US or in Europe and although all of this is going on people still manage to celebrate and party, the vibe there is so full of positive energy. They make the most of it, they party, they have to party. You know I feel such a convincing energy from the people there. So yeah, water was being rationed so you had to collect water at certain times, you could only shower at certain times. So that puts it all in perspective, like now I just fill a cup of water when I brush my teeth instead of having the faucet running the whole time.
Q: Now that you’re married to a Venezuelan you have direct access to a typical Venezuelan family. What is that like?
A: There are so many people! I come from a small Jewish European family so it’s just me. I am an only child and my mom has one sister with 2 kids, so I have 2 cousins and my dad has a brother but he has no kids. I only have 2 first cousins and one uncle so we don’t really come together as much and celebrate the holidays, so it is very different. To go to Venezuela for Christmas and to have this huge family and everybody getting together to celebrate and to be a part of that makes me feel real lucky to have that now.
Q: You’ve witnessed how much Venezuelans like to party. Do you find it surreal that a country going through such hardship still manages to have a good time?
A: No not at all, honestly like I said, I find that people party even harder when they are going through hardship and probably that was why New York City was so amazing in the 80’s because it was a lot harder to live and they needed a release. I saw more of that in Caracas specially this time because I’ve DJ’d there during Christmas and a lot of people are away or with family but this time it was April, so it was a regular Friday night and it was the most amazing energy I’ve had all year. It was crazy no one wanted to go, people were there until 5-6:00am, until the end of the party and you don’t see that very often.
Q: Can you dance salsa and merengue yet?
A: Merengue, I think I got that down but salsa, I still have problems with it, not as much as I like to, I just psych myself out.
Q: Have you picked up any Venezuelan slang? If so can you tell us?
A: ¡Qué manguangua papá!
The multiple uses of the word “vaina” ¡La vaina esa!
¡La pinta del treinta y uno! In Venezuela you have a new outfit for Christmas and a new outfit for New Years Eve. Your Christmas outfit is a bit more casual than what you would wear on NYE. Venezuelans go all out for their NYE outfit.
Q: When and how did you start DJing in Venezuela?
A: The first time it was in December 2012, my agent got the booking done and then I met Trujillo and David Rondon who are definitely kindred spirits in music, especially Trujillo who is really into the history of disco in Venezuela and he has an amazing Venezuelan disco collection and is involved in a lot of music projects. He is also producing music and experimenting with electronic sounds and I spent a lot of time in his studio when I was there. David Rondon throws great parties, loves good music and has a great energy so we hit it off too. Now that Trujillo has moved to Europe I still kick it with Rondon, so yeah they are both kindred spirits. The party that they do Voyage is really a great party because it mixes all kinds of different people and a lot of different kinds of music, which is the best kind of party.
Q: What do you think about DJ’s who play in poor countries and still demand a first world fee?
A: Here’s the thing, most of the time when playing in Latin American countries these parties are either sponsored by a big alcohol company or a tobacco company so they are the ones paying those fees. Otherwise there aren’t that many parties happening so obviously when I play in Caracas I play for almost nothing, it is like a special thing which is like when I go home to Boston, it is a hometown thing. But it is a bigger question than that, the thing is that most of these parties are for rich people, they are the ones who can afford these tickets, and I really don’t know how people could afford these tickets. I mean for electronic music the audience is definitely upper middle class especially in Latin America.
Q: This mix is full of rolling percussion, African and Latin rhythms, how does this last set that you played in Caracas compare to other ones?
A: I think the biggest difference this time was that it wasn’t during the Christmas holiday time so it was a local crowd and there was more energy. So now I’ve played there 4 times and I know how the crowd works exactly, I know what to do! Furthermore the whole thing with the rhythms is that I am really bored with straight up 4/4-dance music, it is just so watered down not all but most of it. So I am just exploring a lot of Afro House and labels like Cómeme and I collect a lot of what I like to call soulful NY House; which is very connected to Afro House.
Q: During your set the track Beto Kele by Novalima brought the house down do you think it had to do with the lyrics or the beat?
A: Funny you mention that one because I played it the week before in Costa Rica and everyone went crazy when it sings about “Pura Vida!” That song is special because the drums and the synths are intense but the vocals are so positive. People really respond to that.
Q: Venezuelan musicians new or old that you are into at the moment?
A: Definitely Trujillo’s new album, I’ve heard some of it and it is really cool so I am excited for that. Los Amigos Invisibles are amazing although I don’t know what they are doing now. I need to step up my Venezuelan music game.
Q: There are Venezuelans working in the dance music industry like Arca, who produced Bjork’s last album and produced some tracks on Kanye West’s Yeezus, Fur Coat, Garnica, Trujillo, Argenis Brito, Mauricio Ceppi of Funktaxi 1533 who does visuals in many NYC clubs. Have you shared the decks or the dance floor with any of them?
A: Yes we DJ with Fur Coat several times a year and we actually have the same agent in the US. I really didn’t like Yeezus that much. Trujillo’s Armando parties are great and yeah Funk Taxi 1533 did the visuals when we played with Masters At Work in Verboten in NYC.
Q: Over the last 17-18 years there’s been a steady exodus of Venezuelans and this has seen the rise of the arepa worldwide, can you elaborate more about Venezuelan food, what have you eaten that has been new to you?
A: Arepas are amazing! You can have them for breakfast lunch and dinner. You can fill them with anything, with warm food or with cold food. Hallacas are also delicious. It is traditional Christmas food and the whole tradition of the family getting together to do them is great. They are a lot of work to make and to be able to participate in that was real special and it was a lot of fun too. I had sopa de platano, (green plantain soup) which my mother-in-law made for me because I had an upset stomach and every variation of the platano; tostones, tajadas (fried sweet plantains), baked plantain. You know, I never really liked papaya until I was with Andrea; she makes me eat it everyday now I love lechoza! You know what was also amazing were the lobster empanadas up the street from my mother-in-law, they were so good. I know that sounds bad, not everybody can eat a lobster empanada now. Also all the different types of cheese, all the different varieties of cheeses were amazing too.
Q: You are a big sports fan specially baseball which Venezuelan baseball team is your favorite?
A: Tiburones de La Guaira! Tiburones Pa’ Encima! That’s because Andrea’s uncle Cesar and some other family members are massive Tiburones fans. He took me to my first game, that was my first year there and that was the year that Tiburones won the pennant so it was a real big deal.
Q: What makes a Venezuelan baseball game fun?
A: You get whisky service at your seat and tequeños! I forgot to mention tequeños before. Tequeños are like the best snack! They need whisky service and tequeños in the US.
Q: Who is your favorite Venezuelan in MLB right now?
A: I’ll tell you my least favorite! Pablo Sandoval of the Boston Red Sox, we paid good money for that and he got extra fat. There is a video of him swinging the bat and his belt buckle just pops. It’s my team and we put all this money on this guy and he’s a fucking looser!
Q: Do you know how baseball also became Venezuela’s favorite pass time?
A: No, I don’t know.
Irene: Legend has it that it was the American oil workers working in the US Oil Companies in the Venezuelan oil fields in the early 20th century who brought the game down.
Eli: Right, it also has to do with the Caribbean; you got the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba…
Irene: Yup, after the Dominican Republic, Venezuela is the second exporter of MLB players.
Eli: That’s it!
Irene: And that’s it for me too! Thanks Eli!
Here’s Eli’s mix recorded live at the Voyage party in April of 2016 at Le Club in Caracas, Venezuela. Enjoy!