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REVENGE OF THE SETH
In the star wars of techno, Seth Troxler has proven himself the master more than once.
Last time DJ Mag caught up with Seth Troxler in an official capacity, it was around the pool at our 2010 party in Miami. Then a still relatively unknown 24-year-old kid from Detroit, relocated to the techno mecca of Berlin, he'd just demonstrated his incredible DJs skills with the release of a game-changing entry into the Boogybytes series on Ellen Allien's BPitch label.
It was his on camera star performance, however, channeling the spirit of Hunter S Thompson as he waved away hallucinatory bats and alluded to the cosmic nature of his vision, that went viral before the WMC week was over – setting the ball rolling for his moustachioed face and distinctive stream of consciousness drawl to become as well known as his skills behind the turntables.
Make no bones about it, Seth is not your average DJ-producer; he's also an old school raconteur with enough banter and positivity to win you over on the force of personality alone. But this shouldn't distract from his position as an outlier of creative musical talent. Whether helming the mic on incisive late night tales such as Art Department's “Living the Life” or Crosstown anthem “Party Guilt,” or taking full rein of the studio controls, as on the swirling Spectral release “Panic, Stop, Repeat!,” he can shoot straight to the heart of a feeling, a vibe, a scene, like no other
For a while, though, the legend of Seth seemed to be overshadowing the talent behind it – his own version of Thompson's Uncle Duke cartoon character - creating a separation between Seth Troxler, the popularity-chart topping DJ, and Seth Troxler, the hard drugging, wise cracking totem for the excesses of electronic music. Check his personal Discogs page and the period from 2011 onwards is noticeably dry, albeit partly because of his role in techno foursome Visionquest, alongside long-time friends Lee Curtiss, Ryan Crosson and Shaun Reeves.
All that is about to change with a tidal wave of new ventures. First up, in true to form, typically over-the-top fashion Seth trumps most label-owning DJs by launching three on his own at once; Play It Say It, a platform for tried and tester club bangers which has already successfully rehabilitated Deep Dish man Sharam, via the monstrous “Tripi,” plus Soft Touch and Tuskegee - the latter of which he is running in conjunction with The Martinez Brothers.
Heading to his new London home to find out more, we loop back to the ice-breaker that worked so well during our first encounter. Can you talk us through our outfit?
“I've got a Katz Deli cap...” shoots a casually attired Seth without missing a beat, his brand new place in Dalston, in the heart of East London, filled with records and art books by the likes of Keith Haring, a print on the wall above his fireplace showing a crucified Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music.
“It's the best sandwich ever!” he goes on, referring to the famous New York deli's pastrami speciality. “I've got this whole thing I'm doing this year where I'm either wearing shirts I've had forever, but if I'm wearing any t-shirt it's from a place I like to eat at. So I'm only wearing shirts with prints from places that I've eaten at. That's kind of the vibe. That and looking like Kramer. Or Nelson Mandela. Sometimes I'm wearing the big florals. It's a year long tribute to the big man.”
It's this kind of freewheeling ebullience that makes Seth Troxler a joy to interview, a sound bite cert whose quick wits are the sparkling interface for a keen and curious mind. Everything is considered and the depths that lie behind his work show the difference between his musical artistry and the desiccated technicality of many other producers
“All three labels for me are an aesthetic and concept, you know?” he replies animatedly when we ask the reason behind the sudden onslaught of music. “That's like the biggest thing. What's there to do? What can I keep my mind busy with? Creating the three identities for the labels - how the art's gonna be and what they stand for. They're vastly different.”
Suddenly he switches tone, letting rip with well-flexed comedy timing, turning on the charm and lighting up the room. “Then I thought it would be baller to put them all out at the same time. I was like yo, boom! Get some of that. Here you go. On a plate. With some butter... and sage.”
Taking us through his laptop later, we get a glimpse of some of the images he stores to help inspire a flyer or further creative ideas, Seth's thinking is always one step of any anaemic imitators, the driving forces metaphor and intuition. Take, for example, his explanation of what Soft Touch, which launches with a three track EP from Clarian (one half of now disbanded Visionquest signing Footprintz), stands for.
“We made this brand doc, I don't know where it is, and it's like a list of 50 or 100 things Soft Touch is. Soft Touch is looking at underage girls while playing with your mustache,” he says languidly, a nervous giggle coming from his PR. “We started coming out with these really out there... Soft Touch is sex on marble. Or, no, Soft Touch is wanting to be on a yacht with hot girls, but not affording it,” he laughs. “It's kind of carefree summer vacation in the '90s, Lolita vibes. Caucasian fun culture. Like going to The Hamptons and listening to Beach House.”
If this is Seth's yin, showing him at his most carefree, cryptic and sensationalist, hinting at the kind of illicit, hedonistic lifestyle that he may or may not live (for the record, he currently shares his new home with his girlfriend), then Tuskegee is his yang, a display of the seriousness that also accompanies a restlessly probing mind.
Named after an Alabama city infamous for the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, where black farmers with syphilis were left untreated so that public health officials could study the progression of the disease, the label – which he says will release music from DJs of various ethnicities - draws inspiration from “hidden, fucked up things that have happened through history.”
Launching with a team effort between Seth and fellow label bosses The Martinez Brothers, “Space & Time” is unforgiving pulsing techno, up their with his best work, intimidating cries of “What you doing here boy?” bringing to mind the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who followed and fatally shoot teenager Trayvon Martin.
“There's going to be a lot of stuff that you can vaguely pick up on, that could be somewhat offensive, but are all things that have happened throughout history to people of ethnicity,” he tells us. “For example, we're just made these sweatshirts and they look cool, they look beautiful, and on the back are these bells. What are those beautiful bells for? They used to put those on slaves so they didn't run away.”
Next up is a release from Amsterdam's William Kouam Djoko, signed after Seth received the music from a mutual friend of the pair. “Some of it started at 90bpm and went to 140, and was like hip-hoppy. It was all freaked out. And I was like, this is perfect, exactly what I want to release because it doesn't make sense in the clutter of everything else. It stands out on it's own.”
While the main label will concentrate on emerging artists, a Silent Icons series will also release music from heroes and inspirations – Carl Craig and Detroit duo Jay Denham and D-Knox are already in the pipeline, with the likes of Derrick Carter and Kenny Dope also on the cards – and pair this with the image of an influential community activist on the record cover.
The end result is to create a music that will “stand for something.” Does he feel that EDM, which it could be argued has reduced dance music to a meaningless backdrop to fist pumping and corporate sponsorship, is an example of cultural imperialism? It has, after all, taken music of mainly gay, mainly black origin, and desexualized and deracialized it in Europe, selling it back to the US as something brand new.
“We're just bringing back the sex and the race,” he beams, swerving a direct answer. “It's right on time. There needs to be something there. I'm getting bored that there's not something there and people aren't taking more chances.”
Risk is something Seth seems to be embracing with each bold new move. For a start, there's his move into the restaurant trade, opening the canal side barbecue joint Smokey Tails in Hackney Wick, London, last year. Packed whenever DJ Mag has visited, there are moves afoot to expand this venture, turning the current site into a bazaar which will include fellow music related foodies, Voodoo Ray's, while there are also plans to open a new venue, featuring pulled pork and hot dogs, next to Brixton's O2 concert hall.
“One of the best things about traveling is to eat, definitely,” exclaims Seth on what is his other huge passion, reeling off his top cities to eat in. “I mean, your palette definitely grows so much from DJing.”
As for his own speciality: “I'm a sauce guy. You know how they say, put a donk on it? I say, put some sauce on it.” (If you have no idea what he means by “donk,” Google Blackout Crew's “Put a Donk On It” and stand well back...)
Then there's a new project with Craig Richards, under the title Heal the Steel, which will see the duo releasing music alongside a piece of art, the first record coming with a lamp.
There's also the matter of his new party, which goes by the name of Big Tittie Surprise. Launching in Barcelona on June 15, with the likes of Dubfire, Mathew Jonson, Paco Osuna, Honey Dijon and Butch on the line-up, it's typically off the wall, the psychedelic promo video (shot by an old Detroit friend) depicting Seth as a unicorn-horned centaur and the Facebook page making various outlandish claims, including sponsorship by Kittens for Ketamine and the Boy Scouts of America.
It's not a name that many people could get away with, and even Seth had to go against the advice of his clearly worried management. But you have the feeling that its ridiculousness is what is currently needed, especially as Seth promises there will be both surprises and titties. “Richie Hawtin has ENTER, I have Big Tittie Surprise,” he says, clearly hugely delighted. “BTS. You down? I am?”
If this all this sounds like a very deliberate attempt to shake shit up, then you'd be right. It's also part of a wider movement that's bubbling under, a global discontent with ruling power structures and a yearning to change them – something that for many has led to an attempt at personal revolution via the use of hallucinogens, especially DMT.
“I think right now we're in a great period of shift,” agree Seth. “Some people are waking up and saying, this isn't me, I don't agree with this, you know? There's a lot of ways to come to a point of consciousness, whether it be reading, drugs and psychedelics. Then when you reach that point of consciousness, your behavior, your interests, your tastes, are completely different from what they were before.”
Citing his own DMT experiences as helping to lay out exactly “what it means to be human,” he mentions Graham Hancock's banned TED Talk as a starting point for those wishing to explore the topic further.
“Environmental change, political change, the growth in social and economic classes, in the disparity. I just think it's our job now to be more aware. From that, we need to try and create things, either to help people cope with the way that the world is turning, or kind of, at least, create a better world. So, yeah, psychedelics are cool [laughs]. It changes you, definitely, in a good way.”
Perhaps the best advert for this is his own sudden burst of energy. Having recently spent four months making music in New York, he plans seven or eight EPs for the rest of the year. Whether release schedules bear this out, Seth names a new Hercules & Love Affair remix as “my best piece of music I've ever written,” while outlining collaborations with Tom Trago, a second with The Martinez Brothers and another alongside New York producer and Tape Theory boss, Phil Moffa.
So is there no end to his talents? Will he keep expanding his interests? “That's the plan,” Seth replies, clearly having the time of his life. “I've got the restaurant trade, I'm trying to get into the clothes trade. Yeah, I'm the Jay-Z of techno!"