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Interview: Seth Troxler

When you interview musicians on a fairly regular basis, they divide pretty much neatly into two categories: the ones who say ‘I just love making music’ and the ones that have a lot more to say about their chosen form of expression. Look up Seth Troxler, and you’ll quickly realise he’s firmly in the second category. We sat down with him to chat politics, transcendence, and crystals.

Seb Law: So where have you just come back from?
Seth Troxler: Where have I just come back from? I think just now I was at a meeting. I’ve been off for the whole month. I was in Tulum the other week for the BPM Festival, but it was more like a holiday. I played twice: first, Circo Loco then this new project I’m starting with the Martinez brothers called Tuskegee. And then after that I brought in my parents and my little brother and his girlfriend and my girlfriend and we hung out on the beach; and then a good friend of ours, DJ Magda, her and her girlfriend Dani got married and we went to a wedding.

SL: That’s almost like a family holiday! It probably doesn’t happen that often for you.
ST: Probably just once a year when I go to Mexico! But then it’s still multitasking—I’m always thinking about how I can fit in a gig…

SL: I want to talk about something that I saw on your Twitter: a retweet from earlier in the week, something about 1% of the world’s population controlling 50% of its wealth
ST: I read NPR news every day, and I saw it on there. It’s odd, and it’s getting a little out of control—becoming a little weird.

SL: Because the Guardian just released a list of the 85 people
ST: Who literally control everything.

SL: You recognise some of the names but they seem to mostly work in mining or gas or something. What do you think about the integration of politics in music?
ST: It’s just about awareness, you know? It’s not that I’m being politically active, but when you see things—and it doesn’t matter if you’re in music or not and you start to learn these facts—that’s one positive of social media. Really we should spread these ideas so that people become more aware of the growing social inequalities of the world. I think the more we know about what’s going on, the better we are at making decisions and the more steps we can make to correct that problem.

SL: Sometimes it feels as though music has lost a political edge it once had.
ST: Sometimes I look at music today and it’s so cookie-cutter today, and I realise how much of that rawness it has lost. Even that old rock and roll I don’t give a fuck vibe has been lost!

SL: Kind of like the ‘70s Marvin Gaye stuff; What’s Going On? Maybe that’s a big generalisation…
ST: It’s true! Music used to be an art form where it was about something, and now it’s almost like parody art form at times. I could talk about this all day…

SL: Do you think that the current situation reflections the fact that kids and younger people aren’t as necessarily interested in politics, or that there’s a growing disillusionment?
ST: I don’t think so because if you look at the times when people were most disillusioned that’s when they got most involved in politics. What’s happening is that, after so many years of the media dumbing people down, they just don’t care anymore. Kids don’t know any better; now it’s all bling or YOLO, but back in the day, things, life used to have much more meaning. Now society has become a lot more gentrified. I heard that, generally, crime is down 60% in the history of the UK. Things are getting better, but people are becoming stupider at the same time.

SL: It feels like a culture shift perhaps?
ST: It’s funny; I’ve been watching a lot of ‘Twilight Zone’ lately, I’m becoming obsessed with it because it’s the best programme ever. The themes and dialogue of the show—everything is so much more intelligent. It really turns me on because you don’t need big shots or action and gore, it’s the ideas that you play with and how the actors portray characters and themes within that and then how that makes you think. The creation of film (or music, or whatever) that encourage people to step back and think is on the decline and that’s something that would be nice to see changed.

SL: Kind of like the Simpsons – there’s always a bit of hidden satire in there…
ST: Yeah – something that makes you go ‘Ooooh’.

SL: From what I’ve read in interviews, I understand that there’s a strong spiritual side to your personality.
ST: My mum’s really into magic and crystals – they moved to Arizona a few years back and she’s always telling me stories like ‘I went to Sedona, and there was this hawk, and I got these crystals…’

SL: How does that kind of influence on your music?
ST: I think the idea of the supernatural has an effect on my overall perception of life. I’m interested in the unknown when I’m listening to music; that mix of spirituality, subconscious and extreme hallucinations—it’s all somewhat the same world, just different ways of accessing the same thing. Also I have my moral character the fear of God, in a way, or how your actions weigh on your soul, and how that reflects on your life today. In the industry I’m in, it’s possible for me to be a completely hedonistic guy with no consciousness, because it’s available to me.

SL: At Visionquest 13 at The Warehouse Project you tried to make the set a little more experiential and transcendental. Can you tell me a little about where your ideas for that came from?
ST: I could show you the whole moodboard we created for it, and it was all about dystopia and futurism but also playing on the supernatural and transcendence. The idea to create these kinds of immersive environments came from our experiences at Burning Man and from travelling the world, in addition to all of us tapping in to that spiritual side of things—like the Deepak Chopra stuff. I was really deep into all of that for a moment because all of my friends were. Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth was spot on for me. We were all excited about building a utopia today! Create experiences for people so that they can get turned on! That whole tour was a learning experience for us because normally we’d rush head on in to something. If you’re talking about creating a vessel for events, it’s a lot more than just creating a cool party. We didn’t think about t-shirts or branding.

SL: Because that’s the way Burning Man and Secret Garden Party work; really immersive events.
ST: Exactly, it was about creating something different, like a soundscape and a situation where people can find themselves within that.

SL: It reminds me of Punch Drunk
ST: Yes, exactly! It came from that as well. Music has been presented in the same way for the past thirty years and we wanted to do something different. Early in my rave or clubbing career, part of what was most exciting was being exposed to a new environment. It’s financially impossible to do this on a pop-up basis though.

SL: Do you think it’s important to do that now, given that most people now access music through a screen.
ST: Dance music culture has become that kind of. There’s a DJ with a huge flashing screen behind them, whereas before the DJ was behind them with a microphone—

SL: Yeah exactly! Like in Paradise Garage where there’s a tiny little slot where the DJs are, which means that they’re not the focus; they’re just providing the music.
ST: Craig Richards was telling me that, back in the day when he was clubbing they’d play all music all night. You’d go on the dancefloor, hear your song, go outside and groove for a second, then something else would come on and you would head to the bar; it was more of a social, interactive hanging out experience. And that’s when it was cool, that was when, in the ‘80s in New York, you had all these different intellects from different fields hanging out and going to these places. Now things have become like gigs and the attention is on a few individuals.

SL: Which leads to my next question: what do you see as the future of dance music?
ST: I’m currently trying to position myself as a preservationalist, someone who keeps that old culture alive. I’m that guy with two turntables waving the old vinyl records around. But there’s this whole talk within the industry of this bubble, of the EDM bubble, and it’s weird to think about because there’s a new generation of kids who are turning away from pop music and towards acts like Disclosure and Avicii—but that also needs to go somewhere. Can we turn mega-club culture into immersive dance parties? And with the level of surveillance so widespread in society, is there even the possibility to stage an underground movement or party? I was having this conversation with Tiga at ADE: unless you’re a group of kids doing a rave for 20 people in your living room, it’s not ‘undeground.’ It’s almost physically impossible in the new digital age. Is anything not on the internet?

SL: There must be something!
ST: That would be actually underground. No digital trace, with hand flyers only!

SL: If you’re sat at your desk watching Boiler Room sober, it’s a very strange feeling…
ST: I read this thing that stated that some people who listen to electronic music never go to clubs. Apparently the consumers of electronic music are people who never go out, which I think is really odd. Whenever I’ve read comments about mine or my friends’ music on RA, there are often discussions about whether DJs are better at mixing for online sites or at actual club events. Some of the responses are, “I never go out to clubs; that’s crazy!”

SL: Like watching the telly and going to theatre are two very different experiences.
ST: Two completely different experiences both involving actors.

SL: I want to talk about the influence of your stepfather’s DJing on you. What kind of musical lessons do you associate with him, or was there an overriding principle that has stuck with you from him?
ST: Loads! My stepfather had this show, called Fade to Black actually, a theme song to an old show, and later became this later show called The Love Zone, which involved a lot of RnB and sex songs. He has a radio show with him and his friends in Phoenix, but just having that deep musical background—even though music at the time that I thought that I hated. My parents were obsessed with Prince, and I remember being 7 or 8 and thinking that this sucks! At the time you’re completely oblivious, but later on in life you realise that it’s totally shaped your musical mind.

SL: How much would you say London has changed in the time you’ve been here? There seem to be an optimism in the air about London at the moment…
ST: I’ve been here for three years now. But you’re right, it’s constantly building. In New York people are pushy and it’s very plastic; it’s about money and status, but in London it seems as though everyone is trying to create cool things, and in a very positive way as well. That’s had such a huge effect on me.

SL: And with places like Oval Space you’ve got a venue that has legitimised & cleaned up warehouse raves.
ST: And everywhere is so nice. I’ve been here for a few years to witness the gentrification. Now everything is like the West End—you don’t actually have to go to the West End to have that experience. It’s cool! I’m well down for some gentrification; that’s why I came here! I lived in Berlin and Detroit – and that was rough! – now I’m going to go to London and live in a nice neighbourhood and be happy.

SL: So no plans to move?
ST: No, I’m trying to move to the Barbican right now. You can live in a studio in the Barbican for £200 a week. And if you live in the Barbican; you’re fucking cool! It’s so handy, you’re in the centre of town.

SL: I’m going to get you to sum up the your new label projects in a sentence. First off, Tuskegee.
ST: Tuskegee is a platform for the Martinez brothers and I to release music as well as do clothing based on our urban American perspective, as well as taking a lot of influences from our culture and heritage.

SL: Brilliant. Soft Touch?
ST: Soft Touch is an indie project I have because I grew up listening to indie rock. There’s some really great artists that I enjoy who don’t come out. It’s about putting out cool folk music, or cool indie music.

SL: And Silent Icons?
ST: That’s like a sub-label of Tuskegee. It’s like a scrapbook of our favourite and inspirational black and Latino house producers. It’s kind of a like a cultural heritage project; the idea is to highlight a seminal influence that remains unknown, hence Silent Icon. And the very last one is called Play It, Say It – that’s just going to be me putting out hits!

SL: Very lastly: what’s the thing you’re looking forward to this year?
ST: Everything? Waking up alive? (laughs)

Interview: Seb Law
Plenty more info about Seth and his upcoming dates on his Facebook and (very entertaining) Twitter.

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