“I am pretty normal, honestly” Seth Troxler opens. “I do normal things around the house and with my fiancée and friends. But with the music there is this character called Seth Troxler. Some of it is the real me, I’m sure, but some of it isn’t. It’s a different mindset altogether.”
We’re discussing Seth’s recent track record with interviews. Demands from media for his time have surged this year and, in turn, he’s earned a reputation for colourful, sometimes completely crazy comment. What are we likely to get today?
“When I give interviews it’s probably 50% me and 50% fun and games, depending on the quality of questions I’m getting asked. I do play things up but it’s no different to DJing and working in the studio; it’s all an expression of my character. It’s a lot like Andy Warhol, who lived his art publicly. And, look, I’m passionate about the music, so that is always the major focus of what I talk about with people. It’s what I do.”
Seth has, with the help of close friends Ryan Crosson, Shaun Reeves and Lee Curtiss, proceeded to turn club music radically and stylishly on its head. The Detroit four firmly established themselves around four years ago, setting up shop in Berlin as Visionquest before quickly developing a line in top-drawer gigs and remixes. Lee and Shaun had actually moved to the German capital in 2004, Seth and Ryan joining them in 2007 (Lee has since returned to the States, and Seth has moved to London). Visionquest screwed with house and techno’s then popular minimal template, marrying it to eclectic influences such as folk, Motown and electro-pop, and defining a quirky new kind of dancefloor soul. Not mainstream, not underground, not like anything gone before….
“I think our success, both as Visionquest and individuals, is down to the quality of the music we’re releasing” Seth explains. “It’s tangible but not average by any stretch. It works in a club but at home also. It tries to say something different but without being pretentious; it comes with artwork… it attempts to make a proper cultural point. It’s part of all of us, it is properly driven by our experiences; and, well, let’s be honest, we have lived.” Seth once described Visionquest’s live show as a “psychedelic mind trip to the future,” suggesting drugs have, or have had, an important role to play in the collective’s creative process. Is that the case? “First and foremost we’re total music geeks,” Seth replies. “We have an insane passion for all sorts of music and sounds… abstract, indie-rock, whatever. Being open-minded is vital. That makes sense, Seth’s biographical materials going so as far to mention ‘chirping crickets’ and ‘whistling voodoo magic’ among his aural passions. But what about the drugs? History reveals many famous examples of chemically-fuelled life inspiring art – Coleridge, Pollock, The Beatles... “We’re not about promoting a drug vibe” he stresses, “but, sure, our experiences with acid and psychedelics have helped inform who we are today. A lot of that inspiration came from the early days in Detroit when we were young kids DJing and stuff, and researching ideas about music… finding ourselves, getting otherworldly. We were a close group of friends working out what we wanted to say, and psychedelics supported that process. We might be in a different position today but we’re still questing….”
Seth is, of course, staring down the barrel of married life. He and his fiancée Sonoya – a ballet dancer – will tie the knot next year at a ceremony featuring relatively low-level Bristol DJ Adam Gorsky behind the decks and “some philosophy professor dude” from the States; another of Seth’s good friends. The temptation to play as well must be strong but he won’t, he insists, let himself get distracted.
Which begs the question about whether or not Seth has started pondering his long-term career and future yet? An institution like marriage can easily provoke such a reaction. “Life is really good but there have been occasions recently where I don’t feel in control of what I’m doing; my career seems to have a life of its own” he confesses. “I’m not going to let that happen next year. Right now I’m on empty, I’m completely worn out. Someone like Jamie Jones can push themselves harder than me; I don’t quite have his stamina to keep playing night after night. Don’t get me wrong, the gigs are great and I want to do lots more but, sometimes, the travel hurts and the creative juices run dry. I’m planning a big holiday at the end of the year with Sonoya, and a better work schedule after that. I can’t, and won’t repeat this year for the next 10.” For now, there really is plenty going on. The release date of Visionquest's addition to the revered Fabric series has just been confirmed for early December, but first up is The Lab 03, the latest instalment of NRK Music’s cutting edge mix compilation series. Seth’s contribution is expectedly varied, corralling deep atmospheric cuts by Hatikvan and Bearweasel, slick tech-flecked grooves by Lindstrom, Dinky, and DJ Qu and then, on a second disc, everything from low-slung dub to freeform jazz via electro-psychedelia courtesy of Chaim, Superpitcher and Und.
“I’m really happy with the final result” he confirms. “I’ve blended a number of popular underground house and tech sounds, with some really weird shit… music at the other, more abstract end of the scale. It’s all about pushing boundaries.” Those boundaries will shift a good distance more in the coming weeks and months as Visionquest, the label, unveils its next (eagerly awaited) tranche of releases. Crosson is set to release a new artist album with Vagabundos staple Cesar Merveille, in two hefty parts; Ewan Pearson is adding final studio touches to Footprintz’ pop-edged debut album, and tasty Italian duo Tale Of Us are also busy preparing preparing their first album.
Can Seth divulge anything more about the latter?: “It’s pretty much left the concept stage now; there are few tracks taking shape. The guys [Tale Of Us’ Karm & Matteo] have some surprises up their sleeve; the album won’t just be riffs on the deep house and techno material they’ve released before. They’re musicians; their ideas are wide-ranging. They’re outrageous.” Visionquest’s label has found its feet rather spectacularly since launching at the start of the year. Even at this early stage of life, its A&R decisions seem to be carrying an awful lot of sway within clubland – the kind of sway that properly sets up careers. But how much of label strategy is emotional and how much hard-nosed business?
“Three of the four of us have to agree before signing anyone to the label,” Seth answers. “But we’re usually all in agreement, and we take the A&R really seriously. There are business practicalities, and there needs, obviously, to be an emotional connection to the music, but we go further than that. We ask artists to hang out with us for a few weeks; we get to know them as people and artists, make sure they’re not knobs or anything, and then we make our decision. Everyone in our family is a good friend, and that makes what we do that bit more special and successful.”
Special enough to run and run? “Yes, I really think so, things are going great so far” he concludes. “It’s…what… 30 years on from when dance music began? It feels like we’ve reached a pivotal moment where dance music is embracing all of these different ideas, a mix of underground and mainstream, and has its first chance to be universally accepted by everyone. It is becoming accepted culture, and that is completely amazing. I love being part of that.”