Seth Troxler on his new project Tuskegee, US race relations, and the deeper meaning to music

The renowned DJ hopes his latest label will not just show-off his musical skills but the intellect behind his persona

Kiran Moodley
Monday 08 December 2014 11:41 GMT

Seth Troxler is one of dance music's most recognisable characters, helped by his wit, his intellect and undoubtedly his appearance: the colourful shirts combined with a memorable face, he looks like Yogi Bear with an afro and Hercule Poirot moustache.

Troxler is a laid-back DJ hailing from Michigan. He's literally laid back during the interview at a friend's house in Dalston, reclining on the sofa and intermittently fiddling with the television remote as he talks about his latest project, Tuskegee, a collaboration with the Martinez Brothers, as well as broader issues relating to race in America and his concern with climate change.

Whilst infamous for his musical capabilities, Troxler wants his talents to merge more with his outlook on culture and ethnic identity. Not that grasping such topics can be easy for someone constantly seen as more of a good time DJ than some man with a message.

He told The Independent: "I'm a funny guy but I'm also quite a deep guy... People sometimes often refer back to stupid things I've done in the past, but that’s a very small part of me."

Independent: You've just launched a new label, Tuskegee. What's the idea behind the project?

Seth Troxler: "Tuskegee was an idea that just kind of occurred to us (Troxler and the Martinez Brothers). We kind of connected over the fact that we had shared similar backgrounds and we made jokes anytime there would be more than three or four people of ethnicity at a dance music party. Like, what up bro? We started to reflect on how electronic music really gave us the opportunity of escaping the stereotypical future of kids our age and that it would be really good to expose more people of our background, to the opportunities of electronic music or to create a platform to release music of people of ethnicity."

I: What kind of music do you feel people of your background are listening to?

ST: "I'm from Detroit, I'm black and they're (the Martinez Brothers) Hispanic kids from the Bronx. So it's mostly urban neighbourhoods, they listen to rap and they're kind of thrown into the world of self identification through negative music. I think that is just generally negative for society and it's been used as a tool to keep lower socio-economic and ethnic people down. If you popularise music that only paints a negative social picture of yourself then that stereotype grows rather than diminishes. If you look before, with old black music and soul, it was about becoming better, it was a much more positive and much more musical side of life, and much more engaging."

I: You now have DJs taking up residencies in places like Las Vegas for huge sums of money. Are you rebelling against that?

ST: "That is completely what I'm rebelling against. That is the archetype of what I am not about. I played in Vegas recently for Pete Tong (he's got a residency there) and it was at this new big club and like 100 people showed up. I did get to stay in a hotel with mirrors on the ceiling. That was pretty cool. But on other side of that, I just didn't get it. It was ridiculous and horrible. It just has nothing to do with the culture that I'm involved in, the culture that so many people I know have spent their lives dedicated to. It's the antithesis.

"I just can't lay down and let it happen. I feel like people just lay down and let their dreams die and say they can't do anything about it. I'm like, 'No, I'm in a position where I can at least try to be the opposite magnet to all that.'

"If you want to spend $10,000 at a party when people are f***ing starving on champagne to impress some girls that you're not going to sleep with, then you’re a dick. We’re not going to get along and I shouldn't be playing music for you."

I: So what are the roots of dance music you want to emphasise with Tuskegee?

ST: "I remember growing up and I got into this specifically because it was a way to not be involved with what was going on in the rest of music and society. It was my escape. And now that it’s become this normality for city types. It just seems wrong and it seems not representative of the culture. The culture that really came out of secret clubs for gays and minorities. Now it's party jams for WASP college kids.

"It's about ideas. I want to create a place where kids can see that there’s a different lifestyle that they can live; that they can look at us and say, 'These guys are cool and I want to be like those guys. They're hanging out, having a good time, this music is positive.' That maybe that small trigger changes the course of their lives."

I: You said you don’t really have a base anymore, you just travel constantly. What’s that like?

ST: "The more you travel, the more you realise that we're identical. Everywhere you go people want the exact same things: they want a family, they want to do a bit of shopping, they want to have dinner with their friends. The more we realise that we all want the same things, then maybe we tackle bigger problems that are actually facing us.

"Like global warming, that's at a really dangerous rate. No one is talking about this. Everyone is too busy being distracted, like immigration in the UK, it's just a way to get votes and scare people. All the big stuff like corporate tax breaks that are real issues, no one cares about it. It doesn't get ratings on Fox News. They'd rather talk about what Kim Kardashian's wedding dress looks like."

I: Yet as a DJ, surely there is not much you can do? Do you feel powerless?

ST: "Yeah, the only people that can really change it are the global leaders, and they're so in the pockets of corporations these days that they never will. They don't have the balls to and they don't care. In another ten, 15 years when things are starting to go really bad and we're facing mass food shortages and more wars, it’s because these people didn't get their act together and journalists as a whole didn't have more integrity to really report on the seriousness of the matter.

"Before, journalism was about giving information to the people. Now that information is so distilled. Like, Fox News is a conservative lie. Fox News tried to go to Canada and Canada wouldn't allow it because they were like, 'You can come as a cable show but you can't call yourself the news because not enough of your news is factual.' For people in America, that is the number-one cable news network. That's where people are getting their information. It's all lies. When did journalists stop reporting on what is happening in our society?"

I: So you want music to have more of a message, which it is lacking in the mainstream?

ST: "We're (Tuskegee) just trying to come up with some ideas that mean at least something in the mass monotony of everything meaning nothing. What does Katy Perry’s new album mean? Nothing. None of this shit means anything. There's no stance in art or anything, it's just garbage.

"There is no one in pop culture who's really going for it and saying, 'I don't give a f*** anymore'. Nobody. Especially with people with a much larger scope of influence than me, someone should surely come out and say, 'Look at what's going on people.' And no one has and I don't think anyone will. There is too much money involved, too much influence from their record companies.

"You got like Bono, but just looking at him makes me want to punch him in the face, no matter how much good he does. I can't trust those glasses, let alone him."

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