Even if you have never heard him DJ, you probably know who Seth Troxler is. As an eminent presence at both festivals and the underground party circuit, the 29-year-old has had a front row seat for dance music culture's tumultuous growth over the past decade. A Michigan native, Troxler has personally taken up the responsibility of championing the legacy of Detroit as the birthplace of techno, concurrently becoming the most outspoken voice against commercialization in dance music from within the world of DJs. As he waves the flags of Detroit and techno, much of what shapes Troxler's perspective against EDM comes down to his idea of authenticity.
"I'm all about legacy," he tells THUMP. "It's very Detroit to think about legacy, and becoming part of that is not an easy thing to get into. Forever, Carl Craig was like 'Seth's not in! He's from Kalamazoo!' When I got the Resident Advisor [reader's poll] No. 1 two years ago, the first thing on Twitter was 'Detroit's own Seth Troxler….' I was like, 'Carl, am I in?' and he was like 'You're fuckin! in!'"
Since affirming his legitimacy as an artist, Troxler has made a point of calling out the lack of authenticity in dance music at large. "Even though I'm fun and games, what I do artistically is very authentic," he says. "That's the conversation I'm trying to bring to the table against EDM. We're part of a dance culture that is making music based on an idea that is completely authentic, whereas they're making music that is based on profit."
As a regular on major festival stages—the nexus of mainstream EDM culture—Troxler is cognizant of the fact that he himself profits from the same industry he rallies against. While he spoke resolutely against them in an editorial for THUMP last year, he's less avowed in his opposition now. "I'm not completely against festivals," he qualifies. "There are a lot of really amazing festivals in the world. I'm just against people throwing festivals without any concept or any production or any real value. The idea of throwing a festival in America in a parking lot with a video screen and shit music—I'm not fucking down with that."
Troxler considers himself a champion of the authentic in the face of artifice by virtue of his presence on EDM-friendly lineups. Were anyone to accuse him a being double agent, Troxler is without compunction for cashing in. "With the monetary influx of contemporary dance music culture, it's changing a lot of people," he says. "Keeping it real depends on the moral weight of your character. If you take success in the right way and use success to further the ideals for which you stand for, it can be a good change."
It isn't just festivals who have been caught in Troxler's crossfire. DJ Sneak and Nina Kraviz have both tangled with the DJ. In his THUMP op-ed, he verbally smacked both Avicii and Steve Aoki, a choice that led to some prolonged drama: "I was living in Ibiza for the summer; there was this juice bar by my house and one morning I went there to have breakfast," he explains. "I was paying and Steve Aoki crept up on me and he was like 'Yo, dude. I'm Steve. What the fuck?' and we had a kinda conversation. He was like 'Let's have lunch. Let's talk.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I dunno. I'm kinda busy.'"
"All summer Aoki's calling me and then he puts out his own manifesto about what he does," he continues. "I was reading it, laughing hysterically, and figured it had to be a joke. My friends were like 'Ask him! Ask him if it's a joke!' So I hit him up, like, 'Yo. That thing you wrote. You're joking, right?' and he's like 'No. I'm not,' and I said 'I don't think we have anything more to talk about.' He talks about 'growing up as a minority…' Shut the fuck up! A minority in Beverly Hills. Fuck off! I dunno, I found that kinda bullshit. Sometimes people are like 'Why you gotta hate? Why you gotta be a dick?' and I'm like 'Because I don't like you and I don't like what you stand for.' "
Aoki often functions as a pantomime villain in discussions with underground artists about EDM. It should be noted that Aoki grew up in Newport Beach, not Beverly Hills, and that both Aoki and Troxler benefit from a similar cult of personality. Troxler's tirades against EDM are as much of a saleable asset as are Aoki's cakings, and neither really have anything to do with the actual production and performance of music. Aoki's DIY-esque origin tale of his label, Dim Mak, while a student at UCSB shares some common ground with the mythology of Detroit's techno underground that Troxler promotes, even though nobody east of the Mississippi River would want to admit it.
Outspoken as he is, Troxler says he doesn't throw down fighting words without good reason. "If I don't like someone or something, I'll tell you to your face," he explains. "I don't go behind your back. That's the thing. I've been punched in the face before. I've been punched in the face a few times. I've been kicked in the face before. My face has been stomped. It sucked, but through life, you learn things."
Troxler recounts an anecdote in which, as a youth, he taunted a friend for stuttering, only to get blindsided with a knock to the jaw in return for his jibes. He ran home in tears, only to have his mother send him back out to the bus stop to complete his penance. The kid beat him up again. When he finally returned home, head in hands, his mom sent him to his room. "I learned something that day," says Troxler. "You can be cheeky, but don't be a complete asshole. When you get your ass kicked for being a dick, you learn a lot about life."
An essential aspect of Seth Troxler's persona is his approachability. He's often in the crowd at festivals having as much fun as the ravers around him. Accordingly, he's fairly candid about the often taboo subject of drug use within the dance music world.
"I've had some experiences with psychedelics," says Troxler. "I've had crazy purgatory trips where I've found that, to me, being a good person is the paramount thing. I don't want to live in an afterlife where my life doesn't take me to a further place. And I completely believe in the afterlife. I think I've seen the afterlife through DMT and other chemicals"
"I did frog the other day," he adds. "This girl milked this frog in the Amazon and I had this crazy out-of-body tantric orgasm, came out, and quit doing cocaine and smoking cigarettes. Just like that!" Although he may be a proponent of the psychedelic qualities of frog skin juice and spirit molecules, Troxler says that despite popular belief, he's not down with all drugs. "I think ketamine is the heroin of our time," he says of the substance that's nearly ubiquitous in underground techno scene in which Troxler rolls.
"It's horrible. It's fucked," he says, admittedly from his own experiences. "And G I think is horrible. I think people should just take ecstasy and trip."
If anyone thinks his rants and controversy-baiting statements are part of an act, Troxler will assure you they are not. He deeply cares about the future of electronic music and his place in it. "People just think our scene is about drugs and partying," he says. "But music and taste really is a sign of intelligence. If you're into underground dance music culture, the people you meet are really educated, professional people doing amazing things. In EDM, I don't think it's the same world.
Jemayel Khawaja is Managing Editor of THUMP - @JemayelK