"From the first time I ever came to London I was like, 'this is my city'," Seth Troxler waxes over the phone. "It's one of my favourite places in the world. There's an honesty here that you just don't find anywhere else."
When compiling perspectives and opinions on the state of British nightlife, Seth Troxler might initially sound like an odd choice of interviewee. After all, he was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, moved to Detroit, plays the music of Chicago, barbecues meat South-style, and when he first came to Europe he lived in Berlin. Yet, despite all of that, it's London that has become the central city in his life, and the place that has, in many ways, informed his relationship with music and club culture more than anywhere else. Earlier this week, we caught up on the phone to talk about his history with the city, why it was unique in its after-dark atmosphere, and what he thinks the future holds for the capital.
"The first time I really played here was with Ricardo Villalobos, I think it was probably 2006 or 7, but I had played one small gig before that in Brick Lane," Seth recalls, straining his voice as he tries to summon the name of the pokey venue he played at first. "I used to just come over and DJ for fun. There was a group of us, and we'd all hang out at the old T Bar." While the city was similar in many ways a decade ago to how it looks today, when Seth first arrived a transition was in progress, the spread of bars and clubs throughout East London was beginning to take shape but the worlds of house and techno were still a way off seizing the mainstream in the way they have today. "London at that time wasn't really happening, there was cool stuff going on but it was all very underground." What Seth found instead was fertile ground for inspiration. "It was perfect. We were just a bunch of kids just hanging out, going to raves and figuring shit out." It's this freedom that, for Seth, is what made London so important. Crashing on Jamie Jones' couch in Clapton, with the likes of Art Department and a pre-DJing Richy Ahmed regularly passing through, he had found the perfect space for creativity and the rights minds to work with.
"When I was coming into London, the scene wasn't the best but there was this group of like-minded people, mainly brought together by Judy from fabric who, by the way, is the patron saint of nightclubbing in this country," Seth enthuses. "Her, Derren Smart who used to run T Bar and sadly recently passed away, and Craig Richards were a fundamental gang for me. The first time I watched Paris is Burning was with them. London, more than Berlin or Detroit, had the people feeding us the information of the past, showing us great records." This balance, facing forward but never forgetting what had come before, is what Seth feels made London such a pressure cooker for nightlife. "That exchange was everything. That's what drew me to London. The intellectual exchange about what dance music culture could really be."
Considering the situation now, in comparison to what has come before, it's this intellectual exchange that Seth feels is lacking in contemporary assessments of nightlife. Of course, the British government has never been particularly inclined to sit around exchanging Trax releases, yet conversations around the value of nightlife have experienced a significant downwards trend. Whether it's Sir Bernard Hogan Howe's suggestion we close pubs to cut down on drink related crime, or the priority given to residents over nightclubs when it comes to noise complaints, nightlife is certainly seen as less than a top priority. Seth feels we could learn from other clubbing capitals around the world when it comes to this. "Holland really values club culture, almost as much as the ballet," he explains. "They have a night mayor who goes to the government to ensure that the laws make sense. When you look at it as a positive culture, and consider everything it brings in, it's of incredible value to society."
This seems to be the biggest obstacle the UK's nightlife faces: nightlife, and club culture, simply aren't seen as positive things. While Seth has a pretty clear idea who he thinks is responsible for the current transitional phase—"It's every time these fucking Conservatives get in, who don't really give a fuck about anyone, to be absolutely fair"—that doesn't make it any less ridiculous that a country as steeped in clubbing history appears to be turning its back on the legacy.
"Like with fabric," Seth suggests, raising his voice at the thought. "You have a globally recognised clubbing institution and the government was trying to make it hard for them to the point that they nearly couldn't survive. Is that fair on a business? That there's one mishap and you can shut the entire place down? Would any other industry allow that to happen?" Of course, the answer is no—there's no way a death at a football match would see the stadium closed down for example—so without any support from the government, the real question becomes how do push forward regardless?
For Seth, it all comes back to the same principles that attracted him to London in the first place. Bringing people together through nights out, providing experiences that live beyond the taxi ride home. Discovering and working with spaces that function as something more. Dark rooms and lofty ambitions. One of his personal favourites in London, as it stands, are the elephantine warehouse spaces at London's Tobacco Docks where, along with LWE, he is hosting a SideXSide party with Carl Cox. Far from intimate, the Tobacco Docks offer something huge yet still resolutely focussed on the right things. "It's basically a barely legal day rave," Seth laughs. "It's a warehouse, it's loud, and it allows kids today to have an experience that otherwise would be completely illegal." Having already thrown a hugely celebrated Acid Future night at the venue, Seth is seemingly on a mission to preserve Britain's heritage of 24 hour raves, of baggy trousers and baggier eyes, a history littered with colour, characters and amazing music. A history that, if we're not careful, could become exclusively a thing of the past.
But, as Seth is keen to stress, losing hope is pointless, because on even the most innocuous night out there is still the potential for something magic to happen, just as it did for him when he first came to London in his early twenties. "That's everything," he tells me, pausing in thought. "The energy you can find on a late night out, or in the corner of a club. There's a beauty in that shadiness."
Seth's SIDEXSIDE night takes place at London's Tobacco Docks on April 2. More info here.
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