Conceivably the most famous export of Kalamazoo (what a great place name), tech-house DJ/producer Seth Troxler is not, by any means, your average disc jockey. He's a member of Visionquest with Ryan Crosson, Lee Curtiss and Shaun Reeves, he stuns audiences worldwide with his blend of deep house, Detroit dance and techno beats, and will soon bring his skills to Glastonbury, performing a fair few times during the festival. However, that's far from the extent of his talents. He has a plethora of irons in the fire, and when I spoke to Troxler, he spilled the beans on some of the juiciest ones (wahey! Mixed metaphors!).
"I've got three new labels!" he says, giddy like a trick or treating toddler. "It's so cool man! I keep myself busy. I've got Tuskegee with the Martinez brothers, Play It Say It and an indie rock/folk label. It's all coming together now." Explaining the background, it's clear that Troxler's got some grandiose blueprints for the near future. "I had all these ideas and it was hard to put them in one place and them all still make sense, y'know? I was sitting on these tracks from such great artists and I was like fuck it, I'll start a label! I put together a team and I was able to do it." Troxler's clearly excited about the prospect of these immensely ambitious projects, but there's no hint of fear in his voice as he explains his label trifecta.
"Tuskegee is based on ethnicity, and highlighting a lack of ethnic perspective in dance - which is strange, y'know, 'cause it's historically made from an ethnic urban perspective. It's turned into this pop-Euro dominated thing. I was like "yo, let's being it back to us people from an urban or ethnic perspective!" We want to create a place where people can break out the mould, and against the stereotype from what it 'should' sound like. To create a cultural point of reference. It's named after the Mississippi all-black university that has been the birthplace of first black pilots [Tuskegee Airmen] and think-tanks from people of colour. There's that element, but it's an art project."
"Play It Say It - that's for hits. I want a track that's gonna work. I had some songs and I was like "man, I wanna get this out". The last label - Soft Touch - is a folk and indie rock label, with the first release coming from Clarion. It was basically some other music that didn't fit with Visionquest's... vision. So, y'know, I just started a third one."
"Tuskegee is just vinyl formats, but there's gonna be apparel too. It's like a brand platform, loads of stuff, maybe multimedia aspects? Play It Say It came from the idea from old radio records, that they would have a sticker that said 'play it say it' as a form of advertising - the idea behind it is pretty basic. It's not about anything specific, just about great records. Soft Touch is a product of passion. It's just putting out a different side of me. I don't just listen to dance."
For one of the first releases on Play It Say It, Troxler's selected half of Deep Dish, Sharam. And his banger, 'Tripi'. "It's a bomb! It's a fucking hit. I was playing it for over a year in my sets, it just killed every single time so I was like "I'll just put it out!". He's a funny guy, a buddy of mine."
It's clear though that music isn't Troxler's only passion in life. No, he's a man of simple tastes. "I like eating, hangin' out. Playing music is satisfying, I guess... I love eating and being around my friends. Girlfriend time. I'm just trying to be like everyone else." Continuing the theme of belly fuel, Troxler dishes the deets on his pop-up BBQ joint, Smokey Tails, which went down a proper treat last year. "We're working at it again! It's gonna be in Hackney Wick, alongside like five other vendors in this food market area. We're gonna be larger and more oasis-y. There'll be no massive changes to the menu, the food's just the same... saying that, we might do whole chickens this year, cause they're a jam. Like so you can order halves or quarters. We're just sorting logistics at the moment; the cooking is the easy part! The environment, the ambience, that's what's hard. The food quality is over! But the taste and décor... y'know I'm so picky, if I invite someone to hang there, its gotta be the absolute best!"
It's not just eating that Troxler's a fan of. He's a pretty mean cook himself. "We're doing a thing at Shoreditch House, just cooking all day, throwing stuff on the grill. Every year I used to do the Amsterdam Dance Event DJ cook-off, and I was the champ - they made me retire I was whooping too much ass. I was three time champion in a row. Life is like pizzazzin' right now man."
So why BBQ for Smokey Tails? From what we can glean in the UK from shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (AKA Guy Fieri's Shouty Gospel), BBQ's a Southern thing: Georgia, the Carolinas, Texas. "Were really into BBQ too in the Midwest. Chicago is big for it. It's a Midwest/Southern American thing, but recently Middle America has got into it big time. We're more into getting our saucy ribs on, whereas the south has this dry rub thing going. How I got into BBQ was through my family. The sauce is from grandfather, he did it, like made it from scratch, when I was six. It's a top secret family sauce that only like three people know."
Though clearly the allure of hickory smoked, sweet'n'tangy hunks of meat is undoubtedly massive, Troxler's keen to point out the dangers of favouritism in food. "I couldn't eat BBQ everyday. It's one of my favourite activities for sure, and I love getting my friends together and lighting up the grill and sitting back with some brews, but I couldn't do it everyday."
He pauses to ponder. "Man, I love soup though."
"I sometimes go for really high-end dinners too, but you can't always eat your favourite foods, 'cause then they wouldn't be your favourite. I love hotdogs. Detroit invented the Coney Dog, which is chilli, mustard, some onions. Could I eat it everyday? Hell no, I'd die before I was 40. I love pastrami straight from some little Italian deli, it's amazing. Could I eat it everyday? Not a chance! I had a really nice dinner last night though. I went to White Rabbit in Dalston, and had roasted watermelon and candied olive tapenade, some roasted leek and hazelnuts, with saged brown butter. Tonight me and the girlfriend are gonna put this nice cauliflower on the grill, and bake it with butter, and when it's all chargrilled, open it up and have it with a little pasta. I haven't figured it out yet. I'm gonna get experimenting. What about you?"
"Me? I like pizza," I splutter, unprepared to have the tables turned.
"Yeah man, pizza? Pizza's great. Are you in London?"
"Where's the best place for pizza in Bristol?"
"Probably the Stable. It's all pizza, pies and cider...
"Ah yeah, that's like BBQ. Proper man food. It's like the kind of place you'd go with your buds and leave the girlfriend behind. You can be all like 'Yes pizza! Yes pies! Yes cider!' and then go back getting all farty like a man!
Back to Troxler, and he divulges some of his kitchen secrets. "I love Sauce. I am a saucier, if you will. Everything's better with sauce, man. It's that liquefied pure flavour. It adds so much. Oh yeah saucy sauce, it's like... [he moans]. I make a really good ragu, y'know, like Italian sauce? The key is to getting lardons - they're like a fatty pancetta. Instead of a Bolognese, which is just like so much meat and substance, you can put lardons into a tomato sauce an get that meatiness with a lot less texture. It's really good if you put it in a puttanesca too. It gets a thickness that's hard to achieve otherwise. There's also a big difference between fresh and canned tomatoes - both are great, but they're both different. I'd recommend starting with the tomato paste and onions, cook it up a little bit. Then put it the rest of the stuff like your canned tomatoes, then the lardons and whatever. But then there's no real recipe per se, it's all trial and error..."
Speaking to Troxler about food, it's evident that he's quite the gastro-fanatic, and would happily discuss the finer details of gourmet eats or greasy slop for days, but wary of time restraints, I turn the focus to another of his loves: art. "I'm looking at my Warhol now," he says, with complete nonchalance, like it's nothing. "I love Keith Haring. I have Dalí sculptures, Warhol, Mr. Brainwash. I just moved into my new place, and until the other day my house was just like rugs and all this priceless art on the walls. I only got a couch yesterday... My favourite is definitely my Warhol. It's from his Ladies and Gentlemen series, the same one as the Mick Jagger. It's this black lady with her hand hangin' over her head. She's gorgeous.
He admits that his passion for art has galvanised his musical endeavours as he harks back the coke-laced past. "I think in the '70s and '80s the art and music worlds were a lot more connected. I'd love to go back to that. Everything I do is inspired by the art world. I'm about to work with like my favourite designer of all time Stefan Sagmeister. 'Cause y'know I'm from an art school background, I like doing arty things... I want to try and move dance away from this pop world and back to its roots, where there's more meaning y'know? Creation without concept is just pointless. It would be nice to see art join with contemporary electronic the way that art and electronic music once did."
Always ready to back up his ideas, Troxler explains another project: "One thing I'm doing to achieve that is a project with Craig Richards called Heal The Steel, and the first release is gonna be a lamp. A wall lamp. We made some long ambient soudscape-y type things to go along with it, you can get them from us soon."
It suddenly becomes crystal clear Troxler isn't your run-of-the-mill DJ. He may joke around about food and make fart jokes, but that's not all he is. He's also profoundly pensive. "Music is art. It's all about contemplation - what it makes you feel and stuff. It makes everyone feel something different. One definition of art is that it's useless, there's no utility to it. But music has a form, it has audible meanings and you can dance to it et cetera, and like there's no sound without contemplation. Art works for me, it makes me feel and move, cause I'm an audio visual guy... ["AV CLUB WOO", he barks] ...I take a lot from images and sound, but not from printed word. Sometimes I read books, and I 'get' 'em y'know, but I really prefer factual non-fiction things. Fiction does my head in. I don't take out the human experience. I'd much rather read a biography or a newspaper! Some people are different though and understand the human experience, but not get music. With any art, as long as it gets someone reacting or making someone feel something, it's successful. As long as someone can relate to it, it's doing its job as art, in whatever form that takes."
There's also the matter of his collection of Jesus effigies - yep. "We share the same birthday!" he must sense my confusion, "his real birthday is September 29th," he explains. "I believe in a spirituality. My family is very spiritual, but me personally, I just believe in doing the right thing. Doing what's good y'know? I do believe in the afterlife though, and all that stuff, just not this big organised religion. That puts me right off."
Unfortunately, time's up before we can explore the rich vein of spirituality and religion in detail. Even in the all-too-brief chat with Troxler, there's oodles of proof that what we have on our hands is an utter savant, a consummate Bohemian, when it comes to food, art, music, philosophy, politics and religion - he's the 'Thinking Man's DJ'. With so many projects currently on the go, Troxler's got a busy 2014 ahead of him, not least this coming week at Glastonbury, where you can see him do what he's most famous for - being a thoroughly spectacular DJ.