What’s life like as one of the planet’s most popular DJs? RA’s Will Lynch shadows Seth Troxler for five days at Miami WMC 2012, finding out how extremely high and low things can get.
From the Tuesday, March 20th edition of Private Stock, Bill Patrick’s online radio show, this time hosted live from the villa at 4442 Prairie Ave, Miami Beach.
Bill: “We got a killer, killer lineup. Point guard from Argentiiinaaa, Guuuuttiiiiiiii. Guti in the house. Our shooting guard, from Clinton Township Michigan, went to state college, Ryan Crossoooooooooon, a regular here at Private Stock. At small forward, from Tel Aviv, Guy…. Gerbeeerrrrrrr. Guy? At power forward from Brusseelllllllls, Igor Vicente, AKAUltrasoooooone. And, starting center, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, the black behemoth, the rumble-in-the-jungle—is that racist? No?—Seth… Trooooxleeerrrr. Signature sky-hook Seth. He used to play power forward in high school. And center.
“We’re live from the villa…. Everyone’s a little bit tired, they haven’t slept. It’s the first day of conference. Fucking amateurs, you’d think they would know to pace themselves, yet, it’s Tuesday, and no sleep. No one likes to sleep. I rolled in from New York, everyone’s still awake from the night before, completely fuckin’ crackers, and they’re like ‘let’s do the show.’ Guy, actually, Gerber, is the one who spearheaded this, and he’s outside talking about fucking love with Seth, and Guti, who can’t even fucking stand, I don’t even think he understands English right now… I mean, whatever. Ryan’s here, and he’s helping out. These other fucking mamalukes got nothing to provide.”
Ryan: “Relationship talk 101 with Guy Gerber and Seth Troxler. Igor’s getting a good look at the dumb shit that we do, over and over and over.”
Bill: It’s a proper fucking Opera show going on over there. You guys wanna talk about this at all?… Seth is deep in a text right now. Everyone’s having problems with love right now. It’s the spring season… Ryan’s good, sure, but you know, don’t be selfish, everyone else is having problems.”
Ryan: “Everyone in this room has picked me up when I’ve been down in matters of love, so I’ll be here for them.”
Bill: “I’m just saying don’t be fucking—I’m guilty of this as well. Just love yourself, and then, you’ll find it easier to love someone you’re with. Because right now we live this lifestyle where we’re all over the place DJing, got this crazy lifestyle, it’s super fun, but it’s a bitch to get in a relationship, and we overthink it. I think we just need to play it cool. Just find someone you’re happy with and don’t try and be a fucking superstar, don’t think you can just go around and be… no? It’s the case for a lot of people. I’m just saying, just don’t be a dick.”
In the five days I spent at that villa in Miami, this was pretty much the vibe, especially with Seth: banter and shenanigans one minute, a bit of brooding the next, sometimes both at the same time. Sleep had caught up with everyone by the time I showed up on Wednesday. Seth was still in bed, everyone else was sitting around a long wooden table on the patio getting ready for their gigs. Bill was burning CDs and drawing little designs on them with a Sharpie. Lee Curtiss appeared and did a few laps in the pool. Guti, Guy Gerber and Eric Johnston, Visionquest’s tour manager, discussed how to kick out a straggler in the kitchen—he’d shown up for a party on Monday night and still hadn’t left. Shaun Reeves talked with Ryan Crosson about the guest list for their party on Friday, Need I Say More, a charity event for YouthVille in Detroit. They’d received a list of unfamiliar names from one of their managers, most of whom were explained parenthetically with words like “legend” or “fit bird.” Ryan glared at his laptop: “Who the fuck are these people?”
Finally Seth ambled down the stairs in his boxers, wiping his eyes. Someone told him he’d slept a lot last night. He put on a sassy face: “I sleep a lot in general.”
The past couple of days had been a welcome rest period for Seth. Before the party on Monday, his first Miami gig of the week, he’d played a festival in LA called Beyond Wonderland and two parties in Texas for SXSW. In total he had eight gigs scheduled for what is now awkwardly referred to as “Miami Music Week,” then a few days off before heading back to Europe for Time Warp, Snowbombing and a string of club dates. At this rate he was likely to play more gigs in 2012 than in 2011, his biggest year yet.
Like most of the DJs at the villa, Seth spends most of his existence on the road. This makes for a life of extremes, a soaring sense of living large followed by loneliness and deep fatigue. Naturally, this takes a toll on your life at home: working every weekend and travelling most weeks kind of puts you in a different universe from other people, making it hard or impossible to maintain relationships with “non-techno friends” (Seth’s term)—or girlfriends, for that matter. After all, who would want a boyfriend that’s gone more than half the time doing something that doesn’t really look like work, often inebriated and with other girls throwing themselves at him? Like Bill said, relationship problems defined much of the conversation at the villa, and most of all with Seth, whose fiance at the time was looking more and more like his ex-fiance. This fact lurked in the background all week for Seth, draining some of his usually cartoonish energy. “I used to say techno owed me money, but it gave me that,” he told me on Skype a few weeks before the trip. “Now techno owes me love.”
Needless to say, the DJ world definitely has its perks, not least the general sense of adventure. The artists on the patio that afternoon had an endless supply of stories, set in a dizzying variety of global locations: Bill’s insufferable afterparty in London with “Ricardo and the Romanians,” the time at Burning Man when Lee made a batch of steaks and said to everyone, “I’m putting all my love, everything I got into these steaks right now.” (They were, by all accounts, phenomenal.)
The lazy afternoon didn’t last long. Most of the group had to leave for a party at a new venue, Villa 221, but Seth had some time to kill. His only gig that night was the opening slot at Electric Pickle for a Planet E party called “From Detroit With Love.” His first big gig was on Thursday: Circo Loco at The Surfcomber. For that one, Visionquest were booked in pairs—Shaun and Lee, Seth and Ryan. Things got a little hectic leading up to the party. No one had confirmed their times, but Ryan found them on the RA message board (“This is ridiculous, we should have printed itineraries.”) Lee was asleep on a couch and no one could rouse him, so Shaun decided to play by himself, a decision everyone seemed uncertain about.
The party turned out to be fantastic. The weather was sunny but cool, everyone was sucking down free mojitos and Cape Cods. Seth and Ryan played the best set of the day—lots of upbeat deep house peppered with classics (a couple of Cajmere tracks, Danny Tenaglia’s remix of Liberty City’s “Some Lovin’”)—and they got a great response. At some point P. Diddy had shown up and was dancing front and center, surrounded by the sizable entourage you’d imagine. Everyone was feeling good.
Things got hectic again on the way out. Lots of people recognized Seth on the dance floor and tried to get his attention. They’d act like they knew him—”Seth! Hey, Seth!”—and if they managed to get his attention they would just go, “Yeah, Seth Troxler, Yeahhhhh!!!!” Watching him walk through the crowd was like watching a politician: a handshake on the left, a handshake on the right, left, right, and all the while going “Hey! Good to see you. Hey, what’s up man!” There were lots of group photos. Between the DJ booth and the exit, Seth took at least seven of them, some not exactly voluntary. This happened a lot all week, but Seth never lost his composure—if he was at all annoyed he never showed it. More than once while this was going on, someone else in the group said to me, “I could never do it.”
A big part of being famous—or “semi-famous,” as the “about me” of his Facebook page once put it—is making sure people don’t feel they’ve been given the cold shoulder. This is just as true for the fans asking for pictures as it is for friends and acquaintances: everyone has to be given a satisfying amount of attention or else they’ll feel offended. Seth is fortunate to be incredibly good at this. He’s like Gatsby: no matter how many people are hovering around, if he likes you he’ll find a way to make you feel like his special buddy.
Nonetheless, even Seth can’t please everyone, and he’s often reminded of this. After Circo Loco he decided to go to Electric Pickle, an experience he later described as “melancholy.” It was the Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap party, and he was just there to have fun, but being a recognizable DJ in a club isn’t that simple. Later that morning on the patio at the villa, he massaged his temples as he recounted the whole thing. Too many people wanted to take pictures—”I swear I need to wear a fucking mask…” He ran into some old friends who felt he’d abandoned them as his career took off. “They were like, ‘You never call us anymore,” but they never call me either! They’re like, ‘Oh, you’ve changed.’ I’m like—no, I’m still the same dude! Wanna smoke a joint?” Then of course there was the week’s primary source of gloom: his fiance. All of these things together had put him in a deep funk. He said to one of his “non-techno friends”: “See man, you got it made: you have a cool job, a girlfriend, you go out sometimes, you travel sometimes…” Ryan tried to encourage him: “Come on Seth, you’ve had all that before, and you know you have a much cooler job.” Then to the non-techno friend: “no offense.” Seth looked off to the side and said nothing.
Seth’s spirits were, luckily, very high leading up to the most exhausting stretch of the week: a set at Ultra Music Festival on Saturday afternoon, then that night for Get Lost at Electric Pickle, Danny Tenaglia’s Marathon at 6:30 AM on Sunday, then another set at Ultra on Sunday evening. On Saturday morning he came bounding down the stairs in skimpy swimming trunks and his usual Stetson hat, buttoning up a black and gold silk shirt. “Mmmm, I’m onfire today! Might even change my earring!”
“You got a hoop?”
“No, no, I got a dangler!”
The outdoor dance floor was packed when we got to Get Lost, with camouflage mesh breaking up the heavy afternoon sun. Electric Pickle is one of the few intimate and relatively laid-back clubs in Miami, which made it very hard to leave for Ultra, which everyone assumed would be a massive ball-ache. Seth was unfazed. In the cab he kept clapping and saying he was on fire. “What do you guys think of my dangler? It’s cool, right?” To me, Seth’s appearance and general essence usually says “peacock,” something the dangler really brought out, especially with his old-fashioned hat and circular-framed Ray-Bans. He seemed a little offended when I told him this, but then he warmed up to the idea. “Maybe I can switch spirit animals,” he said. “Sometimes I’m a bear… but sometimes I’m a peacock!!”
Ultra was a much smoother experience than everyone anticipated. The guy at artist check-in turned out to be a big fan of Seth’s—”I’ve got 20 of your mixes on my iPhone”—and asked to have his picture taken. Someone loaded us into a golf cart and whisked us across the massive expanse of Bayfront Park, passing a lot of notable characters en route—Annie Mac, Benga and Seth’s favorite, Sven Väth, all on golf carts themselves.
The backstage area was like a movie shoot: each DJ had a trailer with his name on the door, beautifully air conditioned and stocked with booze. The stage was enormous, airplane hangar style, but at this point only half-full. Cassy was playing. She and Seth complimented each other on their outfits, then she put on her last record and lit up a Newport. The whole crowd cheered when Seth appeared, but he made a gesture like “I haven’t done anything” and redirected the applause to Cassy. Carl Cox showed up during Seth’s set, then Magda and her massive tour manager, Collins. Magda snuck up behind Carl and pinched his ass and they both laughed and hugged.
Afterwards, Seth had to do a video interview for Ultra, and attend a “meet-and-greet.” He’d put off the interview until after his set (for fear of losing his “fire”), but it turned out to be very quick. The meet-and-greet, which was actually a full-on autograph signing, was harder work. It took place in a small trailer on the far side of the property, reachable (of course) only by golf cart. When we got there everyone in line seemed to notice Seth—they were all nudging each other and pointing at him. He jumped out of the cart, got them all riled up then ran down the line giving a continuous high five. Everyone was cheering. Inside the trailer, bouncers herded people through as quickly as possible, begging them not to take pictures, while Seth and Carl Cox sat at a plastic table signing autographs. When Carl had to leave to play his set, the line stopped awkwardly. Seth said: “Well, if anyone knows who I am, I’ll sign your autograph.” A pre-teen in line said, “Um, who are you?” Seth stood up, “Well, that’s it!”
In the cab ride back we got to talking about how the draining part of being a DJ isn’t DJing itself, it’s the extracurriculars. “With all the traveling and everything else people expect you to do, you really just don’t have time or energy for anything else.” Is that why he hasn’t put out a record in so long? “Yeah, that’s part of it. And I was just younger back then, I was more excited about everything. But I am getting back into it… doing a few remixes, going into the studio with Deetron soon.” We drove in silence for a minute, then he said: “I guarantee when we get there Ryan will have no voice.”
He was right—back at the Pickle, Ryan’s usually authoritative voice was now a small, raspy whisper. The party had been going for more than 12 hours, so everyone was pretty well lubricated. Maetrik was playing when we got there, then Seth did a surprise back-to-back with Damian Lazarus and Jamie Jones, which included an edit of “The Wall” that everyone gave Seth shit for afterward. “Eh, it was a promo, I figured why not,” he said. “But I will say this: it was in key!”
The party ended and everyone lollygagged on the street outside, not sure where to go next. The most popular idea was something described as “the billionaire’s villa” on Star Island (literally an island where celebrities live). Seth and Kate Simko were more keen to go to a dive bar called The Deuce. The billionaire’s villa won out, but no one could get a cab. Suddenly Ryan swooped in from nowhere, grabbed all of Seth’s bags, successfully hailed a cab for him and put them in the trunk—a coup in the polite-off, their ongoing contest of excessive politeness. “Aw, you motherfucker! Goddammit!”
The party at the billionaire’s villa was pretty boring. There were two distinct groups: the villa crowd and the DJ crowd, creating what someone described as, “a very interesting diversity of socio-economic backgrounds.” Seth and co ended up huddled in the dark on a pair of stone benches by the water, all silhouettes against the downtown skyline. By now Seth was the only clear-headed one in the group. “What time is it?” “I’m so ketted mate.” “4:42.” “Should have gone to The Deuce.” “I am absolutely munted.” “We should go to Danny’s soon.”
Seth was stressed. It had been sixteen hours since his first gig that day, and fatigue had crossed into a very nervous state. Karu & Y, the site of Danny Tenaglia’s Marathon, seemed designed to fuck with him. The first room was huge and crowded with lots of strobe lights, then we were outside again among gazebos and tiki torches, then there was a small canal with a guarded bridge leading to the DJ booth (or if we’re being accurate, DJ hut). As if for good measure, they also had an enormous transsexual dressed like a cyborg dancing along the side of the canal.
A bizarre cast of characters came out of the woodwork once Seth started. First, there was a relentless club owner from San Francisco who had some kind of “media project” he wanted to tell Seth about. Then there was a young guy who was clearly obsessed with Seth—half the time he was sucking up to the people around him, giving them drinks and cigarettes and asking how they knew Seth. The other half he was just gazing at him with his head cocked back and an eerily placid look on his face, totally motionless. For some reason Jellybean Benitez’s daughter showed up and introduced herself. The dance floor wasn’t really moving, but a few people were taking video on their phones from three feet away. Eventually Seth turned around and said: “I can’t do it, it’s a bunch of people who don’t care about my music just staring at me.”
Sometime around then the cyber-tranny fell in the canal, sending a big splash our way. She tried to work this into her dance, erotically pouring water over her bald head with a discarded champagne glass. The sun was up, everyone was sweaty. A grinning bald man in a white tuxedo approached the booth, something weird about his face… he had reptile eyes. They were green with diamond-shaped pupils, some kind of novelty contact lenses. It was making me uncomfortable so I turned to the person next to me, who happened to be Lee Burridge, and asked who this guy was. He said: “That’s Seth’s dad.” It took me a minute to realize this was a joke.
Finally Tenaglia showed up and took over from Seth. By now we’d received an important text: Seth was invited to DJ at P Diddy’s place at 9:30 AM. He agreed, but then there was one more detail: we’d have to go back to the billionaire’s villa to pick up a few people first. Seth shook his head—he didn’t want to split the group. “I’m not going unless everyone at that other party is invited.” He thought about it a little more: “Also, maybe it’s cooler not to go to Puff’s place.” A look of epiphany spread across his face. “Yeah… I’m gonna pump-fake Puff Daddy! It’s like ‘yeahhhh I’m gonna DJ at Puff’s place… OH WAIT NO I’M NOT! PUMP-FAKE!”
We went to Jamie Jones’ villa instead. Jamie had a massive order of sushi delivered and everyone sat around a long table devouring it. A few of them were buzzing about a set Craig Richards had played at the billionaire’s villa after we’d left, once the sun was up and the billionaire and his friends had gone to bed. I heard a few usually cynical people say it was the best set they’d ever heard. Meanwhile, Seth was back on the downswing. Unbeknownst to most of us, he’d received an upsetting phone call from his fiance, now definitely looking like his ex-fiance. Jamie, Craig Richards and a few others did their best to encourage him, and he’d tried to rejoin the group, but all his banter felt weirdly flat. He wanted to go home.
There was time for two or three hours sleep before Ultra. Spirits were low, but the cab ride was soothing. Everyone was completely silent, taking in the white noise of the open windows, watching the peach sunset mirrored in the glassy skyline. We got out a few blocks from the venue—the festival had given Seth a few extra tickets in a manila envelope and he wanted to give them away. The takers turned out to be a group of 14 or 15 year-old girls in skimpy tank-tops. “You guys wanna go to Ultra?” They all nodded. “Well, let’s see, I got four tickets right here—” Suddenly they were 20 feet down the sidewalk, tickets in hand, shrieking “oh my god! Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!!!” Maybe they didn’t realize they’d left one of their friends behind with no ticket—the youngest and shyest of the group, with braces and glasses, now all by herself on a street corner in downtown Miami. She sulked, utterly defeated. Seth reached back into the envelope: “I… just might… have one for you too…” He pulled out a VIP all-access pass, purple and shimmering with holograms. “There you go. Just go through the artist entrance, it’s up there.”
Seth had a spring in his step now. He saw a smoothie stand and decided to get a carrot-orange juice, then while they were making it he saw a place to buy socks—one of only two personal items he puts on his rider (the other being Pimm’s), and one that promoters almost never provide. He came out of the store with the fresh socks already on and started sucking down his carrot-orange. “Wow. World of difference.”
Ultra was much better than the day before. The more “underground” artists had been booked on an intimate stage by the water with fantastic lights and sound. Seth closed the festival with his best set of the week, and quite deep for Ultra (MK’s “MKpella” stood out). Fireworks exploded over the bay as he finished. Aside from the expected group photos, the whole thing was surprisingly hassle-free. They even had a boat shuttling artists back to Miami Beach. We all piled in—Seth and his crew, plus Benga and a cheery English stage manager named Biff. Everyone was laughing, shouting jokes at each other, passing around bottles of Grey Goose and Patron. Once we were in the channel the driver told us to hold on, then hit the throttle. We all screamed in the dark, nothing to see but that weird, computer-animated skyline and the bluish white streak of the wake. In that moment, even for a crowd like this one, the blaring commercial dance music had something close to the intended effect (though, judging by his face, not for Benga). Later on someone said they could have gone for “Don’t You Forget About Me.” Seth said: “Aww, I would have started crying!”
It felt very much like the closing scene of a film, but it was far from it. Bill had brought a small crowd from the Hot Creations party back to the villa. This snowballed into a big crowd—apparently the buzz had been whether to go to Seth or Jamie’s villa and Seth’s had won out. People kept filing in—Magda, Marc Houle, Todd Shillington (AKA Konrad Black), Benj Meyers (AKA Sergio Georgini from Benoit & Sergio), Gavin Herlihy, Laura Jones, Deniz Kurtel, Seth’s managers Ed and Rag, and of course the residents of the house—Guy Gerber, Bill Patrick, Seth, Shaun Reeves, Ryan Crosson, Seth’s Australian friends, plus a gaggle of photographers, publicists, tour managers, agents, friends of friends of friends. Someone says, “Guy, where have you been for the past two days?” “Ooph, so many places.” From inside my bedroom I heard the melody from Jerome Sydneham’s “Timbuktu.” When I woke up it was a band called Kindness covering The Replacement’s “Swingin’ Party”:
“Bring your own lampshade, somewhere there’s a party, here it’s never-ending can’t remember when it started…”
By then the sun was up and everyone was scattered around the lawn, clinging to patches of shade under the palm trees, nursing Coronas, sharing cigarettes. Somehow most of them looked fresh. Time seemed completely, blissfully suspended, but in fact the whole thing was ending, and at different times for everyone. It would have been impossible to keep track of where everyone was headed: London, Chicago, New York, Madrid, Berlin, Moscow, Sydney, or in Guy’s case, to LA for two days and then back to Miami for another gig.
A few days later, while I slowly made my recovery, I spotted a few characters from the villa on YouTube doing exactly the same thing they’d been doing that week, but in a very different setting: the Time Warp festival in Mannheim, Germany. Seth told me this was where he finally got his groove back. “I was with all my friends, felt like I was the real me for the first time in forever,” he said. This wording echoed a book he was reading at the time: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purposes by Eckhart Tolle. “It’s this amazing kind of new paradigm spirituality type book. Take it as you will, but it’s really helping me.”
I asked him something I’d been wondering for a while: does he feel like he’s sacrificed a lot for his current lifestyle?
“I go back and forth on this one. I don’t know if sacrifice is the right word, but I’ve compromised a lot of things in my life, and I guess I went out and chose a different life without knowing what that life would really entail. One minute it feels totally right, the next… not so right. But at the end of the day, it’s amazing how privileged and blessed I am to be able to just play music for people. The problems that I have, everyone faces. Everyone sacrifices something in their life. Generally my life is amazing, but every now and then you get those casual twists. It’s like, going along great, then ‘ah fuck!’ Casual twist! M. Night Shyamalan style—totally normal story, then twiiiist!”