Exploring the Hype of Seth Troxler at Public Works
Dax presents Seth Troxler
March 18, 2013
The burden of hype seems like a really awful thing to have to deal with. While on the surface it seems like it could be a good thing, the kind of expectations it brings can be very difficult to live up to. Seth Troxler is an artist currently floating in the throes of this kind of heavy hype. Recently awarded the No. 1 position on Resident Advisor's Top 100 DJs of 2012 List, he commands a loyal following that spreads from the local scene here in San Francisco to as far as Ibiza in Spain. Like many people with a lot of hype behind him, he can be kind of polarizing as well. I was thinking about this as I exchanged words with a friend while hailing a cab in the Lower Haight. On telling him my night's plans, he looked at me disgustedly and said, "Yeah? Really? You like that kind of stuff?" To be fair, I'm not the biggest fan, but I've always figured there must be something that makes Troxler such a popular figure.
Cut to the bar at Public Works: I was ordering drinks and talking with a promoter from Mexico City. A friend said of Troxler, "He's good on the inside -- like, genuinely charming. I hear he's the opposite of Jamie Jones." I nodded my head; I'd never seen Jamie Jones before, so I couldn't compare. Troxler himself wasn't even on yet, instead Rich Korach was busy setting the mood.
The room felt unusually large, a byproduct of the lush decoration scheme that had been installed for the party: Oriental rugs hung from the banisters, rippling projections of planets floated on the walls, and a giant lighting rig courtesy of Mark Slee (the man responsible for the ceiling at 222 Hyde) dwarfed the DJ booth below it. If I had to say there was a theme, I could only describe it properly as "psychedelic mosque." This was an appropriate decor if there ever was one, as the music that would eventually characterize the night carried with it a kind of druggy spirituality. But that would come a little later.
L.A. duo Cosmic Kids were in the upstairs loft delivering a series of house classics to a dancefloor in motion. The subtle kicks of Moodymann's "Mahogany Brown" phased in and filled the room with the vibe of a Detroit street corner. They played mostly on vinyl, picking records out and mixing them in with a no-nonsense ease that kept the energy up and going in contrast to the more mellow vibe below. They set an early precedent and for much of the night it would actually be the upstairs dancefloor that would remain the more happening of the two. Some people were deliberating whether they ought to go downstairs or continue the rest of the night in the loft. I heard a girl express the group sentiment well: "What do I see in my crystal ball? Repetitive progressive house that doesn't change, ever." This isn't an entirely accurate summary.
It was about 1 a.m. when Seth Troxler finally made his way behind the decks. Casting a tall and imposing figure, he prepared himself while the lighting grid behind him shimmered through a purple-hued sequence of geometric shapes. There's one thing you can't deny about Troxler, and that's that he exudes stage presence -- he's constantly swaying, putting his hands up, and flipping his dreadlocks around. Before he even played his first cut you could tell that he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Smiling while looking through his crate, he grabbed a record and began his set.
The music was predictably dark and sleazy, but what was unexpected was the sameness of it all. His selections seemed to drift into the background, never quite catching the groove to settle into a broader narrative. He played almost exclusively on vinyl, but his mixing itself was loose and sloppy. He'd pull songs in and out of the mix without any seeming rhyme or reason, occasionally letting the rhythms jam up next to each other in a kind of controlled trainwreck. A few people I was with kept swearing they'd seen him approach genius levels at The EndUp.
Either way, the dancers seemed incredibly moved. In fact, one girl was so impressed that she handed him a piece of a paper for an autograph. Another dodgy blend in the middle of a track. I began to get the feeling that he was drunk or pretending to be so. As the night wore on he got looser and more slipshod in the way he cued up tracks and let them fly. He started moving around again, putting his hand in the air like a techno preacher while two others tracks bounced off each other. Then it hit me: maybe that's just the appeal of Troxler -- he's a fallible DJ who lets the rough edges hang out at a time when boring, computer-controlled precision hasn't become merely the standard, but the ideal to strive toward. I thought about this as he pulled the rhythm out haphazardly and let waves of ambient piano wash through the air. Maybe there's something to this.
Local nightlife personality Bubbles got on stage and began dancing in drag behind Troxler. I looked out and saw a sea of people holding their smart phones up trying to capture the moment. And that's around when we decided to leave.