Tom Trago has arrived in Australia for the highly anticipated second instalment of Pitch Music & Arts Festival…and he is excited as anyone to be returning Down Under.
The Amsterdam native has one of the most diverse catalogues in contemporary dance music and is known for embracing jazz, funk, soul, disco and Detroit house sounds.
Trago boasts a uniquely laid back attitude for someone who plays up to 4 gigs a weekend, has a 3-month old daughter and still finds time to produce music while running a record label. Evidently, the Voyage Direct label boss boasts a tireless commitment to his craft.
Emanating a wisdom beyond his years, Tom Trago is certainly old school in the way he goes about the game. The man from the Dam’ would rather spend time in nature with his family these days, focusing on his production skills, than indulging at the club.
However, with the impending release of his latest album ‘Bergen’, Tom Trago is keen to showcase his many and varied musical talents as well as an assortment of new and unreleased records.
We spoke to Tom at length about life as a custodian of Dutch house music, his passion for nature, his polarising experiences in Amsterdam and a wild night at the infamous club Trouw.
Stoney Roads: Hey Tom, how you going?
Tom Trago: I’m good man, how are you?
SR: I’m great! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Where in the world are you right now?
TT: I’m at my family house in Bergen ann Zee. It’s snowing outside and the sun is shining, it doesn’t happen that often! What is the temperature like in Melbourne? (I reply with 25-30 degrees and sunny) My wife is looking at me right now and pulling this hateful face (laughs). She is staying to look after the kids… I have two daughters and I’ll definitely bring them to Australia one day.
SR: I understand you split your time between living in Amsterdam where you have your studio and Bergen which is slightly out of town. How do you manage this? And what do you find so appealing about living in Bergen?
TT: Well I like living in the secluded forest because it gives me a lot of peace. It’s definitely better because my life is just full of partying you know? When I used to live in Amsterdam I would actually just continue the partying. I would come home and hardly rest and already be in the studio. Then I would go on the road, then back into the studio, then I would go to someone’s birthday. There were very few moments to step back a bit and look at what I was doing, what sounds I was producing and what people I was spending time with. Sometimes the partying is great, but it reduces the time to make music.
SR: You recently welcomed a daughter into the world, congratulations! How do you find time between family, the studio and touring? Is there a secret recipe for success?
TT: Yeah, her name is Sixtine Trago and she is 3 months now right? (asks wife in the background for confirmation). One of the things we are trying lately is to have 1 weekend off per month. Sometimes I will do 4 gigs in a row so I can have the next weekend off. Plus, if you have the weekend off, you automatically get 10 days off. But, I don’t think there is such a special recipe needed because as a DJ you don’t have a 9-5 during the week, so you have time to spend with your family. When the baby wakes up in the middle of the night and starts crying, I also start crying in my sleep!
SR: Now, can you tell me the story behind your studio in Amsterdam. It’s in the basement of the Volkshotel, correct?
TT: Well, 8 years ago me and a crew of friends we squatted the building while it was still a newspaper building and it was empty. Back then, there was still a law that if a building is empty for longer than a year you can squat in them. So we all squatted it with a big crew of artists and we just took over the building. I remember the first day, there was still all of the equipment of the newspaper still inside!
Then we were able to pick our own spaces in this 7 or 8 floor building. I remember wandering around and just calling everyone I know to try to get them to use this space as a studio.
This organisation called urban came in after 2 years and reorganised it so we all payed rent. The whole building started living, every week new artists would come and settle there because the rent was low and the atmosphere was great.
After a while my friend started a café on the top floor and we got some more interest. At this time, Trouw opened up literally across the road and that drew more positive attention to the hood.
Some guy wanted to start a hotel and he bought the building, but wanted to keep the artistic value of the place so he kept the back wing and the basement as studios for the whole Voyage Direct family. Now it’s a luxury studio and I have a fully isolated, nice studio where I can take the elevator to the top floor and have a cocktail and get in the Jacuzzi, we have the best of both worlds!
Especially having everyone together and inspiring each other was my main goal, I love to bring people together because sometimes as a producer it can be a lonely existence.
SR: Hey, earlier you mentioned Trouw. Can you tell us a little bit about Trouw and your connection with the infamous club?
TT: They were the first place to embrace me fully as a DJ and start to give me my own nights. I already had my own nights but they were more soul and disco focused but at Trouw I started doing house and techno more and I I discovered a lot about the sounds of the world, you know?
After having my own night, and weekend at Trouw, I started building a nice network of people who came to visit or to dance or to play and it gave me a great structure to be socially active.
SR: I guess one of those influences would have been Seth Troxler? I hear you guys had a pretty wild night for the Trouw closing party where you wrote De Natte Cel together?
TT: Yeah correct it was a very strange night (or three). We already knew each other from Trouw and we got to know each other and partied heaps that night. The last record played and I looked at him and said ‘hey man we aren’t done yet, let’s go to my studio’. This was special because we realised it was the last time we would actually walk out of the club, high and blissful and we wanted to convert that feeling into a record.
So we went to my studio, and we got a call from the guys at Trouw about 8 hours later, they were having a secret party for the people who work there. By that time, we dropped some acid and went back to Trouw. There was this bartender with a chainsaw cutting down the bar, people were running around with candles and little secret spots were created. Other people were making love in the room, it was a very, very bizarre ending. It was quite intense if I look back at it now.
SR: Moving onto Voyage Direct, your record label. Are there any special, up and coming artists that we should be listening to now?
TT: Voyage Direct also has a DJ agency, but there are a lot of cool labels at the moment in Holland. Upsammy is a female DJ from Uterecht, she is really great and doing great stuff. There are also two guys who live next door to me. One of them is Darling and the other is Tracey. If you know what they have in the vault, you’d only be happy. Oh and also Dazion, he’s gonna come up with some amazing stuff.
I also think like stuff from Young Marco and Interstellar Funk, although they are not up and coming. There is so much good music coming from Holland, you don’t even want to know!
SR: It does sound like there is heaps of music coming out of Holland!
TT: I know man, I used to follow up with all of them, but I am almost intimidated by it. I mean I should be the one really knowing what’s going on because I am sort of on top, but its quite overwhelming.
SR: I guess you are sort of like a mini-godfather of dance music in Holland at the moment. So to keep that theme going, you will be giving some guest lectures for the Amsterdam Electronic Music Academy with Joris Voorn later in the year? how did this come about?
TT: Yeah, I took some lessons at a Jazz school but I realised after speaking with friends that it’s pretty hard to find a school to get a proper education that’s going to prepare you for producing or being more of an overview artist rather than a musician who just plays one instrument, like violin. I always wanted to be the overview master.
I spoke to some friends at the conservatorium of music in Amsterdam, and told them it was weird that they didn’t spend any time or effort on this side of things. It’s a complex world you know, you have to know about stuff like reverbs and tempos, which the younger guys don’t know. Young artists these days, instead of doing jazz or classical music, they jump straight onto their laptops.
So I spoke to the guys and we decided it was a smart move to do. We put together the curriculum of what a student should learn across two years.
For me it will mean inviting guys like The Mole, who’s a great friend of mine from Montreal. He’s a great guy to speak about analogue gear and especially modular systems. He can easily explain to my grandma the modular system!
I also want to do interesting Q&A’s you know? I’m not gonna be a teacher who teaches 9-5 on a weekly basis but I’m gonna make some very interesting content with friends that I love from around the world.
SR: I’m also a university student and I’d definitely be listening to a lecture by you if I was studying music!
TT: Yeah man, we want to make these available online for all students worldwide. It should be a platform where they can source information.
SR: Now, your latest album ‘Bergen’ is set to drop in just over a month. What sets this album apart from your other releases? I’ve had a quick listen over the last few days and it sounds great!
TT: Thanks man! Well I think it’s a bit more of an introverted album than the last one. The process of making it I was way more secluded in nature with my family, so i had a lot more time to think about tracks. I would take hikes or go running and listen to the tracks.
For me, where it is different…the tracks had to make sense in the club but also in nature. I didn’t want to make pure climax music or stuff that was just built for club. It does have a strong connection to where I live.
SR: You are in Australia to play at Pitch Music & Arts Festival and a bunch of sideshows, have you heard much about this festival?
TT: Well, it’s not my first ‘bush doof’! (laughs) That’s what you call it right? I love the word man! I was at my first bush doof last year, at Rainbow Serpent, I thought it was amazing!
I’m really looking forward to Pitch Music & Arts Festival to see people out in nature, dressed up weird…there is so much freedom compared to the world’s other festivals. You would have way more security and it wouldn’t be so nature focused.
SR: Finally, what can fans expect from a Tom Trago show in the next couple of weeks?
TT: Man, I’m bringing music that’s really hot in Amsterdam and Holland now. Stuff that is about to drop on my label or friends’ labels. Most of all though, deep music and a lot of fun!
Catch Tom Trago at one of the below dates and check out his Pitch Music & Arts Festival preview below:
Friday 2nd March: Burn City Disco @ Brown Alley, Melbourne
Saturday 3rd March: Byron Bay Brewery, Byron Bay
Saturday 3rd March: Goodbar, Sydney
Sunday 4th March: Nevermind Smallclub, Perth
Thursday 8th March: Electric Rush, Queenstown (NZ)
Saturday 10th March: Pitch Music & Arts, VIC (Tickets)
Sunday 11th March: Sugar, Adelaide