Hailing from Amsterdam, where he still remains, Tom Trago is an artist as synonymous with the Dutch capital as record stores like Rush Hour, or newer dance music institutions such as Dekmantel.
Having journeyed as both a DJ and producer through jazz, hip hop, afrobeat and boogie, he’s perhaps best loved for his rollicking house sets, that incorporate all these elements and more. He’s not exactly short of fans and friends either: Heidi, Seth Troxler, San Proper and Romanthony all count Trago as a kindred spirit.
Amsterdam continues to have a moment. Obviously you have Rush Hour (watch his vinyl only set there above), but what else appeals about the city that encourages a strong dance music community? How does it compare to say, London, or Berlin?
I think it’s because the city has such a strong musical heritage. I had mentors such as Antal, who were very supportive of me. Also, Amsterdam is small, you know? There’s a great community.
Are you encouraging a new wave of artists and DJs in the way that you were supported by the likes of Antal? How do you bring those into the fold?
Yes, absolutely. I also run a label called Voyage Direct, and through them, I’m very much always looking for fresh talent to support. I’ve been involved in working with a new producer called Elias Mazian, and then there’s also William Koukam Djoko and Interstellar Funk, who I think are going to do well and I think more people will know about them soon.
You seem very keen on community, collaborations and friendship. What do you look for in these terms?
Well, I see DJing as a way of travelling the world, meeting people and seeing different cities. And when I’m in one place, I really want to know it, you know? So that’s why it’s good to know Bok Bok and what’s going on in London, where he can fill me in on the Night Slugs stuff. Or to see Seth Troxler and share tracks in Ibiza.
Despite your productions also being rooted in hip hop and jazz, you’re probably best known these days as a fairly straight up house DJ, especially at festivals. As that side of your production came later, do you ever feel a pressure or a responsibility to honour your heritage?
I actually think my house sets are improved by the fact I love hip hop. A track like 'The Elite' off my last album, The Light Fantastic, the beat is almost hip hop itself. I am used to playing rap, reggae, even dancefloor at times when I started out, and I still try and listen to as much of that music as possible.
So yes, to me, as a DJ, that’s the ultimate goal, to be able to spread that music. And I like taking big tunes to the underground, but I really like taking the underground to bigger stages, and to hopefully just encourage everyone to dig a little deeper, you know?
Heidi has become a regular sparring partner with you for B2B sets recently (check out one above). What is it that works so well between you both behind the decks?
Well, she’s really good fun, which I like, she doesn’t take everything far too seriously. And she plays tough, you know? There’s no pussy shit. We’re both quite inspired by the old rave stuff, like at Bestival, we got really into the acid side of things. And maybe I bring something a little more underground and the people just love her. But yeah, it just works.
Your touring schedule is pretty relentless, but you’re also known as being a solid head in the studio. You notably wrote 2013’s The Light Fantastic pretty much away from society. Any plans to do the same again?
Yes, we’ve just made sure that we have some time next year booked off, although I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. It might not be in Holland where I go, it might not be an album, maybe I’ll just throw down a few EPs, but yes, it’ll definitely be nice to get away for a while to record.