Berlin has minimal techno, Oslo trades in space disco, and Paris patented the French Touch house sound. But what can the Dutch lay claim to in electronic music, now that the pounding thumps of gabber techno have quieted? If you ask 26-year-old Amsterdam resident Tom Trago, his city is an electronic music crossroads where jazz, soul, and funk mingle with Detroit techno, Chicago house, and even Fly Lo-style beats. “It’s the sound of combining things together,” he says over Skype from his apartment. For the past three years, Trago has represented that fusion via releases on his hometown's Rush Hour and Kindred Spirits labels.
A former hip-hop DJ, Trago put himself on the map with 2007’s wonky Fluor Green EP (Kindred Spirits) and appearances on DJ Cinnaman's and Jay Scarlett’s Beat Dimensions compilations. His Dabyre- and Prefuse-style dirty hip-hop tracks “Alle Jezus” and “Mthrfkr” caught the attention of tastemakers from London to L.A., and soon the 'Dam became a beat-head hotbed. “Amsterdam has really changed in the past five years,” says Trago. “DJs started playing broken beat, funk, and disco and combining it with hip-hop. From that hybrid sound I discovered house and techno.”
He transitioned from the “sloppy hip-hop” of his Fluor Green era to making soulful house tracks inspired by U.S. producers Ron Trent, Theo Parrish, and Moodymann. That led to his phenomenal ’09 album, Voyage Direct, which incorporates MPC and SP1200 sampling techniques refined from his hip-hop days with moody synths and smooth, layered arrangements. The album was borne of his new-found love for house and disco, but also served a practical aim; Trago’s downtempo material was not well suited to his frequent club DJ sets, so he switched to making danceable beats that were “still a bit experimental."
There’s an interesting artistic tension in Trago’s music that comes from his still-developing palette. He’s no Euro-techno hack recycling his hit sound over and over. “I’m really looking for who I am inside,” he admits. “I do that by discovering music, and finding out what I like and what I don’t like.” Voyage Direct tracks like “Use Me” and “Lost in the Streets of New York” illustrate that journey with simple melodies and mysterious loops.
He recently paired with former flatmate Cinnaman in the purely techno project YuroTrago and started a live new-wave band with friend San Proper. There’s also plans to set up his own label and release white-label disco edits on Moxie, while Voyage Direct Part II is set for release in 2010. That might sound like a lot of work, but Trago takes a different attitude toward his projects. “I try and have fun and see what I’m good at,” he says, adding dryly, “Always try something new, because doing new stuff is fun!”