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Brothers from another mother, Visionquest are linked by more than their matching tattoos and musical talent. They’re on a mission to throw the best parties in the world, from Fabric to DC10, Miami to Berlin. Are you ready to join the Quest?
Words: Seb Wheeler
Photos: Derrick Santini, David Salas
A visionquest is an ancient Native American ritual whereby children on the verge of adulthood undertake a journey through the wilderness in search of a spiritual epiphany. It’s a tradition associated with North American tribes, but it’s also a great metaphor for what some people experience on the dancefloor; given just the right conditions on just the right night, sacred experiences can occur.
“I’m on the stage at Fabric. It’s fucking amazing. Get down here!” shouts a blond guy into a phone clutched tightly to his ear. His pastel blue shirt may have been crisp at the start of the night but now it looks rumpled and sweaty after too many hours of dancing to count. It’s a Sunday morning in Room 1 of London’s most famous underground club, and the clock has pushed way past the advertised closing hour of 8am. The place is pulsating and the lights are low. Only the true explorers remain, following a trail of lush rhythms into a timezone that’s neither night nor day. All that matters now is the next tune, and when big, fat, ecstatic excursions like Vincenzo’s remix of ‘Love Stimulation’ by Humate roll out of the soundsystem, you know something special is going down. Or, as a mate of Mixmag yells: “It’s like one long-delayed orgasm!”
This is exactly the kind of place that four guys from Michigan, north-west US, want to take you to. And it’s no coincidence that Seth Troxler, Shaun Reeves, Lee Curtiss and Ryan Crosson go by the name of Visionquest. Their mission is to make things mystic, to tempt you to take a rite of passage toward a wonderful new realm. Or, put simply, to throw parties that are nothing short of legendary. It’s what they’ve done as a collective for as long as they can remember, and it’s why in 2012 they are some of the finest DJs in underground dance music. This summer they start a residency at DC10, bringing the Visionquest touch to their favourite spot on the White Isle and aiming to further cement their reputation as dealers of a certain kind of magic.
“Fuck yeah, we’re excited!” whoops Ryan, visibly psyched about stepping into the booth at Ibiza’s subterranean spot. “It’s arguably the greatest party in the world.” It’s the Tuesday after Visionquest worked Fabric into a bubbling frenzy, and the crew is assembled at a pokey photography studio in Hackney. Sitting around, chatting matters of the Quest, they’re definitely humbled at the prospect of playing a full season at a club where quality is of the utmost importance. But they’re also hyped about being given the chance to blow the place apart on the regular. “Both the parties we’ve done there have been incredible,” says Shaun. “The atmosphere is electric.”
[Lee Curtis and Ryan Crosson at Fabric]
Once the DC10 conversation starts to roll, the guys start waxing lyrical and talk over one another, excitable sentences getting tangled together like lengths of spaghetti. It happens every so often, certain topics causing communal commotion. “It’s an amazing opportunity to present ideas to one of the best crowds I’ve ever played to,” reckons Seth, before Ryan pipes up again: “They’ve invited us to step in, to give our take on things. We’re relatively new to Ibiza. People like Jamie Jones have been going for 10 years…” Then Lee weighs in, causing the chat to descend into laughter by hollering: “We’re just getting cracking on this shit! You wait…” Each member will play 10 dates at the club across the summer, with Seth touching down on June 18.
So how do a bunch of mates who met through a mutual love of crate-digging, party culture and mind expansion become some of the most sought-after selectors in the game? Well, their secret is brilliantly straightforward. “If it’s not fun, what’s the fucking point?” states Ryan in all seriousness. Because fun is what underpins everything Visionquest do. “If you’re not laughing then you’re dying,” says Seth with a simple shrug of his shoulders, before Lee shouts, “Who the fuck is gonna come see you if you’re uptight?”
He’s got a point. The group’s charm is based around the good vibes they create, something that seems to come naturally. When they pose for photos they look as though they’re having a whale of a time, goofing around, drinking beers and singing along to Biggie’s ‘Ready To Die’. They’re like a techno version of The Goonies, a charismatic cast that are damn funny and pretty smart, each bringing a distinct personality.
There’s Ryan, the tallest, most well-groomed of the four. He wears a grey jumper and black fitted trousers, an understated combo that makes him look like a handsome but preppy schoolteacher – albeit one who knows how to get loose.
Lee is a bear of a man with a booming voice and a blissed-out smile. His sideswept blonde hair, designer stubble and puppy-dog eyes make him seem effortlessly cool – and he’s also the one who’s first to crack open a bottle of San Miguel. Shaun is quiet but full of giggles, his face lighting up at the faintest whiff of weed. He rocks stoner chic well, draping his slim figure in a baggy v-neck T-shirt and low-slung joggers, his ruffled hair giving the impression he’s just rolled out of bed – in a good way. Then there’s Seth, the most notorious of the bunch thanks to his unashamed psychedelic adventuring.
In the flesh he’s a touch eccentric, decked out in a flamboyant floral shirt and eager to squeeze in to a tight pair of lime green shorts for the photoshoot; he’s also totally chilled, happy to daydream away or debate where’s best to go for lunch: Meat Liquor on nearby Welbeck Street for chilli dogs and onion rings or one of the Vietnamese joints on Kingsland Road for big steaming bowls of pho. It’s simple: all that matters is good tunes, good food, good people. Like the stoned voice on Tin Man’s ‘Wasteland’ intones at the start of their sublime Fabric mix: “Hey, just relax man…”
[Shaun at Fabric]
The most striking thing about Visionquest’s live performance is the sense that they are creating the perfect soundtrack to the perfect party. And, during their 11-hour takeover of Fabric, the records they shoot through the club’s mammoth system never get boring or stale; rather, their selection is full of twists and turns, mile-high moments up in the clouds and nosedives down into chugging, churning depths. By the time the lights go up the guys are on the dancefloor, revelling in the wonderful madness they’ve created. You get the feeling that watching them in the booth at one of the world’s best clubs is just like seeing them mix on a pair of battered Technics at home. They lay it down with ease.
“We just love music. We really love it. We want to play songs for each other,” Lee explains, his excitement making the clichés ring true. There’s no irony, just an appreciation of killer cuts. “It’s about playing music that spans cultures, genres and styles,” says Seth, and Ryan agrees, “There are so many different ways we can move into the morning.” But perhaps it’s Shaun who describes the Visionquest experience best: “It’s a storyboard,” he says. Together they forge ahead, playing individually or back-to-back, each a unique component of the whole.
Seth warms things up, playing sweet, dreamy beats cut with a touch of jack, laying a bumpin’, melodic foundation. Already the club is packed and the atmosphere is balmy, Seth grinning as he plays, moving with his hips and twirling an index finger in the air, a little like a drunk uncle at wedding. Every so often he looks back into the booth to see who’s hanging out, who’s dancing, who’s digging it.
“Man, it’s only twelve thirty!” he says with glee. It’s then Shaun’s job to plough through peak time with a steady stream of rolling rhythms, matching the crowd’s frenetic energy with ice-cold grooves. He cuts a more subdued figure behind the decks, tapping one foot to the beat while expertly steering each mix. Proving that it’s always a family affair, Footprintz, the live duo signed to the Visionquest label, walk on stage and wheel out beautiful electronic pop like Robert Smith doing deep house.
“To arrive here earlier and see the line of people outside the venue was incredible,” beams Ryan. As the evening starts to take off, he teams up with Lee for a special live back-to-back session, the pair flanked by six lights that move in unison to their music, a showcase of muscular, tribal funk, all heavy kicks and warm chords.
The dancefloor is rammed, so Mixmag retreats to the balcony overlooking Room 1. Bass ripples into the space beneath our feet and when Lee unleashes ‘I Can Make Your Body Twitch’ the whole place begins to froth, making a group of nearby muscleheads hug each other like the loved-up spirit of rave is truly alive.
Seth jumps back on at 5am for a couple of hours during which he weaves together dub techno, piano house, old-skool garage, psychedelic phreak-outs, Detroit rollers, cosmic disco and more, juggling genres with consummate skill. Then it’s time to take it home, all four choosing tunes and seeing how far they can take things. And that’s when the epiphanies start to happen…
[Seth at Fabric]
“We came up with ‘Visionquest’ at the log cabin, my family’s property up north, which is now being sold, sadly,” Ryan explains when asked about the origins of the group’s collective trip. They’d take time off to go wander the great outdoors, trekking through the woods, building campfires and pushing the boundaries of their consciousnesses. At some point a pact must have been made, because they all bear a tattoo of the Visionquest eye. They’re in it for the long run.
So what’s life like now compared to their salad days – since they became globetrotters, booked at every underground house and techno club worth its salt? “Life’s changed a lot,” Seth admits. “I had to go and take some time off, had to regroup. I’ve had some relationship problems due to travelling too much. It’s been hard.” The group start sharing insights into the flipside of being famous DJs who travel the world. “There’s pressure on everything: pressure on relationships, pressure on…” Shaun says, before Seth interjects, “…your life, your future, you know? It’s a blessing at to be able to succeed in what you’ve always wanted to do…”
Ryan picks up: “But you’re always under a microscope because people are waiting for you to slip up.” They’re surprisingly open about the downsides, but they don’t whine. This is all part of the journey, remember? “You have certain responsibilities to yourself, to the people who brought you there and the people who appreciate you,” Shaun says. “It’s very serious.” Ryan, sensing that they’re in danger of sounding miserable, cuts in: “It is hard, but you know what? How many other people are doing it?” Lee agrees: “People want you on form all the time, and it’s hard. But it’s about love. We love the music, we love the people and so we sacrifice a bit of ourselves.”
Visionquest are by no means alone on the road. They’re close with people like Jamie Jones, Lee Foss and the Hot Natured crew, Soul Clap and the Wolf & Lamb camp and the Culprit stable. “It’s like a boys club,” Seth laughs. “There are a couple of girls, I wish there were more, but it’s like a group of people who are just hanging out with each other. There’s no competition.” They agree that the term ‘non-hostile takeover’ is a good way to describe how the loose gang are the names on everyone’s lips right now.
“It’s a travelling circus!” Shaun chuckles. The same goes for the Visionquest label, an imprint run, once again, on an ethos of friendship and good music. Lee describes it as similar to Open Source, with artists and producers collaborating to create distinct cuts of wax that all relate back to the Quest. But just as they see their sets as something more dynamic than simply playing tunes for a set amount of time, so too do they want the records they put out to embody something real. “It’s about giving someone something tangible. You have a nice piece of music, you have a nice piece of art and they come together to create this whole package that’s worth your money,” Ryan explains. So far they’ve offered up slices from Benoit & Sergio, Tale Of Us and Maceo Plex, among others. “I think this whole digital thing is becoming a bit tired for a lot of people,” says Seth when asked why they still bother with vinyl. “People want to go back to what was real before, you know?” They’re leaving behind artefacts of the Quest, souvenirs to help you relive those mystic moments wherever you are.
There’s also a comparison to be made between Visionquest and the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey’s tribe of tripped-out travellers who took a psychotropic roadshow across America in the sixties. They’d set up events where like-minded people could soak up music and visuals with wild abandon, and that’s where Visionquest is headed now.
“We’re going to rent spaces and transform everything to the point where the lines between gallery installation, club night and stage show meet; transforming spaces into three-dimensional environments where the clubber can interact with the space in a different way than at a normal rave or club night,” Seth says. “We want to create events and situations where people can experience music in a different context.” Just like Kesey, Visionquest want to push the boundaries of human experience to the fullest. Their über-parties are still at the formative stage, but the concept is there nonetheless. They want to transcend normal dance music environments, and you’re all invited along for the ride. More than that, if you’re up for it then you’re part of the gang. Because the Quest doesn’t finish when Fabric finally shuts its doors on a Sunday morning, or DC10 closes for the season. Seth, Shaun, Lee and Ryan are on a mission, and they wont stop until everyone has seen the light.
Seth Troxler will play Creamfields on August 25