24 hours with Tommy Trash: On the road with an unconventional asset of dance music
It’s 1am on Sunday morning. Saturday’s clubgoers are still at large and in South London, a well-travelled Tommy Trash looks tired, but positively beaming with confidence. Sitting patiently in the back room of Ministry of Sound, the Australian club icon (real name Thomas Olsen) is reciting the mayhem that has shaped his European tour so far. He’s already scaled Milan, Newcastle, and Middlesbrough, unveiling a melting pot of European club culture along the way that Tommy himself is still struggling to digest. “Those kids in Newcastle were fucking nuts,” he laughs. “It was just intense. There is nothing like going somewhere a little off the radar and being completely blown away by the crazy energy.”
But Tommy is right to be smiling at the prospect of taking the infamous bus-shelter turned London superclub for all it is worth tonight. Where a mixture of passport problems and flooded-out festivals had previously blundered his European schedule in 2012, tonight has been a long time coming – and Tommy has never had more to flaunt. To date, his journey has been one of big bills, even bigger noise, and career landmarks once unheard of to peak time electro house. From Vegas residencies to the recent whisper of collaborations with Kylie Minogue, the Aussie hard-hitter has taken the long way round, rightfully reaping the rewards with his recent leaps and bounds. In the face of dance music’s public and popular heyday, his genuine energy and enthusiasm have rallied alongside a firm artillery of musical ventures to make him one of the more consistent and personable assets to modern dance music.
True to his boyish pre-game excitement, the crowd is equally animated. Entering the booth to a hero’s welcome – one that tellingly overwhelms the Australian heavyweight – Tommy doesn’t waste much time in making with the energy and showmanship that has made him one of modern dance music’s most unconventional assets to date. In blend of familiarity and forthright energy, his set tells of a man who delivers the goods on his own terms. Tommy’s approach is not one of obnoxious programming. A peak time overhaul with tactical radio-friendly curve balls keeps the crowd animated from start to finish. Encapsulated in a sea of hands and an airlessness that surrounds the packed-out room, the crowd has waited patiently for this high-octane spree. It’s a night of high-fives, devil horns, and a steady flow of alcohol throughout. This, it seems, is just the positive party formula that has earned Tommy his stripes from day one. Despite his sparing presence, the past few years’ legwork has undeniably bent to Tommy’s favor on European turf. If DJs really are to be coined the rock stars of the 21st century, then Tommy is the more persuasive of the bunch – all without compromising to deter from a far bigger picture for his craft.
The next afternoon, slumped on a sofa at his hotel, Tommy can best be described as hungover, but enthusiastic. He admits that the night’s festivities had taken him to Fabric nightclub, a longstanding favorite nightspot of his prior to moving to North America in 2012. Now residing in LA, he tells of the hermit-like lifestyle spent in between touring – more recently spent building of his new studio and finely tuning his output of mash-ups and summer floor fuel. Europe, he admits, is a territory he is constantly drawn back towards:
This time around the energy has been on par with America. It would be fair to say that Europe isn’t quite as familiar with me and what I do as the Americans are, but the reaction to my sets suggests that the overall passion and appreciation is off the chart. I always want to come back and every time I feel more and more hungry to do so. This is such an important market to me.
But from Coachella to a new residential streak at Las Vegas’s Hakkasan, his footsteps epitomize the break neck speed of life now required of a touring electro icon with his name cemented on the North American circuit. His untamed mane may better match the global festival circuit than that of Nevada’s topical party trap, but as far as Tommy is concerned, the bigger picture requires both sides of the coin, and he isn’t ashamed to admit it:
Vegas was never going to be a pure-bred rave full of 18-year-old fans. It is the bottle service kind of crowd, but I don’t care about that. People are still coming out to party – how can that be a bad thing? The most exciting element of my career is to play to different markets at different sides of the world, let alone within one nation. It is easy to focus on the negative money and the brainwash appeal that offers to DJs – these days you need to spread the name as far and wide as possible. It is dangerous to rely on that market, but it is still owed to a bigger picture.
When two musical worlds collide, heads are sure to turn. Never was this truer than with “Reload,” his recent offering alongside Sebastian Ingrosso given a vocal remodel for summer. The re-imagining of “Reload” may have taken some devout fans by storm, but Tommy’s venture remains one of genuine exploration rather than generic musical compromise.
“I copped a load of shit for putting the vocal on “Reload” but at the same time its great to do it,” he laughs. “It was something I don’t normally do and to open myself to a new market I haven’t been exposed to before was exciting. Testing the waters is never a bad thing if done for the right reasons and with due care for what you stand for. This one felt like a big landmark for all the right reasons.”
The conversation quickly shifts to the dotted landmarks of Tommy’s career, of which the Aussie talent has had his share. With past callings as a touring rock musician and a national Ministry of Sound resident, his repertoire has scaled label support from all-three members of the late Swedish House Mafia and as the first Australian artist to sign to Mau5trap, his industrious reach has remained as far reaching as his appetite desires. Tommy doesn’t take these vast industry footprints for granted. The balance between credible progress and enjoyment, he claims, has proven a far more daunting task than tackling radio-friendly dance music and balancing his heavyset electro stylings with remixes for Timbaland and the ex-Swedish super group alike.
“This whole thing started off as something purely for fun,” he explains. “I never dreamt I could make money out of this sort of thing. As money gets a lot more serious and your profile grows, a certain pressure mounts and expectations increase very quickly. For me what has changed has been the pressure to perform, but I love what I do and my main goal is to keep the fun. Once that’s gone I think you are in trouble.”
But between a successful venture into vocal dance music, his forthcoming remix for Destructo’s “Higher” on Boyz Noize Records and impending Size Records single “Monkey In Love,” Tommy appears more than content with the shape and range of his summer studio artillery. “At the end of the day I don’t want fans thinking there is going to be a focus on just radio stuff now. My club repertoire is alive and well and I am still making that heavy stuff that put me on the map. I just want to keep it balanced for the entire journey.”
But for now, globetrotting is the ceaseless reality for Tommy’s summer ahead. Between North American tour duties, high-profile European festival spots, and a spree of appearances in Ibiza for Departures and F**K Me, I’m Famous!, 2013 is still a rampant work in progress for this electro don from down under. Excitement fills his eyes at the prospect of returning to Europe, signaling that for all the assets lost the North American skyline, his is a bigger picture successfully balanced. Without so much as loosening his smile, Tommy makes his farewells and retreats to his room, politely noting his gratitude to escape for some much deserved recovery time before departing for Stockholm.
His lesson is so simple, yet positively poised for anyone with global domination on the mind. When you put in the work, master your craft, and commit to a wholehearted approach to showing both sides of the industry coin, the whole process can remain all the more human. With electronic music’s ego constantly swelling at the stomach, Tommy Trash may not be its most distinctive club icon to date, but by all means one of its most relevant torch bearers by a mile.
Photographs: Skyler Greene Photography