Artist of the Month: Patrick Topping Isn’t Who You Thought He Was
There’s more to Patrick Topping than meets the eye, and he wants us all to know it. He’s spent the last few years distancing himself from the “tech house umbrella” by taking his productions in new directions. He’s been more adventurous with the tempo in his DJ sets, and launched his own label, Trick, to champion the spectrum of styles and sounds that he loves. As if to prove a point, when we talk about the “waft” — a dance move synonymous with tech house dance floors that Twitter has described variously as “a particular dance move that comes hand-in-hand with daytime raving,” “a key move during Sunday afternoon at P[anorama] Bar and on Croatian boat parties,” and “a bit like the royal wave” — he’s never heard the term before. After I’ve demonstrated the “waft” over Zoom, he knows exactly the move I’m referring to, and goes on to say, “everyone has their own interpretation, there’s no right or wrong way to waft. It’s a dance,” he chuckles, “for people who can’t dance.”
There are people, Patrick says, who might make assumptions about the kind of music he plays, categorising him alongside DJs who he wouldn’t consider himself all that similar to musically. In truth, before this interview, it’s fair to say that I was amongst those people: Patrick Topping plays Elrow and Circoloco, and caters to a crowd that would likely be found at Creamfields over, say, Houghton. And yet, Patrick Topping is obsessed with a niche offshoot of happy hardcore that originated in Valencia in the ‘90s, he’s had his tunes played in Panorama Bar, and you’re just as likely to hear him drop some classic Madonna in a set as you are banging 140 BPM techno. In 2017, he scored a 4.0/5 on Resident Advisor with “Be Sharp Say Nowt,” a track with a vocal that recalls the gospel influence of Floorplan. At last count, “Be Sharp Say Nowt” has almost 24 million plays on Spotify.
Patrick has spent lockdown with his wife at home in North Shields, a few miles north of Newcastle. They’ve lived there for three years now, but with such a hectic touring schedule, this is the longest Patrick has ever spent at home. Like so many of us, it’s been a turbulent time for him; his wife’s family has been personally affected by COVID, and his income has been significantly impacted by the shutdown of clubland. But amongst the tragedy and the uncertainty, lockdown has had its benefits — and Patrick is quick to impress that he recognises how fortunate he is to be able to enjoy them. After six years, which he describes as an “amazing whirlwind,” for the first time in longer than he can remember, his body clock is back to normal. “It’s like I’ve been recovering from six years of lack of sleep and excess,” he says.
In an average, pandemic-free year, Patrick would take January and February off from touring to stay home and make music. The rest of the year he moves quickly from gig to gig, making notes on his phone every time he has a flash of inspiration. More often than not, February ends, the shows start up again, and there’s a bunch of ideas he didn’t get to. “This year I didn’t get through anywhere near all the ideas I had,” he explains, “even from the previous years. So suddenly I had this unexpected period to make music, without the usual time pressure. I’ve made some bits I’m really excited about.”
One such bit is Rocket Fuel, a two-track EP that landed on June 19th and marked Trick’s tenth release. Though Patrick played the title track out a few times in March, he says the final released version is “completely transformed.” At first glance, the title track is straight-up; a thumping house cut to keep the floor grooving. And then two minutes in, “Rocket Fuel” comes into its own, with a playful happy hardcore-influenced synth line. At 133 BPM and 135 BPM respectively, the Rocket Fuel EP is the fastest music Patrick has produced to date, edging out of a house tempo and up into techno territory. On the day that we speak, “Rocket Fuel” is fourth in the Beatport charts, and Patrick is delighted. There was someone online, he says, “kind of slagging us off,” by asking, “Why don’t you bring back 2015 Patrick?”. “To me, that’s a compliment,” Patrick says with conviction. “I don’t want to sound like I used to, I’m trying to evolve and I’m having fun. You can hear it in these two tracks.”
Fun has been in short supply during lockdown, and so, a few days before Patrick would have been en route to Glastonbury, talk turns to great parties. If he could go back in time, you’d find Patrick brushing shoulders with the stars at Studio 54, driving out to UK acid house raves in the late ‘80s, and dancing under the moonlight on the White Isle during Amnesia’s maiden years. Glastonbury’s The NYC Downlow embodies that same intoxicating and hedonistic energy, and it’s that feeling of being whisked back in time that Patrick loves so much. “To me, The NYC Downlow is the best club in the world,” he says. “Last year I was there every night. I think it’s the closest, in my experience, to being transported back to that old era of clubbing.”
In 2019, Patrick played a mákina set on The Glade stage. Mákina, that Valencia-born variant of happy hardcore that hurtles along somewhere between 150 and 180 BPM, made it over to the northeast of the UK, where it remains a bubbling subculture, especially in Newcastle. The northeast adaptation involves a DJ and an MC. “It’s not like any type of MCing you’ve seen before,” Patrick says, “partly because, well, they’ll have a northeastern accent.” It was actually Patrick’s dad that gave him his first mákina tape — recorded at New Monkey, a club in Sunderland that closed in 2006. Mákina and the club came hand-in-hand, so much so that at school, they called that style of music New Monkey. “Even now,” Patrick says, “there’s a big scene for it at schools. Parties like Clash Of The Titans and Monta Musica are still packing out clubs.”
Patrick was around 13 years old when he first started listening to mákina. The breakneck sounds of the New Monkey preceded a liking for Tiësto’s In Search of Sunrise series, which later led him to the likes of Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta. When he was 17, Patrick went to a “real nightclub” for the first time, a party called Good Grief, at Tall Trees in Yarm. The club was in the middle of nowhere, with a capacity of over four thousand and Eddie Halliwell behind the decks. A catalyst moment, he says, “that night changed my life.”
In 2008, Patrick took his first trip to Ibiza, the epicentre of it all. Earlier that year he’d also discovered Sven Väth and Luciano, attending the first Cocoon in the Park in Leeds. But he was blown away by the White Isle, he explains: “I knew I needed to come back every year, but there’s no way I could afford to do that. So I thought to myself, I’ll have to be a DJ!” he laughs, “and from then on, I was on a mission.” He admits that perhaps this explanation could sound contrived, but it was simple; he’d found a world he was passionate about, and he wanted to play the biggest possible part in that world. There were decks waiting for Patrick under the Christmas tree that year, and the following summer, he started an online production course with Point Blank.
Patrick Topping owes a lot to his mentor, Jamie Jones. “I was so lucky to have Jamie,” Patrick says, as we talk about grappling with the industry as a newcomer. “He introduced me to the industry in an amazing way, I’m so grateful for that.” Jamie taught him some of his most valuable lessons, one being the importance of sticking to your guns in the face of possible commercial success. Fast forward and Patrick now finds himself having the same conversations with the artists on Trick. There’s other pearls of wisdom he’d give to a newcomer too, based on his own experiences: The first; using parties to network will be invaluable, but don’t get too caught up in it. You won’t reach your full potential if you’re partying too hard. The second; dedicate every second you can to your craft.
Lately, Patrick has been playing piano. When he was small, his mum would take him to the care home where she worked so he could practice on the piano there. He hated it. “I wish I’d done it earlier,” he says, looking back. “Even though I was making music before without that knowledge, it has helped me a lot.” Though he didn’t exactly play the piano like they’d hoped, Patrick’s parents have had a big musical influence on him. A couple of years ago, during a 5-7am set at DC-10, Patrick’s mum could be spotted getting stuck in at the back of the dance floor by herself. “He had the biggest CD collection I’ve ever seen,” Patrick says of his dad, “it took up the whole wall of the dining room.” Formerly the director of Fish Quay Festival in North Shields, Patrick’s dad introduced him to records like Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land and early albums from The Chemical Brothers.
Beyond music, Patrick’s dad has had a great influence on him politically, teaching him to be confident and vocal in his views. In a post on Instagram on May 31st, a few days after the murder of George Floyd, Patrick shared some words his dad had written. The post touches on the power of mainstream media to convolute the truth, and that while it’s easy to divert attention with claims that police brutality against Black people is worse in the US than it is in the UK, in truth, there is deeply entrenched systemic racism here too. The following week, on June 6th, Trick released Elliot Adamson and Justin Jay’s Send It EP, with DJ Deeon on the remix. 100 percent of the profits from that release will be donated, as per Justin’s choosing, to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
Many of Patrick’s peers are, like him, male, and white. In the midst of one of history’s greatest and loudest movements against racism, it’s never been clearer that urgent change is required to make this industry more diverse, and more inclusive. “I’ve been getting into conversations with people, online and offline” Patrick says when I ask him how he’s engaged in this monumental Black Lives Matter push thus far, “and I’ve been posting on my Instagram about it, I think personal beliefs can really add weight to a conversation.”
With nearly 400,000 followers on Instagram, Patrick Topping has the opportunity to speak to a great number of people, and it’s vital that he uses this platform, using his voice with compassion, as part of a collective force for change. But of course, it doesn’t stop there. During our conversation, I ask Patrick how he intends to be actively anti-racist moving forward, both on a personal and professional level: what steps can he take as a DJ, producer and label head, to fight against racism? I ask for his thoughts on diversity clauses, pledging donations from Trick, and if he would commit to doing so regularly, and what steps he thinks the wider industry should be taking to fix this system that’s been broken for so long. At first, his answers are, though well-intentioned, pretty vague. Perhaps those conversations haven’t happened with his team yet, as the pandemic has the industry ground to a halt, but I felt he could be saying, and doing, more.
A few days later, I heard from Patrick again. He’d since initiated conversations with his team about how best to move forward: Trick and Patrick Topping-curated events always have diversity in mind during the programming stage, Patrick tells me, with a focus on booking pioneers of the sound: Octave One, K-HAND, Robert Hood, Paul Johnson, Green Velvet. Acts like Horse Meat Disco, Ellen Allien, and Sally C have also played these parties. All minority groups must feel safe on the dance floor, and represented in the booth, and this is something he and his team will continue to focus on. All of Patrick’s future booking requests will be evaluated by his team on a case-by-case basis, and promoters will need to prove that they have, at a bare minimum, made efforts to book a lineup that promotes diversity and equity, in line with their musical vision for the party. In the current climate, of course it’s not clear when anyone will be playing out again, but Patrick wants the dance music landscape to change for the better.
There seems to be a recurring theme in lockdown — many of us aren’t listening to nearly as much dance music. When he’s not working on his own stuff, Patrick tends to listen to artists like Kanye West (his all-time favourite), Drake and Lana Del Rey. A few days before our Zoom call, he was dancing around the house with his wife to Thurston Harris’s “Little Bitty Pretty One” (the song used in “Matilda” as she discovers her magical powers and sends playing cards swirling around the living room).
As Patrick spins slowly around in his studio chair, commenting on his “caveman” lockdown hair and shouting cheerfully to his wife to ask for the name of the song, his face lights up as he remembers that singular moment of clarity and joy in the midst of a lockdown funk — these moments we should cherish.
Katie Thomas is a freelance writer. Find her on Twitter.