Patrick Topping will never forget his final weekend in Guatemala. Three years ago, a delayed connection led him to miss a flight from Miami to Guatemala City, so to make sure he got to the club in time, the promoter sent a private jet to pick him up. By the time he got there it was 8AM. The police were paid off to allow the club to stay open just a little bit longer so Patrick could play. The son of a local politician was in the crowd, and he invited Patrick and his girlfriend to a beachside villa for a two-day afterparty. “We cancelled our flights home and spent the next couple of days riding quad bikes at 60mph on this black, sandy beach,” he remembers. “We saw a sea turtle and there was an earthquake – I literally felt the ground shake. I went to find everyone to tell them I’d made some end-of-year DJ polls and they were smoking weed in a bong made from an apple.
I never smoke weed, but I did, just that once. At the end of the trip we were flown straight from the villa to the airport through the mountains, with a smoking volcano on one side of us. It sounds like I’m making it up, but it was real. When I got home to Newcastle, I was like, ‘What was that...?’”
Private jets and partying with the rich kids of South America are, indeed, a long way from Patrick’s home town of North Shields on Tyneside, a suburb of Newcastle. The grey sky and red brick terraces scroll by the window of Patrick’s black Mercedes A180. Until recently he drove a Citroen C2, but traded up because he “looked like Mr Bean”. His accent is soft and musical. His favourite word is “mint”, and “our” or “us” is “wor”, while “yes” is most often “aye”. Our destination is Riley’s Fish Shack on the beach at King Edward’s Bay, Patrick’s favourite restaurant.
Many DJs can be a bit prim when it comes to war stories, but Patrick is happy to tell all. Over wood-roasted cod and with a stiff breeze coming off the North Sea, he recounts the time that he fled the Greek island of Zante after the club promoter was shot in the leg (“he was fine, thankfully”), being kidnapped in the Dominican Republic (“not properly, they just wanted me to play the afterparty”), and a hazy memory of a hedonistic post-DC10 boat party sailing around Formentera with Jamie Jones.
But all of that must now be toned down. In the last 12 months, Patrick has transitioned from exciting new name to the newest member of dance music’s top tier. This year, he builds on the Paradise residency at DC10 that helped make his name, with 16 dates in Ibiza, including seven at DC10. In the US, he’s playing at Coachella, “the pinnacle of US festivals” as he describes it, plus Movement in Detroit, Mysteryland USA and Ultra in Miami. Eight of his tracks finished and ready for release. He has a busy year ahead.
“I’d have to take less gigs and make less music if I wanted to keep on partying like that,” he says with a rueful smile. “Some people can party all the time, but I physically can’t. These days I think I have a reputation among DJs I know for calling it a night early.”
You get the sense he’s still working through the demands his increased level of success have necessitated. He makes several mentions of spells DJing sober, including a two-month dry stint at the end of 2016. “I had the best time,” he says, sounding almost convinced. But then there are also the times he’s so pleased he’s played without having a drink that he celebrates by having a cheeky one, and, well, you can imagine. On balance, it’s good to be professional, but he’s also mindful that having fun is what clubbing is all about. “When I first started putting on nights in Newcastle we would always remember the DJs who would come to the afterparty with us. Someone’s house with decks in the kitchen and fifty people. Tale Of Us. Spencer Parker. Art Department. Even if they didn’t play, they just came and hung out a bit. They became legendary in our friend group. So, while I don’t always go to the afterparties because I’ve got a busy schedule, I try and remember that, and go when it’s possible.”
He took the whole of February off to make new music, something he also did in 2016. The ‘Takin Libz’ EP on Hot Creation and the tracks that appeared on his mix with Nathan Barato, ‘Paradise On Earth #1’, were recorded during that time. This year he wanted to try a new direction. Not radically different, just something that wouldn’t get labelled as ‘tech house’, something that reflected the wide range of music he plays in his DJ sets. “When I went into [my time off in February] I was thinking, If I make one track that doesn’t sound like what people expect me to sound like I’ll be happy,” he says. “I think I’ve made four and I’m dying to get them out. Two of them are darker, a bit more techno. I don’t think you’d know they were me if you weren’t told.”
It’s getting cold and rain is starting to blow in, so it’s back to the car. As he skips up the fifty or so steps from the beach to the car park, Patrick says: “When I’m at home, I run along the beach from my house and then do sprints up these stairs.” It shows. Before he was a DJ full time he was a lifeguard at a swimming pool, and he’s still got the frame. Did he save anyone from drowning? “Yeah. Three people,” he tells us casually as he opens the door.
On the way back to his house, Patrick takes a detour through the Fish Quay, where North Sea trawlers still land their catch. Before he retired, Patrick’s dad over-saw events for the local council and organised a free festival on the docks. Patrick recalls being invited onto The Wailers’ (as in Bob Marley) tour bus. “It was full of weed smoke,” he laughs. “Maybe my dad doing that festival influenced me getting into music.” His father’s next venture, albeit short-lived, definitely did. Topping Snr started managing The New Tunnel Club.“It was like the club in ‘Phoenix Nights’,” says Patrick. “I knew it would be a disaster from the start.” It only lasted six months, but it hosted Patrick’s first DJ appearance: a friend’s 21st birthday. He gets out his mobile to show us a video. “Look, there are strippers right next to the DJ booth,” he says, cringing a bit.
If you haven’t already noticed, North Shields and the North East are very important to Patrick Topping. He explains: “People used to ask, ‘When are you going to move to London? Or, When are you going to move to Ibiza? There’d be more opportunities for you there’. I’ve never done either of those things. I’ve stayed here and I’m glad I have, because I like that continuity.”
He enjoys not being surrounded by music 24/7, and the fact that, even though he doesn’t live with them, his parents compete to take him to the airport. The day before he travels to Coachella, he’s taking his mum to see the Tom Stoppard play ‘Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead’ at the Old Vic in London. “It’s not normally my kind of thing,” says Patrick, “But my mum will like it, and Daniel Radcliffe is in it, which is a bonus for me because I loved Harry Potter.” He continues: “For a lot of DJs the music industry becomes their life. The people in the industry are their [only] friends. I suppose I’m an exception to that. I still have my old friend group and, together with my family, that’s the main reason I stay here.”
He’s also quick to champion other artists from Newcastle and talks enthusiastically about Richy Ahmed, Man Power and Elliott Adamson. And he likes DJing on his home turf. “Not just Newcastle,” he clarifies. “The North of England, Scotland, Ireland. Anywhere with an accent. Those are my favourite crowds to play to. They edge it for atmosphere. People shout a bit more and take their tops off and scream. They’re less bothered about image.” That said, he also thinks his most recent London date, at Electric in Brixton in March, was his best yet.
“It’s not a massive thing, about the North,” he reflects. Let’s just say he’s proud of where he comes from; that his roots are important to him.
Tonight is a special occasion. Sven Väth, Patrick’s favourite DJ, is playing at Motion, the night he set up with some friends in 2010. He’s been trying to get Väth to come to Newcastle for years. The fact that Patrick plays for Väth at Cocoon in Ibiza may have helped convince him. “One of the reasons we all like him so much is that he does all this crazy stuff while he’s DJing,” says Patrick. “Dancing on tables, pulling faces, that kind of thing. He’s a real performer.”
Patrick now runs Motion with a different promoter, but the original group of friends, who each put up £200 to get it started, all still have stake in the night, and they’ve all turned out to see Väth. Ahead of the club, they gather at an Italian restaurant, where, to a man, they order fillet steak. It’s not hard to see why Patrick sets so much stock by his friends: they are as welcoming a bunch as you could hope to meet. “I’m a mortgage advisor,” says one, before pointing at his neighbour. “He’s a credit account manager. We all have boring jobs, so we’re pleased for Patrick. Maybe also because we get to hang out with him at things like Cocoon In The Park.” Indeed, sometime Patrick’s mates think he prioritises them a little too much. When a friend got engaged recently, Patrick was going to reschedule a work commitment – until he was talked out of it. “We were like ‘Come on, we’ll always be here’.”
At Motion, Patrick is full of nervous energy. “I don’t know what to play!” he says. “Should I do my normal set, or tone it down a bit before Sven comes on?” As he pings around the club, he gets stopped every couple of minutes by people wanting selfies for social media. The answer is always yes, with a smile.
Patrick starts his set with a house classic from 1988, ‘The Party’ by Kraze. He may not be the main event, but his home town crowd signal their approval. He’s not a wildly expressive DJ, instead exuding an air of concentration. His two-hour set is pitched neatly between warm-up and peaking too early.
Sven Väth takes over. Patrick downs a shot of coffee Patron tequila and starts to unwind, the pressure of warming up for his hero dissipating. Maybe it’s the proximity of dance music royalty that causes him to reflect on what kind of success he wants from this point on. “You know, the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was from Jamie Jones,” he says. “He was like a mentor to me. When ‘Forget’ was a big success in Ibiza, I had quite a few offers to re-release it with a major label. He advised me not to. He said that because I was new, if ‘Forget’ was suddenly all over the radio, with a vocal edit, it would define me. Looking back now, I’m so glad I took his advice. I’ve seen similar artists to me have chart success and then struggle to come back from it. I don’t have any aspirations for commercial success. Everyone dreams of progressing and doing more, but I only really care about progression within underground dance music.”
So commercial success is not for him – at least, it’s not something he wants to actively pursue at the expense of things he’s genuinely interested in. For example, the idea he’s had for a follow-up to ‘Voicemail’, his update of Green Velvet’s 1995 classic ‘Answering Machine’, recorded with the man himself. “Last week I played another old Green Velvet track, ‘Abduction’,” he says. “It’s mental. He makes up this story about being abducted by aliens. I want to do a new version of that track. Maybe Green Velvet could do a story about the aliens coming back for him.” Patrick has texted him the idea.
But the thing he’s most looking forward to in 2017? The answer comes back instantly. “I’m getting married in July. I’m taking the whole month off, so I can eat well and be rested.”
That’s the busiest month in the dance music calendar. But that’s also Patrick Topping right there. Being a superstar DJ will always come second to important things like getting married and hanging out with his home-town friends.
Patrick Topping plays We Are FSTVL, London on May 28 and Parklife, Manchester on June 10