ron trent | cultural crossroads
Ron Trent, the legendary DJ and producer, is no stranger to Berlin’s burgeoning music and art scene. He was a regular in the 90s. Now, having been based there for about a year, he’s steadily making his mark on the city, already having left indelible impressions on Chicago, D.C., New York and more. It seems he’s connecting the dots.
words by: adrian loving
There's an element of darkness in Ron Trent's live delivery that makes gritty Berlin the right canvas for those punchy, deep techno tracks: his production style blends deep, soulful tones, dub vocals and atmospheric energies. On a recent release - a collaboration with house music producers Jerome Sydenham and Aybee (which features Trent’s orchestration of eight masterful tracks) - you can feel that darkness (standout tracks from the album include Fallout, Fishfarmdisco and The Rig). The aesthetic fusion of Germany’s tech-house legacy seems to have inspired the group - here it’s presented as a soulful techno alternative.
Asked about inspirations for his current musical projects, including a forthcoming release featuring singer Robert Owens (entitled Love/Release), Ron looks to Berlin, then and now. Having traveled, played and produced here back in the post-wall nineties, he says “there was a feeling of desolation and despair. But now, there’s a renewed sense of creative energy for the art and music scene.” Artists and creatives have descended on Berlin in search of collaboration. Much like New York in the late 70’s, the city promises cheap rent, fashion, dance, drugs, open minds. “The scene is inspiring for experimental music and its recycled cultural aesthetic,” he says.
Trent’s “Young Souls” residency re-educates Berliners in R&B, Disco, Funk and Soulful House. His mission as a music presenter, he says, is to utilize “culture as a platform for teaching.” In this era of heightened cultural appropriation, the “black export” must be continually protected, refined and owned by its originators, he says. “We have a responsibility and accountability to our community and its valuable legacy.” Currents of spirituality and ancestral connection run through Trent’s musical philosophy, extending to his multi-layered productions. His sonic waveforms transcend cultural barriers, discerning tastes, even oceans.
Ron Trent Preferred Playlist: Selected by DJ Adrian Loving
Ron Trent - Look Beyond, Future Vision Records, 2008
Ron Trent - Music, Life & Culture, SI Project, 1999
4 Hero - Escape That (Ron’ Dub Remix), 4Hero, Talking Loud, 1999
Limbo Experience - Deepest Seas (Ron Trent Remix), Wave Music, 2002
Big Medicine (Dancefloor Boogie Delights), Future Vision Records, 2012
** Bonus: Ron Trent presents T’Kumah Sadeek - In Time, Future Vision Records, 2014 **
While dedicated to building new audiences and experiences abroad, Trent stays connected to his Chicago roots. In Chicago, Trent partnered up with Eric Williams (owner of The Silver Room) to produce those legendary Silver Room Block Parties, featuring the likes of Timmy Regisford, Joe Claussell and Danny Krivit. Trent’s recent album with singer T’kumah Sadeek, a Chicago native, is set to be released in 2015. This project features the tracks “Crossroads” and “In-Time,” a pair of well-tested dance floor bangers which can so often be heard within earshot of the decks at Baltimore’s Paradox, UK’s Southport Weekender or most likely at Ron’s upcoming appearance at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival in Sete, France.
In a recent interview with Peterson, Trent discussed his upbringing in Chicago’s music and soul scene, heavily influenced by Ron Hardy and the late Frankie Knuckles. Trent shared heartfelt memories of Frankie as a mentor, friend and respected architect of the now-international house music industry. Knuckles passed away in 2014 at the age of 59. He was influential in the late 70s for his unique style of mixing records at Chicago’s Warehouse Club. At his parties, he played and defined a style of “house” based on disco and early electronic dance selections. “There has been talk of a film in the works honoring his invaluable legacy,” says Trent.
As legacies go, Trent has his own. He carries that original Chicago house music spirit and sound in his DJ sets and productions across the world: a mix of disco, rare classics, soul and deep spiritual house combined with his downtown punk fusion of edgy sounds and Jamaican dub reverb. He takes the listener on a diasporic trip through Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean and back to America. With a keen sense of sound and space, Ron finds that sweet spot between atmospheric harmony and spiritual unity.
Ron is legendary for showing up with his own speakers: he’s a shrewd and intentional designer of the sonic environment. In 2012, I was part of a collaboration in Washington, DC that gave birth to a loft/bar space called Malmaison. To no one’s surprise, Trent meticulously selected a rare, custom designed Gary Stuart sound system for the space, installing top-of the-line components and ushering in a new standard for club sound in the D.C. area. D.C. is one of Trent’s prime target markets as he build and renew his global following.
2014 saw him playing major venues and festivals in the UK, Germany, Croatia, Japan, Brazil and the US. So what’s next? He’s at cultural crossroads, he says, where he takes the road less traveled. The one where analog values and emotional connection outshine musical mediocrity and mainstream capitalism. “I want to use my music to educate the mind and invigorate the spirit.”
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All images c/o Ron Trent