Throughout November, Mercury Lounge has been celebrating 19 years of bringing fresh, high-energy entertainment to the capital. On Saturday November 28th,they’re wrapping up the month-long birthday bash with the release party for Tortured Soul’s new album Hot For Your Love Tonight.
Also on hand will be Mercury’s resident DJ Trevor Walker. Since he’s been there since the beginning, I was interested in hearing more about his long-time relationship with the venue and the club scene in Ottawa. [Editor’s note: We also interviewed Claudia Balladelli, music programmer at the Mercury Lounge, on our radio show: you can listen to that episode here.]
Apt613: Let’s start from that first spark of true love: what made you want to be a DJ?
My attraction to DJing started in the mid to late 1980s when I started going to clubs with my breakdancing crew on the “legendary” Hull club strip. We used to hit Chez Henri, Le Bop, Le Bistro, Zap, Broadstreet, Le Ruisseau and mostly and especially Club Zinc as dancers.
As time passed I became friends with the DJs at Zinc, Nadine Gelineau and Michel Leveille. Michel, sadly, passed away last year. It was at Zinc that Nadine and Michel let me have my first crack at spinning wax. I guess as a dancer, I imagined I had a true pulse on the beats that would make people move. It was also a very exciting time in dance music, hip-hop, house music, new wave, punk rock and early techno, which were still underground and Zinc was the place to hear the latest sounds.
Mercury’s celebrating 19 years in Ottawa! You’ve been with them (so I’ve heard) since the beginning. How would you say the music scene, and particularly DJing, has changed in Ottawa since their doors opened?
I actually started DJing at Mercury a year after they had already been open, so close to the beginning, but Lance Baptiste is the true original resident.
A good DJ could regularly break records long before radio or the public was able to even get a copy. Now you can Shazam a song anytime and instantly download it to your phone.
I do love the fact that we now have access to all the music that was so rare back in the day but, I believe, the instant access has caused the true value of the music to be diminished for a lot of the younger generation who didn’t live through the vinyl-only days. A good DJ could regularly break records long before radio or the public was able to even get a copy. Now you can Shazam a song anytime and instantly download it to your phone. This has, in turn, matured Ottawa’s music scene and there are a lot of people who have developed amazing taste and has created great diversity in the artists and music that are coming out of Ottawa.
The world of DJing has been transitioning from analog to digital while the Mercury has been open. There are way more DJ’s than I remember there being, and there’s some serious knowledgeable talent to be reckoned with these days. So the biggest change I’ve seen is from records to CDs to laptops and now you can bring a flash drive and headphones and rock a party.
A good DJ is, at the core, an artist. But unlike a painter or even a musician who gets to perfect their artwork before it’s unveiled: you’re up there with a huge freedom to just make something on-the-fly. What’s your philosophy to putting it all together?
I like to improvise, feel the crowd and generally “wing it” most of the time. Specially themed nights can be fun once in a while but I really like to experiment and take chances. I have a hard time with “pop”, personally, although I do love a lot of “pop”, I really dislike a lot of it as well. If you don’t push boundaries you’ll never know where you can take a crowd and the music can stay stagnant.
As a DJ you’re taking tracks from a lot of other artists and blending them into a wholly new piece of work. So much of what you do has to be about collaboration and sharing- tell us about some other DJs in town that you’ve collaborated with or admire?
Way too many to mention and I’m sure I’ll be leaving out some important names, sadly. To all the names I’ve left out please accept my apology. I’ll mention a few who have impacted my time as a DJ, in no particular order, but as they come to mind. These are people I admire, respect and learned from and some that I’ve collaborated with over the years:
Nadine Gelineau, Michel Leveille, Elorious Caine, Len Puckerin, Louie Ducharme , Pedro Diaz, Jasun “DJ Sun” Fraser, Lance Baptiste, Rise Ashen (first album collab), Jim Reilly, MIkey Wizdom, Dj Rayaz, DJ Dusty, Dj Balu, DJ Thomas “Technobrat” Stepien, Davy Pacheco, DJ Zattar, DJ Memetic, Alex “Magnificent” Edwards, Dj Rude Boy, Benjammin’, Martin Villeneuve, DJ Illo, Joe Juarez, Sarah Plush, Dj Aga, Trevor Mason, Rick Laplante, Junior Ali, Nicki Ali, Mike Mailly, A Tribe Called Red, DJ Bianca…
The list could go on but my memory banks are faulty…
You may be a resident DJ at Mercury but you’re not limited to performing there alone. Tell us about some of the Ottawa area venues you’ve played and what makes them unique from Mercury?
I’ve performed so many venues in the city and they have all been unique in their own way. The Zinc was the starting point so I hold that venue as the true underground that a lot of what has happened since grew from. The Deluxe was Ottawa’s answer to the Zinc, as Zinc was actually in Hull. The White Room, which eventually changed to The Pit, was an important venue where I would lay the groove down for The Funk Factory band which was always improvisational, we never rehearsed, [it was] true “Acid Jazz”. And then The Well was kind of the precursor to the Mercury Lounge in music and vision.
There was also Thunderdome in Hull, the Ottawa area’s underground hip-hop venue in the ‘90s along with Off Limits, (for those who remember). Although I rarely played Zaphod’s over the years I’ve always considered it a ground-breaking underground club. Babylon has been another venue I haven’t played as often as I would have liked and has some great nights that have lasted years. The rave/warehouse scene in Ottawa can’t be forgotten, some of the best parties happened at those events.
But Mercury still remains unique because although it’s a small venue we’ve truly done a lot of what the above-mentioned venues have had to offer and I feel that the spirit of the Zinc truly surfaces from time to time.
Obviously, as you mentioned, technology has totally transformed the way people access and discover music. Building a great collection might have been a life-long project a few decades ago but now a lot of folks just download albums en-masse without really considering or sometimes even getting around to listening to them. Removing the almighty internet from the mix-what’s the best place to find new sounds and inspiration?
Record shopping in New York in the ‘90’s was probably the craziest and I have to thank Frank Branker at Ottawa’s Downtown Records for allowing me the opportunity to go on buying trips with him and also thank him for bringing in the imports that no other store in town had. Two of my favourite shops used to be In Beat in Montreal. Whenever I shopped there I left with a flat wallet and Chris Pronovost always had the cream of what was fresh. Then there is of course Play de Record in Toronto which is still an amazing shop to browse to this day. Jason and Eugene have been providing killer tunes for years. Miguel Graça’s Pronto studios has also been a fantastic place to get inspired over the years, I always leave rejuvenated. But mostly I like digging in my own collection for forgotten but rediscovered gems.
You can catch DJ Trevor Walker and house trio Tortured Soul at Mercury Lounge this Saturday November 28th. Tickets are available online through their website.