He’s been blending beats in Ottawa’s top nightspots since the late ’80s, witnessing the birth of new wave, acid jazz, Hip-Hop, House and Techno from the disc jockey’s pulpit.
His credentials are rock solid; he can hardly remember the details.
“The timeline messes me up, it’s really hard to remember exactly when everything happened,” says the 38-year-old Walker, chuckling. “It’s kind of a blur for me.”
From his involvement in Canada’s premier breakdance crew (Canadian Floor Masters) during the early ’80s to his current residency at Ottawa’s much-vaunted Mercury Lounge, Walker has had a remarkably long tenure at the heart of the local music scene. As a teenage b-boy (known as Tricky T) he wore red and white tights while performing as one of the original Canadian Floor Masters. Founded and mentored by Steve Leafloor (a.k.a. Buddha), the Floor Masters were no flash in the pan: This crew continues to perform throughout North America, while founder Leafloor uses hip-hop as a pivot point for helping youth at risk, especially in Inuit communities across the North.
Even in the early days the Floor Masters were unique. They once opened for James Brown and, on another occasion, were scrutinized by KGB bodyguards during a private performance for Russia’s Kirov Ballet at the National Arts Centre. “The Russian ballet was really crazy. I wasn’t that aware of it but those [KGB] dudes were hanging out all around us. But James Brown was much larger than life,” recalls Walker. “He had a huge head and looked like a lion in a way. A short guy with a really big head.”
After meeting drinking age requirements during the infamous Hull nightclubbing scene of the late ’80s, Walker began to attend venues that were willing to experiment with their playlists. Clubs like Zinc and Chez Henri were touchpoints. “I loved Zinc,” says Walker, “it was the only place to go and hear underground music. It was the first place to play The Smiths, The Cure, new wave, House and Hip-Hop music, for example. It was a pretty groundbreaking club in a lot of ways.
“At the time, there was nowhere to get that kind of music. You could hear it on a CKCU radio show by Elorius Kane, but that was the only place. I began to collect what I could and got a break one night when the DJ was too trashed to play.”
From 1988 onwards, Walker began to quickly build a list of steady gigs. As hip-hop and various forms of electronic music began to develop into the ’90s, Walker found himself at the vanguard of a blossoming movement. “Hip-hop was the same tempo as house or disco at that time,” he adds. “It was fresh, groundbreaking, revolutionary music.”
“The music was always the draw. Kids nowadays don’t know the whole story. If kids understood, for example, how house music and techno is part of hip-hop, there would be so much more cohesion,” he stresses.
A long list of club residencies followed Walker’s first gigs. Names like Off Limits, Channel Zero, The White Room, The Well and Atomic stand out in time, figuring prominently in Walker’s recollection.
“But it was The Well that was the really cool gig for a long time,” Walker indicates. “For me, the spirit of Zinc came back. It started off as live and organic music with funk, Afrobeat and acid jazz – it was crazy. It was probably some of the most brilliant years DJing. We used to get a really diverse crowd, in age and background. That’s what the Mercury has now.”
Walker’s residency at the Mercury Lounge continues to the present day. One of the few clubs left operating in a truly “old-school” manner, Mercury Lounge remains one of Ottawa’s most popular clubs, packing its loft-style space with crowds seeking soulful dance music.
“I think it’s great. If anything, things have gotten better over the years. As the Internet has grown and people have more access to music, people are more knowledgeable and it shows. I think the young generation these days knows more about underground music than ever before.”
As a testament to his continuing popularity, Walker has been booked to play one of Ottawa’s hottest events: Timekode. Set in an Eritrean café on west Somerset and scheduled for the last Friday of each month, Timekode is dedicated to soulful music of every type. Alex Mattar (a.k.a. DJ Zattar) is one of the founders.
“Way before I had the vision for Timekode, I remember going to The Well in ‘96/97,” recalls Mattar. “I just remember entering this place, seeing all this red light and hearing some incredible Brazilian rhythms. Turns out that it was Trevor playing. I was just a teenager but it felt like having my eyes opened to a different world almost. He’s been a big inspiration for Timekode and the mentality of playing records that are not limited to one style.”
“I’ve always been a dancer at heart. I know what makes me dance and that seems to translate to most people,” reveals Walker. “It’s kind of cool because I did the dance research first and then started playing the records. When you look back, it seems like the path was laid out ahead of time, but you don’t notice it until you look back.”
You can check Trevor Walker out at the following venues:
@ Timekode Eri Café (953 Somerset West) July 18
@ Mercury Lounge Ongoing Thursday and Saturday residencies