TRENT RODEN (SLINGSHOT) INTERVIEW

Since 1994 Slingshot has been responsible for over 50 international artist tours across Australia which has included artists such as Black Eyed Peas, DJ Shadow, Jurassic 5, Ghosface Killah, Lupe Fiasco and many more.

Slingshot also regularly consults for some of Australia’s biggest music festivals including The Big Day Out, Park Life and Field Day (Fuzzy), Falls Festivals, Pyramid Rock Festival amongst others.

As a progression from being one of Australia’s premier promoters, Slingshot Asia has been established to facilitate and enhance Asian, Australian and American entertainers the opportunities to perform and showcase their talents across the South East Asian region in cities including Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bali.

Grindin’ caught up with the main man behind Slingshot, Trent Roden to discuss Slingshot’s beginnings, its day to day operations and much more

Where did it all start were you always interested in music?
I always loved music from an early age…there was alot of hip-hop based music that I was into that at the time I didn’t realise it was the beginnings of hiphop like Flash, Malcolm McLaren, Fab 5 Freddie etc but I was also into rock and punk in the 70s & 80s like The Clash and Dead Kennedys. It was gangster rap like NWA, Ice T and Kool G Rap and also party hiphop like RunDMC and conscious like PE and KRS that got me really hooked on hip-hop. My first real passion was photography and then skateboarding so i started shooting skate photos for the early skate mags in Australia like Skatin Life, Slam and Skateboard Australia. Then I discovered snowboarding and got really involved in snowboarding in Australia doing marketing consultancy and photography for brands like Mistral, Ride, Quiksilver, Wave Rave, SMP and many other brands at the time and helped riders get sponsored and started a snowboarding industry magazine as well as consult for publishers of various snowboarding magazines.

Slingshot was first a magazine what got you into touring and promoting events?
Right, Slingshot started as a magazine I created that featured stories and coverage of my 3 passions at the time of hip-hop, skateboarding and snowboarding. It was a strange mix but it worked and I also threw in some political, social and humorous stuff to even more mix it up and make it a magazine that was like nothing else in Australia or maybe the world. I loosely based the magazine off Big Brother skate magazine by Steve Rocco / World Industries but with a local flavour and not as much skating. When I started touring and promoting was when I still had the magazine going so it made sense to keep everything under the one name. It was when I started interviewing hip-hop artists for skateboarding magazines that the transition happened for me and Slingshot as well as managing Sydney hip-hop group Brethren that introduced me to many people in the local scene at the time and gave me the contacts to start on events and touring.

Can you remember the first show you put on and how did the event go?
Yeh the first 2 shows I did was an event called Spooky Tricks back in ’93 and ’94 which I did in partnership with Murray (Lioncub) at the time. We invited the main Syd hip-hop acts of the time to perform and tried to offer an event that was a bit different to what had come before and lift the bar. Both events were really well received and gave me a taste for promoting events. The venue was Taylors On Central on Mary Street, Surry Hills. The first international shows was when Steve Pav (Modular) gave me the opportunity to tour manage and promote The Mo-Wax Australian tour in 1995 which was with DJ Shadow, Money Mark and James Lavelle. That was a real learning experience to travel around Australia on a tour for the first time! Then DJ Sheep from Brisbane who was representing The Bomb hip-hop mag in Australia asked me to join with him to bring out DJ Q-Bert in ’95 and we sold out all the shows across Australia…From then on haven’t looked back….

What do you look for in an artist to consider touring them in this part of the world?
Well the main criteria for the first 10 years of me bring acts here was if I liked their music personally and if they hadn’t been here before which no artists had. Nowadays its abit more complicated since there are so many people bring acts here. Also record sales are no longer really relevant due to downloads and pirating and copying. Things like distance since last tour, access to artist, street popularity, sometimes radio play etc all contribute…

Once you identify an artist you would like to tour what are the next steps taken to secure it going ahead?
Back in the day it was about calling people in America on the phone and trying to make contact that way. Was very hard to get peoples phone numbers in America and then call artists and managers and ask them to come to Australia was pretty strange for them. This was way before email and the internet and myspace and facebook etc so it was a whole other level of persistence and communication that was required. These days its alot easier to connect with artists through the internet and find managers and agents and pitch tours to them, only thing is because its alot easier there are alot more people doing it!

Of all shows/tours you have put on what ones have given you the most satisfaction and the biggest disappointment?
Usually the ones that lose money are the biggest disappointments! It’s quite demoralising and tough losing money on something you have put so much work and effort into and keeping a smile through it all. The best satisfaction is when a tour and show runs smooth and every element is a success like the artist is happy, the audience is happy, the club is happy and the show is dope! For me its been the bigger things like Tribe Called Quest this year and the early tours of Black Eyed Peas and the first tours of artists like Blackalicious, Ugly Duckling, DJ Shadow, Q-Bert etc that I did and introducing them to Australia and Australia to them for the first time. Also sometimes its the smaller intimate exclusive shows that are the most memorable and satisfying since they have an energy and excitement that you cant match or replicate again.

You are now venturing into Asia with Slingshot how does it compare to Australia and how are you finding having to start all over again?
It’s been a new challenge that takes time for sure. It is a bit like starting again because you need gain peoples trust and friendship first. It would be the same if someone comes to Australia from another country and starts trying to do business here people will be cautious originally and partly sceptical too. Considering that, I have received much support and love from people in Asia so its been so encouraging and rewarding. I have been partly based in Jakarta, Indonesia for the last 4 years where BabyDrie has helped me with the language and the culture of Indonesia and the way people do business has all been fascinating and something refreshing for me so I’m grateful for the experiences. Asia is so different to Australia yet so close so its been a trip and very different living and doing business in Asia compared to just going there for a holiday to Thailand or Bali or where ever. For hip-hop its still growing but there are many local acts and a big acceptance of urban music on radio and tv there so the potential is there and in some ways its more developed than Australia and in other ways its not. Its been interesting to see the differences and be apart of contributing to things over there…

Earshot was a record label you ran releasing a number of albums from artists both here and overseas. How was it running the label and do you have plans to release anything else in the future?
It was something I always wanted to do to start a label, I think I was maybe 5 to 10 years too late but I caught the last few years of good times for labels so it was a cool experience. I didn’t really get to fully develop and see out what I wanted to do with the label but we released some cool albums like Edan and Diverse and it might be something we can bring back in the future. Id like to release local Australian and Asian artists if and when Earshot comes back as a label but for now the focus is on touring and events and bookings in Australia and South East Asia.

You have been involved in local Hip Hop scene in different forms over the years. Did you ever think it would get to this stage where some of the biggest artists in this country are Hip Hop?
Honestly no I didn’t. I started in hip hop in Australia as the manager of Sydney group Brethren and then got to meet many others in the scene and culture here in Sydney and around Australia. At the time It seemed so underground where everyone at shows pretty much knew each other and Aussie hip-hop was far from mainstream acceptance where all the media and music industry was run by traditional rock establishment that I couldn’t imagine local acts being as big as they are today. Its been a blessing and honour to watch it grow so big and see some local acts really break through in a big way here.

In 16 years you must have seen a lot of promoters come and go what has been the secret to your longevity?
Yeah! Dont think there is any one secret, but things like consistency, patience, honesty and being a good learner and listener I think have been important ingredients for sure. Also i think learning how to hustle from skaters and snowboarders early on for sure helped.

What have been some of your most memorable moments?
Hanging out with people like Kool Keith is what makes what I do fun and unpredictable. Then people like Saul Williams and Dead Prez who inspire me to more conscious and aware. So many memorable moments its probably worth writing a book at some point to document it all.

Who would be your dream line up for an event?
Most of the Rock The Bells Festivals are pretty much dream line ups! I guess some legends of a few styles of music all on the one event would be amazing but sadly they aren’t all here with us still! Like The Beatles, Bob Marley, Run DMC, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson etc….maybe they can make a virtual event like that one day with holographic images and other technology yet to be created.

What does the future hold for Slingshot?
Maintaining our roots of hip-hop tours but also broadening out to some other styles of music and also moving further into Asia with shows and bookings.

What is your definition of Grindin’?
Coming from a skating background grindin for me is a skating move and something that you do on your board that gives you the feeling and sound of metal on metal but for me its also the hustle of business and the hustle of life…feels like ive been on the grind ever since im on the public phone back during high school during lunch breaks asking editors of skate mags to publish my photos…and the grind continues!

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