Trenton, New Jersey, is a city with challenges. Like most American cities it struggles with crime, failing infrastructure, and urban decay.
But there is more to this city than the negative images seen on the news. If you get to know this city better you’ll find a creative community that is expressive, supportive, collaborative. It is sometimes frenetic, but always indomitable.
You see it on the walls, in the streets, as found-object sculpture (especially bike frames), and in music of every type. Most of this of this is not publicly funded, but the vision and determination of Trenton’s artistic underground.
This community cross-pollinates heavily. Painters play in bands, musicians work with local filmakers, and in a single venue on a single night you can hear hip pop, punk, hardcore, and folk on the same stage.
Bill Nobes arrived in Trenton having worked as a stage manager, a technical director, and sound engineer in several emergent art scenes in the 90s including Hoboken, NJ, and New York City’s East Village and Meat Packing District. He found Trenton to have the best parts of these scenes, yet also a sense of community and collaborative spirit that was unique.
Bill was working to build an analog recording studio just outside of Trenton (https://dirtyoldrobot.com) with the mission to create a collaborative multi-media production space that would facilitate authentic creation without over-production. After a few months in involved with Trenton’s arts community he knew what the studio’s first project should be: Analog Trenton.
Two of Trenton’s most significant music figures, Nikki Nailbomb and Griffin Sullivan, joined the production team and the project was off and running. Nikki is the manager of Championship Bar and a prolific musician in several bands. Griffin is one-half of Pork Chop Express, one of the most active music bookers in the area.
Early on Bill connected with Nikki Nailbomb and Griffin Sullivan. Nikki is both the manager of Championship Bar and a prolific musician. Griffin is co-founder of Pork Chop Express, one of the most active music bookers in the area.
Bill had been working on the idea of “production as perfomance art” and he wanted to bring that concept to the project. The first step was to dismantle his studio and set it up at Championship Bar. Over two days he recorded nine bands. Later the studio was moved to Trenton Coffee House and Records where eight more artists were recorded as part of Art All Day, Artwork Trenton’s annual event. All of these sessions were open to the public, which allowed people to be part of and witness a live recording session. “The effect was amazing,” remarks Bill, “the recording sessions became theatrical performances.”
There was so much enthusiasm for the project that Bill continued to record bands at the Dirty Old Robot studio through the end of 2018. The initial goal was to record 20 bands. By the end of the year 40 tracks had been recorded.
“The effect was amazing,” remarks Nikki Nailbomb, “and the energy was contagious. Bands were writing new material for the project and people were collaborating everywhere.”
Trenton’s visual arts community came on-board and visual art was added. Under the direction of local artist Lank, the entire project became a piece of visual art. All told the project includes artwork from 27 local artists.
Video cameras were rolling for each recording session and this footage was used to create short Instagram-length videos for each mix. As the project progressed these became more complex resulting in several full-length music videos. These can be found at https://analogtrenton.com/video/
As the project entered its post-production phase, Bill began live streaming parts of the mixing process, giving mini-tutorials in tape editing, and music mixing which proved popular.
Funding for the project was raised through an Indie-Go-Go campaign and several sponsorships, including Sweetwater Music, ATR Magnetics, Copycats Media, TruTone Mastering and Independent Record Pressing. Finishing and replication funding was provided by Bill and Dirty Old Robot (studio).
“At the end of the day,” says Bill, “what I really wanted to show is that art is much bigger than something you put on a wall to look at, or headphones to listen to, or sit in a theater to watch. It can evolve and touch people directly. It lives and it breathes and, every now and again, it takes on its own personality and becomes much greater than the sum of its parts. That happened with Analog Trenton. You can hold it in your hand, you can listen to it, you can watch the videos of it being made. Within that experience, with that witnessed creative effort, we show what a community can achieve solely with its passion, desire and will.”
The full set of 40 tracks is available on all streaming services. There is also merch, a double CD, and a limited edition vinyl LP, featuring a selection of tracks that best capture the diversity and spirit of Trenton, available at http://store.analogtrenton.com.