DJ Clent at the Louvre Credit: Courtesy the artist

Footwork and ghetto house producer DJ Clent turns 38 on Saturday, and he’s decided to celebrate with a party—a party he hopes will feel like the juke blowouts he remembers from the late 90s. Back then hip-hop and R&B were rarely if ever heard at the south- and west-side parties Clent attended. “It was pretty much just footworking and dancing on females—it was a straight party vibe,” he says. “Just pretty much ghetto house, juke, and footwork.” To capture the vibe of that era at Saturday’s festivities, he’s called in many of the scene’s biggest players to spin alongside him: DJ Deeon, Traxman, Majik Myke, DJ B-Man, DJ Roc, and DJ T-Rell. Clent is hosting the party at Hales Franciscan High School in Grand Boulevard. “I didn’t want a club,” he says. “A lot of the parties back then were in gym rooms, schools, or field houses—we used to DJ parties at Hales.”

When Clent got involved in the local ghetto-house scene in the early 90s, he’d travel to parties at the Jackson Park field house, Dolton Expo Center, and the Harold Ickes Homes—that Ickes high-rises, part of the State Street corridor, was where he saw DJ PJ. “I heard his style of tracks,” Clent says of PJ. “I took his style and kind of came up with my own—now you have DJ Clent.” He’d sell home-dubbed mixtapes at the Route 66 Skating Rink in Greater Grand Crossing, and he had his professional breakthrough in 1997, releasing a professionally manufactured mixtape with DJ Flint (South Side Beatdown) and debuting on vinyl with a 12-inch called Hail Mary for DJ Slugo’s Subterranean Playhouse label. As ghetto house evolved into juke and then into footwork, Clent changed with the times: his 2015 album, Last Bus to Lake Park, is one of my favorite footwork full-lengths.
Because Clent is billing Saturday’s celebration as a throwback party, I decided to ask him about the scene he wants to rekindle (at least for one day). Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Leor Galil: What got you interested in the scene in the first place?

DJ Clent: Listenin’ to DJ Deeon, DJ Milton, DJ PJ, and DJ Monte.

How’d you find their stuff?

We’re all from the same area; I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and we just listened to tracks. You come on the block with a new mixtape, they come break it to me first—”Clent, did you hear this new mixtape? Man, Deeon snapped!” Or “PJ snapped!” Or “Monte snapped!” And the rest is history. It was approximately 1993.

What made you want to contribute?

I was already destined to be a DJ, because my mother and father were DJs—they met DJing. So I was always around DJs, music, turntables, and stuff like that. The production side kind of changed when I met DJ Greedy in 1994—that’s when I really wanted to make tracks.
What made you want to make tracks?

At that time I really thought that they were actually drumming. I didn’t know that it was an actual drum machine; I thought that it was somebody with drumsticks actually playing all of the sounds in the tracks, using the electric drum set or something like that. And then I met Greedy and he was like, “Naw, it’s a [Roland] R-70 [drum machine]. I got one.” He invited me over to his house, and the rest is history.

How did you link up with other producers and DJs?

Other producers and DJs was pretty much just going to other parties—and meeting DJ Greedy. Through him I met a lot of other DJs, and hanging with him I met a lot of other DJs, and that’s pretty much what it was. We would go from party to party. He was already known, he had a hit—a local hit, before his record even came out—and by him having that local hit, people already knew who he was. I was like his little brother. Wherever he went, I went, and he would introduce me as DJ Clent.

How did you evolve your sound through the years?

By using different machines—I tried to tune the drums differently than what Deeon would do, what PJ would do, or what Slugo would do. I didn’t want to sound like anybody else. They used to call my tracks “the garbage can tracks” because it had a lot of electric toms in it back then.

Anything you want to add?

Just check out my Soundcloud—I’ve got all my music online, on iTunes and Amazon and all of that. So that’d be dope.

Advance tickets for DJ Clent’s Throwback Juke Party are available through Eventbrite.