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Boogie Nights

Music, a Houston DJ andthe lure of Austin

It was early in the morning and everything was in sync. The vibe Zakaos always longs for started to take shape as soon as the DJ played that one song, that one disco-bell reverie with the pulsing bass line. Even two older black gentlemen had noticed how intense he and Steffani were getting on the dance floor. Zakaos wanted to pull away but couldn't, even though he's more friend than lover, even though she's more friend than crush.

Then the music stopped.
"Awwww, man," Zakaos said, dropping his shoulders.
"What?" Steffani asked.
"They cut the vocal, man."
"What vocal?"

The two older gentlemen looked on. Zakaos's voice was clear as he sang her the answer, his roundish brown face pushed up close toward hers, framed in straight red hair.

" 'Just can't get enough!' "
Just then, the music returned. Right on beat. Zakaos's and Steffani's mouths dropped open. The two onlookers had to laugh, too. It was early in the morning in a club in Miami, where Zakaos, Steffani and some of their friends were visiting, and everything was in sync; the work of a DJ, creating sonic architecture in interstices of time, spilling over into his life. Even when he's not the guy behind the turntables, as on this night in Miami last week, DJ Zakaos never misses a beat.

Zakaos is a popular club DJ in Houston, and he keeps getting more popular. He has been living here, or in the general East Texas vicinity, almost his entire life. At 25, Zakaos (who, like most residents of dance culture, goes by only his pseudonym, which just happens to be a phonetic variation of his birth middle name, Zaccheus) can count seven of those years as time spent working professionally as a DJ. His daytime job is as a record buyer at Atomic Records on Westheimer, where he has been working for about two and half years. While Zakaos's boss says he wants to open a store in Austin, he's not sure he wants to pass up on Zakaos's popularity here. If Fusion does open another Atomic in town, he might want his celebrity employee to be a focal part of it. But Zakaos likes Austin. He played there last weekend as part of the city's South by Southwest music festival -- an annual industry bash that brings about 800 aspiring rock stars and countless industry heads/gofers/ reporters, dressed in black and wearing yellow sunglasses, into Sixth Street for schmooze and booze -- and he likes that the city has a lake smack dab in the middle of it and greenery and some clublife. Three things of which Houston is deficient in two.

What H-town does have is a club scene that keeps getting bigger. And as part of this growth, Fusion wants Zakaos to have a bigger profile. Making tapes, mixes of dance songs DJs compile and which most use to supplement gig income, and landing a regular club gig are two ways to do this. But although Atomic has gotten bigger and more accessible to foot traffic, it still doesn't include any of Zakaos's tapes, mainly because Zakaos hasn't gotten around to making any yet and because, simply, Zakaos doesn't want the attention. He makes tapes, but only for friends.

In fact, the first thing Zakaos thought of when he got out of bed last Saturday at one in the afternoon, after walking in the door at two in the morning the night before and after sitting in a car for what felt like 24 hours on the way back from Miami was mixing a tape. Actually it was Steffani he thought about (as he usually does constantly) first thing that morning because he wanted to remind his friend, in music, never to forget their transcendental dance floor experience in Miami those couple nights ago, but it was mixing a tape that made him rise and shine. The song with the vocal "I just can't get enough" would definitely be in his mix.

One tape and seven dubbed versions later, Zakaos was ready to give Steffani her gift, even though she couldn't get away from work and homework for the weekend and he probably wouldn't see her until he got back. He had his tapes made, though, and if he and Audio 3 were to make it to Austin for the first set, Audio 3's at ten (followed by Zakaos's at 11), both at Twist, they'd have to get on the road by six. Austin is a two-and-a-half-hour drive on cop-free Highway 71, and ten means ten.

So if the first thing Zakaos thought of when he got out of bed last Saturday was mixing a tape for Steffani, the second thing he thought about was getting hold of Audio 3, who was driving. He needed directions.

Zakaos's house is on Hiram Clarke, right outside the Loop, where he lives with his mother, stepdad, sister and nephew. They all have their personal spaces, but Zakaos's is damn small. His bedroom walls are cramped with an unimaginable number of 12-inch records. Even the two shelves under his Technics 1200 turntables and Rane "Mojo" TTM 52 mixer are filled with records. Vinyl and cardboard platters cover nearly every part of the room except the bed, which is covered significantly just the same. An American Indian blanket, exploding in calculated, angular cultural motifs of yellows, blues, reds and greens, stretches almost the entire length of the single frame. Zakaos got the blanket when he and his family lived in Harlingen, about an hour from the Mexican border, during his preteen years. The blanket, actually more security than nostalgia, now travels with him as an adult.

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