Boogie Nights

Music, a Houston DJ andthe lure of Austin

When Zakaos moved into this house, his mother's, with his blanket, the first thing she did was buy her son maroon blinds to match. Something about bedding and love goes back to the family's days in Atascocita-Humble, a neighborhood where a black family of six was indeed unusual. Raised as Jehovah's Witnesses, Zakaos and his brother and sisters had learned to live among colorlessness. The only scintilla of color in Zakaos and his little brother Les's bedroom was a pair of matching Felix the Cat bedsheets, which mom had bought on a whim. Dad usually never approved. But the occasional splurge was always warranted. Especially around this house.

Zakaos's father had grown up in Houston, the first of 14 siblings, in a two-bedroom house. He graduated valedictorian of Yates High School, where he also met Zakaos's mother, and moved on to college in Arkansas, where he studied architecture. Walking through downtown Little Rock with dad was always a treat for young Zakaos, who was born there. Zakaos's father would always point to some grand, free-standing structure and say, "I designed that," which always filled the child with wonder and pride. Feelings that would last only so long.

By the time Zakaos and his family had moved to Navasota, Texas, and almost as soon as dad had begun his own insurance business, family life changed. Harsh words and bad attitudes announced his father's presence in nearly every room. The move back to Houston for his father to take a job in the booming oil industry intensified the tension. Living in one of the poshest neighborhoods in town hardly helped.

Zakaos's dad would arrive home after four or five weeks on the road only to find what he would consider a messy house. Slapping or berating Zakaos's mother or his sister, the oldest sibling, Tashon, became regular duty. Sometimes, as a nine year-old-boy, Zakaos would pull his head out from under his pillow, dry his eyes and run downstairs to intercept any damage being done to his mother and, as he looks back on it now, his second mother, Tashon. Sometimes, for Zakaos, a slap from his father was the most attention he got from him.

As Zakaos recalls those days, he wrongly thinks sometimes the discipline was necessary, even deserved. Since color was like gold in the house, Zakaos often stole toys from his friends. His mother would find G.I. Joes and Legos hidden under the young boy's bed. When she'd find him playing and ask where the toys had come from, Zakaos would lie. Really, he had been pilfering dolls and race cars from friends but he had also been taking tens and twenties from her purse to buy the brightly colored construction bits on his own. Nevertheless, he would say, "They're a friend's." Mom never had the heart to tell dad.

After his parents divorced when he was 14 and after Zakaos had learned to make sense of the illogic that surrounded him as a child, color grew in importance in his life. He soon began wearing tie-dye and brightly colored clothing. He began painting on small canvases in strong reds, greens, yellows and oranges. He began experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. He began covering his bedroom walls with sheets of splatter art. He began hanging out with colorful people. He began sleeping beneath a rainbow of a blanket. And he began listening to colorful music. The brightest: dance.

The Life
"What time you gettin' here?"
Zakaos had Audio 3 on the phone, laundry -- two weeks' worth -- tumbling toward perfection in the garage and the game plan for his set rumbling around in his head.

"Is your house past the airport exit?" his friend asked from the cell phone in his red Pathfinder.

Even for someone who spends his life in urban settings -- raves, clubs, record stores -- metropolitan life holds only so much appeal for Zakaos. He's probably one of a few people who makes his living as a night dweller but who actually enjoys gazing out his bedroom window on sunny afternoons and seeing a blue sky and the tops of trees gazing back. If you look close enough at downtown Houston trees, he'll say, you'll see they're gray, ashen. Trees out here, or in someplace like Austin, they're perfectly brown. Bark like skin.

By the time Audio 3 arrived, Zakaos had finished laundry, had decorated -- as he normally does -- his seven cassettes (in bright leaf patterns, curlicues, peace signs, flowers, his name) and had stacked 60 records in his carrying crate. From drum-and-bass, his specialty, to acid house to ambient to neodisco to jungle. All, to the untrained ear, what one would call "techno." Austin awaited.

Neither Zakaos nor Audio 3 ever works from a set list. Most DJs don't. Zakaos has favorite songs, the kind that when the house starts dying down or when people coincidentally start vacating the dance floor, he'll pull out to drag the dancers back under his spell. But he never depends on one sound or one song too often. Great dee-jaying is give and take. And it is certainly experiential music.

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