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Boogie Nights

Music, a Houston DJ andthe lure of Austin

The DJ's primary function is to serve as cultural shaman. By either freezing music for the moment or extending it indefinitely, the DJ controls the flow of life on the dance floor as a scientist would a microscopic megalopolis in a petri dish. This DJ music, these carefully measured techno pulses and airy melodies, is not "listening" music. It was never meant for radio, and it will never sell to anyone outside of dance culture's underground world. Similar to jazz improvisation, dance music is the experience. Hearing a DJ remove the bass from a song for a minute and watching the subsequent fallout on the dance floor -- where instead of jumping up and down with their arms in spirals, the dancers slow to a sway -- only to hear the DJ put the bass back in and watch the body-shakers erupt in a collective frenzy cannot be captured on CD. Those who try to relate to or harness it that way are blind to the music's essence.

Zakaos knows this. He has learned how to play a crowd. When he started dee-jaying he wanted to impose his favorite music on the people instead of playing what they seemed ready for mixed with music he personally enjoyed. He understands the balance now, though it's not always exact. Challenging dancers with new material as well as calling up old favorites separates the effective DJs from the masturbators in the rather snaky world of rave/dance. Since the history of dance culture or rave -- an unhealthy word nowadays -- has involved drug use, run-ins with the police are common. So it's not unusual or bad business policy for rival rave producers to call the cops -- or worse, the fire department -- on each other's parties. Trying to find work in such a shape-shifting world makes a weekly, regular-paying club gig and the structure it offers appealing, especially for someone like Zakaos. He thinks a steady club gig would help. A weekly show might happen for him at Lava Lounge, another new Houston club, opening up on Milam.

Zakaos spent a lot of years in clubs, but mostly on the other side of the turntables. Houston had such a great scene, he'll tell you, but things happened, man. Bad things. Yuppies. A word that, when spoken, always creates a smile on Zakaos's face, usually outlined in a dark beard -- no mustache, just an Abraham Lincoln-style jowl-wrap. When Zakaos first stepped inside a dance club, that first time back before facial hair, when he lived in Atascocita-Humble and his friends there took him to a place called FX in Fame City, where if you at least looked like you were 18 you could get in to under-21 night, Zakaos literally began hopping in place with excitement. He had heard all the stories from all his buddies who typically went to a club called Studio Circus and about how it felt dancing in a mass of people, but Zakaos had never actually felt the scene himself, felt what it was like standing, eventually dancing, inside some hazy cavern with red, blue, yellow, green, purple lights flashing in his eyes with melodies punching his ears and the bass kicking him in the chest. After that first time he was hooked.

Up until about the time he was 17, Zakaos had thought he had always wanted to be a dancer. A professional. Maybe work local theaters or something, or start a traveling troupe. That he would find something else to do with the music, another way to be a part of it, became real after meeting and talking with a DJ he had heard at Club AM, Mikey Pratt. It was Pratt who told Zakaos to buy a sampler. "You need a mixer, man," he told him. A mixer? All Zakaos had in his house was two boom boxes stacked on top of each other, a Hitachi record player and a set of blown speakers he had found while walking past his house one day and had rewired. A long way from the days when Zakaos would hold his portable cassette tape recorder up to his radio, but still pretty grim working conditions. His friend Adam had a sampler, an Atus -- a company that, after a Radio Shack buyout, is now obsolete -- and eventually sold it to Zakaos for $60. A $140 savings.

Zakaos hooked the mixer up to his CD player/tape deck and began practicing his cuts, splicing songs together by overlapping their bpm's, or beats per minute. (To calculate bpm's, tap your foot to a song's beat for 15 seconds then multiply that number by four.) Stretching out songs, like Shaman's "Move Any Mountain," the first dance record Zakaos ever loved reworking, or mixing songs of the same bpm's was all Zakaos could do up until the time he could afford another turntable, a crappy Gemini he got for about $300. Since most turntables have a dial that lets you control the speed of rotation, splicing together any Mozart with any De La Soul becomes entirely possible once you get two turntables and a mixer working in concert.

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