Boogie Nights

Music, a Houston DJ andthe lure of Austin

But for all his equipment and practicing, Zakaos still thought of himself as a "closet DJ." He had stories to tell, as all musicians do, but he wasn't ready to explain them to hundreds of people at once. He was content sitting and listening to Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye and all the blues and R&B he grew up on with his family in Navasota and later Atascocita, and thinking about the tales each song told. Not their narratives, but what each song meant to each listener. One blare of Louis Armstrong's horn or one quiver of Aretha Franklin's voice meant so many things to so many different people that the "stories," the personalized narratives in each listener's heart, seemed to flow outward in one big American quilt for Zakaos. He thought, if I put a riff of Jimi Hendrix in a dance mix, what would those notes say to people who have heard of Hendrix? In a word, everything. A billion stories, a billion memories in a couple of arpeggios on a Fender Stratocaster.

Zakaos's spirituality extends beyond the Witnesses nowadays. He believes in reincarnation. He'll say he believes Hendrix could be merely a reincarnation of Mozart who could be merely a reincarnation of King David. Where we grow up and where we live as adults affects how we make our musics. And Zakaos believes a type of regionalism affects dance music and DJ styles just as it does any other genre. But while the Chicago Tribe may be saying the same thing as the Detroit Tribe who may be saying the same thing as the Houston Tribe, one thing is definite: Everybody is telling stories.

And telling stories to every person within earshot was something dance couldn't do for Zakaos. It was at around the time of these revelations, at around his 19th birthday, that Zakaos knew he wanted to be a DJ.

Hanging out at Mega Zone Records, where Zakaos bought most of his 12-inchers, was his first step toward a break. Most DJ-culture record stores house high-amplitude speakers and functional turntable systems, where local pros can get up and spin as customers comb the aisles, and Mega Zone's store manager usually spent Saturdays up in the booth when he wasn't selling or ordering records. DJ Andrei would eventually grow tired of seeing Zakaos and a friend watch him spin every other day, so he let Zakaos get behind the turntables for a little while one time. After he saw Zakaos could cut pretty well, he invited him to a rave at the Commerce Street warehouse called Unity. That was Zakaos's first mass dance gathering, like FX's crowd times four. But not his first DJ job.

Andrei's Matrix Crew party at the Main and Naylor building in the warehouse district in 1991 was Zakaos's first time actually working as a DJ. Of course, like everything else, it didn't come easy.

"Dude," Zakaos asked Andrei at the party, "you gonna let me spin or what?"
"Mmmm, it's cool with me, but go ask Chris."
Zakaos approached Chris, also part of Matrix Crew's rave production team.
"Chris," Zakaos said, "you gonna let me spin or what?"
"Mmmm, it's cool with me. Go ask Drei."

Back and forth the back-and-forth went until about four in the morning when only about 20 of the 500 people were still dancing. Then Zakaos got on the turntables.

"Keep the pitch down, man," Andrei told Zakaos before he went on. "Not a lot o' fast shit."

Zakaos's mouth: "Okay, Drei." (Zakaos's head: "Whatever, Drei.")
The pitch was fast. Zakaos could see the crowd was small, smaller than it had been at the height of the party, but he was dee-jaying, he was cutting records and he was working in front of an audience. And he had butterflies. Pterodactyl-size, like back when he was in boys choir as a young teen and had to sing a solo part in front of hundreds of people dressed in formal wear and wearing corsages. Though Zakaos had stuttered as a child, he had always managed to sing all right. The boys choir show went well; Zakaos sang his part, and a theater full of complete strangers clapped their hands together in approval. The applause after his first DJ performance at Main and Naylor cinched it. Zakaos had found his niche.

Chuck E. Cheese's. Victoria's Secret. Kroger. Marshall's. TCBY. All those part-time jobs Zakaos held seemed to matter now. They had all brought him to this place in the DJ booth, and they made him realize how lucky he had been. How lucky he had been to find something he loved truly and wanted to live his life through. If he hadn't known those dead-end jobs, if he hadn't dropped out of Stratford High after his sophomore year because a classmate, someone he actually considered a friend, accused him of stealing a Walkman, if he hadn't thought about the rest of his young life all those hours alone in his room spaced out on acid, Zakaos probably wouldn't have developed such strong feelings for music. In a way, music was his lifeboat. And it's something he thinks he'll keep clinging to.

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