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Texas Decks

Baytown native D:Fuse helps put Austin's dance scene on the map

The cowboy hat may be D:Fuse's trademark, but his music hardly makes you think of Texas. Instead, his creations evoke such locales as New York, San Francisco, London and Ibiza, and visions of ecstatic throngs dancing in thrall to a seamless mix of energetic beats per minute.

In one of the many ironies found in the crumbling foundation beneath roots-rocking Austin's dubious claim of being "The Live Music Capital of the World," one of the city's hottest musical commodities is a dance DJ, producer and mixer as well as an artist. And what got him there was his frustration with the realities of the vaunted live music scene in the Capital City.

Rewind to the early 1980s. D:Fuse is in Baytown, poring over his father's records. "Music was one of those things that was always there for me when I was a kid," he recalls. "My father had a huge collection of 45s and oldies my brother and I would always tear through and listen to."

The cowboy hat brands D:Fuse as a DJ with a difference.
The cowboy hat brands D:Fuse as a DJ with a difference.

He was also soaking up the sounds of 97 Rock and KLOL. The seminal album experience of his youth was Paradise Theater by Styx, and at 13 he got a drum kit. A year later he and his family moved to Austin, where he "played drums every day all the time in high school." During college at Southwest Texas State he beat out time to covers of the Cure and the Cult and other signature acts of 1980s modern rock.

"I still think that was the most innovative decade of music," he says. "The way they incorporated keyboards and lots of different percussion and different ideas. Everything seemed to be moving forward light-years from what it was."

The early 1990s found him playing drums in Culture Industry, an industrial rock band and one of the thousands of groups in Austin vying for some smidgen of attention. Soon enough, though, D:Fuse started to wonder about the progress of his career, if not the career choice. Industrial was already in steep decline, and few people came to their gigs.

But instead of the usual Austin response -- roll up a fatty and settle into the "velvet rut" -- he became terrified. "I was just totally scared I was not going to make it in music," he says. "And if music wasn't the answer, what was? That was it, really. I've worked part-time and had jobs since I was 13 years old sacking groceries. But it was really just that fire: I didn't want to wake up and be 40 years old and still be a little local musician doing gigs on a Monday night for 30 bucks or something."

Meanwhile, D:Fuse lucked into a life-changing night on the town. "I went to a club and had that quintessential club experience one night at Proteus here in Austin," explains D:Fuse. "I picked up a pair of decks and it was all over after that. I was just checking it out, but the whole scene was so intriguing."

Culture Industry soon broke up, and D:Fuse emerged from the ashes alone. D:Fuse loved flying solo. "I could just do it all myself. It's a one-man show. That was always a problem in live music: finding other people you can count on. You can find a lot of musicians who are good, but not a lot of them that have the work ethic," says the 33-year-old DJ.

D:Fuse admits he knew next to nothing about dance music when he got those decks, but that old fear of aging gracelessly made him a fast learner. "I figured the only way to do it was just to work my ass off and work every spare minute of time I had."

It was not a good time to be launching a DJ career in Austin's then-waning dance scene. While techno and trip-hop were thriving and trance was starting to rise elsewhere, clubs were closing all over the capital. Since D:Fuse couldn't get any gigs elsewhere, he began promoting his own night, "Sunday Massive," at a small Sixth Street club.

Unlike his band shows, which were "pretty much a flop every time we played," "Sunday Massive" took off. It grew from a venue where "20 or 30 people pretty much looked like a crowd" to the point where it attracted hundreds every night.

And now D:Fuse has a regular spinning gig in San Francisco and guest shots across the nation, and he does two shows on XM Satellite Radio and a weekly mix on the Windy City's Q101 radio station. This will be his third tour as an opener for Paul Oakenfold.

The tall, handsome 33-year-old spinner attributes a good part of his success to learning the ropes of marketing and promotion. "Right now, to become successful in music, you have to fight the battle on a number of different levels," he states. "You can't just be great and talented at what you do. I don't believe you can anymore. You have to be a businessman. That's hard to do when you're all artsy and creative. It's very hard to use that other side of your brain."

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