By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
A self-described "army brat" native of Freeport, Jibril, now 28, bounced around in his early twenties working assorted jobs in retail. He converted to house music from the hip-hop scene, having done fusions of spoken word and jazz.
In the late '90s, when he discovered deep house, a soulful variant on the disco derivative, he fell in love with the sound and it swept him away. Gigs were plentiful, and in 1999 he quit his job as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor and spent a year surviving on music alone.
"I was going to make it," he says. "Shit was just good, man. Gigs were good. All my friends were making money." By no means was Jibril living a lavish lifestyle, but he could eat out often, sleep in late (often until four or five o'clock), bang out the neighbors with his vinyl, and plunk down $400 at the end of every month for rent. "I kinda figured it couldn't last for too long. But, man, it was a great ride."
As quickly as the scene had thrust him into a "rock bottom" rock star lifestyle, the gigs dried up and the residencies, like Trippin' Tha Love, went away. The clubs didn't want to hear his smooth, funky sound; they wanted 50 Cent and Jay-Z.
"I played three gigs where I played popular hip-hop, and I was like, 'This is not me, this is disgusting,' " he says. Other house, techno and drum 'n' bass DJs report much the same. If you want a club gig, you better get used to Top 40, with minimal remixing -- "slam shit in and slam shit over," as one DJ summarized it. "It's going to be, we're going to make a new club and we're going to play the same shit as everywhere else," says Jibril.
Near the mixing board, Jibril and Bizz have a shelf of books beneath a Keith Haring picture. One title in particular jumps out: The Business of Music. In an electronica town home, the title serves as something of an epitaph.
"I know many artists that were riding high on the hog we're all looking for work at this point," says Louis, who shifted over to producing video game soundtracks in order to survive. "I'm not even trying to make a living as a performer at this point with electronic music, because it's become too difficult in the States." Robert M from Austin says it's becoming nothing more than an "expensive hobby."
Andrei Morant, one of the most renowned local techno producers who has toured as far away as Finland, does 25 hours a week working for his father's remodeling company. "You're not really going to make much of a living deejaying in this town, unless you just play hip-hop and all that stuff and you play a bunch of mainstream clubs," says the soft-spoken 32-year-old.
As much as anything, dance DJs cite the lack of radio support as a huge factor in handicapping the scene. "That's one of the things that certainly made it impossible for it to really grow," says Anderson. Radio was especially needed in the critical phase when rave music was hoping to make the transition into the clubs.
There are other possibilities as well. "One of the things that led to the downfall of electronica is there was no emphasis on vocals," adds Anderson. "People like to be able to sing along to it." He also posits that there is something intrinsic to Houston that damned dance music from the start. "There's a macho-ness here," he says. "It's not that cool to dance. You're not real tough if you go dancing. To get dudes to dance in Houston, you have to have a bunch of girls out there dancing, and that's the only reason they're going to dance."
The cultural incubation that fostered electronica's growth -- peace and prosperity -- disappeared with September 11 and the national recession. Dance music, by its nature, has a difficult time articulating messages other than celebration, positivity and, as Transit showed, hedonism. When the mood of the era shifted, such messages seemed to evoke either false promise or cruel nostalgia.
And as for those thousands of ravers who supported the scene five years ago? The almost universal answer is that they grew up and moved on to other musical tastes, like indie and hip-hop.
"Here I am, I'm 32 years old. I've accomplished a lot. I've enjoyed the things that I've done. I have had an adventure. I certainly can't look back with regret. I thought in one capacity or another I would be involved in music, especially dance music, for a long time," says Anderson. "But now, it's just like, man. I'm searching right now, like, what's my direction in life?"
He seems like a man burned out -- a man who's a long way away from the days of when he would tour Canada and cross customs with three grand in cash in his pocket.
"Yeah, it's weird, you know." Pause. "This city's really weird." Pause. "Yeah, people don't care so much." His pauses are like potholes. He keeps falling into them. "They don't care anymore." Pause.