By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
When Brotha Jibril picks up the phone during the week these days, he answers with his birth name, Gabriel DeLua.
"Before I knew it, there was no more gigs. I wasn't playing out as much, and it was starting to die," he says. He works for the mortgage company now, wakes up early and stays until 8 p.m. some days. "This is kind of me growing up. It's like, well, fuck, it's time to get busy." He hopes to start a label sometime soon, when he saves a little from his real estate ventures. Bizz, who says he deejayed for crowds of 30,000, has started working at the same home equity company and answers the phone with his birth name, Albert Rowan.
"I like the hustle, man -- and being a rave promoter was all about hustling," he says. "I wanna focus more on something that has benefits -- medical, dental, you know."
Jibril knows it. He doesn't have to like it, though.
"I want to be producing my music," he says. "I don't want to be in an office! I want to grow my hair out long if I want to; I want to color it red or purple if I want to. That's how you know you're a rock star."
If Martin Prendergast, a.k.a. DJ Little Martin, had pulled up five minutes later that night, Rent might not exist. It was 2:30 in the morning in February of last year, and Jonathan Sewell was walking out of a DJ night at Sonoma restaurant in the Montrose. Sewell, a native of Sandwich, England, had been working in Houston as a software-implementation consultant for two years, but his passion since age 14 has been organizing music events.
As Sewell was walking to his car that night, a Manchester accent rang out in the dark: "Is 't oohver?" They began chatting. Sewell discovered that Prendergast, 37, had deejayed in the 1980s at a legendary Manchester nightclub called The Hacienda.
They went back to Prendergast's apartment to hang out, flipping through records and drinking coffee until morning. Both say there was always an unspoken understanding that they would do a project someday. At that time, like Sewell, Prendergast was new to town -- he'd been in Houston for only a few months -- but he quickly learned about the city's musical tastes.
"What I was finding was that Houston is a hip-hop town. Hip-hop. That's nationwide; it's not just specific to Houston. But in other cities you still find reasonably healthy dance scenes," he says. "There really isn't here. There's no club; there's certainly individual nights -- great nights -- but there's no club known for it."
Last summer, Prendergast spun at a birthday party held at a small club in the Montrose called Helios. It was a tidy affair -- maybe a few dozen people partying until 5 a.m. The owner liked it well enough to invite them back again the next month. When Sewell came out for that, he recognized instantly that it would be the perfect spot for a running party like Rent.
"We don't market it as a house night," says Sewell. "The fact that we play variations of house music is just a part of it, and we also play a lot of disco, a lot of funk."
Talking about the core of electronica fans in Houston, Prendergast notes: "These people are all converted to house. They don't need convincing. What we're trying to do is reach out to the people that live in Jersey Village, in Kingwood. People that are driving around listening to Al Green and Otis Redding in their car -- that obviously have an appreciation for good, soulful music, but have written off techno as druggie, after-hours music. To these people we say, 'You know what? You might have the wrong idea about that.' " They hatched the idea of selling Houston dance music on the sly, and thus far the results have been impressive.
The first of the monthly Rent installments last August drew about 100 people, mostly friends of Prendergast and Sewell. In the coming months, that number ballooned to 300 -- sufficiently eclectic and diverse for their aims (part of their goal is political: to get black and white, gay and straight dancing side by side). Still, it was a tight squeeze at a tiny joint like Helios. This January, they shifted the party night to Union in Midtown, and they say they clocked more than 650 in attendance. At one point, Jibril says, they had to open the doors to let the heat out.
"My knees -- I felt like Bambi. I couldn't stand up. I couldn't dance," says Sewell, who estimates that they probably spend less than $1,000 on overhead putting together each event.
"I have very big plans for it," says Sewell. "I want people to be coming in from other cities for Rent." Prendergast adds: "Ministry of Sound is London, Hacienda club was Manchester, the Buddha Bar is Paris.
"We'd like to use Rent to put Houston on the map. It's important to us to break this nationally. So when people, when New York or Chicago or Wisconsin, think about what's going on in Houston, they have an idea. And maybe Rent isn't it, maybe it'll be something else, but it's important for Houston to have its own thing."