Party Boy

Matt Sonzala puts on Houston rap parties all over the world

The City was tired.

It drank the night away at clubs in Tribeca, the East Village and the Meatpacking District. It kept the buzz going the next day at alumni bars, kicking off the football season with cheap shots and bottomless pints. It danced its ass off to Spank Rock in an empty pool in Williamsburg, surrounded by construction from high-rise condos. It put on layers of makeup and rocked out to the Cramps. It bounced around from club to club, DJ to DJ, party to party.

Come Labor Day, the City was tired.

Daniel Kramer
Oslo, Montreal, New York, London -- pushing the Texas sound is good for frequent-flyer miles.
Oslo, Montreal, New York, London -- pushing the Texas sound is good for frequent-flyer miles.

And so was Matt Sonzala, who had just arrived the night before to promote one of his HoustonSoReal events. Tall, goateed and demure, Sonzala knew success in the City. Over the past year and a half, he'd been packing New York clubs with Texas artists such as Bun B, Devin the Dude, DJ Rapid Ric, Chingo Bling, DJ Chill, the G.R.i.T. Boys, Big Hawk and Bavu Blakes. The City had come out for these shows and represented like Houston or Austin never would.

This time around Sonzala had brought back Rapid Ric, of Whut It Dew mixtape fame, for a Monday night gig at a place in Greenwich Village called Sway. Monday nights were usually pretty good, but this was the ass-end of a three-day weekend, and Sonzala couldn't help but wonder:

What if the City decided to sleep?

While hanging out at a bar in Alphabet City a few hours before the show, Sonzala met some guy in some random band who told him Sway was "all dudes dot com," prompting one of his rapper friends to joke that he was putting on "the man show." It was a valid concern, but if you put enough music industry folks -- performers, writers, DJs, promoters -- at the same table, you can guarantee a little posturing. Sonzala just sat back, buzzed, anxious and sleepy-eyed, waiting for the main event.

He had to make it work. Every time he goes out of town, he's putting himself on the line, doing anything he can to avoid a nine-to-five. He draws checks from music journalism, but his fortune lies outside the margins of magazines; it's to be found promoting the Texas sound around the world. He's been doing it low-key for years, hosting radio programs, writing articles, introducing artists, but being super-cool isn't enough when you're 34 years old and you have a wife, two kids and a mortgage. You need more than respect; you need to get paid.

"When I come home with 500 bucks, that's all good, for one night, but coming home with, like, 100 bucks for a trip to New York, going and getting fucked up with my friends and partying, I don't know, it doesn't work out that great," he says.

Living the wild life isn't always easy.

It was just another jack-off weekend in Erie, Pennsylvania, when 15-year-old Matt Sonzala and a buddy went to see a matinee punk show at an old-school club called the Continental Ballroom.

"We didn't have shit to do," he says.

Three bands were on the bill -- Lost, My Three Scum and Backwash -- and Sonzala, a tall, lanky kid whose dad had been in the local music biz before leaving town, joined the hundred-strong crowd of punks and slackers shaking their heads and feet to the sounds of shrill guitars and machine-gun drums.

"I don't even really know why, but I saw the old dude who ran the place," he says, "and I was, like, 'If I can get some touring bands to come through here, and I'd be the promoter and take all the risk and handle all the money, you think I could do something?'"

The owner seemed surprised, Sonzala recalls, but, hey, no risk, plenty of potential benefit, why the hell not?

Sonzala had recently started up a fanzine called Jackhammer Pogostick, which would eventually score interviews with the likes of GG Allin, Bad Brains, Girl Trouble and Naked Ray Gun, but at the moment he was focused on a band called the Laughing Hyenas, a blues-infused garage quartet from Detroit.

"That was totally my favorite band back then," he says.

When lead singer John Brannon replied to Sonzala's request for an interview by sending back a bunch of stickers and his phone number, the 15-year-old called Brannon up and asked him to come to Erie.

It was as easy as that, although the show, which happened five months later, didn't go off without a hitch.

First off, some punks in My Three Scum were miffed at not being on the bill. "They felt that I should respect them, since it was their scene," says Sonzala, who ended up asking the singer, a 30-year-old tough-looking ne'er-do-well, " 'What do you want me to do? You're mad at me for doing a show? Tough shit.'"

Problem Number Two appeared in the form of the dude who ran the local record store. The guy apparently got jealous, called Brannon and told him, "'You shouldn't be coming here. That dude is fucking 16. He doesn't know what he's doing. He's going to fuck everything up.'"

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