The Deep Roots of Houston House Music
About six weeks ago, I met with some notable figures to get the real story of Houston's house-music scene. And, as I've learned since the first half of this blog ran, still others are waiting to tell their stories and fill in the blanks even this trio of respected artists missed.
For me, this all started with an article about two Houston brothers who were entirely new to producing house music. They wanted to find and maybe learn from some of the city's EDM talent, especially artists who were producing original house music.
It didn't take long for Josh Dupont, Eddie Spettro and James Reed to step forth. They collectively bring music to the masses at regular gigs at Boondocks, Jet Lounge, Royal Oak, The Davenport and elsewhere. Outside the city they've played major shows too, most recently the Denver 2014 Winter Showcase, hosted by Beatport's Beta Nightclub.
We drank good craft beers at Café Brasil and I learned more about house music. As always, some of the best stuff was about the people behind the music.
"One day, in high school, this guy comes up and puts a flier on my desk in pre-calculus class and says, 'You should go to this,'" recalls Dupont.
He'd been invited to a rave. He'd never even heard the term before, but when he heard the music he was changed. That was 1996, his senior year. Within two years he was DJing and producing his own house music.
"I remember sitting at the lunch table at school after that, trying to explain the music that we'd heard and I didn't even know what words to use," he says.
Spettro started even younger. He was only 12 when he first heard the sound of his future.
"I was always buying these 12-inch remixes of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode," he says. "I heard Renegade Soundwave in the record store one day and I thought, 'What is that?' It was early house music and I was hooked."
Reed began his love affair with the music in his early twenties. As a teen, he was busy doing the serious training it takes to become a dancer in the professional ballet. He's now a Houston Ballet soloist, in his 11th season with the group.
"I missed the whole party scene," admits Reed, who DJs but does not produce music. "I grew up in San Francisco, which had a tremendous house-music scene, and I was oblivious to it."
"My first real experience with modern electronic music was a choreographer had come in at my school to do a work and he'd taken a piece of an operetta by Mozart and sandwiched it between two tracks from Crystal Method," continues Reed. "I was like, 'What is this music?'"
An ex-girlfriend further indoctrinated him, and soon he began learning how to DJ. Soon the ballet's dancers would convene at Clark's on Sundays, after a long week of work. Reed got to know the owner, who convinced him to step into the booth one night; he had to go tell that night's performing DJ that the owner wanted him to "cut in" for a bit.
That DJ was Josh Dupont.
"I walked up and said, 'Hey, the owner really wants me to play, and I've only been playing for like three months,' Reed reflects, "and he kind of looked at me like, 'Are you kidding me? Who is this kid?'"
Reed did 30 minutes, then he and Dupont talked awhile afterwards. Before long they were working on projects together. Soon enough, Reed became a resident DJ at Rich's, bringing 200 acts from all over the world to the venue.
Spettro, who grew up in Denton, was a successful tennis coach for a decade, but dropped everything to produce music. It paid off; he's had music licensed to shows like MTV's Cribs and Breaking Bad. He bounced around some, finally landing in Houston eight years ago after a stint in San Antonio.
"In the mid 2000s, I kind of hit a brick wall," Spettro says. "I wasn't making much music, so I came to Houston to be around people doing more of what I wanted to try. I was kind of the Lone Ranger there in San Antonio, there just weren't many people doing it and I kind of lost my motivation.
"I moved to Houston to get back to making music full time and to get back on the road, and that's what Josh and I are doing," he adds.
Their joint work, Extended Play, has gotten plenty of industry attention. Just last month, their remix of Psychemagik's, "Black Noir Schwarz" was licensed to Bedrock Records for John Digweed's new mix CD, Live in Miami. The song also broke into Beatport's Top 100 Deep House list.
Another thing they're excited about is an imminent re-mix of one of Houston's favorite rappers.
"There's a producer in Dallas, John D," Spettro says. "His first album came out in November and he's got an original vocal from Paul Wall and two from Tech N9ne." "It's kind of mainstream stuff, hip-hoppish and he asked us to do a re-mix. It's pretty cool to do an original Paul Wall vocal. We're H-town people, we love Paul Wall."
Story continues on the next page.
"We work hard," Dupont says. "You have to do pretty much everything yourself. We all promote, we all DJ, we make fliers, we do decorations for parties, we're the clean-up crew..."
"We work the door," adds Spettro.
"We're so concerned with the concept of what we're doing that we're constantly checking to make sure it's delivered in the right fashion," Reed notes.
To say they love what they respectively do is an understatement.
Dupont once ran a house music show on Rice University's student radio station, until he was asked to vacate the post, since he didn't attend school there.
"I've never really had a real job. I've just worked part-time jobs, really crappy part-time jobs," Dupont figures. "I've easily had more part-time jobs than anyone I've ever met. I've probably had at least 40 or 50."
"What?!" Spettro asks, incredulously.
"So many of them I worked for, like, two weeks, some of them just a day," counters Dupont. "I'll tell you, I was fired from every single one."
"It's only because I didn't care about those jobs," he adds. "Seven or eight years ago, I started doing music full-time and I've never looked back and don't plan on it. I have no Plan B. I decided this is what I'm going to do, no matter what. If I wasn't successful at it, if I was poor and broke and all alone, it didn't matter because it just makes me happy enough to make it worth it for me."
In the end, I realized Dupont, Spettro, Reed and others who have toiled in Houston's dance-music scene didn't have a problem with the story I told about the McFadden brothers. They just wanted it known that many people, like them, had their own stories of sacrifice and hard work. Those demanded telling, too. A few more have arrived to my inbox since the first part of this ran, so there's still work to do.
"The people that love the scene and love house music are really passionate about it. They take things kind of personal," Dupont says. "But, we all feel that passion should apply to music and to life, in general."
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