The Nonstop Hustle of Houston DJ Ceeplus Bad Knives
Eric Castillo, better known in Houston and Texas music circles as DJ Ceeplus Bad Knives, has been moving in those circles for more than 20 years, but he wouldn't be that surprised if you're not familiar with him. He believes a palpable "generation gap" separates today's Houston music fans from the laborers of love behind the scenes.
"A lot of young people don't know a lot about people like me [or] Rad Rich of KPFT," Ceeplus offers, "promoters and performing artists in town who've been doing stuff for Houston's alternative scene since the early 1980s."
Ceeplus grew up in a musical family, shuttling between Fifth Ward and the Montrose area. His résumé, if rolled out, would be as long as Reliant Stadium is high, so you might at least recognize Ceeplus's name from the flyers stuck beneath your windshield wipers each week.
He also founded Reprogram Music, the multimedia promotion company responsible for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's hugely popular Mixed Media events. He's either booked and/or shared a bill with artists ranging from Afrika Bambaataa to Sammy Hagar and hosted a successful KPFT radio show. Lastly, this regular at Texas music festivals is considered one of SXSW's honored alumni.
"Why are you at this dance party?" Ceeplus (rhetorically) asks today's party people. "Why does this dance party exist? There were people before you who laid the bricks for this thing to be built. Not to say that we deserve anything, but there needs to be an outlet for young people to do a little research instead of settling on being 'trendy.'"
Ceeplus's sets are easily recognizable for their patented mish-mash of genres ranging from post-punk to baile funk, Italian disco and everything in between, the product of his upbringing in a family of musicians and record collectors who exposed him to a variety of sounds early on. 1960s records were mainstays at the Castillo household, but it didn't take long for young Eric to start exploring new musical territory. While most kids his age were watching Saturday-morning cartoons, Ceeplus was already digging through record-store crates.
"I was seven years old going to Montrose record stores," he says. "I'd see weird, quirky people; I'll just call them punk rockers or alternative-lifestyle kids. And I was like, 'I wanna be them.'"
Soon after, Ceeplus immersed himself in punk and skateboarding culture, with family members providing him with albums and recommendations like the Flying Lizards. His first shot at DJing came at his private school. During each day's sack lunch, he and his classmates were encouraged to bring records to play, and Cee would bring several.
It wasn't long before he was a hit with his classmates, and not long after that he got himself banned in the sixth grade for playing a Sex Pistols album. Sack lunches became house parties in high school, which became clubs in the early 1980s.
"I was introduced to almost everything that makes me a man today," he remembers. "From music to fashion to girls to grinds, and of course beers to buds."
Ceeplus began his long relationship with hip-hop in the mid-1980s. Its appeal, he says, was early hip-hop's affinity with punk rock's DIY aesthetic and politics.
"Friends of mine in the skate scene were like, 'You gotta check this band out!'" he says. "I embraced politically positive hip-hop, bands like Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys and Boogie Down Productions."
The more hard-core hip-hop he viewed in a different light. At parties, Cee was the DJ who denied NWA requests.
"When Ice-T came out with a more gangster rap album, and my friends were listening to it, I was like, 'Wow, I don't like that,'" he says. "He was talking about guns and shit, and I grew up in Fifth Ward."
He went on to found Reprogram and, along with locally familiar DJ names Witnes and Comp 1, the Mathmatech Turntable Collective. The rest is history — a history of which Ceeplus believes every local music fan should be well aware.
But it's a new year, and right now "new" is a key word in Ceeplus's vocabulary. His first child, a boy, was born last month.
"He's beautiful, and [the birth] has inspired me to focus on my original art, original music, visual art and graphic design," he says, adding that this year he wants to focus more on original production and, as always, on bringing "new and groundbreaking" artists to Houston.
Ever fascinated by the interplay among artistic media, Cee will continue to curate the MFAH Mixed Media Series. In early June, he begins a partnership with the Houston Public Library, acting as curator and consultant for a similar series called "Library Lounge."
"I like to see art, music and performance all combined together," he says. "Creation through the mind, I think, is the utmost thing a person can do, and to have all that together in one place or venue or institution is great. I love to see dancers or artists and painters and sculptors and DJs all get together and show people about the different aspects of culture."
But at the end of the day, record collecting has been and always will be in Cee's blood.
"I'm not here to pack the floor," he admits. "My first and foremost goal is as a record collector. I can DJ-rock a party if need be. It is a job to a certain extent, but if it became a job to where I had to play hit after hit, even if it's within the underground, that's just not who I am, and that's not what I'm doing.
"I'm trying to play good music that has good groove to it, to educate people at the same time and to have a good party," Cee concludes. "Hopefully people will follow, and if not, at least walk away knowing something they want to download or buy later on. Opening minds, I hope, is the end result."
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