It’s almost midnight on a Saturday in April, and in a large warehouse on the other side of 59 from Minute Maid, one of the wildest parties in town is going on. Santa Muerte, a dark house duo from Pasadena who just played Art Basel a couple of months before, are warming up the crowd for Kingdom, the Los Angeles-based producer who runs the label Fade to Mind and is making his Houston debut here. Walking around a room in which a couple of hundred people are crowded around both the stage and the open bar, you find a group of radical performance artists alongside the wall, including one dressed in leather bondage who's enacting some sort of saliva swap with volunteers. An intense party dedicated to underground house and experimental electronic music, it’s the kind of thing that’s unique for Houston. At the center of it all is the party’s organizer, Mystic Stylez.
Named after the legendary Three 6 Mafia album, Mystic Stylez, who asked to be referred to under that moniker during our conversation, started booking shows in Houston in the spring of 2016 with Machinedrum at Walter’s. “I’m not really sure why Devin [Machinedrum’s booking agent] trusted me to book his artist that’s actually very important, but that happened and I started learning on the go,” Stylez says.
He got his start working as a middleman to assist booking emo bands at Walter’s, where Deep End Records owner John Baldwin helped to show him the ropes. Stylez had been going to hardcore and punk shows since he was 13, and always wanted to help throw shows. After a realization on a drive from Houston to San Marcos, he dedicated his time to booking shows himself, focusing on club and electronic artists. “I just wanted to book things that don’t come to Houston and [I] didn’t understand why,” he says.
Like many others, his first introduction to house and club music was through Pitchfork-recommended artists like Burial, Four Tet and Lone, artists he refers to as “Spotify Electronic.” He quickly befriended Houston producer Josiah Gabriel, and after DJ’ing alongside him one night, he realized he couldn’t play that on the dance floor, and began to immerse himself in house and techno. From there, he began to seek out cutting-edge electronic music and fell in love with deconstructed club and grime on labels like Non, NAAFI and Halcyon Veil, the last of which is run in Houston by producer Rabit.
“He just stays in and fucking works, changing the landscape of electronic music from his Galleria condo,” Stylez says of Rabit. When he first booked Rabit, it was the producer’s first hometown show in two years, and he found out that they were competing against an open-bar warehouse party that would take away all the “disposable hipsters.”
“I hit up Rabit over email and was like, 'This is going to hurt our turnout, and he was like, 'First of all, that event looks wack as fuck, and second, let’s book House of Kenzo,'” Stylez says.
He reached out to House of Kenzo, a four-piece group of producers/vogue crew from Central Texas whose shows are an immersive experience of music and dance, and they responded cryptically by saying, “Death drops from heaven.” They immediately hit it off, the show went on, and though only 80 tickets were sold, the show was “crazy special.” “Everybody there had never experienced anything like that before,” Stylez says. As of now, he’s booked either members of House of Kenzo or the whole group at least seven times. “I didn’t understand how special they were,” he adds. “I just caught a vibe of them and thought this was lit.”
Since then, he’s booked artists like Chicago footwork producer DJ Earl, New York techno producer Baltra and Florida rapper Robb Banks along with local artists such as Josiah Gabriel, Wrestlers and Craig Xen. Booking shows in a wide range of venues in both Houston and Austin, Mystic Stylez works to shine a light on a vibrant scene. “It’s just hard to get people to understand that club music is a worldwide movement and the States are behind, and they always will be,” he says.
It’s not just the artists he brings in from out of town that have achieved worldwide recognition, but also Texas acts like Santa Muerte and House of Kenzo, who are frequently featured on websites like Vice or Remezcla. Though these artists have international draw, it’s often hard for them to attract a crowd because of the spread-out nature of Houston. “That’s why shit isn’t coming here; it’s hard to promote,” Stylez says. “The market is here, but people don’t actually go to the show. They sit and smoke blunts in Alief and wish they went to the show.”
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Apprehensive about whether the scene and audience for this type of electronic music is growing in Houston, Mystic Stylez is dedicated to continue throwing parties showcasing this inventive world until more catch on. Viewing Austin as an example for how to make that scene thrive, he keeps working with artists like Ledef and Dylan Cameron to put on exciting shows here. When we talk in April, at the top of his wish list is Elysia Crampton, a dizzyingly inventive producer with a focus on queer identity and South American spirituality whose albums American Drift and Demon City have garnered critical acclaim in the past two years.
This Friday night, Crampton is headlining "Love Letter," the latest Mystic Stylez production at Walter’s (and giving a lecture at Private EyeGallery earlier in the evening), along with a stacked bill rounded out by Rabit, House of Kenzo, B L A C K I E, Studded Left, Rough Sleepers and Total Abuse. Combining artists with radical sensibilities across genre lines, Mystic Stylez is putting together lineups unlike anything else that comes to Houston.
“It’s been this desire I had for so fucking long that it’s kind of hard to track why I wanted to do it,” Stylez says. “I wanted to do it forever. I wanted to see things that weren’t happening already so I just did it myself.” Though festivals like Day For Night are bringing more inventive electronic artists like Arca to Houston, that’s only one weekend of the year. For the other 51, Mystic Stylez is helping to bring others here while simultaneously booking some of the more exciting local artists, and making sure the parties are lit.
"Love Letter," featuring Elysia Crampton, Rabit, House of Kenzo, B L A C K I E, Studded Left, Total Abuse, Rough Sleepers and DJ Disaro, posts up Friday, July 14 at Walter's Downtown (1120 Naylor). Show starts at 9 p.m.; tickets are $10 to $15.