Houston House Music 101: An Extended DJ Summit

Recently, I blogged about two brothers who are professional accountants by day and amateur electronic dance music producers by night. It was a story about doing something outside the box and finding and fostering the creativity within us, no matter what we do to pay the bills. It was about how music brings people together, which should generally be celebrated.

I was a bit surprised when my quaint little blog brushfired with heated vilification normally reserved for stuff like Mein Kampf and that poetry book Jewel wrote. Some people were unnecessarily rude in their critiques of the brothers' work. Some were at least funny -- no, the McFadden Brothers aren't my coke dealers. And at least one offered a serious invitation to learn more about EDM in Houston.

That invitation came from Josh Dupont, a fixture in the local dance-music scene. He agreed to arrange a summit of sorts, a sit-down with some of the city's most successful DJs and producers. Since I'd already covered the exploits of a pair of upstarts, I agreed it would be good to know more about the people who have toiled to establish Houston's electronic-music scene.

"We're the underdogs here and we've always been the underdogs," offers Dupont. "Being in the South and being in Texas, we're even bigger underdogs."

"I think we all kind of like that," says Eddie Spettro, Dupont's partner in Extended Play, their joint production effort. "The challenge is cool."

The work they've done, along with their peers, has resulted in regular gigs and exciting special events, including two this weekend. Tonight, they'll play sets, along with fellow DJ Eric Salzman, at Grand Prize Bar. The event is a fund raiser for Workshop Houston, a local program offering youth-development classes, including a music-production course Extended Play instructs.

Saturday's event is Praia Urbana, the long-running house-music fest expected to draw thousands to Last Concert Café. Extended Play will spin a couple of sets in advance of headliners Riva Starr and Ellen Allien, from Italy and Germany, respectively.

According to Dupont, Spettro and fellow DJ James Reed, these visitors will be greeted by a growing Houston scene that literally has yet to find its groove.

"It's a big city," Dupont says. "The scene is smaller than it really should be, but there's a really good, loyal, quality scene here. Houston is a very international city. That really helps with house music in general because overseas in Europe, and in South America, house music is normal."

"You hear it in McDonald's and random places like that," adds Spettro.

"Here, it's still very underground," Dupont explains. "When a lot of these people come to Houston to work for companies like Shell, on a two-year contract, they'll stumble into one of our parties and be like, 'Oh my God, we're so glad we found you guys.'"

It's getting increasingly easier to find this trio; all have standing gigs. Reed and Dupont oversee Kinda Super Disco, a last-Friday-of-the-month party offering nu-disco and deep house at Boondocks. Extended Play teams with Praia Urbana's Bobby Blyss for La Pista, a monthly at Jet Lounge that focuses on the darker side of deep house. Dupont holds court Sunday-afternoon day party on Royal Oak's patio.

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We met over a couple of hours and several beers and I was fascinated by their background stories. One is a professional ballet dancer. Another has worked an estimated 40 jobs and claims he was fired from them all. One has had music licensed to Breaking Bad. Two are going to re-mix a song with original lyrics by one of Houston's best-known rap artists. (That's another blog all its own, so stay tuned.) This is called a teaser, people. Go check them out this weekend and then learn more about what you heard here next week.

I asked them to tell me more about Houston's evolving role in a very international genre of music. They gave me a homework list. First, they said, go check out beatport.com to hear the music they create as producers and work with as DJs. Extended Play's latest effort, a remix of Psychemagik's "Black Noir Schwarz" is climbing up the charts of the online music store, which caters to DJs.

Next, they said they'd hook me up in future meetings with others who have worked to build a local following for the music, people like Blyss, Steven Towers, Sasha Braverman and Henry Chow. Dupont, Spettro and Reed have each been involved in EDM for more than a decade -- closer to 20 years, in Dupont's and Spettro's cases.

As far as local crowds go, Spettro says they're diverse in age. Young Houston fans seem to have an advanced awareness of house music, he said, and people in their forties and fifties are showing up to more events, which is welcomed. He said foreign-born locals make up about half the fan base, but more born-and-bred Houstonians are catching on.

They expect to see many familiar and new faces at Praia Urbana, which roughly translates from the Portuguese as "Urban Beach." Spettro headlined the first installment in 2004 and said they've watched it grow from a couple hundred curious listeners to a couple thousand diehards.

Dupont says he, Spettro and others are attempting to create a "Houston sound" with their produced work, the way Houston's rap is known as chopped and screwed. In its earliest days, the city was known for techno, but Reed hears something different in today's local dance music.

"One general thing I've noticed, at least what all of Houston's DJs seem attracted to, is a sound with an angst to it," he says. "There's a darkness to it."

"I think it's because we're that big city that should be bigger than we are," Dupont interjects. "We're not quite there yet and we all know the potential this city has, and we all want it so bad."

Reed says he understands some might have a stereotype about EDM, and that the work he and Extended Play do is a more mature offering than some might imagine. He suggests coming to any of their several events to understand what keeps them so motivated and involved.

"If you have the right attitude, it's inviting music, it's not alienating, it's not misogynistic," Reed says. "I feel like this is something more people should know about. It makes people happy."

Tonight's Workshop Houston benefit begins at 7 p.m. at Grand Prize Bar, 1010 Banks. Praia Urbana kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Last Concert Café, 1403 Nance.


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