Long gone are the days when we could turn on our radios and choose from a variety of stations with live DJs on the air. DJs that knew what they were spinning and took the time to craft their playlist and answer calls from the audience. Though Houston may only have a handful of flesh and blood DJs left on the airwaves, we are lucky enough to be able to head to many of our local bars and find vinylphiles spinning records of their own.
Houston has been home to big name DJs like the late, great DJ Screw and a plethora of dance clubs featuring live DJs. More recently, bars such as MKT Bar, Nightingale Room, Continental Club, The Flat, and Alley Kat have been essential in maintaining a platform for local DJs who spin to audiences looking for more than the typical dance club scene. Bars like Under the Volcano and Shoeshine Charley's are expanding their hours and horizons by adding vinyl nights to their event calendars. Volcano now features vinyl DJs every Saturday night and Shoeshine Charley’s every Tuesday night.
Houston groups like Bombón, DJ Sun, A Fistful of Soul and Vinyl Ranch have made names for themselves by providing high energy, genre specific dance parties all around town. They have inspired newer DJs to take the reins at the turntables and expose bar patrons to songs and sounds they might never have heard before or haven’t heard in ages. Nick Gaitan, local musician and half of DJ group Tejas Got Soul (along with Issac Rodriguez), says "When you think about our DJ crews in Houston, like A Fistful of Soul and Bombón, we have some very powerhouse people out there." Geneva Gordon, who spins as DJ G-funk regularly at Under The Volcano, credits her frequent visits to The Flat and hearing DJ Sun and Melodic for inspiring her to take a chance on spinning saying, "Melodic has actually been my mentor and helped me a lot as far as my progression."
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In the post iPod age, where people are quick to turn to Pandora, Spotify or XM radio, there is a certain experience a person gets when hearing a vinyl record being spun. Geneva Gordon (DJ G-funk) explains, “I think there is a big appreciation for people that spin records There is a different sound, it’s warmer. I really appreciate sometimes the scratch on the record. There’s just something more inviting about it and it feels almost like you’re in someone’s home.”
Gaitan from Tejas Got Soul explains, “There’s something different about whenever you put a record on, even down to the crackle and the dust on it. There’s just something about it that’s different than when you listen to a CD or an MP3. Although great things have happened on those media too, but when you put on the record, it’s a moment.”
That moment can make or break a vibe in the bar among the patrons and a DJ can feed off the energy they themselves are creating. Geneva Gordon (DJ Gfunk) says, “I feel like you need that person to gauge the crowd. DJs are still kind of in the background, I’m not trying to be the focal point but I am trying to steer people in a particular mood. It’s kinda hard to do that when you just have something playing like Spotify.”
Carlos Pozo, a graphic artist who DJs Hot Rocks, a monthly 1970s Rock & Roll dance party at Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge, described a perfect example of the reaction he hopes to get from the crowd. “One day when I asked Quinn Bishop from Cactus Records to guest DJ and Allen from the Allen Oldies Band was there having a beer. We played an Edgar Winter Group song called “Hangin' Around” and he yelled from the bar "Fuck Yeah!’” Pozo continues, “He heard it and hadn’t heard it in years and it just got that reaction out of him and that’s the reaction I am hoping to get from older people, a song that they haven’t heard in awhile that really rocks and it makes them go "Fuck yeah!’”
Pozo Continues, “For younger people who might not know a lot of these older '70s songs and they hear them and they say “Who is that?" I want them to look them up and learn something or find something new to listen to.”
All of these DJs share a vision for preserving musical history, reminding people of songs long forgotten while exposing younger audiences to old beats made new again. As Peter Mitchell, owner of Under the Volcano says, “The Vinyl people tend to be archivists and tend to be more genre driven.”
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Issac Rodriguez, who spins as DJ Simmer Down in Tejas Got Soul, inherited a box of 45s from his aunt featuring an amazing collection of Houston Chicano Soul artists. This hidden treasure led him and Nick to create Tejas Got Soul. Issac explains, “My mission from then on was to spread the word of these Chicano artists that were from Houston from the '50s, '60s and '70s that really were forgotten. That’s been my main goal ever since then, just to shine the spotlight and show everybody that Tejas got soul and I don’t mean just soul as music I mean like heart and soul. It’s all about shining the spotlight on these guys while they are still here."
When asked about catering her playlist to a certain crowd, Gordon says, “I gauge the crowd, Sometimes I try to see what I can get away with. I am background music or ambience but I still want to get them engaged in some sort of way and help them discover something that they haven’t heard before or maybe they have heard that beat before and now they know the original track.”
The bottom line is, vinyl nights are about listening to music and having fun. As Pozo says, "We just geek out on the music. It’s like having friends over to listen to music except we are at a bar." You can keep up with all these DJs on social media and see where they are spinning next. Who knows what song you might hear that leads you to do a quick Google search for your new favorite old band.