By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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DJ Merritt doesn't sound much like the life of the party at the moment, sleepily answering questions in a voice that sounds as if it's still hitting the snooze bar. As the afternoon creeps toward the evening, he is just now recovering from the previous night's activities, a trek to The Lodge with his girlfriend and another couple. Merritt's lethargy isn't that surprising, even at this relatively late hour, although the fact that he plowed through more than $200 worth of free table dances the night before (he knows The Lodge's manager) is a bit unexpected. At an hour when most people are finishing their day, Merritt is usually just beginning his, crawling out of bed after another late night spent in a smoky club, making people sweat using only two turntables and a microphone.
By now, Merritt is used to the routine. The 27-year-old DJ has been a regular at local clubs since he moved back to Dallas in 1991, after attending Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana. And for the past three years, he has been the host of Edgeclub, the Saturday-night mix show on KDGE-FM (94.5) that has welcomed such guests as The Chemical Brothers, Moby, The Crystal Method, and Rabbit in the Moon. But on August 10, with the release of Torchbearers, an electronic music compilation put together by Risk Records, Merritt hopes to begin a new routine, making the transition from spinning records to recording them himself. When Merritt was in Miami for the 14th annual Winter Music Conference, he found himself surrounded by mix-show hosts trying to make the same progression.
"We're pretty much like a tight-knit family," he says. "We all hang out together and stuff. And a lot of us had really started producing music. So we just kind of hooked up with a record label." The resulting disc features contributions from mix-show hosts across the country, including New York's Liquid Todd and Los Angeles DJ Jason Bentley. Merritt's track, "Slappin' Skinz," is his first attempt to produce original music.
"Well, actually it's my second, but it's the first track I've ever done all by myself," Merritt explains. "I did it at my house, in my own studio. I've always wanted to work on music; it's just that I've never had the means to do so. I've never had the studio. If I was working in another studio, somebody else's studio, I've always had to work on their time. My schedule's pretty screwed up as it is anyway."
That's an understatement. Merritt's current schedule finds him at Fort Worth's USA Cafe on Tuesdays, at Red Jacket on Wednesdays, at Spy Club on Thursdays, splitting his time between The Edge's studios and Lizard Lounge on Saturdays, and at Mick's Bar on Lower Greenville on Sundays. That doesn't even count the various clubs and parties he performs at on Fridays. At that rate, it's hard to imagine Merritt having enough time to work on his own music, yet he is determined to do it. And he has, pulling hours out of thin air to work on everything from his own productions to remixes, most of which, such as a recent reworking of Moby's "Bodyrock," will appear only on Edgeclub.
Merritt has been on the same schedule since he was in college, when he hosted the first radio show in Louisiana that featured electronic music. Shortly after he moved back to Dallas -- he grew up in Shreveport, but graduated from high school here -- Merritt was a fixture at clubs such as Fishdance (located in the spot on Lower Greenville that Red Jacket now occupies) and Lizard Lounge.
By 1994, he had become a fixture on Edgeclub as well, sitting in with then-host Jeff K. When Jeff K moved to Los Angeles in 1996 to attempt to start the country's first electronic-based commercial radio station, Merritt took over. The Edge may have declined in recent years, but Edgeclub remains one of the few bright spots, still the club in North Texas with the longest guest list. It helps that Merritt brings in some of the best local and national DJs to put their own spin on the show. To him, Edgeclub is just another way to promote the local electronic music scene -- including DJs such as Rob Vaughan, Cle, and Red Eye -- something he feels privileged to consider himself a part of.
"I mean, I think we have a very talented pool of DJs here in Dallas," he says. "You can go out pretty much any night of the week and hear what you want to hear. That's really cool, I think."
But as proud as Merritt is of Edgeclub and his club work, he won't be satisfied until he can open a record sleeve and see his name on the vinyl. That has been a dream of his since he first became infatuated with electronic music more than a decade ago, when he was a high school kid hoping the bouncers didn't notice his fake I.D. It's the logical next step for someone who's been making people dance for almost half of his life.
"I guess I've always been the one that brought the music to the parties and stuff, even back in high school," Merritt says. "Just kind of got into it that way. I've always been interested in electronic dance music, I guess after sneaking into the Starck Club back in 1987. Then I finally figured out where to shop for the stuff. Taught myself how to mix. It was all a natural progression. I used to play keyboards back when I was in middle school. I'd always be the one who had the newest of the new music. I don't know why. That's just the way it's always been for me."