Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans , where we meet some of the people behind the local music scene -- those who aren't necessarily members of local bands, but more the people who make the scene move.
In 2011, both DJ Merritt and DJ Jeff K remain so immersed in DFW music media that even getting them together for what would have been their first known photograph together on record, turned out to be a futile attempt. So we just settled on a joint interview.
DJ Jeff K has been on the regional airwaves since 1987, when he hosted "Thud-Slap" on KNON-89.3 FM, a show of his own inception that illuminated industrial music and paid allegiance to local industrial talent like Lesson 7, DDT, Nufenkorp, IGP and MC 900 Foot Jesus. By the early '90s, he was signing "Edgecub" on the air for KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge, and pulling in local and national DJ talent for guest mixes on the show.
By '94, DJ Merritt was on board as his sidekick, fresh from Louisiana's Centenary College, where he had an on-air mix show of his own. That's when the show's energy really started to pick up steam.
Recent times, though, haven't been great: In November, the pivotal electronic radio show was shut down by the station's current owner, Clear Channel. Far from a dead issue as far as two of its originating hosts are concerned, the revitalization of "Edgeclub" been a cause many have come to support, even as Edgeclub's legacy now begins to migrate to a digital-only arena.
Both are on the air for The Edge today, though -- Merritt for 17 straight years now, and Jeff K returning after stints in LA radio and Dallas' KLIF-93.3 FM. They each have other gigs, too: Merritt continues to appear in clubs (locally and around the country) for DJ sets, and Jeff K serves as the music director for the Dallas Stars' home games, while also serving as a full-time production director for KDGE and hosting the station's Sunday morning show, "Old School Edge."
This week, we check in with these two local radio luminaries and check in on the electronic side of our local music scene.
You guys obviously specialize in electronic music. So, how is the local electronic scene these days?
Jeff K: Maybe, in the past, describing something as "local" somehow insinuated that the level of talent or quality of music may be lacking. But, as we've heard on The Edge for over two decades, nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the absolute best music on the planet eminates from North Texas.
Merritt: If it's good and would move a dance floor, then I don't care where it comes from. If it was a track I played on the radio, I'd certainly give some props to the local talent -- but being local had nothing to do with any kind of programming of sets or shows.
If I'm not mistaken, next to only Josh Venable, you two are the only KDGE veterans still standing from the early days. What positive changes have you seen come to the station since then? What about frustrating or negative ones?
Merritt: I've never been active in any day-to-day operations of the station, so, other than unceremoniously losing Edgeclub, I still have a great love for everything about KDGE. I continue to have a great time playing sweet tunes and meeting awesome people. What could be frustrating or negative about that?
Jeff K: The Edge is in a great place right now. I love hearing Muse, Death Cab, Mumford & Sons, Florence & The Machine, Phoenix, and The Black Keys in normal rotation. The air staff is strong and I really believe the specialty programming is second to none.
Take us back to your earliest memories of KDGE and local music joining forces on air. What special events, performances, interviews or station concerts do you remember back from the 94.5 days?
Merritt: Since I've been on KDGE for the past 17 years, a lot tends to run together. When I was knee deep in the "rave" or "techno" scene, my life back then was 100 percent in the clubs, with a main focus on electronic music from all over the world -- and the inclusion of local talent if they made the cut. Global, NASA Project, Southside Reberb, Interface, Redeye, and Channel 69 were some standouts from back then. I know I'm forgetting some great local talent, so forgive me. I'm old.
Jeff K: The Edge has been committed to the local scene since it's inception. Original air staff like George Gimarc, Wendy Naylor and Alex Luke laid the groundwork with the "Tales From The Edge" CDs and set us on the path that's still followed today on the air, especially in specialty programming like "The Adventure Club" and "The Local Edge," not to mention in front of thousands of Edgefest concert-goers.
Despite its unfortunate (and hopefully temporary) demise as a radio program, it seems the future of "Edgeclub" now exists exclusively in the digital arena. What is happening to keep the show's legacy alive?
Merritt: We had the ipodfood.com site set up as an ongoing archive, but WordPress had some updates and the whole database is kind of messed up right now. I'll gladly accept some help to fix that and get it back up and running. We'll stick with the blog, if we can get it fixed. My back-end Internet skills only go so far.
Who are some active DFW-based DJs and electronic artists that deserve this type of local music recognition, in your opinion?
Merritt: Right now, LehtMoJoe deserves some serious attention. That kid has some real talent -- not only from just making some killer music, but on the studio production side of making it sound good, too. Team Awesome (friends Chris Lund of Left/Right and DJ Titan) are somebody you should be hearing about very soon. JT Donaldson and Brett Johnson are serious forces on the international house music scene. Eric Estornel, who records under the name Maetrik, has been making some seriously stellar techno tracks for a long time now and travels all over the world. My old friends, Arnold Velasco, a.k.a. DJ A1, is the touring DJ with Erykah Badu's band, and Scottie Canfield, a.k.a DJ Redeye, is still producing some seriously wicked tracks as well as spinning here in Dallas and down in Austin. Kelly Reverb still tinkers in the studio every now and then.
Jeff K: Some of my personal faves on the local scene are LehtMoJoe, Ishi and Mr. Sleaze. These artists embrace an indie-tronic vibe, combining traditional vocals and instruments with electronics, dance beats and effects. All of these artists receive regular airplay on "The Local Edge" with Mark on Sunday nights, too.
Didn't Shock of Pleasure even commission you to do some work for them, Merritt?
Merritt: I actually did some remixes for them that turned out great. I collaborated with a variety of local talent to come up with different sounds for Kelley Christian's vocals and to tweak out Bobby Romano's riffs. The song "Not My Angel" was completely produced by Chris Lund of Left/Right and myself.
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Jeff, you spent some time away from the local radio market, and away from KDGE upon returning. What were you up to?
Jeff K: In 1996, I got in two years at KACD/KBCD-103.1 FM Groove Radio in Los Angeles as the music director and night DJ. It was the country's first all-club culture station. I DJ'd clubs, parties and raves in SoCal, and used my show, "The Nightgroove," to interview crucial electronic artists of the time, like the Chemical Bros, Prodigy, Daft Punk, BT, Paul Oakenfold, and others. I released two mix CDs, too -- Platinum On Black 3 and Killerbeats. From 1998 to 2006, I was back in DFW, part of the programming team for Susquehanna radio Dallas at the 93.3 frequency. It went from "The Zone" to "Merge Radio" to "The Bone" during that time. Especially fun was creating and hosting "subMERGE" from '99 to 2000, and featuring artists like Massive Attack, Morcheeba, DJ Shadow, Air, Groove Armada and others.
Where do you see the future heading for locally-produced music, and, specifically, electronic music? It seems like if they made a sci-fi movie about Dallas, it would have a strong electronic element.
Merritt: Dallas has always had it's fair share of music producers, and will always have some standouts. That's what you'd expect from Market 5!
All right, Merritt, beyond the production scene, who are some new non-electronic faves of yours?
Merritt: I really liked Ishi and wonder what the future holds for them. When Waking Norman was doing their thing, it was always good to kick back with a beer and listen to them. And, of course, Shock of Pleasure always had some great gigs that the wife and I would really have a great time at while drinking a martini.
Quite a cool gig you scored with the Dallas Stars, Jeff. Is it as much fun as it appears? It looks to me like you've influenced the team to include more local music in the fanfare and between-period entertainment.
Being music director for the Dallas Stars means you're constantly looking for songs and music that complements the action. I work alongside the Stars' creative director, Scott Robertson, to find in-game elements that make the presentation unique. For example, two musical benchmarks for the Stars are Pantera's "Puck Off" when the team takes the ice, and Stevie Ray Vaughan's "House Is Rockin'" when the horn sounds after a win. In the past few seasons, we've made it our mission to step up our commitment to regional music and have invited many artists to perform at Stars games -- the Old 97's, The Toadies, The O's, Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights, Rivethead, Buffi Jacobs, Bowling For Soup, The Slack, Here In Arms and Black Tie Dynasty have all performed. Sometimes, it's a performance outside on the AT&T Plaza, other times it's a stripped down acoustic performance from the players' bench. More recently, it's been from Stage 101 inside the lower bowl of the AAC. More and more bands and record labels see the benefits of aligining with sports and sports marketing. When you think about it, we have a captive audience ranging from 14,000 to 18,000 on a given night, 44 nights a year! And that's not including playoffs, so the potential to reach a wide audience is certainly there.