Brett Johnson is something of a house music hometown hero. Or at least he should be. He cut his teeth in the '90s Dallas DJ scene, and he's gone on to considerable success on an international level. His career has since taken him around the world and back again.
But few people in Dallas know who Johnson is. These days, he makes his home in Berlin. Like many other DJs, house or otherwise, he has a big following and makes a very good living overseas. Making the same impression at home, however, is a far more difficult journey to traverse.
Johnson's life as a DJ started at an early age. "I started this journey when I was 12," he recalls, not long after arriving back in Dallas for a hometown gig this weekend at It'll Do Club. "My best friend in middle school, Lacy Lawson (of now closed Illmatic Records), got me into it. I still remember sitting in front of his DJ setup and feeling like it was this futuristic console, like flying a spaceship." This eventually lead him to the production side of the craft by his late teens. When asked what led him to house music, Jonhson explains, "My mom's musical influence when I was little. I grew up listening to electronic music and R&B."
With over a hundred releases on some of the most prominent record labels in dance music over the past decade-and-a-half, it is somewhat puzzling how he is not a household name amongst the general hometown masses. Since departing Dallas he has relocated to Austin (a few times), Seattle, Barcelona and now Berlin. An easy choice that Johnson admits "I've been coming to Germany to DJ since '04; my first time over was to play the famous Panorama Bar. Germany is probably one of the largest supporters of electronic music and culture. Many of my peers and friends are here; it was the easiest way to get into the [European Union]."
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Dallas is somewhat notorious for producing some major talent that has often gone somewhat overlooked in its own backyard. Johnson joins Convextion, Maetrik, Demarkus Lewis and JT Donaldson on an ever-growing list of Dallas electronic artists that have struggled to gain broad notoriety in their hometown. These artists were mostly playing for a tight-knit group of friends in the local underground electronic scene in their earlier days while taking off on weekends to play some of the best clubs in the world. They not only play gigs as support to some of the world's top DJs in house and techno, but often as equal peers as well.
"It's a human phenomenon, I think," Johnson speculates on the vacuum of recognition for local DJs. "We have this thinking that no one from under our nose can be special, that someone right next door could be making quality art." When it comes to the DJs and electronic artists, that mentality extends far beyond the borders of Dallas, or even Texas; artists in cities across the country often find that their work is better appreciated abroad than it is at home. Adds Johnson, "If you look through time you see many cases of (American) artists traveling abroad to find both the respect and work they deserve. It happened with all the jazz guys, too."
Although there is a lot of truth to that statement it is still hard to understand how someone can have a massive catalog of work and solid reputation in the international community over such a long period of time and still have such a limited profile in his own hometown, beyond the diehard local house heads.
There is a sizable community for house music in Dallas filled with artists, labels, fans and a deep history. For some reason it is still considered to be a small niche of the music scene by the general public at large even though if you broke down the numbers there are just as many if not more people going to dance music events compared to the band-based counterparts. But for most of the public, the fact remains that DJs often aren't taken as seriously as more traditional forms of music, even if the form is consistently cutting edge.
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On Saturday night, Johnson and his reputable skills on the decks will be on full blast as he hits It'll Do Club. He is in the middle of a U.S. tour supporting his upcoming single "The Bounce is Back," which will be rolling out on the renowned Classic Records. He's also fresh off a busy year that saw him doing high profile releases with acclaimed record labels Visionquest and Get Physical. Technically, Johnson may no longer be from Dallas, but hopefully some of the local music fans who have missed out can play catch up.
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