Today, it's a yard filled with truck parts, but a decade ago, the same spot held a ferocious underground venue just west of Interstate 35 on Northwest Highway. It was rugged and had bass-banged steel walls.
Afterlife’s lineups, with names such as Wolfgang Gartner, James Kelley, Cody Hill, DJ Keoki and others, made the place legendary. Vaughan agrees.
"I don't think I'll ever forget some of the parties there [at Afterlife], and that was when I first started DJing for crowds," he says. "You saw it all there. I regularly watched residents David Ringel, Stormie, Michael Todd, and Nodafunk play as I was really into [subgenres] breakbeats and fidget house then, and they were pushing that sound consistently. And on big event nights you could see Jeremy Word and Red Eye and other Dallas natives playing sets. That place had it all — sound, lights, ambiance and talent."
Afterlife was an ideal launchpad for a new DJ to earn stripes, and it proved rewarding for Vaughan. Gigs there lead to several U.S. tours and a regular schedule in Dallas at proper venues It’ll Do Club, The Green Elephant, the late great Lizard Lounge and others.
Vaughan’s eclectic influences come through in his DJ sets. He calls Wolfgang Gartner, Fedde Le Grand and The Crystal Method, “Masters at their craft on and off the decks." Dance music genres come and go like Jerry Jones side chicks, and Vaughan’s sound moves in rhythm with industry trends.
“The biggest change for me has been the various genres of music I've picked up over the years," he says. "I started out playing electro and fidget house back when it was a thing in the late 2000s, but genres fade out, evolve and are modernized in ways that reshape electronic music to what's relevant today. I will always be a house head, but techno, breaks and drum and bass are special too."
Perhaps the biggest change for Vaughan has been his commitment to producing more original music. His Lower Greenville studio and Nine Inch Nails shrine was also the place where he put the bow on his debut album. A project that spanned more than four years, Mutually Assured Destruction was released in September, and its 14 tracks are available for download on Dropbox at no charge.
"I wanted to create something different that offers listeners a little look at my soul, and I feel I’ve pulled it off.” – Hunter Vaughan
“It’s nothing like the house and techno DJ sets people know me for," Vaughan says of the album. "I wanted to create something different that offers listeners a little look at my soul, and I feel I’ve pulled it off.”
The album project started back in 2015, spurred by emotions from various places and inspired by Dave Grohl’s film Sound City. The spark happened while Vaughan was gigging around North America and ended up watching the Grohl documentary from his Los Angeles hotel room. It is possible for a producer to make a remix into its own bit of art, but it’s nothing like making an original album. Vaughan produced, mixed and mastered Mutually Assured Destruction, Volume 1. A second volume is in the works, and fellow Dallas DJ-producer Chris Lund aka Left/Right will be mastering it.
Along with a few failed relationships — truly, music’s best friend — there's a lot of Vaughan’s youth present in the album, with little nods to Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, Korn, Tool and hip-hop too. Before digging into the new stuff, listeners might enjoy backtracking Vaughan’s older originals such as “Dribble Drape,” “Wakeup” and “Oblivion Calls.” And they should definitely listen to his remixes of Zodiac Cartel, “Klappyn," "Defunct!" and “That's The Game" to get a greater sense of appreciation for the new music.
The chuggy break beat and electro sound that spawned Vaughan’s touring DJ career is still there, but the album isn’t built for the nightclub. It’s prime for a sports car commercial, a film score, a video game or the soundtrack for a Dateline NBC murder mystery.
“I understand the music on my new album will be used differently than the club tracks I’ve created in the past, but I didn’t have a commercial agenda making this album,” he says.
The gulf between artists’ art and fans’ wants is an interesting place, created when an artist produces music and listeners fall in love with it and want that joy again. But most good artists will do what they want. And over time, a creative streak might deviate from the tastes of their fanbase. For Vaughan, however, the willingness to leap, create, be criticized and grow is how artists ascend.
“I've seen a lot of clubs and bars come and go over the years — it's the people who make these places possible and give life to them," Vaughan says. "It's hard to imagine a venue like Lizard Lounge closing, but it happened. Fortunately, Dallas is a place where when one door closes, another opens. Dallas is resilient and as long as there is a demand for nightlife, there will be nightlife.”