Four days and seven years ago, San Antonio College radio station KSYM gave rise to the underground sound of soul and dance. With a 2am time slot on Saturdays, many didn't hear it, but quite a few felt it: the living, pulsing rhythm of a beat delving deep into the tempo of the soul. It was vinyl made visceral by Leonard Trujillo, deejay of the "Rise of the House Nation" radio show. And seven years later, the beat goes on. Strong.
Three turntables and the 'Twilight Zone'
It began with a mobile deejay setup and a catalogue of commercial dance cuts. Trujillo was a high school senior when he and a close friend started frequenting the wedding and quinceñera reception circuit, borrowing 15- to 30-minute sets of sugar-spun song. "He would invite me out to come out and play. So sometimes I'd help him set up, and he would let me play these little sets of just dance music. I remember playing the 'Twilight Zone,' by 2 Unlimited, before it was the Spurs' anthem," says Trujillo. "Those were the kind of records that I knew of. I didn't even know about house music, I didn't know what techno music was. I just knew 'oh that sounds cool, I'm gonna put it on.' And people would just sit there with their thumbs up their butts, not knowing what to do. Remember, there was no such thing as dance music in San Antonio. There was no scene. Everybody else was getting it around the U.S., but somehow San Antonio just stayed in its hip-hop-Tejano-country mentality."
Trujillo eventually broke out of the unreceptive reception circuit with another friend who encouraged him to play at home-thrown parties. The setup was simple: Borrow the parents' home for an evening, remove the furniture, tag up the tarps in the entire house, set up speakers, and jam on. "I was the elected deejay because I had all the music," explains Trujillo. "I was playing things off cassettes and CDs. I had a turntable that was like a Radio Shack turntable, and another one that I bought off a pawnshop for 25 bucks." Rising to the occasion, Trujillo quickly stopped playing deejay and actually played the parties and later raves, acquiring equipment and experience along the way. But what truly shaped Trujillo's style was a 21st birthday trip to New York City, where he encountered the sound of legendary deejay Little Louie Vega, whose Latin groove is an amalgamation of disco-seeped deep house, spicy salsa, and hip-hop infused with jumps of jazz and riffs of R&B.
"It all made sense when I heard Louie at the Sound Factory bar in July of '94," Trujillo recalls. "It literally changed my life. And I came back with this whole fresh new perspective. I knew that that was what I wanted to do."
Get on the mic
In February of 1995, KSYM offered Trujillo - then a student at San Antonio College - a slot on the station, which he gratefully accepted as an outlet for his newfound sound. For four years Trujillo hosted House Nation as deejay Rise, spinning live sets on the air, all the while enduring telephone feedback from listeners who felt that the soulful dance mixes were "faggot music," and demanded Depeche Mode. But Trujillo pressed on, pushing his sound. In the meantime, his time slot shifted to Saturdays at 9 pm, and the one-man show experienced a surge of support from listeners. Pre-recording shows enabled him to more effectively interact with his audience, a dialogue that would include open invitations to some of the first House Nation parties at local clubs, featuring sets with Trujillo and friend and fellow deejay Deepfeel, Jay Lopez. "Jay and I complement each other. We're partners," says Trujillo. "It always feels better to say 'we' and 'us,' rather than 'myself' and 'I.'"
As House Nation began to grow as a family, Trujillo incorporated this familiarity into the format of the show - introducing interviews and guest deejays to the program, later adding co-host Shawn Weaver to the mix, and always improving the party. "A lot of people look up to me, and respect me for what I have done, and that speaks in loud volume, but I'm just proud to be an integral part of this creative outlet. I feel fortunate that I was introduced to this at such an early time in this city."
Hey deejay, keep playing that song
|Aaron Salas dances to the sounds of House Nation during the Night to be Free II party organized by House Nation and Mi Casa Su Casa at Space on East Commerce. Photo by Mark Greenberg|
Let's get this party started right
Celebrating seven years of smooth grooves is no small stint. Trujillo, with the financial backing of House Nation's longtime support system collectively known as Mi Casa Su Casa, is spreading the festivities over the next five Fridays in March. At each party Trujillo and Lopez display a different facet of the House Nation funky fresh fusion of sound, spanning the spectrum of '70s disco to Chicago house classics to the experimental jazz tip.
Trujillo praises the intimacy of the House Nation parties that enables deejay and crowd to interact. "At bigger parties, there's often a big disconnection between the deejay and the people," he explains. "It's a very weird line between how people interpret the music and how people justify saying 'that deejay was speaking to me when he dropped that one noise.'" Trujillo uses soulful vocals to communicate with an audience and compel them to really hear the voice of the music, and subsequently, to experience the voice of the deejay. "A lot of people are coming out and supporting. They love the show; they love the fact that there's something different that's positive, enlightened. There's enlightenment in the music because there's a message in the music. And they're good messages to anybody who has the patience to look beyond the danceable kick," says Trujillo. "I have always felt that people needed to experience what I experienced. It's taken seven years, but people are starting to catch on."