New spin on the 'burbs

DJ Neo, deliver us from boredom, the young Brandon crowd pleads. And so he does. Hey, he's been there. He knows.

By S.I. Rosenbaum
Published May 25, 2007


BRANDON - Here comes DJ Neo, 22 years old, stack of CDs in one hand, cell phone in the other, striding toward the doorway of Club Quench.

He is late. Club employees have already left him voice mails to the effect that he should drop whatever unmanly pursuit he is no doubt engaged in and get his posterior here, pronto. He was stuck in traffic, he claims.

He glides through the doors and into his occasional kingdom. It's a big, plush space, almost like a big-city nightclub except for the neon Brandon landscape outside: Arby's, Wendy's, Applebee's.

Neo, a.k.a. Gabriel Gonzalez, started DJing here when he was in high school. Now he cases the joint, turning off the fluorescent lights over the pool tables and leaving business cards and sample CDs on the VIP tables like a trail of bread crumbs. He drinks a Red Bull to hype himself up, and then a Hypnotiq on the rocks to cool himself down. He's jittery. Everything has to be perfect.

Tonight is Glam Night, Quench's first-ever gay dance night. It was Gonzalez's idea.

Next month, he'll be spinning at the club to open for rap star Yung Joc - Brandon's first significant hip-hop concert. That was also Gonzalez's idea.

It's all part of his ongoing project: to set the suburbs dancing to an urban beat. People deserve a nightlife.

"I'm trying to bring a little Miami to Tampa, " he says.

- - -

He grew up here, in this wilderness of subdivisions and parking lots. He attended Armwood High School.

He was 15 when he started going to teen nights at Tampa clubs, when the thump of the bass made its way into his solar plexus. He wanted a piece of that action.

So his parents bought him a turntable for Christmas. He was 16.

"They thought it would be a little hobby and then I'd get rid of it, " he says. Instead, he fell in love.

He started playing house parties. birthday parties, sweet 16s. He spun hip-hop, house, dance hall, reggaeton. What else was there to do?

"There was nothing in Brandon. There was really nothing. You'd call your friend on Friday night: 'Where are you going?' It was the mall, skating, or staying home and watching TV."

Gonzalez wanted a place to dance.

He can't adequately express the rush he gets from a packed club. The feeling of the crowd.

"Words can't describe it, " he says. "When the crowd is on the dance floor, it's jam-packed, people are throwing their hands up, you see the fog, you see the lights, it's like: Whoo hoooo!"

From birthday parties he turned to professional gigs. Quench was called Harpo's back then, and Gonzalez took the name Neo and became the king of teen night. That rush, those crowds, he could make it happen.

"Neo draws the young crowd, " said Pat Matthews, who works at Quench. "You can be sitting on the moon and say 'DJ Neo, ' and everybody try to get a spaceship and get out there."

When he turned 18, Neo DJed his own prom.

- - -

"It's gay club night, " Carl Kelly, 40, is saying into his cell phone. "In Brandon! I know! I'm SERIOUS!"

He's standing in front of the club with his partner. They were just out for an evening stroll, and suddenly, there was Quench, music pumping out the front door.

Kelly and his partner aren't big clubgoers. They are typical suburbanites, more likely to go to Applebee's than to go clubbing on a weeknight.

Still, they agree: The unexpected materialization of gay club night in the middle of their Wednesday evening can't be ignored. They head home to change, promising they'll be back to dance.

Inside, the club is a ghost town. Neo has a great view of the empty dance floor from the crow's nest of the DJ booth, which can only be reached by a metal spiral staircase.

He works the control board like a magician, flipping switches and mashing buttons. The beat is infectious.

No one is dancing. No one is there to dance.

Neo stays cool. Inside he thinks about crying.

This is how it goes until midnight. Then, like rain in the desert, an influx of clubgoers.

They swirl through the door, attack the bar, step out - thank God! - on the dance floor.

Inside DJ Neo, the rush rises up, zips through his fingers, into the control board, into the music, into the dancers, into everything.

- - -

Final count: 253 people showed. It's enough to call Glam Night a moderate success.

"Everybody said they loved it, " he says. "They said they wanted to do it again."

He's looking ahead: Teen Night on the 27th, then Yung Joc on the June 2, the second Glam Night on June 14.

Then who knows - maybe a club of his own someday. Maybe one of the big, glittering cities: Miami, Atlanta.

But for now, Brandon.

"There HAS to be a nightlife, " DJ Neo says.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or srosenbaum@sptimes.com.