On the Road Again
A Houston cultural touchstone is trading Bayou City humidity for wide-open Oklahoma skies.
DJ David Wrangler — aka Disko Cowboy — is the recipient of a grant from the Tulsa Remote program, designed to draw the brightest minds in innovation and culture to the fast-growing city in the Sooner state.
Funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Tulsa Remote program brings "remote workers and digital nomads to the community by providing $10,000 grants and numerous community-building opportunities." It's goal is to bring in 250 new residents that are full-time remote employees or self-employed outside of Oklahoma to live in Tulsa for at least a year.
The program also provides help with housing, and Wrangler will be relocate to a loft space in a converted YMCA basketball court in downtown Tulsa. He expects to bring his unique vision to the city and hopes to play shows when health restrictions are lifted.
He also has plans for a potential cannabis start-up in a state with more lax laws around the use of marijuana than in Texas.
"I’m excited to bring a Texas honky-tonk spin on what’s happening there," Wrangler says, citing Tulsa's central location as a convenient place to travel from to cities on the East and West Coast. "Hopefully, something happens in the music industry in Tulsa while I’m there and can have some sort of influence. I think it’s a good time to take a chance.”
A DJ and producer for 20 years, Wrangler grew up in the Texas Hill Country to a musical family, later finding his way into the nightclubs of Austin and San Antonio. It's in the Alamo City that he learned to DJ at some of its most-well known venues. His music taste varied from EDM, industrial, and hip-hop, but he always found love for old school country music.
After learning the ropes behind the decks, Wrangler moved to Houston, where he quickly made a name for himself, playing in various hot spots throughout the city, including having a part in launching the live music spot, Goodnight Charlie's.
"I used to watch MTV and I would do remixes of songs in my head while they were playing in real time and I didn’t know what that was," Wrangler said about his youth. "I was a big hip-hop head in the '90s and once I figured out you could make your own music and play it for people, that's when I got into the idea of doing it."
A Bayou City resident since 2007, the eccentric performer and entrepreneur built his Vinyl Ranch production and merchandise brand around retro country and western designs meshed with late-'70s disco, complete with neon rhinestone glitz, clever and campy fashion throwbacks, and a musical palette steeped in the classics from Patsy Cline to Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakum.
As much as his image draws from famed honky-tonk Gilley's in Urban Cowboy, he also takes cues from another Travolta touchstone, Saturday Night Fever. It's an aesthetic aped by recent neo-country acts like Midland and Orville Peck.
"Lots of people don’t realize that Vinyl Ranch is a hip-hop project about country," Wrangler explains. "That’s kind of been the dirty little secret — I’ve been a remix producer forever and that’s what I’ve always done but this is just my remix expression, it’s country music through the lens of hip-hop remix culture."
Wrangler tapped into the early marketing opportunities with a relatively young social media platform, Instagram. Since then, the urban cowboy and disco nightlife brand opened doors for DJ bookings and collaborations. He's worked with global brands such as Wrangler (natch), Vice, Lucchese, Tom Ford, Chanel, Sony, and Microsoft, in addition to playing shows during Super Bowl festivities, at CMA Fest, South By Southwest, Sundance Film Fest, Luck Reunion, and even George Strait's house.
"The Instagram era was when I really started to market it outside of Houston and push this idea of the modern urban cowboy," Wrangler says. "I’ve had a lot of success with that and now there are a lot of people that have stepped into my lane as of late. I basically waited for pop culture to catch up to what I was doing and now it’s come full circle.”
When COVID-19 nixed all events and work plans on his calendar, including showcases at Coachella and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Wrangler took to Instagram Live for daily Wake and Bake DJ sessions every morning, drawing a devoted audience.
The lull in in-person gigs and work in general made it a good time for him to make a change in his surroundings. He leaves for Tulsa at the end of the month to pursue his latest adventure north of the Texas border.
Wrangler says he will miss the city and all the opportunities it gave him; its imprint will live on in his work.
"There have been so many versions of myself that have been born and died in Houston that each chapter has been special," he says. "The people I've met here, no matter how long they've stuck around, have been special. Houston has played the biggest part in the Vinyl Ranch story and Vinyl Ranch will always be Houston no matter where I go."