Still from The Let Out
Still from The Let Out Credit: Courtesy of Ayanna Long

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Ayanna Long’s documentary The Let Outopens with a perfect moment.

In a decade-old video, virtuoso conga player MiltonGo-GoMickeyFreeman steps behind his drums and speaks to the camera.

“What’s up, yall? I don’t usually do this; first time for everything,” he says. He warms up with a conga freestyle for about a minute, then talks briefly to the camera, concluding with, “I been doing it for a long time. And I love doing it. Keep on doing it. God gave me the gift; gonna keep on using it.” 

And there, less than two minutes in, Long lays out some key aspects of go-go culture: its longevity, the prodigious talent of its musicians, and the crucial role of its drums. “The heart of go-go is the drum,” she says. “That’s what Go-Go Mickey is—he and so many others represent that pulse. So I felt that the best way to honor that was to open the film with him.”

Long, 28 and a first-time filmmaker, produced and directed The Let Out, which premiered in February at the Anacostia Arts Center, right around the corner from where she grew up. In June, it screened at Brooklyn’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts. The doc will be shown again this weekend as part of a daylong “Moe Ho Ho Holiday Jam” that includes a daylong holiday market and performances by bounce beat bands TCB and UCB, all presented by Long Live GoGo’s JustinYaddiyaJohnson, the activist behind last May’s Moechella rally.

The film focuses on bounce beat, the wildly popular fast-paced percussive form of go-go that developed in the early 2000s. “I grew up in that bounce beat era, and I know that it’s a subgenre within go-go that really doesn’t get the same recognition as go-go from the ’80s and ’90s,” she says. “But it’s something that I love, so I really just wanted to pull it apart, to trace how the sound has evolved, and how it got to become something that sounds different but is rooted in the same traditions.”

Although bounce beat is clearly a more modern reinvention of the classic go-go sound, some in the go-go community refuse to acknowledge it as a subgenre of go-go. Long hopes they will learn from her film. “I wanted to bridge the gap for that older generation that doesn’t understand bounce beat,” she says. 

And while some worry that today’s teens are shunning go-go and bounce beat in favor of hip-hop, Long actually decided to do something about it, by making a film that would explain the culture to young people. “I have younger siblings in D.C., and I know they have a different take on music than I did,” she says. “The film is definitely for the younger generation in D.C. I wanted to provide a resource for them to understand this culture that they might feel disconnected from.”

Currently a resident of Brooklyn, Long attended Banneker High School before graduating from Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School. A serious bounce beat fan, she regularly went to see TCB, TOB, CCB, and other bands at teen night at Zanzibar in Southwest D.C. and at various other clubs. “My parents didn’t know that, but I guess it’s OK because they know now,” she says with a giggle.

She studied journalism at New York’s St. John’s University, and after graduation worked in public relations before realizing that she could be making films instead of promoting them. Just maybe, her feeling a little homesick may have contributed to her decision to make a bounce beat documentary. “Being a transplant in New York and wondering what’s going on back home, I started asking myself the question, what can I explore in a film?” she says. “I wanted to explore something that I had a connection to.”

Long started working on The Let Out in 2017. Initially, when band member interviews proved difficult to arrange, she decided on another approach: talking to fans as they left the shows. The film takes its name from that undefined period of time when the club lets out and people linger outside the venue. “The let out is something after the go-go would end, and people would hang out and talk,” she explains. “Even some people who didn’t want to pay for the party would show up for the let out.”

“This moment when the go-go ends is just another way that black people take up space in the city,” she adds. “Making our presence known in this way is a form of resistance that I think is imperative in the face of the rampant gentrification.”

After a few fan interviews, she quickly realized that a better strategy would be to speak to people before the shows—and a few hours of hard partying. Still, the title stuck. 

Even with its focus on bounce beat, the film explores various facets of go-go history and culture. Long deftly weaves together her own interviews with older footage, including a brief segment of the National Leadership Visionary Project’s Chuck Brown interview. There’s also Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers performing at legendary 1987 Go-Go Live concert at the old Capital Centre. Less familiar—and absolutely wonderful—is footage of a performance by TOB at a private birthday party during which they are joined on stage by Brown, one of the party guests. 

Long interviews numerous bounce beat artists, including TCB lead mic ElginBoMiller, TOB lead mic “Lil Chris Procter, and TOB’s keyboard player LarenzoLosoBarber, whose uncle was in go-go band Pure Elegance. Putting it all into context is Howard University professor Natalie Hopkinson, who has become an important voice in the DontMuteDC movement.

Most go-go docs have been created by outsiders, so it’s refreshing to have one with a distinctly D.C. viewpoint. “Those experiences that the film is sharing are the experiences that I have had,” says Long. “The process was intentional, and I knew where to go, and who to talk to.”

Still, it was not easy to move through bounce beat’s male-dominated underground culture. “I kept getting told that this is a very protective community, and that I wasn’t going to get access,” she says. “The fact that I finished it and have been able to share it in D.C. and New York has been really satisfying.” 

After this weekend, she isn’t quite sure where or when The Let Out will screen again, but she is certain that at some point, anyone with access to a computer will be able to view it. “I think that I’m going to put it online and just make it available to the masses,” she says. 

“But I would love for the film to be a resource for D.C. high school students to learn about the history of the city and our music,” she adds. “That would be amazing.”

The Let Out screen Saturday Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Eaton DC. 

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