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One year ago, DJs Sean Peoples and Patrick White had a simple vision of a dance night of classic funk, soul, and R&B that was free of pretense, dress codes, and cover charges. Over the course of 2008 that monthly event, Fatback, grew from a group of friends on the dance floor of the Adams Morgan Ethiopian restaurant Dahlak to a packed house at the recently renovated Red Lounge on 14th and U Streets NW.
Fatback’s rapid growth is a barometer of sorts for other DJ-oriented dance nights that enjoyed a healthy year in 2008, thriving in a variety of under-500 capacity venues and appealing to fans of everything from indie-pop, Britpop, hip-hop, electro, retro, electronic, and any combination of those. Since Halloween 2007, the monthly Nouveau Riche—DJ’d by Gavin Holland, SteveLove (Steve Bock), and Nacey (Andrew Wallace)—has consistently sold out the upstairs of DC9. The three even tried to expand their operations to the much larger Club Five earlier in the year but had to reevaluate the venue following the indefinite suspension of its liquor license by the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Holland says the loss of Club Five was a huge blow to the D.C. dance community. It was the only 500-plus-capacity venue that catered specifically to dance music, and it didn’t have a strict dress code that could stymie low-income hipsters and party kids—in addition to the fact it was one of the few clubs operating under a special after-hours license. Combined with the cessation of the Gold Leaf Studio dance parties at the Hosiery warehouse in Chinatown at the turn of the year, the eager promoter’s never-ending search for proper dance venues didn’t seem to be getting easier.
But the scene moved on; in addition to rock clubs, many other spots opened their doors, sometimes in unlikely venues. Red Lounge and Dahlak hosted Moneytown and Level Up; electronic dance music found a new venue at Silver Spring’s Gallery Restaurant & Lounge for the weekly Loda; a new crop of underground dance parties, including Hometown Heroes at the Trinidad and Tobago Association (which held its first event in September) began drawing upward of 300 people; and the Hirshhorn Museum’s monthly “After Hours” attracted capacity crowds with Dan Deacon and Nouveau Riche.
The inauguration should provide an exciting start for 2009, with a raft of Obama-related dance parties set across the city. Below, local DJs give the rundown on last year’s scene, the city’s dance culture, and what links disparate groups to get out and move. See washingtoncitypaper.com for more.
David Fogel, Eighty Eight
“I think in the beginning of the year, a lot of people in the electronic dance music scene were looking at the indie-rock crowd and saying, ‘Wow, the indie-rock scene is really crowded and growing,’ and were wondering why
there wasn’t more crossover appeal between the two. I think the die-hard [electronic dance music] folks owe a lot to people like Nouveau Riche and the Blisspop guys, who have figured out a way to tap into a segment of the population that traditionally hadn’t been there. Now, it’s up to us and up to them to introduce them further to the other aspects of electronic dance music’s soundscape.”
As head of 88 (eightyeightdc.com), Fogel curates the weekly electronic music event Loda on Fridays at Gallery in Silver Spring; the weekly PLD night on Thursdays at MUSE; and the monthly X and Pulse nights every third Saturday at BeBar.
Gavin Holland, Nouveau Riche
“Musically, I’ve seen things get much, much more ‘clubby’ and intense. At Nouveau Riche, we used to try to be as musically eclectic as possible, slapping together all sorts of styles of music throughout the night. You could never really groove to anything for more than 15 minutes, because we were on to something else. Over time, our sound evolved to be much more uptempo and focused on the ‘dance’ aspect. Indie-rock audiences are now ready to accept a night full of house music and electro, which was not the case before.”
Holland is the founder of the the DJ trio Nouveau Riche (nouveaurichedc.com), which also consists of SteveLove and Nacey. The group hosts a monthly at DC9 and plans to release an EP next year.
Chris Burns, Disco City
“‘Underground’ is just a state of mind. There are no after-hours clubs that are open in the city right now, none. And I think ‘underground,’ to me, is just giving a real shit about the total party, not just emphasizing the profit margins you’re gonna make from the liquor but providing an awesome experience for people to have whether they’re drunk or not. You know: Awesome sound; awesome DJs; awesome music; awesome décor; great, exciting new locations; the journey of going to a party—it’s an entire entity. It’s kind of hard to describe.…It’s a punk attitude to nightlife, that’s all it is.”
Along with his regular Disco City night (chrisburnsdc.com) at the Rock and Roll Hotel, Burns DJs and helps curate Hometown Heroes and other underground events around the District.
Ellen Lovelidge, KIDS/Level Up
“At the beginning of 2008 I felt like the dance scene in D.C. was a culture of cliques. There are so many great dance parties in this city, and 12 months ago they all
seemed so separate. Everyone had their group of friends and DJs they followed and hardly ventured away from that comfort zone. During the course of the year I feel
like all of the cliques have gradually intertwined and the whole dance and DJ community has come together as one fun-loving group. The promoters and DJs all seem to have the same goal: to throw an amazing party and make sure your audience as a whole has a blast.”
As DJ Lil’ El (lilel.blogspot.com), Lovelidge helps promote KIDS, a hip-hop dance night at DC9, and Level Up, a new electro night at the Red Lounge Bar & Grill.
Will Eastman, Blisspop
“I think, culturally, we’ve seen a big shift in producers and bands melding [electronic dance music] and indie. Look at Cut Copy, or the new Killers’ LP for that matter. There’s definitely a lot more cross-pollination between the [dance music] and indie scenes these days. From my own perspective, I grew up a punk-rock kid, listening to and playing in bands in rock clubs. That’s the background that informed me when I first started DJing, so it’s no coincidence I started DJing in rock clubs. As I met a lot more people who come from a [dance music] background, who spent a lot of time listening to drum ’n’ bass and house music, going to raves, etc, I realized they also listen to the Cure and the Ramones, Chromeo and the Presets. There isn’t as much that separates as there is that can bring us together, at least when it comes to music.”
Eastman’s monthly, Blisspop (blisspop.com), which has been hosted by the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, celebrated its eighth anniversary in 2008. He’s currently working on an album of original material due out next year.