It’s a weird time to be in D.C. The usual winter gloom has been paired with an unusual pall as Donald Trump blusters his way through the first few weeks of his still surreal presidency. The city has already hosted a record-breaking Women’s March and an impromptu protest against Trump’s Muslim ban; more marches and protests are sure to follow. But what is a protest movement without protest music?
Enter Coup Sauvage and The Snips and their debut album, Heirs of Nothing. A DMV-born six-piece that mixes, in their words, “’60s soul, ’70s European variety shows, ’80s Solid Gold dancers, and ’90s warehouse parties,” Coup Sauvage are the disco-punks that D.C. deserves.
The band—which teams a beatsmith, keyboardist, bassist, and three vocalists—formed in 2011 and have been playing the D.C. area for years. Almost exactly two years ago, they released Psalms from Ward 9, a four-track EP that delivered political messages over disco- and house-inspired dance tracks. They beat Solange to the punch with “(Don’t Touch My) Hair” and paid tribute to black, brown, queer, and trans people who are no longer with us. “We dance when we wanna celebrate,” sang Kristina Sauvage. “We dance when we need to mourn.”
That spirit of dancing the pain away continues on Heirs to Nothing, an album that finds the band expanding their sound, connecting the dots from Donna Summer and Chic to The B-52s, Scissor Sisters, and beyond—and finding new life in the throwback sounds of various dance scenes.
Opener “Hamburg” has a familiar four-on-the-floor beat, but it’s a cabaret song with clattering percussion, girl group harmonies, and a melancholy piano melody. The band adds proto-rap to statement-of-purpose “Party Rap,” a music box melody to “Disco Friends,” alt-rock guitar on “Whim Whams” and “Freak of the Week,” synth-punk on “Laurel Shuffle,” and so on. Not all of the juxtapositions work (“Driftin’ & Griftin’” fails to gel) and some of the call-and-response instructions will surely work better live than on record, but the album’s dance party never stops.
Throughout it all, Coup Sauvage flash a bold and brash attitude, whether they’re kissing off haters, duplicators, hustlers, and lovers; searching for friends when the club lights come back on; or just taking care of themselves. There’s also a very DMV thread to the album. “Laurel Shuffle” is a catchy tribute to Prince George’s County, and on “Party Rap,” they fire a much-needed shot across the bow of a D.C. music scene that’s often obsessed with past punk glories: “We don’t mean to brag, we don’t mean to be bold, but put that indie rock privilege shit on hold, you can have your scenes and your labels, don’t need your cred, ’cause we got our own.”
A band comprised of people of color, white allies, and queer folks, it’s not hard to see the political edge in these songs, and sometimes the politics are more explicit, like on closer “Heir to Nothing.” The song begins with an organ-accompanied “Church of Sauvage” sermon about how gentrification has changed D.C. with food trucks, yoga studios, condos, exposed brick, reclaimed wood, small plates, and (as Kristina belts out) “artisanal farm-to-table locavore cuisine.”
Their problem isn’t change, but change that leaves Old D.C. in the dust, and Coup Sauvage—the self-described “heirs to nothing”—are here to remind New D.C. that “your small plates will not protect you.”
After three minutes, the sermon gives way to a full-blown disco-funk groove, complete with a soul clap, and ends the album on an ecstatic note: The band is best when turning political protest anthems into dance parties. One can imagine how “Heir to Nothing” will sound live, its sermon adapted for whatever fresh hell D.C., the country, and Coup Sauvage are facing at the moment.
As they said on Twitter at the end of 2016: “2017 may end in a mushroom cloud, children, but it will begin with a bang of a different kind.”