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The Art Department

In its fourth and most ambitious year, the electronic music festival Forward is going all-city.

In Washington, dance music—-globe-spanning though it may be—-has historically been confined to a couple indispensable venues. But due to numerous socioeconomic trends I won’t attempt to untangle at the moment, D.C. now boasts several new and unique spaces, and this year’s Forward Festival is taking advantage. Three of the festival’s eight host venues opened in 2010 (U Street Music Hall, Sweet Spot, and Yards Park on the waterfront), and a few others are either DIY (Lost & Found), intentionally under-the-radar (Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club), or formerly illegal (Warehouse).

The product is a party that goes to great lengths to showcase both music and a city that have undergone drastic makeovers in recent years. Worldwide, electronic dance music has sprouted some interesting branches since the “electronica” of the 1990s, and D.C.’s scene has evolved beyond the huge Buzz party at Nation, which crumbled after a 1999 Fox News exposé revealed seemingly rampant drug use inside the club. (Buzz officially ended in 2006.) “We want to show off D.C.,” says festival organizer David Fogel, whose Silver Spring-based group EightyEight D.C. launched Forward as a three-day event in 2008. “We love this city.  Every time we bring people here, they’re impressed. They love the crowd, and they feel like the city is really gorgeous.” In the past, the event has drawn people from all over the country. This year, in an unusual case of reverse tourism, “We have a guy flying in from Bermuda,” says Fogel.

But the draw of Forward is not its host city, but its multifarious lineup. Compared to 2010, this year’s festival is especially big on bass (the genre) and all its eccentric family members (including dubstep, drum and bass, and garage), with a greater emphasis on audiovisuals. “The overall mission and theme has remained the same: an all-encompassing festival that focuses on electronic creative culture,” says Fogel. But “the biggest difference is our A/V showcase.” That event, with video artist and producer Frank Bretschneider, kicks off the festival tonight at the Letelier Theater in Georgetown, and is followed through the weekend by numerous showcases organized by genre or record label.

Confused? Overwhelmed? Psyched? Already cramming water bottles into your fanny pack? Here’s a critical guide to what to hit at Forward Fest 2011.

Sales have ended for all-festival passes, but individual tickets for Thursday-Sunday events are still available online. Tickets will also be sold at the door. For complete schedule information, visit ForwardDC.com.

Tonight

Australian synth-pop superstars Cut Copy DJ an after-party following their pair of sold-out shows at 9:30 Club. Originally booked by Fixed D.C., this is a pretty huge add-on to the festival.

Also tonight: Frank Bretscheider, Yann Novak, and several others officially open the festival at the Letelier Theater; Rockers International with See-I at Eighteenth Street Lounge.

Thursday

Techno showcase with landmark Detroit duo Octave One (live), Daniel Bell (a DJ set from the guy formerly, and famously, known as DBX), and the Chicago and acid-loving Bulgarian KiNK (live) at U Street Music Hall.  This is a must-see for lovers of old and new.

Also tonight:The drum and bass-heavy Autonomic showcase with ASC and others at the Warehouse Loft.

Friday

Much-hyped Toronto duo Art Department headlines the massive house showcase at Warehouse. There is plenty of good stuff to see here. With Chicago tech-house producer Kate Simko headlining her record release party on the loft side of the venue, this is also the night to get the strongest sense of the festival in one place.

Also tonight:Fort Knox Five at Eighteenth Street Lounge; Dory, Annie, and Charles Martin at Jimmy Valentine’s;  dub battle at Sweet Spot; Art For Progress benefit at Lost & Found; a vinyl-only DJ night with Sunshine Jones at UHall.

Saturday

Drum and bass big-timers Total Science headline the dub-spanning showcase at Warehouse. This event will attempt to cover the timeline of dub music, from its Jamaican roots to its myriad incarnations in England.

Also tonight: Toddla T at UHall; ’80s synth fiend Com Truise at Lost & Found; a Life & Death label showcase at Sweet Spot; a local hip-hop showcase, also at Warehouse; funky sounds from the Sol Power Allstars at Eighteenth Street Lounge; dubstep techno DJ Aaron Clark and many others at Jimmy Valentine’s.

Sunday

Let’s hope the weather cooperates for the big outdoor party at Yards Park. If not, there’s plenty to do afterward, from Sam “The Man” Burns‘s usual Sunday night house set at ESL (plus Thomas Blondet and Kiran Gandhi), to more partying with Aaron Sparks and several local DJs at Lost & Found, to High Contrast at UHall.