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While gathering info for my piece “Beats Working” (featured in this week’s 2008 Music and Arts in Review issue), I spoke with several DJs and promoters who had very interesting things to say, though space constraints prevented their quotes from making the print. Good thing we’ve got this spacious Internet to stretch out in.
Over the the next week or so, I’ll be posting a series of Q&As, quotes, and other additional insight from D.C. folks who are hard at work in the city’s dance culture. The series will serve as a supplement to the article—which on its own is by no means an exhaustive survey of all the many great dance nights that are currently happening around the District. Principally, I intended to spotlight the most successful stuff from ’08, and promising stuff from ’09 in the no-dress-code, no-holds-barred side of the D.C. dance scene. Hopefully, these posts will add to that scope.
First up is a full Q&A from Sean Peoples: In addition to running the Sockets CD-R label, Peoples is co-creator of the monthly funk and soul dance night Fatback (mentioned at the beginning of “Beats Working”), which celebrated its one-year anniversary last Friday. He already tipped us off to his some of his favorite things from ’08, but here’s a more in-depth look at the progress that led Fatback from its origins at Local 16 and Dahlak to a packed house every second Friday of the month at Red Lounge, seven DJs strong. Follow the jump for the full text. Fatback took place at Dahlak for a while before moving up to the Red Lounge. How did that space work out for you?
Dahlak’s great—it’s a restaurant, first and foremost. I think one of the things about Fatback was that we didn’t really want it to be a pretentious dance night at all, and having it be in a restaurant for the first 6 months is definitely one way to go about that, because you get up, you show up early, you’ve got to pull all the tables out, you’ve got to set everything up—there’s really no set up already there, besides a couple speakers. So you really have to change the space into something that’s different from what you walk into. But the owner, Daniel is really great. I think he’s found out that his space is really well located, and he’s trying to get more people to come through, and he’s found that DJ nights and bands are one good way to do that. Well the Red Lounge seems to fit you more in terms of size, but do you think you’ll have to expand to larger venues in ’09?
I think we’re gonna try to do some more special events outside of the regular Fatback night. But I think right now we’re pretty comfortable at Red Lounge—we don’t really want to grow it more. I mean, I think if you start to grow it too large, the only way to go from there is to peter out, so we’re trying to keep the same energy at Red Lounge as long as we can. But it’s definitely a topic of conversation each time, because we don’t want to alienate people in one way by saying, “hey we’re gonna stay at this venue,” but then the people that want to come have to stand outside—that’s something we’re trying to prevent. But just in terms of trying to do bigger events, we’re gonna be doing a big inauguration party, and we’re also doing a huge Valentine’s Day thing with Brightest Young Things. So we’re trying to do these things that are taking the name and join forces with some other people to have parties that are located in bigger venues so we can draw on different crowds. But now we’re trying to cultivate and keep the people we have, and match Red Lounge’s space a little better.
It’s weird though, because we’ve all been smacked in the face by this. So now we have to get organized, and it’s funny to hang out with your friends, but then have to do a business meeting. It’s something that all our DJs are trying to get used to. One of the things you mentioned was that you didn’t want Fatback to be pretentious. Is there a large amount of pretension at other dance parties in D.C. that you’ve seen firsthand? Is that one of the reasons you started Fatback? How does pretension get in the way of a good dance party?
It’s not necessarily something that we’ve seen firsthand. One of the things that all our DJs love to do is dance at a house party. House parties are so much fun because—at least in the terms of the ones we’ve throw in the past three years—you know there’s gonna be great music, and people that you want to see. And that atmosphere is sometimes hard to translate over to a club. So it’s less about reacting to what we’ve seen, and more about trying to replicate what we know we like. We just love dancing. There is a lot of pretension in terms of having the DJ up off the floor, and there being a limited contact between the DJ and the people who are consuming the music. But for us, it’s less about the DJs and more about what we’re all creating. That sounds really dorky, but I think that’s what we honestly try to do. We have the DJs and turntables set up really close to the dancers—it’s like we’re on the same level. It’s just the stuff like, us being able to feed off the energy of the people, because they give off a lot. That’s the whole idea: We want to make them dance, and we want to flip them out.
In terms of other dance nights around town, does Fatback fill a particular niche? How does it fit into the overall scene?
Hopefully it fits the house party niche, the one that’s not staid, or too buttoned-up. It’s tough to find a space, but we’ve lucked out in terms of the spaces that we’ve gotten. Some of the nights I’ve been to, one month’s it’s OK, and the other month it’s off the hook. And I feel like that can happen to any night, but it’s been really good each night at Fatback. I mean, even if 50 less people showed up at ours, it would still be fun. Where do you see Fatback going in 2009? Is there a threshold you want to reach? How do you see it growing?
“We want to keep going. We want to keep the momentum that we’ve had behind our backs. Early in 2009, we’re trying to do two big things: The inauguration party, which is gonna be off the hook, and this Valentine’s Day thing. We’ve got all these ideas that we don’t know what to do them—we definitely have a lot of stuff that we want to do. But you don’t want to over-saturate, you know? I think it’s a testament to us wanting to be cautious, but grow at a good pace. We don’t want to burn out the star too quickly. But yea, going into 2009 we’re really excited, because I think we’ve got a lot of good opportunities to do stuff that’ll hit a lot more people, because we’re gonna try to get some sponsorships and hook up with groups like BYT, to really grow our niche. But yeah—with cautious optimism, we’re really happy to go into next year.