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Simpson has been busy. She has an EP dropping this spring, an ongoing collaborative project with country musician Evil, and an upcoming live show on April 9 in D.C. She’ll be opening for Easy Life at Union Stage, marking her first live performance in the District since she played the 9:30 Club in 2019. Months after that show, COVID lockdowns grounded live music to a halt.
During quarantine, the D.C.-born-and-raised musician indulged her interests in painting, jewelry, gaming, and poetry. Lately she’s been playing a lot of Animal Crossing and reading Nikki Giovanni.
“I love Sonia Sanchez … [and] I just started reading A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway,” Simpson tells City Paper. “I’m trying to read two books a week.”
A line from Giovanni about a day full of cotton candy, loneliness, and rain helped to inspire one of Simpson’s latest singles. She recorded the original version of “Cherry Ice Cream Sundae” as a freestyle. It ran more than 20 minutes long. The finished version clocks in at 3 minutes, 12 seconds, and opens with an absolutely face-melting saxophone riff, courtesy of David Winograd. The video, a surreal puppet show, was inspired by Simpson’s love of Dark Crystal, Jim Henson, and Soundgarden.
“I was like, Can we do a video with puppets that looks like it could also be ‘Black Hole Sun’ and also looks like it could be the R.E.M. video for ‘Shiny Happy People’?” says Simpson. “We zoomed and got the storyboards together. … A week later I had a crazy music video … and now it has a voice beyond me. My dream is realized!”
“Cherry Ice Cream Sundae” is illustrative of Simpson’s catalog in that it’s distinctively Simpson but also unlike any of her previous songs. “Summer,” a single she released the same year as “Sundae,” is a jangly guitar driven song—a sharp contrast to the creamier vibe of “Sundae.” But her signature style makes it obvious they belong in the same canon. A fan of Gorillaz, Simpson has a Damon Albarn-esque ability to compile different styles in a cohesive mosaic.
The result is blisteringly contemporary and original, a sugar-rush of lo-fi, R&B, indie, and bubblegrunge. Though her early work has more of a pop R&B flavor, her new EP, Habitual Be, will be more geared toward her love of rock music.
“I think I’m really stepping into my bad-bitch nu metal aesthetic,” she says. “I went and got a cool new lip ring. And I want everyone to see it.” —Will Lennon
April 9 at Union Stage, 740 Water St. SW. $18–$30.
Red Brick Presents Ray Brown
There’s a certain kind of passion required to put on shows—especially small ones. A labor of love, typically spearheaded by one person who’s able to see past all the hard work and unpaid hours to carefully create an experience at often overlooked venues.
Red Brick Presents, the booking outfit of Ray Brown, is one of those, forming in 2021 to curate and promote shows in the D.C. area. But Brown has been sporadically booking shows in the area since he was in eighth grade—from 2012 until 2017—when he left town to tour with Baltimore act Snail Mail. As an eighth grader, booking bands was about creating opportunities for him and his friends to get together and play music; his focus changed as he got older and became more immersed in D.C.’s music scene. Brown’s high school era of show curation focused on bridging generational divides—lineups mixing older acts with younger ones. Marking a pivotal moment in his teen career, Brown recalls securing Priests for one such show. He tells City Paper, Priests’ enthusiasm was crucial to his formation as a booker and musician.
Today Brown hopes to provide the same support for younger bands. He works to make the shows he books youth-friendly and to provide younger acts opportunities because he knows the value of nurturing younger musicians and sees it as a responsibility; it’s a characteristic that shines a sweet light of authenticity on D.C.’s punk scene.
As Red Brick Presents, Brown spends more time curating three-band punk shows than the indie-rock lineups of his youth. He enjoys exposing audiences to new places throughout the area and he hopes to bring shows back to St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church—a space that, pre-pandemic, was the premiere choice for punk shows in the city.
One upcoming gig is especially reminiscent of Brown’s early years: On Feb. 19, he’ll play with Prude, the new project from Nick Bairatchnyi of the Obsessives. After a long stint in Philadelphia, Bairatchnyi is back. While Prude is more of Bairatchnyi’s solo project on recordings, live performances include Brown on drums, Carmen Canedo, and Alex Bass—another Snail Mail alum. D.C. welcomes them both back with open arms. —Laura Irene
Feb. 19 at Quarry House Tavern, 8401 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. $12.
With a new album about to drop, K Nkanza began their musical journey with a blank slate when it came to genre and sound. Thus came Spring Silver, Nkanza’s solo project and a chance to pursue artistic singularity. While using descriptors like “queer metal” and “post-emo,” Nkanza, who writes the songs and lyrics, cites varying influences such as Nirvana, Metallica, Squarepusher, and Kendrick Lamar. Put more simply, Nkanza wants to create music they want to listen to.
Spring Silver is about filtering through the music Nkanza enjoys and picking out elements to create something totally new. They tell City Paper, “If I found out about Spring Silver, I’d want to say, ‘Oh wow, this is right up my alley.’”
The wryly titled project reflects the Maryland suburb’s influence on Nkanza’s life. “A lot of people I wouldn’t have expected are from Silver Spring, but they claim New York or D.C.,” says Nkanza. Doing the opposite, they embrace an “insider/outsider” relationship with the suburb. Born in Silver Spring, the artist returned during high school—a “homecoming” that brought a sense of familiarity and newness that’s evident in their music.
As Nkanza continues to lean in to their genre-defying sound, they’ve also gained confidence. Their upcoming album promises to be more ambitious—combining many of the styles present in their 2019 debut, The Natural World, while delivering its message in a shorter time frame. The musician is proud to have produced “more immediate” songs that still deliver “sonic” and “conceptual depth.”
Debuting in March with an album release party at Pie Shop, I Could Get Used to This tackles the theme of isolation, including the physical feelings many associate with pandemic-driven lockdowns. The album also explores feelings of confusion and alienation. “A little bit before the pandemic, I was a senior in college, living by myself in a strange, isolating environment,” Nkanza shares. “When the pandemic hit, I was already in that space, and a lot of that carried over into my music.”
With this personal project, Nkanza hopes to reach audiences that need their music as much as they needed to write it. They ask that listeners come with an open mind. “I really hope that the music is found by anyone who would feel like it was important in some big or small way in their life,” Nkanza says. “It would mean a lot if this music found the audience that would be interested in it.” —Sarah Smith
March 5 at Pie Shop, 1339 H St. NE. $15.
Hotbed, Adams Morgan’s New Comedy Venue
When Songbyrd relocated from Adams Morgan to Union Market, Underground Comedy founder and owner Sean Joyce knew he’d found a home for his independent comedy production company. Enter Hotbed, the brand-new comedy venue moving to 2477 18th St. NW.
Underground Comedy currently hosts shows at Room 808, Eaton DC, Reliable Tavern, and Wonderland Ballroom. But their “main venue,” the Big Hunt, closed in the pandemic. “Underground Comedy was left without a home,” Joyce tells City Paper. “I’m opening Hotbed to be a true home for Underground Comedy.” Nearly a decade ago, Joyce started his production company to ensure comics had the best opportunities to perform. While his comedy has taken a back seat to business operations, he says people can expect the same type of shows and format that previously happened in Dupont with “great energy” and lots of fun.
“The big difference between Big Hunt and Hotbed is that Hotbed is set up for comedy, whereas Big Hunt was a bar,” first and foremost, says Joyce, adding that Hotbed will offer a more “professional environment,” but still be “fun,” “loose,” and “divey.”
At Hotbed, “everything is about comedy” says Joyce, where the focus will be on showcasing “smart, funny, [and] interesting” stand-up acts. To start, the venue will host eight to nine shows per week with more added as needed. The mix of comedians will be similar to current and past Underground Comedy productions: up-and-coming comics from around the country as well as the best local funny people and occasional drop-ins from comedy royalty such as Michael Che, Patton Oswalt, and Hannibal Buress. Underground Comedy will produce all of Hotbed’s shows, while continuing to host additional shows around town. Prior to the pandemic, Joyce put on more than 650 shows per year—he’s looking to get back to that level.
Prepared to be “the opposite of the Big Hunt,” a big bar with a small comedy room, Hotbed will offer a smaller “typical bar” with a big comedy room in the basement where bands once played. Though not yet available, both food and drink menus are being developed. Joyce confirms an opening date has not yet been announced, but that Hotbed should have people laughing in their seats before the season ends. —Michelle Goldchain
Hotbed Comedy, 2477 18th St. NW. hotbedcomedydc.com
Mahammad Mangum’s Before Black Had a Name
Mahammad Mangum, 26, is a self-taught multi disciplinary artist and curator from D.C. and co-founder of the Village DC in the Union Market neighborhood. The dual-use coffee shop and community space serves as a canvas for sharpening his curatorial know-how. Since opening in 2018, Mangum has shape-shifted the cafe’s back room into a space for concerts, artist exhibitions, film screenings, and discussions.
While attending college in California, Mangum began exploring film, education, and social justice. He’s created an online educational platform to premiere independent documentaries for young audiences with the goal of curating more engaging content and educational tools for young people. Since then, Mangum has expanded upon his vision of growing a supportive community for Black creators.
While developing his skills as Village DC’s creative director, he dove more into the arts as he began curating exhibitions and events, creating a cultural hub and staple for emerging artists and creatives in the area.
Now his knack for facilitating community engagement and education is taking new shape. In his latest exhibition, Before Black Had a Name, Mangum challenges the concept of the Black artist. He curated it to communicate the nuance of Black artistry that extends far beyond racial recognition.
“I believe [Black artists] is a term to help distinguish ourselves and our expression. ‘It’ has made it easier for people to use that term to label an entire group of art and artists to one category in the art world based on the color of their skin and not the work created,” Mangum tells City Paper. “My goal is to help our artists recognize that they are artists, and they deserve to be recognized by their work, not their skin.”
The show takes place at Shungu gallery, a contemporary art space in Frederick, recently opened by 26-year-old artist and curator Freddy Katana. The diverse group of artists displayed include creators from L.A., Baltimore, Northern Virginia, and D.C., including locals Tyrous Morris, Adewale Alli, and Tabi Bonney.
“I chose artists that I believed represented a spectrum of multi-disciplines and practices,” Magnum says. “I wanted to show diverse works and nontraditional forms like colored pencils to furniture. The artists bring a unique form of how they express
themselves.” —Priscilla Ward
Through March 12 at Shungu, 125 S. Carroll St., Frederick. Free.
Homme’s Amir Browder
Amir Browder has operated various incarnations of Homme, his gallery and men’s boutique, all around town since 2014, from the Anacostia Arts Center to National Airport. But since 2016, his main space has been 52 O Street Studios. Over the years he’s built a loyal following of local art lovers who flock to Friday openings to view whatever emerging artist is featured.
This past summer, Browder expanded into a second location at 2000 L St. NW with street-level access and a bigger floor plan—allowing for bigger events and displaying larger pieces as well as showing artists at more advanced stages of their careers. This spring, gallerygoers can expect shows from local artists such as Xenia Gray, Julia Chon, Andrea Limauro, Jean Weicher, and Sarah Renzi Sanders.
The second location was made possible by the Golden Triangle BID’s Grow Golden pop-up program, which offers businesses several months of free rent in Downtown storefronts. The addition of a hip gallery, showing almost entirely local artists, in the heart of the empty-after-6 zone would have been notable even prior to COVID; but after a long period of lifelessness in the area, it feels positively thrilling.
Homme puts up shows at an impressive clip, with a new artist or exhibit premiering every two to three weeks—at both spaces. Browder estimates he’s exhibited between 60 and 80 different artists in his time as a gallerist. Though he used to be a one-man band, he’s had to bring in help to paint walls and hang shows. He doesn’t have to worry about being in two places at once, however. While many galleries scrambled to figure out appointment viewings during COVID, Browder “was kind of ahead of the game when it came to the ‘by appointment’ situation.” He’s been having people DM him on Instagram to set times to see exhibits since he first opened Homme.
Still, there are only so many artists one person can wrangle across two locations—at times, it feels like so many artists, so few galleries. Browder wants to see the Grow Golden model replicated across the city. “There should be more places where artists can display their work at whatever type of level they want to display it, whether that be high level, emerging, just starting out.” Browder is staying on L Street for now, but hopes to “move around the city, activate nontraditional spaces and turn them into galleries.” —Stephanie Rudig
For more information see Homme’s Instagram feed: @homme_dc
DC Go-Go: Ten Years Backstage
Chip Py describes himself as a gonzo photographer, immersing himself in the communities he covers. His pictures of the local go-go scene are proof of that. Once the photographer for the “Godfather of Go-Go,” Chuck Brown, Py has spent more than 20 years shooting the bands behind the official music of D.C.
“I lived within D.C.’s go-go culture and while I did that, I photo-documented in and developed an outside person’s understanding of looking into it, being immersed in it,” Py tells City Paper. And go-go, he notes, obviously extends far beyond Brown—it’s a sentiment he hopes will be clear in his latest passion project: DC Go-Go: Ten Years Backstage. Released on Feb. 14, Py’s first-ever book, DC Go-Go: Ten Years Backstage, is a collection of images capturing the music in its “authentic” form, he explains. “While there are plenty of pictures and content about my work with Chuck Brown, my book takes a much deeper dive into the bands, the people, the fans that work every night in our city.”
On Feb. 26, Politics and Prose hosts Py discussing his book and how it offers a peek into the city’s go-go scene that he loves. To Py, DC Go-Go is a way to chronicle the intimacy, energy, and power of the local go-go community, which is now entering its fifth generation of performers.
“I hope that my work, and all of the work I’ve done in go-go, sticks around. When the DC Public Library purchased 2,000 of my images, I knew that my work is bigger than me. It’s going to be around a lot longer than me,” says Py. A collection of his work was acquired by the DCPL’s People’s Archive in 2020.
“It’s also important that the people in go-go, their work and their par tying, are now part of history. [The genre and the artists are] going to be around longer than they are.” After all, go-go never truly stops. —Hannah Docter-Loeb
Feb. 26 at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free; $21.99 for a signed book.