The District gets down


A DJ performs at a club in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of 2khAAt.com

Spilling out onto the sidewalk under cig¬arette haze, throngs of the nouvelle-hip emerge. Sweaty and smiling, they take a break from dancing their asses off in the smallest hours of the morning. Inside, the beat is throbbing; emerald lights pulsate, hips undulate, Red Bull and vodka flow.

You’re probably thinking Brooklyn or Berlin, but lately, it’s D.C. that’s been stepping up its game in the let-it-all-loose dance party department.

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Nearly every night of the week, in every corner of the city, D.C. is dancing – hard. We’re not talking posh house and hip-hop clubs behind velvet ropes, but dive bars, derelict warehouses, rock ven¬ues, rooftops and row houses. Here, can¬vas sneakers are just as welcome as flashy stilettos; Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboys are the fuel and only the freshest jams provide the rhythm.

These indie dance events are largely in thanks to the District’s healthy lineup of DJs, who, despite travelling to dance floors all over the world to spin their music, are devoted to keeping D.C.’s electronic heart¬beat pumping at a euphoric pace.

A colossal force in the District’s elec¬tronic music scene, local DJ Will Eastman has graced D.C. with his celebrated BLISS POP dance parties, held at Black Cat for 10 years and counting. He recently teamed up with Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation and fellow globe-trotting-but-D.C.-reppin’ dance aficionado Jesse Tittsworth to run the one of loudest spots in the city.

U-Street Music Hall opened doors to its 1,200 square foot dance floor this past March and the party hasn’t stopped since. U Hall, named in honor of its location on 1115A U Street NW, is not just space be¬tween four walls where people happen to be dancing. U Hall’s essence preceded its existence, having been dreamed up and designed explicitly to quench the city’s burgeoning thirst for independent dance music.

An inch of cork cushioning lays below the wooden dance floor so the ground pro¬vides some give when all 300 of its patrons are moving as hard as the owners want them to. A 40,000-watt sound system provides palpable vibrations, expertly en¬gineered to blow you away without punc¬turing your skull.

U Hall not only brings the heat in the sound department, it also boasts what has become Eastman’s unofficial slogan: “No attitude, just fun—music that makes you move,” an ideology that holds that no pho¬tos will be allowed, no dress code will be enforced and no pretense is allow.

That’s right - as engrossingly festive as the parties at U Hall get, you won’t see post-party snapshots end up on lastnightsparty.com or even Brightest Young Things, an on¬line magazine serving the area. The no-photo policy comes from East¬man and Tittsworth’s idea that patrons should enjoy the moment without being preoccupied with the way he or she looks amid the paparazzi-esque flash of nightlife photography.

In a recent interview with True Ge¬nius Requires Insanity, an independent radio blog dedicated to D.C. and Balti¬more’s music scenes, Eastman explained his philosophy. “People don’t want to get dressed up, people don’t want to have at¬titude, people don’t need bottle service to have a good time,” he said.

From the ecstatic looks on patron’s faces at BLISS POP’s tenth anniversary party, held last September, U Hall is cer¬tainly an environment that supports what Eastman considers a good time.

“I always enjoy myself, and my hips usually get a good shake,” says Tenz¬ing Gyari, a senior anthropology major at George Mason University. “It’s always good times. I think more and more people are getting totally immersed in the music, hanging with their friends and even meet¬ing [people] on the dance floor.”

Since BLISS POP’s inception in the D.C. music scene a decade ago, the venue has drawn increasingly larger crowds, pull¬ing in record numbers at its birthday bash at U Hall earlier this year. While BLISS has gained tenure as the premier dance party of the District, there is no shortage of dance nights raging on a regular schedule and picking up steam.

Nouveau Riche, a party by the explo¬sive DJ trio of Gavin Holland, Nacey, and Steve Starks, had been running parallel to BLISS for a few years, sometimes on the same night in different clubs, before both parties moved to U-Street Music Hall ear¬lier this year.

Eastman considers this part of a re¬naissance in the D.C. dance music culture. “The fact that you could have two success¬ful dance parties happening on the same night, have them both full, have the houses going off, was confirmation to me that this is working,” he said, noting that the city is receptive to the type of forward-thinking dance environment that these parties are fostering.

In the zeitgeist of D.C.’s dance scene, “forward-thinking” is another way of ex¬plaining a move away from Top-40 music p l a y e d ad nauseam on the radio and a full fledge effort toward ingenious remixes and exploration into less exposed electron¬ic soundscapes.

The result is a wealth of styles and genres ranging from funk to punk, from hip-hop to European minimalist techno, from nu disco to dubstep, from soul to deep house, and sometimes a culmination of all of these and more—spliced, warped, remixed and maximized.

Take for example DJ Dave Nada’s Moombathon Mondays at Velvet Lounge, also on U-Street. The free weekly dance party features Nada banging out a plethora of unique house, cumbia, and rave tracks slowed down or remixed with a trippy, in¬escapably danceable Latin gusto. Moom¬bahton (pronounced Moom-bah-tone) is one of the many eclectic parties getting people out of their apartments and onto the dance floor—even on weekdays.

But what if you don’t like to dance? What if you aren’t sure you even can? Even wallflowers are still in for some innovative, engaging music at some great places to hang, says D.C. resident David Cabrera. “I don’t find myself dancing at a lot of these dance parties, but somehow they get pret¬ty wild nonetheless,” says Cabrera with a grin, adding that you don’t need to dance to understand the hype behind the ubiqui¬tous dance party craze in the city.

This seems to be the case on a Wednesday night with DJ Book and Jah¬sonic behind the decks at U Hall. Around half of the crowd is going nuts on the dance floor, clearly rapt in the beat, and about half are chilling, passively enjoying the scene.

Used to promote the tenth anniversa¬ry of BLISS, this Japanese proverb says it all: “We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.”

 

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This article first appeared in VoxPop Rocks!

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