Within the past decade, dance music and DJ culture in the Nation’s Capital has emerged as a stalwart local product that offers significantly more than ever before. DC’s scene has developed acts, invented and incubated progressive genres, supported top-tier venues and more. By upping the worldwide standard for excellence in all facets of the dance industry, Washington, DC has set a success-laden precedent.
For much of the late ‘90s – early 2000s Nation, the influential Buzz party, and DJs such as Charles Feelgood and Scott Henry were cornerstones of DC dance and music. As were tech house legends Thievery Corporation and the Eighteenth Street Lounge — the Northwest DC club they founded. Discussing the now 20-year old space and the formative days of DC’s ascent to representing the finest of dance culture to the world, Thievery member and ESL owner Eric Hilton states, “DC had small bars or giant discotheque-type places. We just wanted an informal club that felt like home. Eighteenth Street Lounge is where we tested our records. We had a really good resource there to branch out from.”
Smaller in scope to what was happening at Eighteenth Street Lounge was U Street Music Hall owner Will Eastman’s Bliss party, a recently ended monthly event that for 15 years did everything from playing a key role in breaking indie electro in the area in the early 2000s to spawning the careers of countless local DJs and well-regarded international producers. Eastman’s desire to throw a non top-40, retro or rap-focused party led him to creating Bliss, which he aptly describes as an event “without an attitude or velvet-rope, blending punk rock and house music.” The idea that Eastman would, alongside fellow area spinner Tittsworth have a hand in opening U Street Music Hall in 2010 feels apropos. Even further, the idea that Eastman and Tittsworth’s U Hall would give fellow DC area DJ/producer Dave Nada’s reggaeton/house hybrid moombahton subgenre a home for 40-plus “Moombahton Massive” events seems fitting as well.
Another pillar of the scene is Antonis Karagounis, Pete Kalamoutsos and the team at Panorama Productions. A decade ago, Karagounis and Kalamoutsos were promoters pushing trance via their Glow events, introducing and bringing names like Tiesto, Kaskade and more to the DC area. Ten years later, Panorama has expanded into venue ownership, too. Northeast DC’s massive Echostage space and new K Street Northwest underground house and techno venue Soundcheck are theirs, and Glow still has a significant local and national presence.
Regarding the importance of spaces like Echostage and Soundcheck, Karagounis states, “as a promoter, you can promote events, but if a venue is not quality, it makes things difficult. DC has had amazing nightclubs in the past, but showcasing the visual aspects and providing a truly quality experience at a show was difficult. These venues are the perfect storm of everything coming together. We have 100 percent potential. We can book artists to come here, but having great sound and a great experience are important.”
“On any given weekend night, there are dozens of DJs playing,” says Will Eastman about DC’s 14th Street corridor at-present. In that area alone, local spinners including Eau Claire, Brad Piff, Thee Clown Prince and Mathias play at venues like U Hall, Flash, Policy and more. As well, on the national and global level, venues like 9:30 Club, Echostage, Howard Theatre and more are booking pop-dance acts like Skrillex, Flosstradamus, Disclosure and others for multiple sold out shows, demonstrating the rise in the dance and DJ scene. As we stare into an intriguing future in which dance music defines both mainstream and underground pop music tastes, Washington — moreso than the traditional music strongholds of Los Angeles and New York City — has its finger on the pulse of the best of what’s to come.