It’s no secret that DC’s music scene is growing, putting us on the map with the likes of L.A. and NYC. What once was a buttoned-up city that musicians departed from to pursue careers in the big leagues is now a draw to artists looking to tap into our creative community. In other words, we’re proud of our town and for this year’s Local Music Issue, we decided to pick the brains of three stalwarts of the industry – or rather, to let them pick each other’s brains.
Full Service Radio’s founder and executive producer, Jack Inslee, welcomed us into his studio at the LINE Hotel in AdMo for a conversation on all things music in the District. We were joined by Christine Lilyea, the badass owner of Petworth darling Slash Run – a hybrid music venue, bar and community hub – and vinyl queen Alyssa Bell, who goes by the name Baby Alcatraz when she’s spinning at Showtime and pop-up art parties around the city, just to name a few of her locales.
The mics turned on and the words flowed from three very different voices all equally committed to the sounds of our city. Read on for the inside scoop on all things DC music – from why our artists have earned national recognition to the best spots to get sloppy while dancing to anything but Top 40.
MI CASA ES SU CASA
On Tap: What do you think sets the DC music scene apart from other cities? What drew you to the scene and why did you choose to stay here?
Jack: What excited me and ultimately convinced me to move here was the diversity in the underground music scene. I don’t know if that rings true for both of you, but DC is like – there’s DC music.
Jack: I find that really interesting and still somehow overlooked in the national conversation even though every now and then, you get the go-go mention and punk mention, but it feels deeper than that.
Alyssa: Definitely. It’s a very special alchemy of things that happens here that seems [in] part [because of the] high cost of living and people having to work even harder to get through and create things. I think that adds to an interesting mix. It seems like a great mix of people.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. The biggest draw for DC for me was that Black Cat would have every band that I grew up listening to playing all the time. That’s what kept me here. Having the opportunity to see the bands that I grew up listening to and then learning about new bands and DC bands, you know? Obviously, DC [is known for] hardcore punk. Not only that, but then there’s the post-punk stuff [and the] house shows.
Jack: So you grew up listening to hardcore?
Christine: I was not a hardcore kid, no. But that’s what I learned when I first moved here, like, “Oh, okay. There’s Fugazi and there’s all this other stuff.” So [I grew up on] punk, rock ‘n’ roll, The Ramones.
OT: Didn’t Richie Ramone play a set at Slash Run in September?
Christine: Yeah, that was a really awesome show. He ended up being a super great performer and it felt like The Ramones were playing. He was so genuine and nice to everyone. I think a lot of people appreciated having it in a smaller venue like Slash because it’s intimate and you can hang out with the performer. And they’re like totally open to it. Maybe it feels like their home too, in a sense. I want people to feel like that at Slash. Mi casa es su casa, that sort of thing.
Jack: Where do you play here?
Alyssa: Right now, I have a monthly [residency] at Showtime [in Northwest DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood]. That’s all vinyl, always. They have a rotating schedule of people that’s mostly in the same wheelhouse of stuff that I play. Strangely enough, you can walk in on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. and someone will be playing some obscure 60s R&B record, and people will be dancing. It’s amazing.
Jack: See? That’s awesome. I think a lot of people, or at least DJs I know, are like, “Oh, it must be hard not to play Top 40 in DC.” I think that’s a huge misconception. Maybe talk a little bit about how special Showtime is, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a special place. I think it benefits from maintaining that consistency […] where when people go there, they’re not walking in and expecting Top 40, which is incredible.
Jack: There’s those little secret gem spots in DC.
Alyssa: Almost all the nights I do are rarely playing anything made after 1970. I’ll mix it up sometimes but if it’s a dance night, it’s almost always going to be something [from that era]. So, it’s amazing to have people who will write to me and be like, “I’m in town for one weekend.” And I’m like, “You’re in town for one weekend and you want to go to this special place?”
Jack: I remember when I moved here, my “What the f—k?” moment was when I went to Jimmy Valentine’s [Lonely Hearts Club in Northeast DC] and I was just like, “This is not what I thought DC was – woahhh.”
Jack: It was like two thirty in the morning..
Christine: …at least [Laughs]
Jack: …and it was sloppy as f—k and people were playing weird like jungle, I think? I don’t even know.
OT: Where do you go to hear live music or DJ sets?
Jack: I follow people more than venues. Like Flash is a perfect example. That place might f—king suck on any given night. But there are some nights where it’s like more eclectic and artsy, so I love to go there. It’s a great sound system, if the right people are there. Same thing with Velvet [Lounge on U Street]: Velvet can be awesome, [and] Velvet can be Velvet.
Jack: What’s cool about seeing shows in DC for me [is] you can get decision fatigue [in other cities]. I think in New York you’re like, “I don’t know.” There’s so many venues with small bands. DC is easier to navigate. On any given night, you may have four or five things. When something really cool is happening, the community seems to really come around it in a really dope way.
OT: Coming from such a big city like New York, do you like that it seems like everybody knows everybody in DC? Does that feel weird?
Jack: There’s a honeymoon period where I [was] like, “This is the best thing ever. I love it. Everybody supports each other here. It’s like the size of a high school, the creative people here.” And then that started to feel claustrophobic maybe a little bit, but I still think there’s a lot of strength to it. In the rap scene here, it’s like everybody’s one degree away from each other in a cool way. That’s kind of how a communal sound comes to be. I think that’s what New York was in the early days of the rap scene where you hear stories about what the Bronx was like. Everybody knew everybody and collaborated with each other, and then all boats rose with that tide. The rap scene here feels like it’s in a moment like that, interestingly. I think it’s still good, the size, especially for me and what I do because I’m just here to amplify and give people this space.
OT: What local artists are on your wish list to interview?
Jack: My job here is to follow what the city’s doing, what the city wants, what the kids are into. I think there’s a lot of energy around Rico Nasty. I think a lot of people are really proud of her being from here, and she’s just doing so much cool shit. I’d love to have Rico Nasty in here. That star is shooting quickly. The [FSR] space is open. We get pitched all the time. [We’re] always trying to bring new shows in.
OT: Who is on your wish list to book at Slash Run?
Christine: I got Richie Ramone. [Laughs] My first two years at Slash Run has sort of been like, “Man, I got everybody. I think I’m done.” No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] There’s definitely a lot more, but [I’ve had] bigger ones than I ever anticipated so far, so I’m pleased right now.
Jack: I guess the Mos Defs of the world. I think a lot of the older legacy acts would be energized to see what the young kids are doing here in rap, and it’s hard to find places for them to interact.
STAY WEIRD, DC
OT: What’s next? What are you excited about? Any parting thoughts on the DC music scene?
Jack: There are all these initiatives that I think are good and well-intended. I hope [these organizations and government initiatives] continue to listen to the actual people with their feet on the ground doing the work and what their concerns are. I hope […] locals continue to be engaged in a real way and listened to.
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s some changes happening with the grants in the city now. I’m concerned about it and I hope it goes well. I hope it changes in a way that is positive for the people who are here that need it desperately. We all know about cost of living here, and it’s so important to have those programs and to help people do what we do here.
Jack: What excites me the most is hoping that some of these underground cultural leaders keep getting bigger stages and platforms on national levels so that the thought of what the DC sound is continues to change nationally. When I talk to people in other cities, they’re like “DC – go-go,” which of course is legacy [and] amazing. But there are these new sounds and new things that I hope pick up nationally.
OT: I feel like a lot of people say that about Fugazi, and the hardcore and punk scenes in DC, too.
Christine: Yeah, that’s true. It’s one of those things where we’re so diverse now that I don’t have to worry about putting on a certain show and nobody’s going to come, because this is going to bring a totally different crowd and I’m happy about that. I’m glad that it’s not just always hardcore punk, or always just this or that.
Jack: Stay weird, DC.
Baby Alcatraz // Alyssa Bell
Catch her monthly vinyl DJ sets at Showtime and follow her on Instagram @babyalcatraz to find out where she’s popping up around town.
Showtime: 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC
Full Service Radio // Jack Inslee
Go to www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio to learn more about the station’s offerings, and don’t miss Uptown Cypher hosted monthly by Jamal Gray and The Uptown Art House for the opportunity to freestyle with local rappers. Follow FSR on Instagram @fullserviceradio.
Full Service Radio at The LINE: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com
Slash Run // Christine Lilyea
Go to www.slashrun.com for the rock ‘n’ roll joints’ full band and event lineup, and follow Slash Run on Instagram @slashrundc.
Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com