DJ Nativesun // Photo by Jamie Jazelle

The Melodic Archivist: DC’s DJ Nativesun Bridges Cultural Gaps

It’s easy to imagine what the life of a DJ might look like to the outside world: at a different party every night, playing sets in glamorous locales and constantly having fun with friends. But the reality is often much different.

“DJing for me is a back-and-forth,” says Chris Harris, known as DJ Nativesun. “It’s not a pretty picture like everyone thinks.”

It’s hard work, he continues, and has been a struggle at times. To Harris, it’s much more than a cool hobby or aesthetic for social media – it’s a way of life.

“You’re providing people with a place to come be free, let go and forget about shit. It’s serious work to me because I take pride in making people dance and giving them a place to really let go.”

You can find Harris making people dance at a myriad of venues across the District, where the DJ grew up and got his musical start. Raised in a musical home, his parents would often play funk, soul or house music. His mom could often be heard listening to gospel records in one room while his sister played piano down the hall.

Harris and his friends would spend almost every weekend at go-go shows, where they would dance and listen to covers and remixes of some of their favorite songs on the radio.

“Going to see [local go-go bands] on the regular growing up was a huge influence for me, because go-go music was a place where I could dance and let go with my friends and be inspired by the music.”

The DJ’s biggest influences growing up included Frankie Knuckles and The Isley Brothers, but at the top of the list were Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix.

“Jimi was a talented guy, but his musical career was a struggle,” he says. “That always brought me back to reality – even now.”

Although music was always around him, Harris didn’t begin to DJ until he was in his 20s. What started as messing around with records in his room ultimately led to the chance to play a house party.

Soon after, he came up with the name Nativesun: a combination of being a District native and bringing the energy of the sun to his sets. Since then, Harris has played across the world for broadcasting platform Boiler Room and at festivals like Afropunk, Bonnaroo and South by Southwest.

“[DJing] is something I love because I really love music. It’s always been there for me. It’s always been something that I could turn to and dive deep into.”

Always looking for ways to bridge the cultural gap between more popular music and the underground, his sets consist of sounds across a wide variety of genres like afrobeat, house, trap and R&B, to name a few. Harris is known as a melodic archivist: in his words, someone who combines musical influences from the past and present and across numerous genres.

“I like to take on the challenge of not only playing the stuff people know but [also] playing the stuff they don’t know, and opening people’s minds up to different sounds and genres.”

Harris also cofounded and is a producer for The Future R&Bass Collective with collaborator DJ Underdog. The collective, which began as a movement in the form of a party bringing new sounds and artists to DC, has hosted a variety of artists from around the world like Sango, DJ Lag (co-presented with L.E.N.G), Full Crate, Abdu Ali and SassyBlack.

Harris hopes to host more women of color in 2020 but beyond the collective, he wants to keep producing and become more involved in the festival circuit, with potential stops in Europe and Africa. He’s also focused on building up more projects like Future R&Bass locally – projects that feel different.

“I want to have more raves in DC focused on people of color, for the LGBTQ [community and] people that feel like they don’t have these spaces. I want to provide a space where people can dance all night and not have to worry about a curfew – where we can just go until the morning.”

Stay up-to-date on all things DJ Nativesun on Facebook and Twitter @djnativesun and on Instagram @dj_nativesun.

Stream his music at www.soundcloud.com/dj-nativesun.

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Natalia Kolenko

Natalia is a George Mason University alum who studied Journalism and Environmental Science and Politics. She combines her background in news reporting with her love for music, art, and culture to write pieces on a variety of topics. Addicted to travel, X-files, and concerts.