Photo: Joe Dilworth
Photo: Joe Dilworth

Algiers Breaks Barriers

“How do we relate that sense of division that’s brought upon us from top down, from people in power who seek every day to divide us and categorize us as human beings and prevent us from collectively coming together?”

Algiers bassist Ryan Mahan poses this question to me over the phone from his home in the UK. Now more than ever, I surely don’t know the answer. But through their genre-smashing catalog, Algiers might be close to finding it.

The four-piece outfit was a sociopolitical force before they were ever a band. Atlanta natives Mahan, vocalist Franklin James Fisher and guitarist Lee Tesche formed in 2007, eventually adding drummer Matt Tong – formerly of Bloc Party – to the fold in 2016.

Over the course of their 11-year career, the band has never been interested in what others call them. They’re more interested in using music as a unifying force, especially at a time when division is more common than ever in so many creative spaces.

“We actually came up with the concept of Algiers before we ever had written a note of music,” Mahan says. “We were focused much more specifically on the social context of the music – how that relates to the actual sound that you’re trying to project and looking at music in spatial ways. That’s where the politics come from too, because there’s a politic to that in and of itself. We deal with issues like appropriation and colonialism within music itself, and exclusionary spaces where you maybe see a particular scene that has been built up.”

On any given Algiers song, you’ll hear hints of post-punk, gospel, new wave and more. There are a lot of bands who could have potentially influenced Algiers, but there are no other bands who sound – or think – like Algiers.

When Mahan dissects the conglomeration of sounds that make up his band’s music, he explains, “It might sound a little bit analytical as an approach. But it actually allows us to be quite free with our music and play with our music in very different ways.”

He continues, crediting the culture industry for creating this sense of genre “in its own twisted, distorted way.”

“It almost polices these boundaries and prevents the fluidity of music and us from grasping music in a much more holistic way. We’re obviously engaged with history and our own histories and the history of oppression. How do we relate that sonically?”

Mahan and company explore that question and more on the band’s most recent record, The Underside of Power, released last June. With members now living in the States and the UK, their sophomore effort was influenced by the disarray of politics in both places. Their songs directly deal with everything from police brutality to the 2016 election and the resurfacing of fascist ideals. They seamlessly reference and draw inspiration from the Black Panthers, Che Guevara and Albert Camus, to name a few.

The band does important work using music as their vehicle, and their voices to give rise to others’ voices in turn. Algiers appears on the bill for Black Cat’s 25th anniversary show this month, and the band is looking forward to performing in a city that remains an epicenter for creative resistance. Algiers’ strength lies in their ability to embody the energies of these spaces, no matter the location.

“It’s all about inserting yourself in these spaces, and that’s why playing this 25th anniversary show at the Black Cat is powerful for us,” Mahan says. “Dante [Ferrando, owner] and the people at the Black Cat see us within this scene. We’re playing alongside some of our heroes: Mary Timony in Ex Hex, Mike Watt, Gray Matter and Subhumans. This is all where we see ourselves, and maybe people from the outside – unless they’re fans – don’t really get that. I think that’s kind of a constant battle that we take on.”

And while the band will continue to tackle subjects that very much need light shed on them – Mahan says they’ve recently begun to work on new music – their final goal is to be a unifying force among likeminded people.

“As a band, we just want to connect with people. We really feel like there’s so many people who also feel that way. It’s not through a sense of naiveté. We’re very cynical in our approach, but through that cynicism there is – as we particularly try to reflect on our last album – a sense of light.”

Algiers plays the second night of the Black Cat’s 25th anniversary event on Saturday, September 15. Tickets are $25. Doors open at 7 p.m. For more information on Algiers, visit www.algierstheband.com.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com

Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Shooting the Gap: Linebackers Look to Raise Redskins’ Defensive Level

The Washington Redskins’ 2017 season wasn’t without setbacks. The squad dealt with numerous injuries on both offense and defense, as the team’s expectations for the NFL Playoffs dwindled by the time winter blew through FedExField. However, the team never quit as they traded wins and losses down the stretch of the season with a persistent roster.

A key player during the home stretch was Zach Brown, who despite missing the last three games of the season with foot and leg injuries, led the team in tackles with 127 – a mark good for ninth in the league. With Brown and fellow linebacker Mason Foster returning to man the middle of the field, a defense that ranked last against the run can only improve, if health permits.

“[We’ll] take it to the next level,” Brown says. “Last year was really our first as a defense, so now it’s like, let’s keep it going and step it up. We have a lot of good young players, so they have to stay disciplined and we all have to do our job.”

Both Brown and Foster signed extensions in the offseason to stay with the Redskins. Before the ink was dry on Foster’s deal, he was already recruiting Brown to ensure their pairing would last longer than the five games they shared the field last season.

“I love this team and all these guys are brothers,” Foster says. “I love playing football, and when your year is cut short like that – especially when I was set up to have a big year – it’s tough. Part of it is a blessing in disguise, because I was able to sit there and watch the game and get in shape.”

Both players kept roots in Virginia this offseason, with Foster rehabbing his torn shoulder and Brown settling down with his family in McLean. Though they had different offseason experiences, both were ready for camp and eager to improve a defense not yet matching their standard for greatness.

“Guys are playing hard, but it was little things here and there,” Foster continues. “Being up in the box and being able to see it from a coach’s perspective, you see the little angles you take and the little things you bring to the table every day. It definitely helped me bring my game to another level.”

Though the pair is integral to the Redskins postseason goals, the hope is for their load to be lessened by the team’s top draft pick, interior defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, who joins former Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen – Washington’s first pick in last year’s draft.

“With the young guys coming in and making it more competitive, everybody is in better shape and coming in strong,” Brown says. “Health is going to be really important, but everyone behind you has to stay ready too. If we can stay healthy, we can go a long way.”

As for the veterans, Brown and Foster acknowledge an undeniable chemistry between them on the field.

“He was a big reason I wanted to come back here,” Foster says. “I knew what me and him could do for the whole year. We see the game the same way, and it allows me to come downhill. We know who’s going to have an opportunity to take a chance. Sometimes I want to jump a route and he’ll cover for me, and vice versa. Stuff like that became natural for us.”

Though the defense – who finished with the 12th-most yards allowed in the league – is set to improve, the old saying “a good offense is the best defense” may still apply to the Redskins. To bolster the offensive unit, the team added veteran playmakers in running back Adrian Peterson and QB Alex Smith, replacing Kirk Cousins.

As inside linebackers, both Brown and Foster are essentially the quarterbacks of the defense, and each has had a chance to match wits with the new starting signal caller.

“He’s what I thought he was,” Brown says. “He’s a great player and he’s going to surprise a lot of people. We have a lot of receivers that will go get the ball for Alex, and he’s really upped the game for those guys. He’s a great leader, and he has high expectations for the offense.”

Despite the 7-9 finish to last season, neither of these players are lacking in confidence. They’re ready to prove the naysayers wrong.

“I think we’re in the mix,” Foster says. “The sky’s the limit, but we have to go out and execute.”

Brown echoes his teammate’s sentiments about the 2018 season.

“We feel like we can be one of the best in the NFL if we bring it together.”

Catch the Washington Redskins’ first home game against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, September 16. Follow the team on Twitter at @Redskins and check out their 2018 schedule at www.redskins.com.

FedExField: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD; 301-276-6000; www.redskins.com

Photos: M.K. Koszycki
Photos: M.K. Koszycki

Behind the Bar: National Bourbon Heritage Month

Congress deemed September National Bourbon Heritage Month in 2007, and 11 years later, the nation’s capital is still celebrating one of the most American spirits each fall. The month-long occasion gives locals the perfect excuse to spend the District’s last warm days trying creative bourbon cocktails around town. We chatted with some bourbon-loving bar gurus to get you in the mood.


James Nelson BLT

BLT Steak
James Nelson, Beverage Director

On Tap: How are you using your cocktail program to celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month?
James Nelson: In the fall, we like to do an off-the-wall bourbon cocktail, but we always have our Manhattan. It’s bourbon with chai-infused vermouth and bitters. People come to a steakhouse and like to drink Manhattans, so this is our spin on that. It gives people a chance to try something different and not out of their comfort zone.

OT: BLT is known for featuring fat-washing bourbons. What does that process entail?
JN: We’ve featured an A5 Wagyu fat-washed bourbon and a foie gras-washed bourbon. For that process, you seal it with the bourbon and whatever fat you’re using and then you cook it just under the boiling point of alcohol with an emergent circulator. That way, you’re not damaging the spirit, and raising the temperature increases extraction so you’re able to pull those flavors out more readily.

OT: Have they been popular with your customers?
JN: I know it sounds a little [strange], but it works. I think the most important thing is to have the staff behind it. If they’re excited about what we’re selling, people are more likely to try what’s being recommended to them.

OT: What ingredients do you like to experiment with in bourbon cocktails?
JN: It depends on the season. During summer, my favorite drink is the Bourbon Smash. You don’t think of bourbon drinks as summer drinks [until] you add things like our house-made huckleberry syrup, lemon and mint – all fresh and vibrant flavors – and a lighter bourbon.

BLT 3

This Ginger Is The Peach
Simple syrup
Ginger beer
Peach jam
Bourbon
Lemon
Mint

BLT Steak: 1625 I St. NW, DC; www.bltrestaurants.com


Brian Nixon 2

Truxton Inn
Brian Nixon, General Manager and Bartender

On Tap: How are you celebrating National Bourbon Heritage Month?
Brian Nixon: We’ll be getting our barrel of Old Forester bourbon that we just picked out down in Louisville last week, so we’re going to do something fun with that. We’re going to do a big release party as well.

OT: You have quite a few bourbon drinks featured on your menu now. Do you prefer working within bourbon-based cocktails?
BN: I like to see what our guests like, and a lot of guests currently gravitate toward bourbon. It’s one of those things that’s in now, and that’s a great thing. It is such an American spirit, and there’s such a wide variety of cool drinks out there right now.

OT: How do you keep your bourbon cocktails creative?
BN: We have a lot of fun with a lot of different spirits. We’re always playing with different things. We’ve got a rye cocktail that’s been doing really well here, which has a really cool herbal bitter that’s made by monks with Angostura amaro and some chocolate bitters. It’s just super fun and delicious, and people have been really digging it.

OT: Have any ingredients you’ve experimented with surprised you?
BN: I’m always surprised by how things work. Our [drink made] with Cynar is really cool. I did one with pamplemousse and it came out kind of awesome. [With] a Gold Rush, you’ve got lemon, honey and bourbon, and it’s a similar cocktail [when made with] grapefruit, which for some reason is one of those things that totally works.

OT: What’s your favorite drink on the menu right now?
BN: We’ve got the Horizontal Mambo, which is a tiki drink. That’s my go-to right now.

Truxton

The Skipper
Old Forester Bourbon
Simple syrup
Pineapple
Lemon
Cynar

Truxton Inn: 251 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.truxtoninndc.com


Frankie Jones 2

The Occidental
Frankie Jones, Bar Manager and Mixologist

On Tap: The Occidental serves more traditional fare, but your cocktail program is experimental. How does the program highlight the food menu?
Frankie Jones: We’ve been delving into the history of the restaurant with the cocktails and the food. We will be 112 this year, so there’s a lot of history there. Our chef has started going back to that time period and reinventing and reinvigorating items that were on the menu or from that time period. With the cocktails, a lot of the names and mixing of the spirits goes back to historic events that have happened here. We try to not overcomplicate anything, and we let the products speak for themselves.

OT: What are some lesser-known ingredients that lend themselves well to bourbon drinks?
FJ: I like to add other liquors like tequila and gin. There’s a classic cocktail called the Suffering Bastard, and it has bourbon and gin in it. I think [it’s important to] not just limit it to being the spirit on its own, but open it up to playing around and pulling out all the flavors in bourbon. Bourbon itself is not a flavor, it’s comprised of many different ones that occur in the aging process.

OT: What’s your go-to drink for someone who is unfamiliar with bourbon but wants to give it a try?
FJ: I would choose a bourbon sour, because you still get that bourbon flavor but it’s tart and tangy. I like to make them the traditional way with egg whites, so it’s even a little bit creamy. It’s a very easy way to be introduced to bourbon.

OT: What sets your drink menu apart from other DC spots?
FJ: The simplification of the cocktails themselves. I love all the crazy things that bartenders in the city are doing, but what I really like are simple drinks. Simple, approachable drinks with complex flavors. The main focus here is keeping it simple, clean and to the point.

Occidental 3

The Senators
Jefferson’s Bourbon
Dolin Blanc Vermouth
Aromatic bitters
Carpano Antica
Benedictine
Campari

The Occidental: 1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.occidentaldc.com

Photos: Trent Johnson
Photos: Trent Johnson

From Freshman Foodie to Instagram Influencer: @dcfoodporn’s Justin Schuble

It definitely feels a little meta to watch On Tap’s assistant editor Trent Johnson take photos of @dcfoodporn’s Justin Schuble taking photos of Brothers and Sisters Pastry Chef Pichet Ong’s ornate The London cake at the LINE Hotel. This feeling is only intensified by the fact that our subject is on the stairs by the LINE’s iconic, off-kilter mirror – perhaps one of DC’s most Instaworthy spots to date – so there’s two camera-wielding Schubles and two mouthwatering, crepe-stacked cakes in every photo.

All self-referential insights aside, we decided to meet up with DC’s most successful food Instagrammer – with 246,000 followers and counting – at his location of choice so we could see him in action. The LINE has been high on his wish list for some time, so we pop down to the impossibly trendy AdMo hotel one afternoon in August to pick the 23-year-old’s brain about how he turned his college hobby into a booming millennial business.

The Instagram influencer is soft-spoken and thoughtful, an adept multitasker who is constantly searching the room for the best angles while still giving us his full attention. He approaches food photography – and his entire @dcfoodporn brand – as a curated experience, bringing an artistic element to every shoot. A steady stream of decadent desserts keeps coming from Erik Bruner-Yang’s kitchen, the final one in the hands of the pastry chef himself, who chats with us for a few about photography on the LINE’s front steps.

Schuble moves deliberately during the shoot, selecting a new location in the hotel’s lobby for each dessert and experimenting with countless angles. When he is sure he has enough options, we sink into two oversized armchairs and begin to talk shop – from his creative process for keeping his content engaging to how he grew his account from 100 followers as a Georgetown freshman to hundreds of thousands of followers as the owner of a profitable business.

BEFORE THERE WAS @DCFOODPORN, there was @freshman_foodie. After growing up in a Potomac, Maryland household that rarely ate at home – save for takeout – and with zero interest in subsisting solely off of Georgetown’s dining hall options, it made perfect sense to Schuble to eat out a lot. And as millennials often do, he began snapping photos of his food and posting them to his personal Instagram account.

Countless food posts later, he created the @freshman_foodie handle and a food-only account. By the end of the year, he had 100 followers and decided to rebrand with his current handle, which has now been used as a hashtag on Instagram in almost 272,000 posts.

The business school student bought a camera that summer and taught himself some photography basics, like how to manipulate lighting. He remains a self-taught photographer even now, crediting his natural eye for knowing what elements need to come together in a successful post.

Schuble has experienced steady growth since launching @dcfoodporn, reaching the 10,000-follower mark within a year. As his account became more popular, his plans to pursue a career in finance or marketing – real estate and working on Wall Street were among his considered paths – began to dwindle until he decided to try the Instagram influencer lifestyle out for one year. Fast forward to a little over a year later, and he’s running a successful media company through the @dcfoodporn brand.

“It is crazy,” he says of his rapid rise to local fame. “I think I got really lucky with timing. I was lucky that I got to experiment with this in college. That really allowed me to let the passion drive the account and its growth. I was set up for success because I had the flexibility to do things that maybe weren’t going to work, and there was no financial pressure because I was in school.”

But now that he’s in the real world – Bethesda, to be exact – he defines success by a new set of metrics that includes being able to answer questions like, “Can I pay my rent?” in the affirmative.

It wasn’t until brands began courting Schuble that he realized @dcfoodporn was a potentially viable business. Sweetgreen was one of the first to reach out soon after the 10,000-follower benchmark, a geek out moment for him since the chain was started by three Georgetown business students. As more brands hired him for projects, he became more selective and set a standard rate for his services.

“A lot of what I’m doing recently is paid work with brands. They’ll send me a product, and I’ll have to shoot it and do all of the creative and figure out the style and what I want to pair it with, which I love. I think that’s more fun than going to a restaurant where the chef does all the creative work and I just have to do my best to make it look good.”

A National Tequila Day-themed post with a bottle of Jose Cuervo nestled among fresh avocado halves and tortilla chips, a Potbelly Free Shake Friday promo filled with neatly stacked Oreos surrounding an Oreo milkshake, and a drool-worthy picnic shot for Voss water are among his recent brand projects.

IMG_5455

WHILE SCHUBLE LOVES TRYING his hand at art direction for brands, a huge percentage of his feed is still devoted to the local food scene.

“It’s always different. Everything about what I do is different. There’s no typical day and no typical photo shoot, which keeps it fun. I love that.”

Whether the visit is planned or impromptu, he says he always asks to be seated by a window with natural lighting. He inquires about the best items on the menu – although he usually researches options in advance – and proceeds to order both what he wants to photograph and what he wants to actually eat. This of course begs the question: how much of what he photographs does he consume?

“I’m actually very healthy, so I don’t necessarily eat every single cake or whatever it is that I post,” he says. “I do prioritize my health. If I can bring someone along with me to help eat the food and be an extra set of hands, that’s always great. I’ll usually take a couple hundred photos at each restaurant. Then I’ll eat a little bit, pack up a ton of leftovers and bring them with me.”

When he’s not saving a ton of money on groceries and eating like a king from his couch, Schuble strikes a balance between promoting hip spots he likes and maintaining a visual aesthetic. He often has to make a Sophie’s Choice between a dish that photographs beautifully but is lackluster in comparison to an unphotogenic plate of nosh that piques his palate. Another crossroads he frequently encounters is whether or not to post about an amazing spot where the food is off the charts but doesn’t have Instaworthy presentation, or the interior is void of any decent lighting options.

It’s evident he takes the role of accurately representing DC’s food scene very seriously, and as a fellow local who has watched the District transform into a burgeoning foodie city, I truly appreciate that. He makes an excellent point that while the DMV has long been home to a myriad of authentic ethnic cuisines, the ambiance was often less than optimal for foodies back in the day. But with a trendier, more millennial-driven food scene on the rise, ethnic flavors are becoming more approachable as they’re being presented in hipper locales.

“I think it’s a lot easier now for people to be exposed to so many different things while still staying in their comfort zone. I also think it’s great that people in other cities actually see DC as a real food scene. It’s been cool to grow @dcfoodporn during that same time that DC has grown. When I started, my list of places to check out was not nearly as long as it is now just because every day, something new is popping up.”

ULTIMATELY, Schuble wants locals to recognize his brand. He’s proud of his DC following, and even notes that someone recognized him in the LINE’s lobby while he was waiting for our interview and asked if he was “that

@dcfoodporn guy.” On the flipside, he says he never takes advantage of that recognition when stumbling upon a new spot; instead, he prefers to fly under the radar as a paying customer.

When we start chatting about the road ahead, he says he’d love to reach a million followers.

“I think it’s nice to have huge goals that you can strive for. And if you don’t get there, don’t beat yourself up.”

In the meantime, he’s been expanding his brand to include more lifestyle and travel content.

“I posted a photo at the airport the other day and it got more likes than any of my food photos this week. I think people are hungry for different types of content and for me, it’s about playing around with that and figuring out what people want to see, what I want to post and how it relates to @dcfoodporn. How can I elevate the brand?”

As for how long he wants to stay on the influencer career track, that’s TBD. While he loves having a profitable outlet for his creative side and enjoys the perks of frequent travel and friendships formed with other media personalities, he’s also realistic about the burnout rate of this type of gig and says that at some point, it’d be nice to settle down and keep a normal schedule. He’s even toying with the idea of starting another media company – something related to food, but the next step.

“I do love the food scene, but for me it’s more about full experiences and being creative. I think food lends itself to that, but there are other areas I’d be interested in.”

For now, Schuble is committed to growing the @dcfoodporn brand, even leading social media workshops around the DC area to teach local Instagrammers how to tell their stories in a more engaging way. Don’t miss his next class at Rosslyn-based pop-up The Alcove (19th and N. Moore Streets) on Wednesday, September 11 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. Learn more at www.rosslynva.org/pop-up.

If you aren’t already following @dcfoodporn on Instagram, you should be. Learn more about Schuble and his media company at www.dcfoodporn.com.

IMG_5479

Photo: Kelli Scott
Photo: Kelli Scott

NoMa’s The Eleanor Offers Bowling and Bragworthy Bites

Don’t label The Eleanor just a bowling alley. It’s much more than that, according to founder Adam Stein.

Ever since he was a student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Stein dreamed of opening a lounge with a bowling component to make it a multi-use entertainment space. That vision is realized with The Eleanor.

“You can come here for lots of different reasons,” Stein says. “You can come here because you want to bowl. You can come here because you want to play pinball games. You can come here because you want to have a three-course meal. We’ve got tons of events booked already and through the end of the year.”

Since opening June 19 in NoMa, The Eleanor has offered a place to enjoy 20 beers on tap, well-crafted cocktails, a projector for movie nights and, of course, two mini-bowling lanes with duckpin-sized balls.

The lanes are 45 feet long as opposed to the standard 60 feet, which Stein says can be harder, but it’s also a lower bar of entry. The floors aren’t waxed, so there’s no need to change shoes to play. Also, all of the balls are four pounds. While it’s best to reserve a lane and prepay online, walk-ins are accepted on a waitlist basis. Pricing is $10 per person for one hour of bowling with a $10 ball rental fee.

If you’re not interested in giving bowling a spin, choose from arcade games like Mortal Kombat 3, Pac-Man and Battle Royale, or head over to the Skee-Ball lanes.

When describing The Eleanor, Stein says he didn’t want anything “super slick” or “overly designed.” Instead, he opted for a laid-back but funky lounge with a hometown vibe. There are counter-height tables instead of low-tops to add to the casual atmosphere, and the local focus is found not only in the ingredients but in the name itself, which is a reference to DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

The menu adds humor to the spot with cocktails like Wildflowers Don’t Care Where They Grow. Other drinks are named after friends and family such as Jody’s Appletini, inspired by Stein’s mother as appletinis are her favorite cocktail. There are also two refreshing vodka slushies made with Spring 44 vodka, one with house-made horchata and Zeke’s cold brew coffee and the other with a house-made lavender lemonade.

The fare might seem typical at face value – burgers, nachos, fried chicken – but each dish has its own original twist. The buttermilk fried chicken thighs come with masala-spiced carrot puree and braised greens with a bacon and fish sauce. The chicken wings are coated in a General Tso’s-style sauce, the hushpuppies are made “elote loco-style” and the loaded hot dogs come with the optional add-on of kimchi.

Along with its quirky menu, The Eleanor offers a very convenient location across the street from the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station. There is also free, onsite parking.

Stein considered Ivy City before settling on The Eleanor’s NoMa space on Florida Avenue. He was tempted by Ivy City’s warehouse spaces because they could fit full-sized bowling lanes, but he says he ultimately chose the right neighborhood.

“[NoMa is] only going to see an explosion of growth in the next two-and-a-half to three years,” he says. “We’re looking forward to it.”

Follow The Eleanor on Instagram and Facebook at @TheEleanorDC, and learn more about the bar at www.eleanordc.com.

The Eleanor: 100 Florida Ave. NE, DC; 202-758-2235; www.eleanordc.com

Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Get Out Composer Michael Abels Joins NSO For Live Score

Capturing the right sound for a movie is essential to its quality. In every film you love, there are moments heightened through musical choices made by either the director or his composer.

In 2017, there was not a more lauded movie than Get Out. The Jordan Peele brainchild racked up accolades and acclaim throughout the year, including an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. The thriller-horror movie defied genres, and its subject matter tackled racial tension and societal issues.

For any movie involving elements of fear and the unknown, music is an imperative element to building tension. For Get Out, Peele enlisted orchestral composer Michael Abels – a man who had never scored a feature film – after discovering him on YouTube. Now that he’s successfully captured the sound of Peele’s vision, Abels is at work on the writer-director’s second thriller Us, set to come out in 2019.

But before moving on to the next picture, Abels is set to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) in a live performance of the Get Out score paired with a screening of the film at the Kennedy Center on September 20. On Tap had a chance to speak with him about how Peele tracked him down, the film’s legacy and his relationship with one of Hollywood’s rising stars before he leads the orchestra through this eerie soundtrack.

On Tap: With live music from the NSO accompanying the movie, what do you think the audience should expect from this performance?
Michael Abels: I think you just asked the question of the hour. I have no idea, and I’m thrilled to find out. One of the fun parts of doing a horror movie are the jump scares. There are a couple really great ones here. If everyone has seen the film, they probably won’t be as scared, but I really want that for the live audience. At the same time, I think the audience will be people who are fans of the film, and also fans of the music.

OT: Jordan Peele said in an interview that he discovered you on YouTube. What was your initial reaction when he reached out to you?
MA: I’m a composer of concert music, live orchestras and performances, and somehow Jordan Peele saw one of them and had the Get Out producers hunt me down. I got a voicemail and I thought it was a prank. When I read the script, it was about 85 to 90 percent of the finished film, and it was amazing. He turned out to be about as great as he is in interviews – very funny and candid. He has a real understanding of people, and I admired that. I wanted him to be successful, and if he thought I could write the music to his film, I was on board.

OT: What were some of the initial requests Peele made for the sound of his vision?
MA: He saw a particular piece of mine called Urban Legends. It’s my most edgy sounding orchestral piece, and Jordan loves music that’s really out there. It goes with his love of horror and suspense. He’s a huge aficionado and fan of the genre – not in just how they’re directed, but of their music. In our first conversation, he said this music had to be scarier than shit, and it’s hard to mistake that clear direction. The second thing he mentioned was he wanted the African-American voice – both literally and figuratively – in the score. He heard this in my music and knew it was something I was comfortable doing – taking something that isn’t normally in a classical setting and putting it there and making it work. We talked about the character of the music, and it had to be clearly African American but not have the undercurrent of hope like in gospel and blues. He was looking for gospel horror that was scarier than shit.

OT: So, he wanted the music to be unsettling. How did you two collaborate and nail the sound of this movie?
MA: The film plays like a classic suspense film. Jordan had cited Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, and each of those films have a slow burn. You know something’s not right, and it’s slowly revealed to you. The score has to measure up. The first queue I did was the hypnotism scene, and it’s an iconic one. The audience has to get hypnotized and the music has to sneak in. Part of what a score does is inform the audience in a way that’s not on the screen. It does it in the subconscious.

OT: At what point in the process did you guys settle on “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” as the song that opens and closes the movie?
MA: Jordan likes to hear music in preproduction. It’s more expected that music is saved toward the end, not because it’s not important, but because it’s timed to the picture. Until a film is edited together, it doesn’t really exist in time. However, Jordan considers it as part of production design. I wrote “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” and a few others at the beginning to see what he liked. When he chose it as the main title, I was flattered.

OT: What was your initial reaction when you first read the plot of the film, and then again when you saw the completed picture?
MA: I thought it was good, but you want to feel that way. We thought it was like nothing else. Good films die at the box office every weekend, and if we knew why, fewer films would die. Personally, I had a sense some people would love it and others would find it polarizing. I was so proud of Jordan for taking so many risks with the film and hitting the ball completely out of the park.

OT: I really wanted Get Out to win Best Picture. I know winning an Academy Award wasn’t Peele’s ultimate goal, but I think in 10 years when people talk about cinema from 2017, they’ll point to Get Out as a breakthrough picture. Do you think the film will be remembered and revered as strongly as I do?
MA: I think it’s going to be studied in film schools. It’s a movie that will stand the test of time, and someday when people watch old movies they’ll say, “Hey, let’s watch Get Out.” My original goal was to score it and have Jordan feel like I did his work proud. I wanted to not get fired. That sounds kind of facetious, but in the context of being a film composer, it’s a significant thing to hope for. I think it’s a movie that will be held up as a great example of a genre-busting film, and [especially] when you add the fact it paved the way for Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting and BlacKkKlansman. Hollywood says it wants to be more diverse, and it’s flat-footed on following through, but all of this demonstrates there’s a whole creative world that hasn’t been mined at all. I hope it’s not a fad and is an actual sea change.

OT: You’re also working on his 2019 film Us. There are iconic duos of directors and composers such as Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer. Do you feel like you and Peele could end up like that, and does it feel like you kind of hit the lotto on your partnership with Peele?
MA: It’s so fun working for him. He never wants anything normal, and the notes that come back are like, “Take all of the normal shit out.” I can only hope [for a lasting partnership], but regardless of if that happens, my focus is one film at a time. The reason those relationships develop is because – and this is just my speculation – directors are mostly visual people, so when they’re talking with editors and cinematographers, there’s a shared language. With music, some directors aren’t as familiar with musical language, so they’re required to hand over this very important aspect of the film to someone they trust. If they find a person who’s able to realize their auditory vision, they’re really glad and they enjoy having that feeling of trust.

Watch Abels conduct the NSO on Thursday, September 20 at 8 p.m. at the NSO Pops: Get Out performance and screening in the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Tickets are $29-$99. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Emily Chow
Photo: Emily Chow

DC’s Bad Moves Talks Power Pop Ballads & Collaborative Process for New Record

By day, the foursome behind DC-based power pop band Bad Moves span career paths – from labor union organizer to NPR music editor. But by night, bassist Emma Cleveland, drummer Daoud Tyler-Ameen, and guitarists David Combs and Katie Park are focused on their budding music career.

Still beatific from their successful SXSW showcase this spring, the band has been keeping busy with their upcoming LP Tell No One. The record comes out on September 21 via Don Giovanni Records in conjunction with a release party at the Black Cat.

“A lot of the songs on the album deal with themes of having secrets that you keep inside, and the repercussions of either keeping secrets or coming out with them,” Cleveland says.

The band alludes to a few family secrets of their own on Tell No One while still maintaining a degree of mystery. Secrets of sexuality and criminality are woven into the limericks set to the band’s peppy, kinetic beats. Yet the truth is, the album is not about divulging secrets.

Instead, Tyler-Ameen says it’s about “exploring the things that are traditionally considered taboo [that you later realize] are markers of identity, yet you feel when you’re younger you’re not allowed to fully own.”

Tell No One is expected to resonate with all, as did their self-titled EP.

“I don’t know if we necessarily started the band thinking in particular about a demographic,” Combs says. “I don’t know if that’s a word we even used with each other.”

Instead, Bad Moves relies on chance when creating music that sits well with their broad audience – the chance that their personal experiences, or the feelings evoked from those experiences, will be commonly shared.

The bandmates have relied on each other to craft their sound over the past three years, drawing on 90s pop punk and rock sounds that resonate with most older millennials. Combs says he and Park were the main collaborators on Tell No One, and then brought in the rest of the band to “shape it more in our own collective image.” Bad Moves has no lead singer, so the four musicians each share equal vocal responsibility in the band.

“Our intention is to take the focus away from one particular identity as being the central face of the band,” Combs says.

Picking a band name – on a car ride to a recording session at American University – was one of the only items on their ever-growing to-do list that didn’t require too much thought.

“One name I remember pushing for – and now feel relief that we didn’t go with – was Bad Wiz,” Cleveland says. “That would have been bad.”

Combs chimes in, “We also had Wet Hands. It’s hard to know what kind of name will suit your needs early on.”

The process of forming their sound, on the other hand, was a different story. Cleveland says the band made a lengthy playlist of power pop – around 180 songs – that inspired their eclectic sound. The first track on the playlist, which coincidently had the most impact, is “Looking For Magic” by the Dwight Twilley Band.

“You can tell from the lyrics that there’s a sort of desperation,” Combs says of the 1977 classic. “There’s this thing that eludes to magic. There’s a sadness to that sentiment, but the energy of that song is really lifting, inspiring and powerful. It’s a song that’s not ignoring that the world is a hard place to be in, but it’s also something I can put on that will push me through – and that’s what we want our music to do.”

Don’t miss Bad Moves at Black Cat for their record release party on Friday, September 21. The Obsessives and Ultra Beauty will open. Doors are at 7:30, tickets are $10.

Learn more about the band at www.badmoves.bandcamp.com.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com

Small Mouth Sounds

Stage and Screen: September 2018

Through Sunday, September 23

Small Mouth Sounds
Six people sit in silence, escaping city noises and distractions in favor of necessary self-reflection. Cell phones? Not allowed. But then again, the retreat is led by a guru who can’t quite stick to the rules. Small Mouth Sounds serves as an adult edition of The Breakfast Club with a minimal set and sound. As you put your phone on silent and immerse yourself in the story, you might be surprised by your own self-reflection. Tickets are $51-$60. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Monday, September 3 – Sunday, September 30

Gloria
As a journalist, writing about the lives of others becomes second nature. But when tragedy strikes a New York-based magazine, who gets to tell the story? After stories from iconic newsrooms have hit the big screen (Spotlight, The Post), Gloria acts out a contemporary journalism story – especially in light of the recent horror faced by staffers at the Capital Gazette. Tickets are $20-$41. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

Tuesday, September 4 – Sunday, September 23

Macbeth
Step away from the toil and trouble of daily life and get into the spooky season with this adaptation of Macbeth. Witches promise him a future of riches and royalty, but Macbeth is too hungry to wait. A hero turns into a murderer, and the psychological aftermath spirals him and others involved into madness. Under director Robert Richmond, the timeless tale takes on a more modern life with some newly added scenes. Folger’s production features music performed by the Folger Consort, and is adapted and amended by Sir William Davenant. Adapted or not, one lesson remains the same: don’t trust a witch. Tickets are $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

Thursday, September 6 – Sunday, September 16

DC Shorts Film Festival
Experience 10 days of film with more than 130 movie options at the 2018 DC Shorts Film Festival. These indie films from around the world are also competing for titles like Best Local DMV Film, Best Animation and Best International Narrative. You’ll watch up to nine films in each 90-minute screening session, so attending just one or two sessions will expose you to many new perspectives from talented filmmakers. After watching, mingle with fellow film buffs at the various festival parties with cocktails, food and music included. Tickets prices vary. DC Shorts Film Festival: Various locations around DC; www.festival.dcshorts.com

Friday, September 7

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope Discussion
Politics and Prose hosts a conversation removed from the Twittersphere on politics, culture and the Black Lives Matter movement with activist DeRay Mckesson. He was there at a pivotal moment for modern day civil rights – 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri – and now all of his experiences are bound in his new book On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope. The book “offers a new framework and language for understanding the nature of oppression,” according to its summary. Share in the discussion or come to learn. Each event on Mckesson’s tour will feature a special guest. Tickets are $10 for students, $26-$28 for non-students. Book included in ticket price. GW’s Lisner Auditorium: 730 21st St. NW, DC; www.politics-prose.com

Saturday, September 15

Kevin Hart: The Irresponsible Tour
Work hard, laugh hard. Except Kevin Hart’s the one working to make you laugh. The actor and comedian is stopping in DC for The Irresponsible Tour with all-new material. Twitter users have applauded the show online, saying the show’s worth every dollar. Hart also has a new movie with Tiffany Haddish out this month, Night School, making you wonder if he ran his jokes with her and was influenced by a fellow comedic genius. Despite his stature – the punchline to many jokes – Hart is only getting bigger in the comedy world. Tickets are $34 and up. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.kevinhartnation.com

Tuesday, September 18 – Sunday, November 11

Heisenberg
When 75-year-old Alex gets a surprise smooch from a comparatively younger stranger named Georgie, it’s not exactly what he expected when boarding the train on this average day. Even less expected was her finding him at his butcher shop sometime after the encounter. Georgie is confusing. Alex is confused. And so is the audience – left in suspense as the play’s runtime begins to unravel her true intentions. This unlikely duo with romantic relations is just another experiment conducted by Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens. He’s just letting the audience in on his conclusive results. Tickets are $40-$89. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Friday, September 21 – Sunday, October 21

Born Yesterday
For DC natives, Born Yesterday may seem like an all-too-familiar story about gaining political power in the hub of the power hungry. But this satire set in the 1940s is more of a comedic retreat from the current stressful affairs, and the winnings don’t go to a who but to a what: the truth. Ford’s Theatre calls this production directed by Aaron Posner “political satire meets romantic comedy,” but all good stories are grounded in reality. Watch this for an entertaining mashup of unlikely allies and girl power to fight corruption. Tickets are $20-$62. Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; www.fords.org

Wednesday, September 26

Welcome to Night Vale Live Show
First-time visitors and regular listeners of the Night Vale podcast have a chance to experience a brand-new storyline with a live show tour. The alternate reality podcast production “promises to find unexpected ways to bring the audience into the performance,” according to the Welcome to Night Vale site. Live music by Disparition and special surprise guests will get you totally immersed in the mystery and spooky wonders of the small desert town brought to the Lincoln Theatre stage. In Night Vale, anything can happen. Prepare by tuning in to past episodes online. Tickets are $35. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

Photo: Courtesy of Buffalo Trace Distillery
Photo: Courtesy of Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace Spills on Why Bourbon Stays Strong

September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, a celebration of the uniquely American whiskey distillers have been producing and perfecting for hundreds of years. And while plenty of goods grow stale with age – passed over in favor of the shinier, modern creations (see: mezcal) – interest in bourbon has no ceiling.

Take DC for example, where bourbon-based drinks like the Old Fashioned and Mint Julep are fast becoming menu staples. And many bars and liquor stores now make a point to appeal to customers with a variety of bottles, from the rare to the everyday.

Some may take that as proof that society has reached peak bourbon. But there’s plenty of evidence its trajectory is still on the rise.

“We are seeing growing demand driven in many ways by consumer recognition that Americans can make world-class whiskey [that’s] highly crafted and deliver an amazing array of enjoyable drinking experiences, whether neat or mixed,” says Mark Brown, president and CEO of Frankfort, Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Few sources are better plugged into the bourbon world than Buffalo Trace, which runs the oldest continually operating distillery in the U.S. The Buffalo Trace name was adopted in 1999 with the release of its namesake bourbon, but bourbon has been produced at the site for over 200 years. More than 200,000 visitors a year travel to its headquarters, which was named a national historic landmark in 2013.

What started as a small, 50-employee operation has grown to 450 employees and earned more awards than any other distillery. The rapid growth is a telling snapshot of bourbon’s momentum as a coveted liquor.

When asked what he loves most about bourbon, Brown points to its versatility and flexibility. Bourbon drinkers aren’t afraid of having a little fun.

“I love the approachability, taste and mixability of bourbon,” he says. “We are not tied to stuffy traditions around how whiskey should be consumed.”

As its popularity has grown, bourbon has also become a bridge connecting likeminded drinkers who bond and share experiences tasting and collecting new and favorite bottles. Creating those experiences is the result of art, science and many crafty hands. Just ask Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley, who’s worked at the distillery since 1995.

“[Bourbon] is produced from the fields of farmers and brought to the table of consumers by craftsmen that are truly passionate about producing a quality product,” he says.

Wheatley still sees an opportunity to educate customers about the history and intricacies of bourbon. In addition to the manual work involved, for example, there are legal requirements to follow for a whiskey to be designated a bourbon. Among them: the spirit must be produced in the U.S., it must come from at least 51 percent corn and it must be aged in new American oak barrels.

Each bourbon brand also comes with its own quirks, pedigree and way of doing things. That’s all the more important in 2018, when the sheer amount of bourbon choices can be overwhelming even for its biggest fans.

“I think once people understand the history and stories behind the brands, they begin to respect and appreciate the brands a little more,” Wheatley says.

Experimentation has become a bigger part of the bourbon world, too. As general interest expands, distilleries across the country – including One Eight Distilling in Ivy City – are inventing their own twists on the classic bourbon profile. Wheatley says that while it “would be easy to be distracted,” by these new offerings and styles, Buffalo Trace plans to stay the course going forward.

If there’s one downside to the bourbon craze, it’s that consumers are seeing their unquenchable demand met with higher prices. Enjoying bourbon can become a rather expensive and overwhelming hobby. It’s not hard to find bottles for a hundred dollars or more.

It’s a challenge Buffalo Trace, along with all American distillers, must embrace in 2018 and beyond. But as long as there are tasty bourbons being produced, its popularity seems far from peak.

“We are only at the very beginning of bourbon,” Brown says.

Follow Buffalo Trace on Instagram at @buffalotrace and learn more about the distillery at www.buffalotrace.com.


Pearl Dive’s Bardstown Derby, A Bourbon Hit

Photo: Scott Suchman

Photo: Scott Suchman

Buffalo Trace bourbon is the featured spirit in the Bardstown Derby, a cocktail mainstay at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in Logan Circle. The featured libation on our September cover takes its name from the historic town of Bardstown, Kentucky and has been on the restaurant’s menu for a number of years. It’s a clear customer favorite.

“It’s a riff off a Brown Derby,” says George Sault, bar director for Black Restaurant Group, which owns Pearl Dive.

The drink tweaks the standard Brown Derby formula of bourbon, grapefruit and honey with additions of tart fresh lemon juice and a floral, rich, house-made orange blossom honey syrup.

“It’s our most popular cocktail after the Pearl Cup, which is a gin-based cocktail,” Sault says.

Along with mixing up plenty of Bardstown Derbys on busy nights, Sault has plenty of experience steering bourbon drinkers of all levels toward a great cocktail or dram from Pearl Dive’s menu of both approachable and complex whiskeys. When it comes to bourbon newcomers, Sault says to “dive into what they usually drink.”

Some people gravitate toward citrus-forward drinks or stirred boozy cocktails like an Old Fashioned. Others prefer a simple pour of whiskey, neat or with some ice. From that point, there are endless bottles to explore and taste.

“If someone is well-versed in whiskey, then you start diving into some of the whiskeys that you don’t see on the everyday bar shelves,” he says.

Follow Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on social media at @PearlDiveDC and check out their cocktail menu at www.pearldivedc.com.

Photo: Scott Suchman

Photo: Scott Suchman

The Bardstown Derby
2 oz. Buffalo Trace bourbon
0.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
1.5 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
0.75 oz. orange blossom honey syrup

Add all ingredients into a shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace: 1612 14th St. NW, DC; 202-319-1612; www.pearldivedc.com

Photo: Margot Schulman
Photo: Margot Schulman

Signature Theatre Stirs Actors and Audiences with Passion

While an iconic work in the pantheon of Stephen Sondheim’s contributions to musical theatre, Passion is admittedly not an airy, feel-good musical. The hour-and-50-minute, one-act play asks much of its actors and its audiences as it tells the timeless story of wavering between the love of two different people.

The new production, at Signature Theatre through September 23, is staged to mirror a runway. The audience will be split down the middle, facing one another while absorbing the characters’ anguish as they’re torn between multiple outcomes throughout the play.

The musical, which made its debut in 1994 and holds the title of shortest-running show to win a Tony Award for Best Musical, is based on the recounting of an Italian author’s affair with an ailing woman while he served in the military. Giorgio (Claybourne Elder) swings from a dangerous pendulum between his carefully arranged relationship with his beautiful – and married – mistress Clara (Steffanie Leigh) and the allure of the reclusive, plain Fosca (Natascia Diaz).

Signature Theatre Associate Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner brings an intimacy and fierce intensity to the production, challenging audiences to face themselves and their perceptions of physical beauty. Every decision feels very deliberate, from splitting the stage in half to emphasize Giorgio’s gravitation toward both women to the unmoving lens on his transformation over the course of the play as the actor never once leaves the stage.

“It’s very dynamic,” says Diaz (West Side Story, Threepenny Opera) of the play’s staging. “It already denotes one side and another – and being pulled in multiple directions. That is the dynamic. Giorgio is being pulled between these two women. It visually exists in a physical format that enhances that energy. Matthew is able to make things that are tangible and real, but it has this ethereal quality to it.”

At first blush, the intricacies of the story may seem dated. A sickly, homely Fosca isolates herself from her surroundings and lives vicariously through books. Giorgio takes a military post far away from his beautiful Clara, but the lovers stay connected through impassioned letters. Though Passion is set in the 19th century, the painful missteps of romance and navigating the concept of monogamy are still very much familiar to us in 2018. As Elder (Sunday in the Park with George, Bonnie and Clyde) prepared for his role, he too found the subject matter relatable.

“The novel was written in 1870 and as I read it, I thought to myself, ‘What a fascinating mediation on love and obsession, affection and passion,’” Elder says. “I’ve definitely found myself in the novel – like, ‘I have done that before, I have felt that way about a person before’ – which is very interesting. The feelings behind it all are every bit as contemporary as they would have been in the 1800s.”

Fosca is widely regarded as one of the most unlikeable characters in modern theatre, making it a complex role for any actor. But much like Elder, Diaz looked past the surface and found common ground with the young woman, physical and emotional afflictions and all. While preparing to take on what she called the largest role she’s ever played, Diaz says she grew to feel as though she knew Fosca.

“I looked at the page and thought, ‘I could have written this,’ meaning that I understand her completely. I not only understand her, but I love her. It’s the strangest thing to play a character as large and as previously judged as this. It’s just like any other slander case. They don’t know her until they’ve read it and seen what’s at the center of her soul.”

The polarizing nature of Fosca lies not as much in her physical unattractiveness as it does in the fact that she embodies “pure, unadulterated feeling.” At the heart of the play, though, is Giorgio’s struggle between two women, two ways of life, his head and his heart.

The audience’s disdain for Fosca may be the initial visceral reaction, but the production holds another element that makes Giorgio’s role equally if not more so emotionally taxing. As the common thread that binds every character in Passion together, it makes sense to have Elder remain onstage for the entire performance – though the impressive feat does have its own physical and emotional challenges for the actor.

“What Giorgio learns in this play is astonishing and very profound,” Elder says. “I connect to it greatly and I find it very emotional, and therefore it’s hard. As actors, it costs something emotionally every time you do a play. You give a piece of yourself to it. I’m grateful this run is only a few months, because living in this for a long time would be very challenging. I would need a lot of therapy. It challenges me to really face myself.”

For audiences who are ready to experience a production that asks questions both timeless and timely, Signature is ready to take you on a journey in their intimate, inventive black-box space. You may learn something about yourself right alongside Giorgio.

Passion is not a show that gets done very often in regional theatre, because it’s not a big draw,” he continues. “It’s complicated, it’s emotional, it’s dark at times. It’s not a laugh-a-minute night out, so you need an audience that’s going to get excited and support it. I have absolutely no doubt that [Signature] is the best possible place to do this show. I feel very, very lucky to get to be a part of this.”

Stephen Sondheim’s Passion runs through September 23 at Signature Theatre. Tickets are $40-$104. Pride Night is September 7, Discussion Night is September 12 and Open Captioning will be held on September 16. Learn more at www.sigtheatre.org.

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771; www.sigtheatre.org