On Tap Writers Joyelle Ronan and Destinee Harper with Fitz and the Tantrums // Photo: Joyelle Ronan

Fitz and the Tantrum’s Noelle Scaggs talks New Album, Political Lyrics and DC

Fitz and the Tantrums has been bringing their unique sound to pop music for more than 10 years now.

On November 7, Fitz and the Tantrums performed a private concert for Hilton Honors members at The Conrad Hotel in DC. Mark Weinstein, Senior Vice President & Global Head of Customer Engagement, Loyalty and Partnerships at Hilton, described the concert experience as “amazing artists that are used to selling out major arenas in a private, intimate setting delivering an exclusive concert experience for Hilton Honors members.”

After the show, I sat down with co-lead vocalists and percussionist Noelle Scaggs to talk about their new album All the Feels, using political messages in music and her favorite things about DC. Fitz and the Tantrums will return to DC on Friday, February 14  at the Anthem for their Twin XL tour.

On Tap: How would you describe Fitz and the Tantrums’ sound? How has it evolved over time?
Noelle Scaggs: I put [our sound] in the category of alt-pop, I think I’ve always put it there. Our earlier works were more in the world of new age – alternative meets Motown stax kind vibe, that blue eyed soul period. As we’ve progressed as a band, like our second album through the third and now All the Feels, we’ve progressed more into our pop element. We always keep things that inspire us in our music. Fitz and I always sing in tandem, that’s always been our dynamic together, and of course all the guys in the band – the way that we do our production – we’ve always really wanted to push ourselves to modernize our sound as much as we possibly could.

OT: How does the band’s new album All the Feels differ from previous ones?
NS: I would say it’s the most worldly conversation. Our third album, our self titled album – that record for me was probably our most challenging album, because we were still trying to figure out what we wanted to do creatively and going through this crazy writer’s block period. With All the Feels, it felt like all the songs were really flowing and it came down to what songs we were going to run with. There was a flow this time around and a global conversation. It’s really tapping into our personal experiences and not being afraid to share those stories, not being afraid to have political messages in our songs as well. That’s something we’ve never really done before.

OT: What songs on the album feature political messages?
NS: The song “Hands Up” is actually about today’s political environment and resisting what you see morally wrong in this world. We have another song called “Kiss the Skyand that entire song is about gun culture in America and the lust for it. It’s my interpretation [of] if a gun was trying to woo a buyer, it would probably be saying these things. But it just sounds like a party song; it has a temptation about it. That’s something that I wanted to talk about and found an interesting way of doing [so] on the album.

OT: How did you guys decide that  “All The Feels” was going to be title track?
NS: I think it’s an all encompassing song. The entire record itself is about our own inner turmoils that we go through, our lives on the road and things that we see in the world. I think “All The Feels” has this very triumphant build up, which is honoring that humanity we get disconnected [from]. We’re always on our phones and stuck in the world of bad news. We forget to sit back and take a breath, reconnect with our families, friends and ourselves to have those moments. That’s what this song is all about, a lot of the record is about that – mental health, getting through life and trying to find gratitude and positivity where you can.      

OT: Favorite track off the new album?
NS: It’s kinda crazy because when you’re putting together an album, you go through so much blood, sweat and tears in trying to figure out what you’re going to put on it. I have a few favorites, “Dark Days” is a song myself and Fitz [Michael Fitzpatick, lead vocals] wrote together and it talks about the earlier part of our career when there were a lot of people that doubted our abilities as a band and didn’t think that we would make it as far as we did. So that song is really important to me on that personal note. “All The Feels,” obviously. “I Need Help” is probably one of my real favorites because it touches home for me. I’m bipolar, I deal with mental health, I’ve dealt with it my entire life. That song talks about asking for help, being able to reach out when you need it, not being afraid of that and taking away the stigma of vulnerability.

OT: The new album has 17 songs, I read that it started off with 80. Is that true? 
NS: Yeah. You write songs, you write half songs, you write songs that you come back to and you try and try and it doesn’t happen. Then you sit on this one song, think it’s going to make it, and then you take it off. It’s a crazy process figuring it out.

OT: Both the music and lyrics from “All The Feels” tend to be upbeat and uplifting, is it a conscious effort to promote a message of positivity?
NS: Yeah, absolutely. I think from the start of this band, we’ve always put out the energy of allowing the audience to become a seventh member. I’ve always performed very energetic shows even before this band, when I was doing my own thing. I love the energy. I think in our music, we always wanted to have a nice juxtaposition, we can have really biting lyrics about the break up in a relationship and how we felt about our exes but also have this joyful experience in the music that allows the audience and listener to let go for a minute. Like “yes, I can identify with what you’re saying and also dance this off and feel better in the morning.”

OT: What’s it like to make that connection with fans?
NS: It’s interesting because we have a lot of fans who come up to us talking about songs they’ve played at their wedding. I remember earlier in our career, [a fan] was talking about “Moneygrabber,” and I was like “do you know what that song’s about” and they said “It was our wedding song!” I said “okay, hope it works out for you!” It’s just one of those songs that is a complete breakup song but because energetically, it’s all about the movement and the experience of enjoying the music itself. It just makes it one of those songs that everyone wants to play at their wedding, I guess. Even people that have been in the hospital or going through crazy times in their lives, our music has in some way been able to break through that and get them through whatever they’re going through. I think that’s a blessing that we’ve been given to offer that to people.

OT: Next year you guys are set to headline a North American tour, what’s your favorite thing about being here in DC?
NS: There’s just a vibe here that I really love. There’s this elevated sense of community and people wanting to be connected to the world and having important conversations. For me, it’s being an African American woman, I come to DC and I feel like I’m surrounded by family. It’s really different from my experiences in a lot of cities where sometimes I’m the only person in the room. I just really love DC for giving me balance, diversity and experience. People come out here to do things, not just sit around. You can feel that when you come out here.

To learn more about All the Feels and Fitz and the Tantrum, check out their website here. For information about their the Anthem show in February, visit here.

Jason Moran (left) and The Bandwagon // Photo: courtesy of Jason Moran

Between the Riffs: Catching Up With Jazz Musician Jason Moran

The DC music scene is known for being the home of the go-go, however, it’s also more diverse and alive than ever. This includes its burgeoning jazz. To add to this, in May 2014, the Kennedy Center recognized Jason Moran, an accomplished jazz musician, for his talent and appointed him as the Artistic Director for Jazz. With his help, the Kennedy Center has expanded their jazz programs here in DC. On November 9, Jason Moran and The Bandwagon will celebrate their 20th anniversary, and along with Ingrid Laubrock, they will perform music from Moran’s album, Black Stars at the Kennedy Center. We got the chance to ask Moran a few questions and learn more about him and his thoughts on DC’s jazz atmosphere before his big performance.

On Tap: In 2016, you said you’re still trying to play like Teddy Wilson. Taking a moment to reflect on your musical journey, have you managed to play like him yet?
Jason Moran: If I referred to Teddy Wilson, it was that my teacher Jaki Byard had a father that loved Teddy Wilson. Jaki’s father said to him, “if you’re going to play piano, can you play like Teddy Wilson.” Wilson is a marker for not only technique but also in terms of being one of the “firsts.” To be the African-American musician that symbolized the breaking down of racial codes in the same way Jackie Robinson did for [Major League Baseball]. To answer your question, no, I won’t ever be able to crystallize quite like Teddy Wilson, but I am happy to be on the journey of musical excellence combined with civilian bravery.  

OT: What did it mean for you to be appointed as the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center?
JM: The Kennedy Center continues to define its role as an arts leader and to know that how we cultivate the history of jazz under our roof is very exciting and challenging. I take the role very seriously, and only after a few years have I begun to understand the magnitude of such a position. The creator of the role, Dr. Billy Taylor, was an advocate for the music. His foresight brought much of what I hope to continue to preserve within the Kennedy Center. He continued to nurture the music in each state: past, present and future.  

OT: What has it been like to work with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits for the 20th anniversary? What are some of your fondest memories from when you first formed The Bandwagon?
JM: Tarus and Nasheet are my big brothers. I depend on them to push and pull The Bandwagon to new territories. One of my fondest memories for us is around how we were actually fired as a band. We were the rhythm section for a few bands around the turn of the century (funny phrase). The bandleaders did not like us all together, so they usually fired one of us and kept two. Eventually, we figured out that we were a unit that was better left free to roam. Despite the criticism from the beginning, we remained a unit because we were forming a language as a band that would help define our era. We ruffled the edges, folded them in, then burned them and smeared the ashes along the wall. We tagged the music.  

OT: You performed with Sam Rivers on the sax for Black Stars. What was it like working with him?
JM: Sam Rivers was a revolutionary. He was free thinking in his playing and composing. He was also the band mate of two of my teachers, Jaki Byard and Andrew Hill. So, to create Black Stars with him was thrilling because it was as if he was my uncle. He took The Bandwagon on a ride that we are forever thankful, because it was the first sign that we were looking for history to tell us the future.  

OT: You believe in cross-genre collaboration. In Facing Left, you covered Björk’s electro-pop/avant-garde song “Joga” and paired your music with comedy. Is combining genres a personal preference, or does it serve a bigger purpose for your sound?
JM: I believe my compositions sound better when set against another composer. Björk is one, Albert King [is] another, Rachmaninoff, etc. Also, I think I look for themes in the music to find meaning. Sometimes the next best thing to playing a song you wrote is to play a song you love.  

OT: You reshaped and refocused the Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead professional development program. You helped create a curriculum to work with other DC art organizations. Can you share the results of collaboration?
JM: You would have to ask the students because the students continue to tell us about the value of Betty Carter’s program. Many of the students have gone on to create quite a stir. In recent years, Jazzmeia Horn has set quite an example as a student of Jazz Ahead and then striking out on world tours. I think awakening the students’ sensibilities toward the arts is important to keeping the music healthy.  

OT: What do you think of the jazz scene in DC? Do you think your work with the Kennedy Center has helped jazz connect with a younger audience? What more could be done?
JM: The DC jazz scene is profound. Watching musicians lead sessions nearly every night of the week, open new venues, create new jazz festivals, document the music with different online resources, historians abound and at all of the clubs listening. [Plus] DJs on the radio with all the history one would ever need, institutions preserving and continuing to employ the musicians, the universities pushing out great musicians. The scene in DC has always been vast, and at the Kennedy Center, we continue to promote the music, and the (hopefully young) audiences know they have space here to live and grow with the music. 

OT: What can jazz fans and people who frequent the Kennedy Center for events expect from the November 9th show?
JM: Openness!!!  

Moran is set to hit the Kennedy Center stage on November 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the performance are $29-$49. For more information about the show or Moran’s work at the Kennedy Center, visit here.

Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Angel Olsen & Vagabond at The Lincoln

Angel Olsen brought her soulful indie sounds to the Lincoln Theatre on November 1. The show marked another sold out concert for Olsen, touring on the back of her latest release All Mirrors. Photos: Kimchi Photography

Evoken // Photo: Melissa Suarez-Skinner

Atlas Brew Works: DC’s Long-Needed Metal Venue

DC is home to some of the best concert venues in the country, hosting musicians from a variety of genres who play to crowds big and small. Even still, the city’s metal community has often struggled to find a locale that regularly books metal shows – that is, until a few years ago when Ivy City’s Atlas Brew Works expanded beyond beer to support the genre.

“There was no venue where you could just go hang out, have a beer and listen to metal,” explains Will Cook, brewer emeritus and director of heavy metal operations at Atlas, which opened its doors in 2013.

Hasan Ali, who books shows for Atlas and runs Ripping Headache Promotions, agrees with Cook.

“People would either have to go to Baltimore or Richmond to see a [metal] band,” he says.

But soon after Ali began booking for the brewery, “Atlas became recognizable as a legit venue [and] DC [became] a notable spot for metal on the East Coast.”

It all began in 2016 when Atlas – which has several metalheads on staff – agreed to host the holiday party for local blog DC Heavy Metal. When the event proved successful, the brewery began hosting more and more metal shows until eventually, it became a permanent fixture on the scene.

Since then, Ali says Atlas has hosted more than 100 shows with people coming from as far as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and even L.A. to catch the bands. But this isn’t to say that the Atlas team ever expected to host this many shows when they started.

The brewery had no stage or music equipment to speak of, according to Cook, so artists brought in their own PA systems and light fixtures. But when the shows kept coming, Cook and his team bought the supplies necessary to become a more viable music venue.

Now, the stage is set up in the beer production area and taken down post-show so brewing operations can resume the next day. While balancing operations as both a music venue and a brewery has proven challenging at times, the Atlas team agrees that it’s helped give the brewery an edge – and brought people to their space who might not have stopped by otherwise.

“The fact that we have live music here definitely adds a lot to the atmosphere of the brewery and gives us some amount of identity that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Blake Peterson, tap room general manager and singer/guitarist for extreme metal band Lyceum. “It’s something that sets us apart from other breweries in the area.”

It’s also fun to have the chance to hang around the brewery after work and catch a show, adds head brewer Dan Vilarrubi. Plus, Cook says they’ve had the opportunity to meet some of their favorite bands.

The team agrees that putting on shows has been a great experience for Atlas, but just as rewarding is the feedback they get from the bands who come through.

“I’ve heard when other venues host metal shows, attendance will be poor,” Ali says. “Or I’ll hear bands say the staff isn’t really pleasant or accommodating. And they’ll tell me, ‘I really wish you did the show and we played at Atlas instead.’”

Cook has also heard stories of bands who’ve had bad experiences at other DC venues.

“We didn’t want that here at Atlas,” he says. “We wanted to be as friendly to bands as possible.”

That includes not taking a cut of the ticket sales or taking money from the band in any way. Musicians are also offered beer and food on the house.

And the brewery’s noteworthy reputation isn’t just recognized in the States. Bands from across the world have looked to play at Atlas, including Conan from the U.K., Pseudogod from Russia and Sinmara from Iceland, to name a few. Notable DC bands like Genocide Pact and Ilsa and Richmond’s Inter Arma round out the brewery’s sterling reputation in the world of metal.

“Pretty much every band is so stoked to play here, and they love the beer – including bands from other countries,” Peterson says. “I never knew how special this place was until I heard bands from outside the country say this is the coolest venue they’ve ever seen.”

Some of the bands who’ve played Atlas have even had beer brewed specifically for their show. Ali mentions they had Batch 666 on tap for Chicago-based instrumental doom band Bongripper. Other beers, like Temple of Void and Evoken, have been named after some of the team’s favorite bands. When it comes to their individual go-to brews during metal shows, Peterson goes for NSFW, Cook enjoys Silent Neighbor or Ponzi, Ali likes Ponzi, and Vilarrubi drinks Batch 666.

As for the future of Atlas as a music venue, the team just hopes to keep improving the quality of shows and continue booking great bands to play the brewery.

“It’s kind of selfish because we get to have all these bands play at our brewery and we get to meet them,” Cook says. “I’m talking about the underground bands that you just love and want to meet. It’s cool to hang out with them, but also to hear they really enjoyed their time playing here.”

Catch metal shows at Atlas on November 2, 7, 14, 22, 23 and 29. For the full lineup and more info, visit www.atlasbrewworks.com. Follow Atlas on social media @atlasbrewworks.

Atlas Brew Works: 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, DC; 202-832-0420; www.atlasbrewworks.com

Ayo // Photo: courtesy of Strathmore

Fresh AIR: Up-and-Coming Artists Bring Cross-Genre Sounds to Strathmore

November 20 marks the debut of six budding DC area musicians in their new roles as Strathmore Artists in Residence (AIR), taking the AMP by Strathmore stage with their mentors for a cross-genre performance. From percussionist-composer hybrids to jazz violinists, the diverse 2020 AIR were hand-selected by the North Bethesda-based arts center to provide an opportunity for them to perform, create and teach workshops, and jumpstart their professional careers.

As far as AIR director Betty Scott is concerned, there is no other program like it.

“A lot of organizations have artists in residence,” Scott says. “[They are] usually established artists who come in for a couple of weeks and work with a class or community. But in this case, [artists] are with us for an academic year and we give them education, nurturing and networking. It’s very different in that regard.”

After working as an elementary music teacher for 40 years, Scott decided retirement wasn’t for her. Her second career began with volunteering weekly at Strathmore, and ultimately led to the development of the center’s AIR program. After 15 years and 88 participants, the program has become a revered feature of the reputable space.

AIR’s 2020 class will bring a range of genres to AMP – Strathmore’s music and dining offshoot – this month, spanning pop, jazz and folk among others. Their Fresh AIR show will provide concertgoers with a hint of what’s to come at their future performances and workshops over the next 10 months.

“We do a full-band cover song to start and end the concert,” Scott says of the show’s format. “Each mentor and each AIR have to choose a piece they think is indicative of what people should expect to hear from them in future concerts.”

Pop vocalist Ayo, who will perform Fugees classic “Killing Me Softly” at the concert, credits several pop icons as her major influences.

“I love Stevie Wonder’s songwriting style and how he tells stories,” she says. “Sarah Vaughan and Whitney Houston, as vocalists, know how to really paint a picture with their voices.”

In addition to her impressive vocal range, Ayo uses her music to process difficult moments from life while empowering others to do the same. After releasing a song detailing her experience with sexual assault, men and women began reaching out to her, inspired to share their own stories.

“These are people that I have known for years,” she continues. “But I wouldn’t have known that they had gone through that until they reached out to me and said, ‘I didn’t know that someone like you went through this. Thank you for sharing. Because you shared this, I want to share my story.’”

During her Strathmore residency, Ayo will teach the workshop “Songs from the Heart: Storytelling through Songwriting.” She plans to continue encouraging people to share their stories.

“[I know I] have a story to tell and people need to hear it, so they know they’re not alone in what they’re going through.”

Her AIR classmate, early folk instrumentalist Niccolo Seligmann, has been fascinated with unique instruments since age five. After seeing a viola da gamba played in concert, he knew it was the instrument for him. Eight years of cello lessons later and Seligmann finally got the viola de gamba he’d been waiting for. Now, the Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Institute graduate plays 20 instruments – including the medieval fiddle.

In keeping with the theme of his upcoming album, Kinship, his performances at Strathmore will be inspired by climate change and the ways humans interact with the environment, nature and animals. At the Fresh AIR concert, Seligmann will perform a 15th-century Italian ballo, or dance, called “Verçeppe.”

“I always think of [this dance] as the sounds of a big jungle cat prowling and pouncing,” he says.

His performance will feature triangles created by his father-in-law, who is a blacksmith. Seligmann likes to create his own instruments – but not in a traditional way that might be associated with early music. During his residency, he’s looking to blend his love for medieval music with the music he creates on his computer.

“Anything a computer can grab data from can be an instrument,” he notes.

Seligmann will be teaching a workshop called “Strings of Gut, Lines of Code: Early Music in Today’s World” that he hopes will “create a music environment that shows the best of both worlds.”

“The last song in the Fresh AIR concert is [Bob Dylan’s] ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ [by Bob Dylan], and I think that’s really the theme of all of our music-making,” he adds. “All of us in the AIR program are doing some kind of new thing, whether it’s new to us personally in our practice or new to the world. We as artists are changing with the times.”

Don’t miss Seligmann, Ayo and their four classmates at the Fresh AIR concert on November 20 at AMP by Strathmore. Tickets are $19. Doors at 6:30 p.m. and show at 8 p.m. For more on the AIR class of 2020 and their upcoming performance schedule, go to www.strathmore.org. Learn more about Ayo at www.ayoofficial.com and Seligmann at www.niccoloseligmann.com.

AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.ampbystrathmore.com

Ladygod's Skye Handler // Photo - courtesy of Ladygod

Ladygod Reclaims Loserdom and Forges Own Path Through Rock ‘n’ Roll

In the hour-and-a half I sit with local rock ‘n’ rollers Ladygod at Union Market, we cover a plethora of topics over iced coffee and waffle fries – most of which I did not expect to delve into, but am fascinated to hear their take on nonetheless. Such topics broached include a shared dislike of the Star Wars franchise and The Big Bang Theory (sorry, respective nerds), sexuality as a vehicle to sell records, and why they aren’t the biggest band in the world.

The latter might sound like a self-important question for an artist to ask, but when guitarist and vocalist Skye Handler poses it towards the tail end of our conversation, I realize he has a point. Few bands are as connected or honest in their lifetime as these four are in the evening I spend with them.

Handler, along with bassist Kate Rears Burgman, guitarist Kelly Queener and drummer Seth Petersen – whose collective roots span DC, Maryland and Richmond – make music heavily inspired by the early, free-form days of rock ‘n’ roll. When discussing influences, Richmond-based indie rockers Sparklehorse and pretty much anything rock pioneer and icon Lou Reed had a hand in come up – not just in sound, but in attitude.

Though all from different backgrounds – and as I noticed during our chat, very different personalities – they are connected in their self-proclaimed “loserdom” and more importantly, a reclamation of that label through music.

“You’d sit there and get beat up and tortured in f–king high school, and you’d go home and put those records on,” Handler says of their shared influences. “And you were like, ‘Alright, yeah, I’m a f–king loser right now. I get that. But one day, I’m going to keep doing the same thing and I’m going to figure out how to own being a loser.’ And that’s what I would hear in these records. There is always a way out from whatever the bro culture is at the time, which is usually dumb.”

Bergman and Queener echo this sentiment through their own perspectives. Petersen nods from his seat at the table.

“It’s the shared experience of being a f–king loser and listening to music and writing music as an escape from feeling like a f–king loser,” Bergman says.

Queener adds: “Or an outsider, or however you want to put it. Rock ‘n’ roll gives you permission to just be who you are and not worry about anyone else. It’s like, ‘Oh, this is actually fun.’ It’s freedom.”

Handler jumps back in, noting instances when he has challenged peers about who they are creating art for: “A loser or the people that were being f—king jerks to you?”

“That’s probably what your expectation is, and you need to get rid of that,” Handler continues. “If you make music like that, you’ll never be making music to your fullest potential, you know? And you just don’t know how good you can be [until] you give yourself a chance.”

Petersen circles them back to their influences, adding, “There’s so much you can do with little, and I think that’s what Lou Reed did. That definitely bleeds through Ladygod’s shit, too. I definitely remember picking up The Velvet Underground & Nico [album] and being like, ‘This is so strange and f–king beautiful.’ I mean, I definitely rejected it at first. I was like, ‘The f–k is this?’ But those things grow on you.”

Their collective candor and willingness to forge their own path does harken back to Handler’s question of why they aren’t the next big thing. It’s a hypothetical at best, but Ladygod seems to be at a similar intersection to Reed and The Velvet Unerground: toeing the line of grandiose popularity while not fully selling out, and connecting with audiences who see themselves in Ladygod while also reaching broader audiences who may not feel how they feel.

The world could use more of that honesty, and the losers of the world could use more connectivity. The group keeps a similarly honest ethos when discussing their live performances, but also notes how a Ladygod show and a Ladygod album are two entirely separate experiences.

“They’re two different things with the same core,” Handler explains. “It’s really just like anything else. Everything you do in your bedroom, you go outside and it’s different.
“Well, maybe for you,” Bergman adds with a laugh.

“I look at it like this,” Handler continues. “As long as everybody’s feeling good, we’re going to gracefully fall down this mountain together. Am I going to get to the bottom? I don’t know. But we know what the chords are. We know what it’s supposed to sound like. I’m sure there’ll be a left turn or a tree down that we’re not expecting, and we’ll just hop over it.”

If you’re interested in gracefully falling down a mountain with them or communing with a group of losers turning to music and each other, you can catch them at Songbyrd in Adams Morgan on December 15 with Skyline Hotel and Maddie Mae. Listen to their latest album, Trash Medium, here: www.ladygodftw.bandcamp.com.

Songbyrd Record Café and Music House: 2475-2477 18th St. NW, DC; 202-450-2917; www.songbyrddc.com

Christine Lilyea, Alyssa Bell and Jack Inslee // Photo: Rich Kessler Photography

A Curated Conversation: Three Voices of The DC Music Scene

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.


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.
Alyssa: Absolutely.
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?

Jack: Oh!
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.”
[All laugh]
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.
[All laugh]
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.


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

Photo: Trent Johnson

A Day in the Life with Simone Eccleston, the Kennedy Center’s Director of Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music

When you think of hip-hop venues in DC, it’s probably fair to say that the Kennedy Center isn’t the first that comes to mind – but perhaps this sentiment is beginning to shift. In recent years, the nationally renowned institution has made exceptionally large steps toward taking hip-hop more seriously as a conduit for culture, including several festivals and concerts featuring performances by legendary stalwart Nas and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar. In 2016, A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Q-Tip became the Kennedy Center’s first artistic director for hip hop culture, and less than a year later, the center announced the appointment of Simone Eccleston as its first-ever director of hip hop culture and contemporary music.

Since then, Eccleston has worked with Q-Tip and other members of the center’s hip hop culture council, which includes an impressive amount of star power and influence such as Questlove, LL Cool J, Big Boi, Common, MC Lyte and a score of others. Though Eccleston’s name may not evoke the same kind of awe from hip-hop heads as Q-Tip or Common, this doesn’t diminish her impact. Since taking on the mantle of director in this brand-new initiative, there’s undoubtedly been an uptick in programming investigating the cultural impacts of hip-hop, from workshops to film screenings and other intersectional events in-between. To learn more about her inaugural position at the helm of hip-hop culture, we spoke to Eccleston about her affinity for hip-hop, her ongoing mission and what she’s learned in the role.

On Tap: What are your earliest memories of hip-hop?
Simone Eccleston: The first song that I remember knowing word for word was LL cool J’s “Around The Way Girl.” I was age 10 at that point. There was something about the energy of the song and the video. It was fun and had an unapologetic New York vibe. I loved the way that it celebrated independent women and reminded me of women in my neighborhood. At 12, I heard Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s T.R.O.Y. and my whole world changed. It was so honest, vulnerable and familiar. I connected with it immediately. It’s still one of my favorite songs.

OT: Are there other artists who stuck out to you in your formative years?
SE: The artists that really helped me fall in love with hip-hop and see myself reflected early on were MC Lyte and Queen Latifah. They were both strong women with powerful lyrics. Their self-possession was inspiring. I remember seeing them and aspiring to be a woman of strength.

Five Things Simone Can’t Live Without
Live music
A great DJ

OT: If you could’ve told that 10-year-old girl in the Bronx listening to LL Cool J, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte that in the future you’d be on the phone with these people, what would she have said?
SE: My 10-year-old self would bust out with The Running Man [Laughs]. I will say this: not necessarily when I was 10, but when I was 16 [to] 25 through now, there was a part of me that always knew I would be working in service of the culture. I knew my life’s work and purpose would be tied to celebrating the genius of people of color.

OT: Did you ever think you’d be in a role like this, focusing on the culture of hip-hop?
SE: I remember when [the Kennedy Center] announced their commitment to hip-hop culture as a program in 2016, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “I want to be there.”  Who would have thought I would be the inaugural director, working with Q-Tip and our incredible council? They’re an incredible community that is so committed to being of service to the culture. They reflect the very best of who we are.

OT: Is it ever surreal for you to be working with some of the people you credit with your love of the genre?
SE: Yes, it can be surreal. But more than surreal, it’s incredibly humbling and gratifying. Being able to partner and collaborate with them to do this work is a gift and a blessing, and I don’t take it for granted. To be able to partner with someone like Q-Tip, who has deeply inspired my love of hip-hop and [A] Tribe [Called Quest] as a group – he’s such a visionary. He’s someone who’s so committed to ensuring that it’s never about him. It’s about the culture. You’ll never really see him trying to insert himself in particular ways. Instead, he’s like, “Use me so that way we can create space for others.”

OT: Why has hip-hop resonated with you in such a profound way, to the point that you’d dedicate at least this part of your career to it?
SE: There isn’t a place where hip-hop isn’t. Part of [the Kennedy Center’s] charge as an institution is not only to celebrate the tenets of the culture, but its intersections. You think about how hip-hop has informed fashion and film – it’s in practically all media content. Our role as an institution is to be able to create a space for all of that to be seen. Even if you think you don’t have a connection, you’re connected. Hip-hop not only shapes culture, it creates culture.

Five Work Must-Haves
Our incredible Hip Hop Council
A White board + time to ideate
My pod
A great soundtrack
Music + culture podcasts

OT: Why do you think it was so important for the Kennedy Center to make such a large commitment to hip-hop?
SE: When you think about America’s art forms and when you think about hip-hop as a culture – not just about the music – I think that adds nuance, complexity and dynamism. It’s one mode of our ability to tell our stories and make ourselves visible. I think it was a platform for us to resist, even if the resistance was just us saying, “Hey, I’m here.” Historically, when you think about how we’ve been marginalized and the dismantling of our communities, hip-hop was a form of resistance. It was an opportunity to declare our presence amidst a society that was trying to erase us.

OT: That being said, how have you approached the integration of hip-hop into the Kennedy Center’s programming?
SE: Part of the impetus for us here is a celebration of hip-hop culture. For us, it’s about celebrating the genius of the culture and the genius of the communities that created it. This is about a centering of community and in ensuring that in this space, known as the nation’s performing arts center, we are truly reflective of the nation. You think about jazz being one of our greatest ambassadors, but hip-hop is equal if not greater when you think about the way it provides space on a national, [even] global level. You can see it when you go to different communities across the globe. People are using it as an opportunity to provide voice and visibility for themselves, but also to resist.

OT: How have things grown at the Kennedy Center over the past two years?
SE: At every show, there’s always a handful of people that come up and say, “Thank you.” [They’re] people who had never come to the Kennedy Center that now do. The institutional commitment to hip-hop culture as an anchor program came in 2016, but that wasn’t without years of groundwork being laid. What I’m seeing is clearly a growth in programming, but [also] a presence across the institution. You’ll have intersections with our special events. You’ll have intersections with our education department. You’ll see all of these different ways in which hip-hop is continuing to undergird, imprint and transform the work of the institution.

OT: What are some things you’ve learned that you didn’t expect?
SE: Just the lesson that transformation takes time. None of us will truly know the real results of our work until 10 or 20 years after it’s done. It’s about being patient and understanding the work isn’t about us. It’s about the people we’re trying to serve and the change we’re trying to make. We’re here and we have an ambitious goal of being a 21st-century performing arts organization. It’s teaching us the ways we need to evolve our work and our processes in accordance with that. It’s a formidable challenge, but I think we’re up to the task.

For more about the Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music programming, visit www.kenney-center.org/calendar/series/HHC.

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

Rick Irby // Photo: Rob Stokes

Behind the Scenes with Local Industry Insiders

It takes tons of people to galvanize and make music happen, both on the stage and in the background, and we let some of these local music industry professionals tell us all about their roles and responsibilities when set time rolls around.

Angelie Benn, Founder of Capitol Sound DC

Angelie Benn // Photo: www.miyewirellc.com

For a high school audiophile, it’s hard to rack up the cash needed for your concertgoing desires, but Angelie Benn found a loophole. To supplement her need for live music, Benn started local music blog Capitol Sound DC, a digital haven for interviews, reviews and photography. Since its inception in 2014, Benn has evolved the site and for our Local Music Issue, we spoke to Benn about blog, her role in the scene and how it’s changed.

On Tap: How embedded were you in the DC music scene pre-blog?
Angelie Benn: I basically started this blog in high school in 2014 because I wanted to go to concerts. I had no idea what I was doing, but eventually I ended up going to a lot of local shows. I met a lot of people who were making music too – collectives and bands. I started going to the local DIY shows and stuff. Then I got involved with the community from there.

OT: What kinds of things did you learn through the blog?
AB: When I started throwing shows for the blog, I was very inspired by Chicago’s garage rock DIY scene but found that DC’s [was] more experimental. DIY in DC is mostly black experimental artists ranging from jazz [and] hip-hop to electronic.

OT: What did you think it would cover, and how did that change?
AB: Well, at first with the writing, it was my scope. I did it because I couldn’t afford to go to concerts, so I was writing whatever I wanted to write about. It was hella fan girl stuff. When I started to grow, I realized I had a community I was committed to, so it has changed.

OT: What about your own promoted shows? What kinds of things do you think about as a curator?
AB: I try to include queer people and LBGTQ people. It’s important to make that statement. Shout-out to Songbyrd because they’re very inclusive. A lot of other venues are bland, so my intention is to shed a light on people who are underrepresented.

OT: How important do you think blogs like this are for the DC music community?
AB: I feel like people really look forward to the things we do. We try to cover underrepresented groups of people, so they have that outlet and a place to build community. I think that’s what we hear a lot: that we cultivate a place to come and have their voices heard.

OT: As a person who has a wide view of the local music scene, what do you think the state of it is?
AB: Over the last two or three years booking shows, we’ve cultivated that community. To me, the DC music scene looks so much different than what it was five years ago. I don’t feel like it’s peaking, but it’s getting close.

Check out Capitol Sound DC at www.capitolsounddc.com

Antonio Hernandez, Documentarian and DJ

Antonio Hernandez // Photo courtesy of Antonio Hernandez

You don’t necessarily need to be a musician to be an integral part of the music scene. For Antonio Hernandez, also known as Electric Llama, his main tool is his camera. From short web videos to full-blown documentaries, Hernandez uses visual storytelling to capture the essence of some of DC and Baltimore’s brightest stars. We spoke with Hernandez about his series and process.

On Tap: What does your current work in the DC music scene encompass?
Antonio Hernandez: The main thing is Indelible, a documentary project. It encompasses web shorts of artists [and] curators. Every time I show the film, I recut it because I’m continuously working it out. I’ve been filming a lot.

OT: You also blog with interviews and reviews, right?
AH: I basically started in blogging in my off time. [This] started about five or six years ago. I also had a short web series called Garnish where I interviewed artists and other performers as well.

OT: Why do you think it’s such an interesting subject to emphasize in your projects?
AH: I think because it’s so diverse. There are so many artists who are taking their artistry into their own hands. Before, there weren’t the tools like social media, Spotify [and] Bandcamp. Those weren’t prevalent 10 years ago. Now people are making music and connecting with people. Whether it be established venues like Songbyrd and 9:30 Club or house and pop-up shows at places like Dwell.

OT: What’s the decision process for who your films follow?
AH: A lot of [them] are artists that I know or find through lineups. If there’s an artist I know on a show, they’ll introduce me to three or four other artists. I do everything for it. I do scheduling [and] videotaping. I try to get footage of anything the artist is comfortable with and what they want me to be present for.

OT: How did you get into documentaries? What’s your origin story?
AH: It was mostly DIY. I started with photography when I was studying abroad. Before that, I hated taking pictures. It really opened my eyes. I got to see the shapes in nature and basic composition. From there, I did short video projects at Towson University. My last year there, I took a visual anthropology class and that introduced me to documenting things.

OT: You’ve received a lot of press for Indelible. What’s the next step for you creatively?
AH: With Indelible, I’d like to screen it in other countries and cities. I’d like to do videos like that in other countries as well. For instance, my family is from Peru, and I’d love to do something like this there.

For more information about Antonio Hernandez and Indelible, visit www.electric-llama.com.

Rick Irby, Production Manager + Head of Sound at Pie Shop

Rick Irby // Photo by Rob Stokes

For over 10 years, Rick Irby has been performing and making records with DC bands. Throughout this time, he says his respect for those behind the scenes “making it all happen – from the sound engineers to the venue and the bar staff” grew even deeper than before. Irby talked to On Tap about how he got his start as a sound engineer, how being a musician himself helps inform his day-to-day, and what Pie Shop brings to the DC live music circuit.

On Tap: What is your background and how did it lead you to your current role as production manager and lead sound engineer at Pie Shop?
Rick Irby: After 10+ years of performing and making records with DC bands, I found myself having a deeper respect for the people behind the scenes making it all happen. From the sound engineers to the venue and bar staff, I realized that all of these people are contributing so much to us musicians doing our thing. Before a show I randomly opened up to Sean Gotkin, Sound Department Manager at Black Cat, about how much I appreciate his role at black cat and the DC music community.

I eventually asked him if he was willing to teach me how to transition from studio work to live sound engineering. After a month or so of training, I was extremely humbled and honored to work the Black Cat Backstage in its final 6 months. By the end of the season I started to work more shows at DC9 and a new venue on H Street, Pie Shop. I couldn’t help but love the small venue vibe at Pie Shop and signed on as Production Manager and Head of Sound in February. I’m very fortunate to be working with so many great artists and it’s a true pleasure to provide bands with a great environment and sound quality that respects their years of dedication to making music and making audiences happy.

OT: Describe a typical day in the life of your role at Pie Shop.
RI: At 5 p.m. the bands show up to load and soundcheck. We take as much time as necessary to make sure every instrument is dialed in for each band and offer up some free pies before doors. Showtime is usually at 8 p.m., and it’s my job to keep all performers and equipment in mind so we can have a smooth show. Working with new artists every night will remind you that every concert is different and deserves as much respect and attention to detail as possible.

OT: I know you play in other local bands and projects. Can you tell me more about that aspect of your life and your current projects?
RI: For the last five years or so I’ve been drumming with Den-Mate and Wanted Man. Den-Mate is a dark-wave band led by Jules Hale and Wanted Man is straight up rock ‘n’ roll featuring Kenny Pirog, Anthony Pirog and Scoops (who also bartends at Pie Shop). I recently joined Rob Stokes and Sir E.U’s project, October ’71, on bass and assist in producing records with them. I also have a soon- to-be-released record, “Post-Sadboi Funk” under my producer moniker, Jau Ocean. The record has been evolving for almost 3 years and features a handful of DC artists lending their talents. Lastly, a huge shout out to Paperhaus, which was a life-changing band for many people and gave me a homebase to learn how to throw DIY shows and meet so many of the people that I work with today.

OT: How do your experiences in those projects inform or influence your job at Pie Shop?
RI: I try to give the Pie Shop artists what I would appreciate myself as a performer. I know how difficult it is to be on the road and/or fighting DC traffic to get to the gig. It is a tremendous boost when you feel like a venue or sound tech cares about you and your art. I try to hold myself to that standard as much as possible knowing that many other venues and engineers have done the same for me and my friends.

OT: What do you think makes Pie Shop unique?
RI: Personally I prefer going to small concerts and usually find myself supporting up-and-coming bands to groups that have already “made it.” Pie Shop gives these emerging artists an opportunity to get great sound and grow a fan base. I also love how Pie Shop does not stick to any particular genre. Every show is different, and there are always new people to meet and learn from.

OT: What’s an aspect of your job that someone may not realize falls under your role?
RI: As the production manager, I am in charge of emailing every band the venue specs and to help troubleshoot any requests or unique variables pertaining to the show. This can often mean weeks of preparation via email and/or last minute problem solving in front of sold out crowds. It can be stressful, but it is always worth it by the end of the night to see the culmination of everyone’s hard work and focus.

OT: What’s the most challenging part of your role, and how do you overcome it?
RI: I think the toughest part of the job is internal… knowing that I am in charge of the entire show and all the moving parts. It’s controlled chaos. Running a venue involves a Zen-like understanding that we are doing this right now, live. Good or bad, anything can happen at any moment. Which can be scary, but also a challenge that keeps you on your toes.

OT: Any advice for someone looking to get into sound engineering/similar roles?
RI: Go for it! If you like working with people and love music, look into local venues that may need assistants and start to research and learn. I would also recommend that musicians should think about becoming live sound engineers and/or working at venues. It is so enlightening to see professional and amateur musicians alike from the other side of the board. In my experiences, I have found a much greater sense of patience and understanding for all aspects of throwing concerts and I hope it has helped me mature as a person and performer.

OT: What’s your favorite part of the DC music scene?
RI: I love how there isn’t a “DC sound.” Every band has their own thing going on and I love being a part of such a supportive community with such strong bills.

OT: Anything else I didn’t ask about that you’d like to mention?
RI: I would like to thank the owners Sandra and Stevie for giving me this great opportunity at Pie Shop. I hope that all of our performers and audiences can feel the time and devotion that they have put into creating such an amazing restaurant, bar and venue. Thank you to Pie Shop Staff for being the coolest and Jon Weiss for booking such amazing acts. A huge thank you to my sound mentors Kenny Pirog, Mel at DC9, Sean and Elisa at Black Cat, Chris Moore and Dennis Manuel. And of course, all of the Pie Shop and DC music supporters and audience members – thank you! Looking forward to seeing you all at some shows.

Catch Pie Shop’s full lineup of upcoming shows at www.pieshopdc.com. For more on Irby and his other projects, see below.

Den-Mate: www.den-mate.bandcamp.com
Jau Ocean: www.soundcloud.com/jauocean
Wanted Man: www.wantedman.bandcamp.com

Pie Shop: 1339 H St. NE, DC; www.pieshopdc.com


Nah. Photo - www.nah.band

15 Local Acts You Need to Know

Looking to hyper-localize your playlist? The talented members of DC’s music scene have been hard at work creating and connecting through their music this year, and we rounded up some standouts to add to your Spotify queue, catch on tour and share with your friends.

Photo: Laura Dearden

Child Ivory
On Child Ivory’s Facebook page, there are only two influences listed: Beach House and Fleetwood Mac. While I’m sure other musicians have influenced them (and they do disclaim they rarely use the social media platform), it’s easy to hear the way both bands have inspired the DC outfit. Their witchy, dreamy instrumentation is sleek and electronic, while vocalist Caleb Darger’s clear tone is evocative of their 60s and 70s pop forbearers. The band, made up of Darger and Pica Nagano, released their Underwater EP at the end of August, a beautiful collection of five songs perfect to soundtrack the changing of the seasons. Follow @child.ivory on Instagram.

Photo: CJ Harvey

Clones of Clones
Clones of Clones have been making appearances on the DC music circuit for the better part of the decade. Three of their four members are DMV natives and have kept busy this year with no plans of slowing down. They kicked off a campaign to release a new single each month leading up to a new record, starting with the single “Mine,” which even landed on Spotify’s “All New Indie” playlist, exposing it to over 900,000 people who subscribe to that playlist. Since then, they’ve gifted listeners new tracks at the beginning of each month – and while the world eagerly awaits the album dropping in full, looking forward to monthly releases is a sure glimpse into another record full of indie rock gems from this beloved DC band. Visit www.clonesofclones.com for more, and follow @clonesofclones on Instagram for updates on new releases.

Photo: James Anderson

The Colonies
It’s been a big year for The Colonies. The band formed at George Washington University and started off playing shows in the basement of their dorm. They recently graduated (literally and figuratively) to bigger and better things – namely, opening for fellow alt rockers Judah and the Lion on the notably larger stage of The Anthem. Even while navigating post-grad life and a change in their lineup, the four-piece has been steadily releasing gems like “Potomac” and “Do Nothing With Me” while gracing stages large and small throughout the District. Follow @thecoloniesdc on Instagram for more.

Photo: Cina Nguyen

Color Palette
This five-piece band led by DC native Jay Nemeyer is rounding out the year with a celebration – they’ll be headlining Pie Shop for an album release show on Friday, November 8, marking the synth-pop outfit’s second record being gifted to the world. One fifth of the group, Maryjo Mattea, is also performing as the opener, for an EP release set around her solo work, before rejoining the group for even more new jams. If you’re a fan of pop in the vein of the synth heavy 80s greats and chill wavers of today, you won’t want to miss this show or new album. Follow @colorpalettedc on Twitter for updates and visit www.pieshopdc.com for tickets to the release show at Pie Shop on November 8.

Photo: courtesy of Company Calls

Company Calls
Loud and screechy but melodic: this DC punk-pop outfit combines several genres with tremendous success, but most notably is their affinity for old fashioned fast rock. Their latest release Diabólica is a blend of all their greatest strengths, especially their affinity for a quick pace, as most songs don’t top two minutes. Longer lyrics don’t necessarily make the music more profound or meaningful, however. I think we can all agree on one thing, if all company calls were less than two minutes, society would probably be a better place, so maybe this band is on to something. For more Company Calls, visit www.companycalls.bandcamp.com.

Photo: @heartcastmedia

Dior Ashley Brown
Dior Ashley Brown has been enmeshed in the DC music scene since long before her career took off. A native of the city, Brown got her start making creative waves at the famed Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Now an advocate for local music, emcee, musician and poet, Brown graces the DMV with her powerful pipes and intense love for our city’s fellow musicians, making the erudite musician a threat of more than just three talents. Visit www.diorashleybrown.com for more.

Photo: @itstheexp

The Experience
I’m not going to lie or pretend I plucked The Experience’s All For You EP out of a local music bin at some version of a DC big box store. Instead, this smooth rapper found me, and through this serendipitous act, I was able to hit play, sit back and get some experience. The only way to describe his flow is easy-going and playful, and whether he’s tinkering with the volume or inflection of his voice, he’s always got a witty line and a dynamic hook. A lot of his All For You tracks stem from a stint recording in California, and that style of hip-hop (which I can only describe as sounding like palm trees look) suited the DC local’s sensibilities extremely well. So, while The Experience is early in his career, with only a few official releases under his belt, his sound is refreshing. Follow The Experience on Twitter @ItsTheEXP.

Artwork: courtesy of Glue Factory

Glue Factory
From the garage to the basement, Glue Factory (a nod to The Black Keys’ Rubber Factory perhaps?) provides a DIY sound reminiscent of those early days of DC rock. Though the band doesn’t have a punk pace, it’s imagery and lyrics aren’t much dissimilar from that very aesthetic. In their two EPs from 2019, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Lose Control, the group seems to be drawing influence from some 1980s rock vibes. Unafraid to tinker with their sound and to release it to the masses, I’d expect a ton more product from Glue Factory in the coming years. For more Glue Factory, visit www.gluefactory.bandcamp.com.

Photo: Mystery Friends

Mystery Friends
Mystery Friend’s debut record Past & Future Self came out this past May. The four-piece band uses the album as a vehicle to explore relationships with themselves and with others, and to get listeners off their feet and dancing. They’re on a self-described “mission to bring analog dance rock into the digital age,” and are doing a damn good job of it. If you want to see it in action, mark your calendars now – they’ll be in flesh waiting to play their new jams for you as they take the stage at Songbyrd on Friday, December 6. Visit www.mysteryfriendsmusic.com for more, and www.songbyrddc.com for tickets to their December 6 show.

Nah. Photo – www.nah.band

My editor probably thinks I’m being a petulant child typing Nah. where a band’s name is supposed to go, but it is, in fact, a DC band. The five-person indie group with the most millennial name actually began with probably the most noble mission a band has ever had: to use music as a mechanism for people to be open about the variety of complications that come with mental health, and the discussions necessary for healing. While the subject matter is serious, it can also be silly and petty. Most importantly, the band has provided an open outlet, whether it be for themselves or their followers, and it all sounds pretty good. So, while you’re chanting, “Nah, nah, nah” at their next local show, what you really mean is “Yah, yah, yah.” For more Nah., visit www.nah.band.

Photo: Farrah Skieky

If you’re ever feeling discouraged about the representation of women, nonbinary and transgender people in the music world, The OSYX will give you hope for better things to come. The local five-piece established This Could Go Boom!, a label to showcase those voices and give them access to resources that may not otherwise be as easily accessible to them. Outside of their own advocacy and support, the band’s own brand of indie rock is celebratory itself. The five women who make up the band are musical forces separately, and altogether make up an indelible powerhouse. Listen on www.theosyx.bandcamp.com and learn more at www.thiscouldgoboom.com.

Photo: Sami Cola

Saturday Night
Who the hell doesn’t enjoy a Saturday night? It’s not a stretch to say that this might be the single most likeable band name in the history of music, perhaps only rivaled by something like Yawning Kittens (I have no idea if this an actual band, if so, congrats on your random name drop). DC’s Saturday Night is an indie rock band with a hint of power pop. However, the true beauty in this band is their use of vocals, as guitarist Cash Langdon and keyboardist Nora Button provide a melodic banter in perfect harmony. Also, I really like them because they use the word “alien” in their bio on Bandcamp. For more Saturday Night, visit www.saturdaynight.bandcamp.com.

Photo: Yusuf Kazmi

The Shmoods
More of a collective than a band or group, The Shmoods, formerly known as the DMV Hip-Hop Orchestra, are a large collection of musicians playing everything from string instruments to wind and brass. With a focus on hip-hop culture and how that sound is conveyed through traditional orchestral instrumentation it’s possible seeing this group live is one of the more authentic musical experiences one can encounter in the capital. The orchestra has already played venues like the Kennedy Center and been mentioned in The Washington Post, so they’re on the fast track to accomplishing local celebrity. The only catch with The Shmoods is there isn’t a ton of their music online, which means you’ll have to pay close attention to their calendar in order to hear the hip-hop magic. For more on The Shmoods, visit www.dmvhho.com.

Photo: Christopher Grady

Sneaks’ music sounds like abstract art looks, which is not to say that it isn’t a pleasurable listening experience. Never one to lack energy, Sneaks can seamlessly bounce from singing to talking to chanting to singing to rapping, all at once and within the same song. Her latest album Highway Hypnosis provides a fast track to her soul at about 80 miles per hour, and on the rare moments it slows down and allows you to catch your breath, the halt can be abrupt. Though you can add her to your Spotify playlists and listen to her on a Metro commute, the true allure of her work is in the live show. For more on Sneaks, visit www.sneaks.bandcamp.com.


Teen Mortgage

Photo: Mauricio Castro

With a sound that seems equal parts informed by the spirit of DC punk and the scuzzy garage rock sensibilities of West Coast garage, Teen Mortgage has an uncanny ability to produce powerful, danceable rock with just two members at the helm. With a new EP released earlier this year, they’ve kept schedules booked this year with an east coast tour circuit and frequently pop up alongside likeminded national acts stopping through the District like Bass Drum of Death and Surf Curse, winning over new listeners with their high-energy sound and impressive musical ability. Follow @teen_mortgage on Instagram for more.