Decade of Dance in DC

Finger on the Pulse: A Decade of Dance in DC

Within the past decade, dance music and DJ culture in the Nation’s Capital has emerged as a stalwart local product that offers significantly more than ever before. DC’s scene has developed acts, invented and incubated progressive genres, supported top-tier venues and more. By upping the worldwide standard for excellence in all facets of the dance industry, Washington, DC has set a success-laden precedent.

For much of the late ‘90s – early 2000s Nation, the influential Buzz party, and DJs such as Charles Feelgood and Scott Henry were cornerstones of DC dance and music. As were tech house legends Thievery Corporation and the Eighteenth Street Lounge — the Northwest DC club they founded. Discussing the now 20-year old space and the formative days of DC’s ascent to representing the finest of dance culture to the world, Thievery member and ESL owner Eric Hilton states, “DC had small bars or giant discotheque-type places. We just wanted an informal club that felt like home. Eighteenth Street Lounge is where we tested our records. We had a really good resource there to branch out from.”

Smaller in scope to what was happening at Eighteenth Street Lounge was U Street Music Hall owner Will Eastman’s Bliss party, a recently ended monthly event that for 15 years did everything from playing a key role in breaking indie electro in the area in the early 2000s to spawning the careers of countless local DJs and well-regarded international producers. Eastman’s desire to throw a non top-40, retro or rap-focused party led him to creating Bliss, which he aptly describes as an event “without an attitude or velvet-rope, blending punk rock and house music.” The idea that Eastman would, alongside fellow area spinner Tittsworth have a hand in opening U Street Music Hall in 2010 feels apropos. Even further, the idea that  Eastman and Tittsworth’s U Hall would give fellow DC area DJ/producer Dave Nada’s reggaeton/house hybrid moombahton subgenre a home for 40-plus “Moombahton Massive” events seems fitting as well.

Another pillar of the scene is Antonis Karagounis, Pete Kalamoutsos and the team at Panorama Productions. A decade ago, Karagounis and Kalamoutsos were promoters pushing trance via their Glow events, introducing and bringing names like Tiesto, Kaskade and more to the DC area. Ten years later, Panorama has expanded into venue ownership, too. Northeast DC’s massive Echostage space and new K Street Northwest underground house and techno venue Soundcheck are theirs, and Glow still has a significant local and national presence.

Regarding the importance of spaces like Echostage and Soundcheck, Karagounis states, “as a promoter, you can promote events, but if a venue is not quality, it makes things difficult. DC has had amazing nightclubs in the past, but showcasing the visual aspects and providing a truly quality experience at a show was difficult. These venues are the perfect storm of everything coming together. We have 100 percent potential. We can book artists to come here, but having great sound and a great experience are important.”

“On any given weekend night, there are dozens of DJs playing,” says Will Eastman about DC’s 14th Street corridor at-present. In that area alone, local spinners including Eau Claire, Brad Piff, Thee Clown Prince and Mathias play at venues like U Hall, Flash, Policy and more. As well, on the national and global level, venues like 9:30 Club, Echostage, Howard Theatre and more are booking pop-dance acts like Skrillex, Flosstradamus, Disclosure and others for multiple sold out shows, demonstrating the rise in the dance and DJ scene.  As we stare into an intriguing future in which dance music defines both mainstream and underground pop music tastes, Washington — moreso than the traditional music strongholds of Los Angeles and New York City — has its finger on the pulse of the best of what’s to come.

Mansion on O Street
Photo credit: J.P. Goss Photography

Celebrating a Rich Music History: The Mansion on O Street

What is the O Street Mansion? Structurally, it’s five interconnected townhomes boasting over 100 rooms and some 70 secret doors. But aesthetically, it’s something more. It’s a B&B. It’s a museum. It’s a private social club. It’s a free residence for artists. Renowned for its privacy and decadence, civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks lived at the Mansion for 10 years. It is where Chelsea Clinton had her 16th birthday. But beyond all that, it is a place storied with a rich musical history. The rooms are crowded with memorabilia that includes signatures from famous clientele and even showcases one of Bob Dylan’s guitars. Wilco, Jackson Browne, Kenny G, George Clinton and Yusef Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, have all played at the O Street Mansion. It is where Paul Williams, the singer and songwriter behind classics like, “We’ve Only Just Begun” chooses to stay whenever he is in DC. It is also currently the home of the SRO Intimate Music Series.

The SRO (Standing Room Only) Intimate Music Series is a platform that encourages story-telling, audience engagement and connection on a deeper level with incredible singer/songwriters. The shows only take online reservations and never sell tickets at the door. The venue has hosted a diverse group of artists that covers the musical spectrum. “Our Intimate Music Series is special because it allows you to get up close and personal with these amazing singer/songwriters,” says Chief Marketing Officer Tracy Halliday. “They are evenings filled with music and storytelling from the artists themselves. This program makes great music in a variety of genres accessible — from rock, to opera, to country, to blues, to jazz and beyond — it is truly magical.” The lineup is certainly eclectic with recent acts that include Lenny Kravitz, alt-county rockers The Jayhawks, legendary singer and songwriter Emmylou Harris and three-time Grammy Award winning jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding. It has also featured John Kadlecik of Further, Jason Isbell and a rare acoustic set from the all-female Led Zeppelin cover band Lez Zeppelin.

These concerts support on-going initiatives like the artist-in-residence program. “We believe creativity comes in many forms — from writing music to problem solving and beyond,” Halliday continues, “individuals benefiting from our artist-in-residence program have not just been musicians, writers and artists, but have included lawyers, scientists, athletes and politicians.”

One of the most recent concerts occurred in October of this year and featured Blood, Sweat & Tears founder Al Kooper. The concert supported the Mansion’s Heroes program, a project that provides lodging and access to musical instruments for veterans and first responders.

Upcoming concerts include singer and songwriter Harold Payne on November 11 and The Bluegrass Jam with DC Bluegrass Union, a recurring concert on the first and third Sunday of every month. So check out a show at the Mansion or book a night in the John Lennon suite.

The Mansion on O Street: 2020 O St. NW, DC; www.omansion.com

A Genre-Bending Night with The Mavericks

A Genre-Bending Night with The Mavericks

To say that The Mavericks have a signature sound is a bit of an understatement – after seeing them live at the State Theatre in the City of Falls Church on Friday night, it’s clear that they’re a group of musicians who can transition from one genre to the next in a matter of notes, and love every second of it.

In nearly three decades, the Grammy Award winners have crafted a body of work that’s a hybrid of country, rockabilly, and ska with Latin and Zydeco influences. Hits like “Dance the Night Away, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” and “Here Comes the Rain” helped them gain mainstream popularity in the 90s, but they’ve also cultivated a fiercely loyal following over the years who are drawn to their eclectic style.

With an eight-year break and some changes to the lineup, The Mavericks are still going strong with two original members at the band’s core – lead singer and guitarist Raul Malo and drummer Paul Deakin. And in the past two years, they’ve put out two new albums – 2013’s In Time and this year’s Mono.

Friday night’s show was a high-energy mix of new songs from Mono and fan favorites spanning their musical career. Malo and Deakin, joined by band members Jerry Dale McFadden (piano/organ) and Eddie Perez (electric/acoustic guitar) and four other talented musicians on guitar/accordion, stand-up bass, trumpet, and sax, brought a big band vibe to the State Theatre stage.

There’s a sense of showmanship to The Mavericks – they’re polished, and they know how to charm a crowd. Malo, clad in all black and a cowboy hat, has sort of a Tex-Mex look and Perez – who used to tour with Dwight Yoakam – has a brooding, long-haired rock n’ roller thing going on. Meanwhile, McFadden was sporting a red-and-white striped suit with a polka dot bow tie and bright orange socks that made a guest appearance when he managed to kick his foot above the keys while jamming.

In fact, McFadden was the consummate performer. He played the entire set – just shy of two-and-a-half hours – with a huge, infectious grin on his face, and spent more than half the songs doing some variation of the twist. At one point, he even jumped up onto his piano stool to show off more of his sweet dance moves.

Their sound was incredibly tight, with all eight musicians completely in sync for sometimes six or seven-minute songs. Their hits are great fun, but I was more impressed by their new songs like “All Night Long,” which feels like a nod to Malo’s Cuban roots with a Cuban Son vibe – they could easily be kicking it with the Buena Vista Social Club on this one – and “Let It Rain (On Me),” a sweet country ballad that showcases Malo’s almost operatic voice (his cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” is unreal). They also played a stunning cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” that truly rivals the original.

The Mavericks are one of those rare bands that are actually getting better with age. There’s nothing redundant about Mono, and they have the life experience to know how to put on a great show and enjoy it just as much as the audience. Case in point – to wrap up at the State, they took a group bow and began to dance onstage together as Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” played. These guys know how to have a good time, and I dig it.

Check them out here: www.themavericksband.com.

Hemming

Hemming Preludes Higher Truth at Strathmore

“Here’s my second song disclaimer of the night,” Hemming told a still filling in crowd at Strathmore’s Music Center this past Wednesday night. “All my songs are really sad. So it doesn’t go up from here, I’m sorry.” While the emotional content of Hemming’s songs did not change much from that point, what did change—what did “go up from there—was the audience’s captivation by the young songstress. Armed with her guitar, a vintage army jacket, a demonstrated melodic and harmonic sensibility, and a refreshingly quirky demeanor, Hemming waged quite the successful campaign to win the hearts and minds, or at least enthusiastic applause, of the Strathmore crowd.

Filling the cavernous space of a venue like Strathmore’s Music Center is a heroic task for orchestras, big bands, and other various sized groups but alone the cathedral-like space—or as Chris Cornell joked later that night “some Star Wars, council chamber type room”—and so appeared Sisyphean to a solo acoustic performer. Hemming, real name Candice Martello, did sound a bit hollow when she first began her hushed delivery into the microphone, she quickly adapted to the space by revealing her sheathed musical prowess. Songs like “Hard On Myself” and “Counting Stones” allowed Hemming to demonstrate her soon-to-be-earned place in the lineage of Alannis Morissette-derived singer/songwriters, Torres is one of these contemporaries, but other numbers let her fill the cavernous space with the cannonball force of her belting voice. In this regard, Hemming is uncommon amongst the Jagged Little Pill lineage, able to conjure the hushed tones of the open mic just as easily as she channels Florence Welch’s arena-ready aural assault to reach every nook of the music center. Bringing in the hints of bluegrass/blues holler and twang is ingrained in every thread of her vocal chords, the singer/songwriter often let the moments of Welch-like wailing open up the full range of her emotional palette. Throughout her show, the vocalized melodies were eerily echoed by the cavernous space making it sound as if she’s employed a cadre of background singers. But even more eerily appropriate, especially due to the songs’ subject matter and mood, these echoes almost seemed to project ghosts of her former selves and her friends along stage with her. It was chilling to witness.

There was a moment in her song “Vitamins” where Hemming looked out onto the concert hall as if the audience was not even there: that is how intensely she engages in the world of her songs. Some musicians perform because they want to, others perform because they need to: Hemming is clearly in the latter category. But as the jokes throughout the show, and briefly highlighted at the beginning of this piece, showed, Hemming can bring quite a bit of joy onstage. The mood of her songs did, in fact, rise at the end when she closed with the major key number “Some of My Friends.” Instead of melancholy, Hemming ended the show on notes of triumph, hope, and defiance. In this act, Hemming reminded us, as music has a habit of doing, that there is light and hope at the end of that dark tunnel.

Setlist:

  • Hard On Myself
  • I’ll Never Be the Man For You
  • Counting Stones
  • Vitamins
  • Gone
  • Paper Crane
  • Some of My Friends

To learn more about Hemming’s music visit www.hemmingmusic.com and www.facebook.com/hemmingmusic. Follower her on Twitter @hemmingmusic

VIDEOS

I’ll Never be the Man For You

“Some Of My Friends”

stevie wonder

Singing of Tomorrow with Stevie Wonder

“Would you still be happy, in 2015, living in village ghetto land?” This is the question that Stevie Wonder posed during the song of the same name at his second—technically third—go around in the District with his Songs in the Key of LifePerformance” tour. Like the rest of the LP, as resurrected for modern culture and an audience forty years after its release, the song asks questions about how life is lived today. And indeed, it also asks this question: In the eleven months since Stevie Wonder last brought his “Songs in the Key of Life Performance” tour to the District, what has changed?

The show has changed a little. Like any artist on tour, the rigid setlists of the early legs give way to more freewheeling shows in the later stops on the road. Stevie, of course, had limited wiggle room due to the nature of the show he was playing; one can’t exactly scrap the order of the album when one is playing a full album show. But this time, as the Motown musician his magnificent orchestra of lively musicians took the Verizon Center’s stage this past Saturday, Stevie treated the show much more like a “performance” rather than a live reproduction of the Songs in the Key of Life album alone. His background singers belted out snippets of the Miracles, Porgy & Bess, En Vogue and others as part of an extension of “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” He extended the DJ Tick Tick Boom segment he humorously invoked at the end of his show last time, using an onstage mixing board to call up samples of a multitude of his menagerie of hits, even playing a mostly complete rendition of “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” in the encore. The guests also changed. Where last time the stage was graced by the presence of Ms. India.Arie, this time Stevie brought out original-Songs collaborator Greg Phillinganes for the always lovely “Isn’t She Lovely,” and legendary singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler for a more gospel-inflected “As.”

What has changed more is the ever declining political and cultural climate of our country. Just five months ago, Baltimore was rocked by the death of Freddie Gray and town-splitting riots. And, just twenty four hours before the concert began, the nation was hit by the news of another mass shooting that claimed the lives of ten too many Americans in Oregon. Yet Stevie Wonder, as undoubtedly saddened as he was by yet another tragedy in our country, did not make the concert a memorial or a mournful tribute; in a radical act, for this day and age, he continued on with his music in its original form and meaning. Stevie Wonder carried on in a celebration of life.

The one thing that has not changed in the last eleven months in the music—the songs, the words, the melodies—of Songs in the Key of Life and that is precisely why this “Songs in the Key of Life Performance” tour is the music experience that DC, the rest of America, and the rest of the world needs right now. Love is in need of as much love today as it was in 1976 when the double LP originally hit record store shelves, and “Village Ghetto Land” is still a strongly visibly and palpable reality in 2015 America. One could cynically assert that Stevie Wonder has been singing the same songs for forty years, and the world hasn’t changed; why should he still sing them? Today, when we are numb to violence and constantly fight about whose reality is worse both online and in rally’s, the act of celebrating life and the human experience is a radical act of protest; and it is the kind of radical protest that only a radiant human being such as Stevie Wonder could accomplish.

Winston Churchill once remarked in 1942, as he flew over the heartland of America, that it was hard to imagine that this was a country at war. Similarly, if one stood in the Verizon Center on October 3rd, it would be hard to imagine that the future Stevie calls for in his music is so far out of reach. Even when he and the big band weren’t strictly playing numbers from the Songs in the Key of Life album, they were playing songs in the key of Life; because that it the music that Stevie Wonder makes. For almost four hours, Stevie, the band, and the audience joined together in singing the music of life, and celebrating the simple joys of living. Perhaps if more came to these shows, then so many more of us would start singing of tomorrow and singing of love and that “someday sweet love will reign throughout this world of ours.”

Grace Terzian
Gracie Terzian at Rockwood

Grace Terzian at Twins Jazz, The Spellbinding Singer’s Homecoming Show

Many of the world’s musicians have spent their lifetimes chasing one of the most elusive elements of music; Tone. Tone has been, in many ways, the singular and defining reason for a musician or group’s success. Tone is also elusive and near-ethereal, but it’s usually the way an artist endears herself to us. You know Miles from the muted trumpet, Bill Evans by the longing, lush harmonies. And it applies beyond music: If you prefer Haruki Murakami over Christopher Marlowe, it’s because you’re more stirred by his subtle surrealism and simple language than by Marlowe’s Elizabethan vernacular. It is then remarkable to see a musician who has already captured and begun perfecting a tone at only the outset of their career. DC had the fortune to experience such when Northern Virginia born, rising jazz vocalist Gracie Terzian gave quite the homecoming concert at Twins Jazz this past Wednesday.

Accompanied by a trio of robust players who also share ties to the region—guitarist Ian Dansey, bassist Charlie Himel, and drummer Graham Doby—Terzian delivered a mix of originals and beloved standards that showcased her enviable tone. Terzian’s voice channels some of the distinctive qualities of two of jazz’s greatest singers; there is the laid back, casual welcoming of Norah Jones, as best exemplified by her original “Saints & Poets,” and the irreplaceable crisp warmness of the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. Ella, indeed, seems to live inside Terzian’s voice, as few artists have been able to recapture defining vocal tonality and timbre like the Queen’s: and she had ample time to demonstrate it. Whether on her own numbers like “Love Rest,” or on signature Ella standards like the Gershwins’ “I’ve Got a Crush On You” or the Kern/Mercer tune “I’m Old Fashioned,” it was inspiring to hear that tone reincarnate in 2015. Even more refreshing was to see it from such a young, promising artist.

Beyond her invocations of Ella, Terzian proved herself to have a shrewd ear for selecting and performing what standards she did. The classics she chose seemed linked in many ways to her own originals–melodically, harmonically and even thematically. A singer performing their own compositions is indeed a rare thing in the history of jazz vocalists, yet Terzian more than proved herself as not only a brilliant interpreter of her own music but a decently crafty and classy wordsmith as well. The themes and images she plays and paints with across the six songs from her debut EP, Saints & Poets, revolve around duality, mystery, enchantment, the frustrations of infatuation, and classic romance. Complimenting these themes in her works were some numbers that allowed the enchantment in her words and her voice to cast an intoxicating spell. She showed her vulnerable side on Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” invoked her spell binding on Coleman and Leigh’s “It’s Witchcraft,” and, at her most captivating, invoked idyllic romance on Youmans and Caesar’s “Tea For Two.” As one of the oldest songs in her book, it revealed Terzian’s aptitude as an interpreter, making the 1925 number it just as if she herself had written it in a DuPont cafe just last week.

Terzian’s successful homecoming was elevated further by the efforts of her backing trio. Not enough jazz vocalists utilize the guitar-bass-drums accompaniment trio: Terzian is a refreshing reminder of what emotional and harmonic complexities are sometimes lost with a piano base. Ian Densey in particular —whose playing was occasionally too busy for the mood—brought the right amount of delicate harmonic play to the mix. And, in one of the night’s most intimate and beautiful moments, Terzian and Densey on vocals and guitar alone delivered Kern and Mercer’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” impeccably and stunningly. Terzian even revealed herself to be a fair instrumentalist, adding her own delicate, musician’s touch with a range of ukuleles to two numbers: her own “Love Rest” and Andre, Scwhandt, and Kahn’s “Dream a Little Dream Of Me.”

Good jazz vocalists are a dime a dozen. Truly great vocalists, the ones who are able to actually impart their own distinctive imprint on the music, are quite difficult to find, and have been few and far between in the 100+ year history of the music. Those of us at the Twins this past Wednesday, even those locals who were there to cheer on a friend, knew that we were witnessing the rise of one of the future greats in jazz singing. The testimony to Terzian’s eventual rank amongst the modern greats lies not in the words she writes or the repertoire she selects—both of which are laudable in their own right—but in the quality, timbre, and tone of her voice. DC has not heard a classic jazz singer like Terzian in quite some time; hopefully the rest of the jazz world will hear her too, soon.

Setlist: 

  • Love Rest
  • Comes Love {En Francais}
  • Lullaby of Birdland
  • Saints & Poets
  • Iris
  • Exit Strategy
  • Whisper Not
  • Wait Silently
  • I’ve Got a Crush On You
  • I’ve Told Every Little Star
  • I’m Old Fashioned
  • It’s Witchcraft
  • Tea For Two
  • Dream a Little Dream
  • Crave You (Flight Facilities Cover)
chris cornell

Finding the Higher Truth: Chris Cornell Solo at Strathmore

It was a mix of emotions, Chris Cornell recalled, one of them being fear. “’This is something that I should try,’” he remembered thinking. “’It’s really exciting to do, but it’s also terrifying because I’ve never done anything like it.’”

He was remembering how he felt when he decided to play a solo acoustic tour in 2011, hitting the road for the first time without a band.

Cornell took a circuitous route to being on stage solo, just him and a guitar. While he’s been an acoustic songwriter for many years, he’s known around the world primarily as a powerhouse rock vocalist, fronting, first, the hugely influential Seattle band Soundgarden, and then the 2000s rock supergroup Audioslave.

In September of 2006, while Cornell was in Stockholm to promote Audioslave’s album “Revelations,” he had a chance to play some acoustic songs at a promotional event. The set was scheduled for an hour, but Cornell was skeptical it would last that long.

“I had never played that long by myself on an acoustic guitar,” he said, “and assumed that it wasn’t gonna work. I figured I’d get away with about 35 minutes and people would just be talking over me, because I’ve heard live acoustic records before—or have seen YouTubes—where it’s acoustic and all you’re hearing is crowd noise with a little bit of music behind it. I thought that’s what was gonna happen, but the whole hour was like, you could hear a pin drop, and it was this really magical moment.”

The show was unofficially recorded and made its way around the Internet, and when Cornell returned to the U.S., a couple songs from the concert were being played on radio stations. But for the next few years, Cornell kept touring with a band.

By 2011, he was eager to try a solo acoustic tour. He had done several critically acclaimed acoustic shows at L.A.’s Hotel Café, but he wanted to take it on the road, across the country. His management team, however, wasn’t so sure.

“There was some resistance to that from my world of management,” he said. “You know, ‘take it slow and maybe try going up the west coast first,’ which is laughable, because if you go up the west coast, you’ve done maybe five shows.”

Cornell decided to press ahead, ignoring the powers that be.

“It didn’t make any sense,” he said, “and seemed stupidly cautious, so I booked a 30 show tour in North America, and, surprising everyone, it sold out. And then I went out on the road, and by about the fifth show I figured out what it was, and what type of show I wanted it to be.”

Cornell continued touring throughout 2011 and in November released “Songbook,” an (official) acoustic live album, recorded on the road. It contained songs from all eras of his career, including previous solo efforts, songs he did with Soundgarden and Audioslave, and songs from his 90s Seattle project Temple of the Dog, a collaboration with Pearl Jam members. It even featured acoustic covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Since the release of “Songbook,” Cornell has continued the acoustic tour, as well as playing with the reunited Soundgarden. He has just released a solo album called “Higher Truth,” featuring all new songs he intends to play live.

“I wanted to make this a living, breathing thing,” he said, “as opposed to nostalgic, because I’m never gonna be one of those guys that just goes back and beats that drum from when I was 27. I’ve never been that guy, never gonna be that guy.”

The experience of the acoustic tours made Cornell take a different approach to songwriting on “Higher Truth,” he said.

“The new record was an opportunity to finally be able to make a record where I’m writing songs from the point of view of acoustic guitar and singing,” he said. “Storytelling that absolutely has to work on that level first, entirely by itself, and doesn’t require any other instrumentation, even if I ended up adding it later. I’ve never done that before, and there was certainly a component of me being able to have this opportunity to challenge myself as a songwriter and get into something new and different.”

In addition to his old and new songs, Cornell likes to play interesting covers during the acoustic shows. He’s famous for his version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and he’s also performed a mashup using the music from U2’s “One,” and lyrics from Metallica’s song of the same name.

When asked about that particular creation, Cornell had a revelation.

“You just gave me an idea even in bringing it up,” he said. “I just suddenly realized that now I have to do the Metallica song with U2 lyrics.”

And with that, Cornell was off to another show, just him and a guitar and, of course, the songs.

Enjoy Cornell live at Strathmore Music Center on Wednesday, October 14, 8 p.m. Tickets and info at www.strathmore.org. To learn more about the tour and Higher Truths visit www.chriscornell.com

Strathmore Music Center: 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD;www.strathmore.org

Jacq Jill

In the Mix with Jacq Jill

“First name Jacq, last name Jill. I wanted to choose a name that I wouldn’t mind defining me in 30 years.” In 30 years, it’s possible that Jacq Jill’s name might define something much greater than just herself.

The past two years for 27-year old Dallas, Texas native and Washington, DC resident Lauren Wright have been nothing short of amazing. At one time a social work professional, a career detour has led her into not only the world of audio engineering, but DJing and production, too. Now, with a filling schedule in both the recording and DJ booth at Que Recording Studios, Jacq Jill is excited about her career to come, living in DC as its dance scene surges in global renown, and being a part of a family of local DJs and producers on the rise.

“I like those moments when as a DJ, I’m not just playing what the people want to hear, but I’m able to mix in my own tastes, and the energy on the dance floor rises.” Jacq Jill’s biggest set to date was at the legendary Howard Theatre just off of U Street in Northwest DC, and it was playing those unexpected selections and keeping the crowd on the dancefloor that proved to be quite inspirational. Inspiration is key to her developing career, as she notes that the DC scene has been “nothing but supportive,” counting names like developing local spinners and producers like Philco and Caleb L’Etoile amongst those in her corner.

“Though I’m not a DC native, I’ve tried to know the musical history of this community,” Jacq Jill tells On Tap. The DC area’s dance tastes historically trending towards a more soulful and funkier sound actually has proven to be quite important in her Djing exploits, too. “[In Dallas], sounds like neo-soul and more funkier grooves are known but not as well explored or enjoyed on the dancefloor as they are in DC. Discovering my love for those genres and being able to play them in the clubs has been important for me,” she says.

What separates Jacq Jill from other spinners is the attention she pays to precision in her sets. Noting a deep appreciation for the United Kingdom’s underground renowned house scene as an influence, the surgical precision in the how and why of tracks being strategically placed in sets has always important to that scene’s evolution. The sound engineer’s desire to mix a love of film score composition with people and music blends well in how she’s able to keep a dance floor motivated and engaged.

Though not mutually exclusive, many believe that those who excel as DJs in the modern era should also be contemplating making their own original productions a spin, too. This notion is not far from Jacq Jill’s mind, and key in her progression. “As the winter comes, I’m going to finally sit down and take those months to start writing some tracks. Hopefully, by the spring, I’ll have some productions ready for release.” She emphatically notes with an almost trademark self-assuredness, “I know that it’s time for me to do that.”

From the era of Thievery Corporation and Deep Dish to Nadastrom and Tittsworth to new breakout names like Gent and Jawns and Eau Claire, DC area residents expanding globally but keeping (sometimes) minimal ties to the DC area is a trend. Regarding what Jacq Jill thinks about her own future, she definitely feels similarly, yet different about retaining a link to DC. “I think that whatever I do in my career, I’m going to use DC as my home base. There’s greater opportunities here for growth, and I always want to maintain a deep tie to this community.” Another in what will likely be a new and long tradition of current generation dance stars-to-be calling the Nation’s Capital home, Jacq Jill’s name is growing synonymous with success.

To learn more about Jacq Jill www.jacqjillmusic.com follow her on Twitter @ itsjacqjill and Facebook Jacq-Jill. 

Landmark Music Festival

Landmark Music Festival Sees Big Names on a Big Stage

The inaugural Landmark Music Festival brought an eclectic group of A-list artists to West Potomac Park, a scenic area located next to the Potomac River and a short walk from the MLK and FDR Monuments. The two-day event was produced by C3 Presents, the company behind Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza. Like most concerts on the Nationals Mall, Landmark had a goal; to support and raise awareness for the Trust for the National Mall’s Landmark Campaign, a group that strives to refurbish and maintain The National Mall. Although it may be the country’s most visited National Park, “America’s Front Yard” has not seen a major renovation in more 40 years.

In addition to its stacked lineup that boasted headliners Drake and The Strokes, the event also featured a reward-based recycling initiative, the ability to pay for food and drink through your wristband and a local food eatery curated by DC star chef, Jose Andres. With the looming threat of rain, Saturday certainly felt like the first day of a new festival with hour-long beer and restroom lines. Saturday’s highlights included DC native rapper Wale discussing his own festival, an energetic performance by shirtless R&B singer Miguel and a laid-back set from The Strokes guitarist, Albert Hammond Jr. When the rain finally started during The War on Drugs, it seemed to enhance the Philadelphia band’s ambient sound.  Canadian rapper Drake closed out the festivities with a career spanning, hour long performance.

By Sunday, many of the beer and bathroom issues had been solved with more porta-potties, the addition of cash beer lines and added volunteers. The weather was mostly sunny and pleasant for 74 year old Dr. John, who started the day’s festivities. Indiana natives, Houndmouth put on an impressive set that saw the band members juggle instruments and share the vocal work. Highlights include keyboardist, Katie Toupin showing off her impressive vocals on “Casino (Bad Things)” and the crowd pleasing cover of Dion’s, “Runaround Sue”. TV on the Radio played an electrifying show that included “Wolf Like Me” and “Staring at the Sun”. The performance was halted briefly when a brawl broke out in the crowd, but lead singer, Tunde Adebimpe quickly dispelled it from the stage. Later on Leeds rockers, alt-J prepared the crowd at the main stage for the evening’s headliners, The Strokes. Although the Brooklyn rockers were almost 20 minutes late, they played an exciting set filled with songs from their entire career, starting with the title track off their 2001 album, “Is This It.” Front man, Julian Casablancas bantered throughout the performance, touching on issues that ranged from politics to his dislike of rock music. Perhaps the biggest news of the weekend was that The Strokes are back in the studio and working on a new album, contradicting rumors that the band was breaking up. With the super moon solar eclipse and the Washington Monument in the background, The Strokes closed out Landmark with “Take It or Leave It,” a fitting end to a festival that will hopefully return next year.

Landmark Music Festival
Landmark Music Festival 2015 Photo: Cristina O'Connell

What We Saw at Landmark Music Festival

Over the weekend, West Potomac Park held the first ever Landmark Music Festival. Over two days, over forty different artists rocked the picturesque setting on the National Mall and brought thousands of fans into the heart of the City. From local rappers and legendary piano players to new solo artists and brass bands, Landmark Festival brought a highly enjoyable and eclectic buffet of artists for DMV-ers to choose from every hour. While it was not humanly possible for On Tap to cover every single performance over the two days, here is the best of what we saw:

Best 80s Throwback: Twin Shadow 

Brooklyn based, Dominican American singer George Lewis Jr., better known by his stage name Twin Shadow, brought Landmark’s Jefferson stage an early surge of energy on Saturday afternoon with an arsenal of 80s acoustics. Wielding an Eddie Van Halen worthy Kramer guitar and flanked by more synthesizes than musicians, the singer and his band brought a mix of synth-pop and new wave to the National Mall not heard since the reign of Reagan. Moog’s name was omnipresent and they even ran a reel-to-reel player onstage. Talk about a throwback!

Best Homecoming: Wale   

Even some of DC’s longtime residents may have forgotten that Billboard chart topper Wale is a true DC native, but Wale certainly has not forgotten his hometown. The Northwest DC born, and go-go influenced rapper went above and beyond at his biggest DC show yet, after rocking the DMV at the Fillmore in January. Wale was on fire as he played off the high energy unleashed by the crowd gathered for his mid-afternoon set as Jefferson Stage, bringing the crowd the big hits while he also played around and experimented with new numbers. As one of the few natives that got time on the mainstage, Wale did not let his slot go to waste, and educated the tourists on the power of real, DC hip-hop.

Best Unplugged Moment: The Lone Bellow 

Landmark featured no straight forward country acts, but did feature many artists who infused their music with some twang and put dixie soul in their lyrics. The Lone Bellow, two of whose members were born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, brought their alt-country, indie folk rock sound to Landmark’s Roosevelt stage for an early evening set on Saturday. While the group is good as an electric five piece, they captivated as a trio. The group’s three, main vocalists gathered around a solitary microphone and, accompanied by a single guitar, delivered their powerful gospel number “Watch Over Us.” Moments like this do not happen much in mainstream music today; it was truly magical to behold.

Best Classic Rockers: US Royalty

DC natives US Royalty know their classic rock, and bring all the swagger, killer riffs, and attitude of bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and Thin Lizzy. With experience under their belts from multiple sets at Sweetlife and Kentucky’s Forecastle Festival, the group has come a long way from their 2009 debut in the DC scene. Bringing a set chalked full of old favorites like “The Desert Won’t Save You,” alongside newly written, road tested material, the blues/garage rockers showed the un-coverted why they’re one of the hardest rocking acts in the DMV. Look for these rockers to be taking center stage all too soon. 

Best New Rockstar: Miguel

Miguel may have been introduced to the world as an R&B crooner along the lines of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, but Landmark saw Miguel reborn as a rock star. Strutting onstage with all the pomp and circumstance, and layers of jewelry and scarves, of front men like Steven Tyler and Robert Plant, Miguel proved that you don’t need to play rock n roll to act like a rock god. Over his one hour set, Miguel and his band tore through the majority of his new album, Wildheart, as well as some old favorites and a surprise guest appearance by Wale. Even people on the other side of the park felt like they were burning up from the heat of Miguel’s smoldering performance.

Best Dance Party: Red Baraat

Both nights of the festival, the BMI tent stage closed out with performances from two of the best brass bands in the country, leading the festival’s nighttime dance parties. Saturday night saw the legendary, New Orleans Rebirth Brass Band draw crowds out of the rain with their big easy sound. But not even these second line swingers could compete with the all-out rhythmic assault of Brooklyn-based, Bhangra brass band Red Baraat. With their dynamic sound that combines elements of Go-Go, Bhangra, Indian Brass bands, Bollywood, jazz, and so much more, Red Baraat had the packed tent grooving to every beat of the dhol and re-energized the initially tired crowds tenfold. The band even danced around onstage as much as the crowd!

Best Power Trio: The Joy Formidable

Welsh alt rock trio the Joy Formidable have been a long standing favorite at the 9:30 Club so it was refreshing to see them out in the open air. In fact, it was refreshing to see them at all! The group spent the last twelve months holed up in their own studio in Northern Wales, recording what will be their third, full length record. Itching to get back on the road, Joy Formidable packed their hour set with buoyant, joyful and complex alternative and prog rock, including a cut written for the new album called “Passerby.” The group’s joyous, big rock sound is the perfect match for a festival, and found themselves with a packed crowd on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully it won’t be so long before we see them again!

Coolest Cat: Dr. John

When Dan Auerbach tells Dave Grohl to his face that Dr. John is “Cooler than you will ever be,” you know you have a different sort of musician. Dr. John is the living embodiment of New Orleans’ musical and cultural heritage, and one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. The 74 year old, living legend opened up the Miller Lite Stage on Sunday afternoon, playing a career and city spanning set that saw him bring the Big Easy to the DMV like no other could. From a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” to an irreplaceable performance of the NOLA staple “Big Chief,” Dr. John brought the funky, boogie woogie piano, dance music that people have been crazed by for five decades. As Dr. John left the stage, the crowd could only look on in wonder as they realized that they would never see another single person, as cool as Dr. John.

Most Heartfelt Moment: Dan Deacon

Dan Deacon has built a reputation on two things: one, making some of the most “out there” music in the DC-Baltimore region and two, having the most physically engaging audience participation of any performer. A master of crowd psychology, Deacon sought to connect his overflowing audience at the Roosevelt stage on Sunday with each other more than his music. Before launching into his song “USA” Deacon instructed the audience to join hands, close their eyes, and imagine several faces. After imagining the faces of people who weren’t in our lives anymore and people who love us he asked “Now I want you to picture the face of the last minority person who was killed by an authority figure in this country. Picture how they’re like those first two faces for someone else in this world.” It was a chilling yet beautifully unifying moment, and the most emotionally powerful one of the weekend.

Future Festival King: Nate Ruess

As sad as it is to think that fun. may never return from indefinite hiatus, Nate Ruess’ first solo show in the District showed how we can survive without the group. The handful of festival goers that opted out of Miguel’s set on the mainstage and wandered across the park, were treated to the best showmanship, and some of the best energy, of the weekend. Ruess was already an energetic, bombastic performer as the lead singer of fun., but leading his solo band gives him nearly endless freedom as a performer. Ruess transformed every song into an anthem, and kept that high octane, religious fervor-feel up through his entire hour set. While covers of fun.’s “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” brought the crowd to its feet, Ruess’s cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” sent the audience into the stratosphere. As Ruess led the crowd in joyous, ecstatic sing along after sing along Saturday night, it was all too easy to picture him doing it as the headliner on the big stage. Ruess’s rocket is just taking off, and we were all to fortunate to witness the blast-off of this incredible performer. 

Best Headliner: Drake

If Landmark Festival belonged to any one artist, it was Aubrey Graham, better known around the world as Drake. Drizzy proved himself as one of the top performers around, and why he earned the right to top the bill at festivals around the world from New York’s Governor’s Ball and London’s Wireless Fest to DC’s own Landmark. For well over and hour, Drake was able to make the cavernous Jefferson stage seem small through the force of his personality, performance style, and powerful voice. The Toronto-raised rapper packed his set tight with hit after hit, often stringing together disjointed verses and choruses from multiple songs to make epic medleys. Onstage alone with only his minimalist visual productions and pyro, Drake turned his headlining slot into a testament for why he currently owns the world of hip-hop and why he is one of the most sought after performers in live music. If Landmark continues into the future, Drake may well be the “best they ever had” for headliners.