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Photo: Aja Neal
Photo: Aja Neal

A Day in the Life: Jungle Fever’s Mane Squeeze & Mista Selecta

Avanti Fernandez and Tommy Smolka’s epic warehouse parties were just the beginning of a much bigger project. When a mutual friend introduced the likeminded DJs in 2013, the pair had instant chemistry. Fernandez (Mane Squeeze) and Smolka (Mista Selecta) quickly discovered that they shared numerous traits, including a penchant for drawing inspiration from musical genres heard around the world and an affinity for dancehall and trap music. Even their DJ monikers share the same initials. Not to mention, they’re both Geminis.

The pair joined forces as Jungle Fever, curating and hosting DJ parties around the city and performing together at a range of local venues including U Street Music Hall. They’ve picked up momentum in the past five years, making waves in the DC scene that have rippled toward New York and Philadelphia where they’re now building a base. This month, they’ll be spinning at Trillectro Music Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. On Tap sat down with the DJ duo before their September 22 show to talk teamwork, influences, plans for Trillectro and their favorite places in DC.

On Tap: How did you choose your name?
Avanti Fernandez: Jungle Fever is a party concept we created years back. The concept is tropical vibes exuding high, intense, animalistic and wild [energy].
Tommy Smolka: It’s a combination of world dance vibes incorporated into newer rap or trap. Everything we mix together as Jungle Fever makes it really like a jungle. We get all types of people at our parties, just like a jungle has all types of animals. I think it’s one of the most diverse parties out there, and that was a goal.

OT: How would you describe your individual styles as DJs?
AF: When I first started, a lot of DJs specialized in one sound. For me, it was more about not limiting myself. I consider my style to be eclectic and I try to be as eccentric as possible. I am Jamaican and Puerto Rican, and I try to pull from my cultural characteristics – whether it be in a set, at a party or in a mix.
TS: My name [also] comes from Jamaican culture. Dancehall and reggae were in very heavy rotation early on. That was a big connection we had. But, I’ve been DJing for 13 or 14 years now, so anything goes. I can play literally anything – any style.


Avanti’s Must-Haves
My dog Pepito
My boo Kelcie
Water
Sunlight
Rice and beans


OT: Who are your most major musical influences?
TS:  DJ Jazzy Jeff, Underdog, DJ Alize and
DJ Blaqstarr. I look up to M.I.A. a lot.
AF: Childish Gambino – how multifaceted he is as an artist and how he created his own path. I saw a lot of myself in that. DJ K-Swift from Baltimore was one of my greatest DJ inspirations, too. I remember going out to see her perform at The Paradox. I’d be mindblown there was a lady behind the decks. And I’d be like, “Yo, I wanna do that! I wanna be just like her.”

OT: What made you both decide to link up and DJ together?
TS: We were throwing the warehouse parties for like a year before we started Jungle Fever.
AF: I was throwing events not too far from here, at 411 New York Ave. in the warehouse. I heard Selecta was looking to DJ and I was like, “Yeah sure, bring him on through.” He came and ripped it. I was in love with his set. As soon as he dropped some reggae I was like, “Look at this boy! Who the f–k is this? What is going on?” So ever since, we vibed. [We] figured out that we were both looking for a way to express ourselves together.

OT: What’s your favorite part of working together?
TS: Since day one, it’s been easy for us to work together. We get along very well. We never planned to do this; things just came naturally.
AF: It was very organic. It’s great having somebody you can be open, honest and very transparent with, especially going through some of the obstacles we’ve gone through and dealt with together. He’s a great teammate, you know? That’s my boy.

OT: How have your styles evolved over the years you’ve been DJing together?
TS: We’ve been doing parties and stuff for six years, and I was DJing before that for eight years. I look at it as I would any other art form. You’re never going to stop evolving. You learn new techniques, you learn new sounds.
AF: It starts with learning about [DJing], emulating others, learning from others and taking what you learned. For me, it was taking what I’ve learned, building on it and developing my own style.

TS: It’s harder for me to talk about me. I’ve seen you evolve. I remember when you first started DJing. The first year or so, you were in your learning phase, but you were rockin’ though.
AF: I could see him growing and really branching into a new sound, like exploring and experimenting with new sounds. You know, things I would never hear Selecta play, now I’m like, “Whoa, this energy – it’s different!”

OT: How would you describe the DJ scene and overall music scene in DC?
AF: It’s monumental. I mean you feel it, you hear it, you see it. Every time you turn on your radio you hear GoldLink’s “Crew.” Artists are really putting on for the city and I think it’s nationwide, [even] worldwide. DC is seen as a new hub [for music]. Even travelling to New York, everyone is like, “What’s happening in DC? We love what you’re doing there. Can we bring that same energy here?”
TS: Yeah, the music scene is at an all-time high for sure. I still think we have some of the best DJs in the world. That’s why I really appreciate the people who hold us to a higher standard, because we’re some of the best. Every time we go to different cities, I really see that.


Tommy’s Must-Haves
Weed
Women
Chicken
My dogs
Coca-Cola


OT: What are some of your most memorable experiences while DJing?
AF: I think we have the same one because we always talk about it.
TS & AF (in unison): Afropunk.
AF: It was that weekend! Trillectro on Saturday and Afropunk on Sunday.
TS: That was in 2014. That’s probably our best shared experience, besides all the Jungle Fever parties. Every Jungle Fever party is like my favorite party, and your warehouse parties.
AF: Oh yeah!
TS: The parties she used to throw that I DJed at were like the craziest, literally. We’ll never get to do anything like that again.
AF: It definitely was an era.

OT: What do you guys like to do when you’re not DJing?
AF: Travel. That’s kind of broad, but I’d rather just work, stack my money and travel. I like learning about myself and different cultures and broadening my horizons. I just got back from New Orleans, which was pretty cool. I’ve been back and forth between cities [like] New York. I was in Costa Rica this June. Whenever I can, I try to get out of here [and] live a little.
TS: I like to watch movies, and I have another creative side that most people don’t know. I do photography, video and graphic design.
AF: That’s the beauty of it. A lot of the work, we do ourselves behind the scenes like the graphics, the photos and the videos.

OT: What are some of your favorite spots around DC?
AS: For food I like Silvestre Chicken. I’m actually a pescatarian so I go there for the charbroiled shrimp. I also like Oohh’s & Aahh’s, Po Boy Jim [Bar and Grill] and Wiseguy [Pizza].
TF: Wiseguy is number one, and DCity Smokehouse.
AS: For concert venues, I like 9:30 Club, Flash and U Street Music Hall.
TF: Flash, 9:30 and Velvet are my three favorites.

OT: How are you preparing for Trillectro?
TS: We’re getting our special guest in order, and theatrics.
AF: We want to outdo ourselves from the last times we performed.


Jungle Fever Must-Haves
Weed
Good sound system
Positive environment
Open-minded people
Energy (the more people, the more energy)


OT: Who are you guys most excited to see perform this year?
AS: SZA for sure. She’s definitely the first female headliner. All the ladies that are rocking: Rico Nasty, The Internet, Sheck Wes and Carnage.
TF: I’m definitely excited for The Internet, Playboi Carti and Snoh Aalegra.

OT: What’s coming up for you two?
AF: We’re going to take this party on the road. We’re excited to have Jungle Fever in New York.
TS: Yeah. Jungle Fever is expanding. It’s going to be a regular in New York now, because we have a 50-50 base here and in New York and Philly. We’re going to keep expanding it. Other than that, definitely a lot of music, I know I’m about to put out a lot.

Catch Jungle Fever spinning at Trillectro on Saturday, September 22 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Doors at noon, tickets start at $60. For updates on Jungle Fever, follow Mista Selecta and Mane Squeeze on Instagram at @mistaselecta and @manesqueeze.

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com

Photo: Kelli Scott
Photo: Kelli Scott

NoMa’s The Eleanor Offers Bowling and Bragworthy Bites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Emily Chow
Photo: Emily Chow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Aja Neal
Photo: Aja Neal

Fresh Fountains

DC heat got you down? Feast your eyes on some of the District’s most iconic fountains and maybe even dip a toe in a few of the city’s kid-friendly water features, because we’re all kids at heart during the dog days of summer, right?

Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

7th Street Park Fountain, District Wharf
700 Wharf St. SW, DC
While you can often find little ones dashing through District Wharf’s water feature, all are welcome to partake in the fun. And don’t be afraid to take a seat on one of the plastic rocking horses either.

Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

Bartholdi Fountain, U.S. Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Ave. SW, DC
Designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, also the talent behind the Statue of Liberty, this massive water feature stands at 30 feet tall. Its original home was Philadelphia, and the gorgeous structure now rests on the grounds of the U.S. Botanic Garden. Stop by and admire this Gilded Age stunner on your next garden adventure.

Photo: www.landcollective.com

Photo: www.landcollective.com

Canal Park Fountain, Capitol Riverfront
200 M St. SE, DC
Canal Park is a sustainable community hub open year-round but is especially vibrant in the summer due to its built-in, ground-level illuminated water features. Take a dash through the water on your walk to Nats Park or people watch on one of the many benches or colorful chairs.

Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

The Court of Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress
68 1st St. SE, DC
Neptune and figures of the Tritons touting their conch shells keep watch over this Library of Congress fountain. It’s especially stunning at night, with lights adding to the majestic nature of the bronze Roman statues.

Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

District Square Fountain, District Wharf
100 District Sq. SW, DC
While not for sitting or splashing around in, this elegant fountain is a welcome sight for those perusing District Wharf’s shops and restaurants on a beautiful summer afternoon.

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Dupont Circle Fountain
1 Dupont Cir. NW, DC
Flanked by benches, trees and plenty of shade, this marble memorial fountain is smack dab in the middle of Dupont Circle’s many bars and restaurants. On the weekends, you can often find events, live music and more taking place near the iconic structure.

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Georgetown Waterfront Park
3303 Water St. NW, DC
Try walking through the space in this arching fountain without getting soaked or go all-in on a hot day. Located right on the water in Georgetown, it’s the perfect (free!) post-dinner and drinks pit stop.

Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

Summerhouse Fountain, U.S. Capitol Building
West Front Lawn, Senate side of the U.S. Capitol Building in SE, DC
If you’re craving respite from the tourist-filled grounds of the National Mall, look no further than Summerhouse. This shady grotto has a water feature inside with seating for more than 20 people, tucked away on the outskirts of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Tivoli Fountain, Columbia Heights
1445 Ogden St. NW, DC
This colorful fountain is nestled among the shops and restaurants in Columbia Heights. You can sit on one of the surrounding benches to cool off after a shopping spree or sprint through it if you’re feeling adventurous.

Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

Water Feature, Yards Park
355 Water St. SE, DC
This cascading water feature is a great spot to fully splash around in or just admire on your next visit to Capitol Riverfront. It’s surrounded by lots of grassy park space, so you can even settle in for a sunny picnic.

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

Behind The Bar: Archipelago, Paladar and Bar Charley

Rum is so much more than the liquor component of a piña colada. We chatted with three local experts about the vibrant world of rum and tiki, and the best drinks their spots have to offer in honor of National Rum Day on August 16.


Owen Thomson - Photo by M.K

Owen Thomson
Owner, Archipelago

On Tap: Tell me about the different rums featured on your menu.
Owen Thomson: Rum is one of the most varied spirits in the world because no other spirit is produced in as many places. It’s made from sugarcane – most are made from molasses – and you’ll find a few producers making it from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice. There’s a whole manner of ways people try to classify rum, and the easiest way that I was taught has to do with colonial pieces: there’s English, French and Spanish.

OT: How do you decide which style of rum goes in which drink?
OT: Tiki has a pantheon of classic cocktails that call upon certain styles of rum, but more interesting is the fact that most of them call on multiple rums. So rather than a drink needing two ounces of Jamaican rum, you might have three different rums in a tiki drink, which creates a drink you really can’t get anywhere else.

OT: What’s your favorite drink on the menu and why?
OT: I always enjoy the Mai Tai. It is obviously an old school drink that people who don’t even work in tiki learn how to make. It was my introduction to this style of drink, so figuring out our Mai Tai blend was one of my favorites.

OT: What sets Archipelago apart from other bars that heavily feature rum-based drinks?
OT: We are the only tiki bar in the area. This time of year, you’ll see a lot of tiki menus or people will flip their outdoor bar for a summer tiki menu. A lot of people switch to rum this time of year, but we do it all year. Tiki is only partially about the drinks. It encompasses the whole vibe, [including] the décor. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a tiki bar.

Jungle Room Experience 2 - Photo by M.K

The Jungle Room Experience
Rhum agricole
Blue Curaçao
Soursop
Cachaça
Apricot
Lemon

Archipelago: 1201 U St. NW, DC; www.archipelagodc.com

Gavin Nazareth 2 Photo by M.K

Gavin Nazareth
Bartender, Paladar Tysons Corner

On Tap: Your menu features a wide array of rums, and a key to what rums are similar to other types of liquors. What inspired your expansive, detailed menu?
Gavin Nazareth: A lot of people aren’t into rums and don’t know what good rums are. If you’re a bourbon drinker, there are rums that we have that will closely mirror a bourbon flavor. Obviously, rums are a little sweeter than bourbons or whiskeys or scotches that might have a bit of a bite to them.

OT: Can you tell me about the flights you offer?
GN: We encourage people to try our rum flights because you get to taste different flavors. They’re only half-ounce pours – that way, you can get a flight or two and still be okay. You can do a Spanish, English, aged or spiced flight.

OT: What are some of the big differences between rum styles?
GN: Spanish and English styles are boiled down, so they’re close to a honey or molasses. Once you have that concentrated flavor, you add water and yeast to it. The French style is different – it’s almost like a gin. You take out the sugarcane juice and add yeast, and they’re more on the botanical side. Spanish and English are more bold and sweet, with a nice buttery finish.

OT: What’s your favorite rum drink?
GN: We showcase a different rum every month, and this month we’re doing the plantation series. Plantation rums are from Barbados. They age them in Barbados and then bring them to France for an additional step. We have something called the Plantation Jungle Burn where we use pineapple plantation rum, fresh juices [and] campari, so it has a really nice finish.

Plantation Jungle Burn - Photo by M.K

Plantation Jungle Burn
Plantation pineapple rum
Pineapple juice
Simple syrup
Lime juice
Campari

Paladar Tysons Corner: 1934 Old Gallows Rd. Vienna, VA; www.paladarlatinkitchen.com

DSCN4320

Brendan Mullin
Bartender, Bar Charley

On Tap: Tell me about the rum drinks you feature on tap.
Brendan Mullin: We have two cocktails on tap, and a whole tiki menu that contains a lot of our rum drinks. One we have on tap right now is called It’s Not a Mai Tai, It’s Our Tai. It’s white rum, curacao, pineapple, orange – a lot of tasty tropical flavors.

OT: What are your favorite drinks on the tiki menu?
BM: The Frog Smoking a Comically Large Cigar is massive, fun and has a ridiculous garnish in it, and has a blend of mezcal and rum. Our Zombie is also fantastic, but my favorite cocktail is the classic Mai Tai. In my opinion, that’s the best American cocktail. It’s a great way to try different rums.

OT: What about the non-tiki rum-based drinks?
BM: On our house cocktail menu, we have the You Can’t Do That on Television that has three different types of rum. One [rum] is infused with jalapeño and [the cocktail] also has a pistachio orgeat, so it’s kind of a riff on a Mai Tai. You Can’t Do That on Television was a show on Nickelodeon back in the day, and the drink is green and looks like slime and is reminiscent of the 90s.

OT: What food pairs best with tiki or tropical drinks?
BM: The best thing on our food menu to have next to our rum drinks is the pupu platter. It has a bunch of different food options like pork belly, wagyu beef skewers, half-smoke pierogies and crab tater tots. Anything that’s salty and has a tropical flavor to it will go really well with a sweeter tiki drink.

OT: What sets Bar Charley apart from other bars with tiki menus and large rum selections?
BM: I’d say just how comprehensive we are. People ask us if we’re a classics bar, a tiki bar or a wine bar. The answer is “Yes” across the board. We have a great wine selection, we have classics and we’re creative on our own. We can also do tiki!

You Can’t Do That On Television
Havana Club rum
Clément V.S.O.P.
Chacho
Dry curaçao
Lime juice
Pistachio orgeat

DSCN4325

Bar Charley: 1825 18th St. NW, DC; www.barcharley.com

Photo: Pierre Edwards
Photo: Pierre Edwards

A Day in the Life: Full Service Radio’s Jack Inslee

We could be corny and say he’s a jack of all trades, but indeed Jack Inslee is working hard to raise the bar in a variety of creative arenas in DC. After helping launch and then producing Heritage Radio out of New York City for several years, Inslee made his way to the District to team up with the masterminds behind the LINE Hotel to bring Full Service Radio to life. Inslee operates the live radio station out of the hotel’s lobby and brings guests and hosts from all cross sections of the city to a space where they can broadcast “the real DC” to the world. Inslee feels the station is starting to take on a life of its own, which is what he has hoped from the beginning. He likens himself to a traffic director, “trying to elevate what’s already happening in DC and what all the awesome hosts here do in their lives.”

When he’s not on-air at Full Service or traveling to promote DC’s creative community, Inslee can be found curating stages at Bonnaroo, DJing at Velvet Lounge, collaborating with local musicians, and hanging at Jimmy Valentine’s and Songbyrd, ever plotting new projects. And like the true DC convert he’s quickly become, he finds much-needed – though rarely gained – quiet time in the nooks and crannies of Rock Creek Park. We picked Inslee’s brain about Full Service Radio and his other ventures, and how he keeps a pulse on DC’s creative scene.

On Tap: You’re relatively new to DC from NYC. What’s the transition been like?
Jack Inslee: It’s crazy. I’m almost approaching two years in the District and I say this all the time: I’ve become like a DC evangelist. I’ve basically fallen in love with the city. It continues to surprise me constantly. It’s definitely much smaller [than New York], but there’s more room to breathe and space to think. And I think that the things happening in this creative community here in DC are wildly overlooked and underrated. It’s a special place right now, and a special moment to be in this.

OT: You’ve been working on the much-anticipated – and now lauded – Full Service Radio since before the LINE opened last December. How is it growing and evolving?
JI: I have been overwhelmed by the positive response that the network has gotten in these early stages. We are lucky to have a wildly incredible roster of hosts and collaborators that we’re working with. I couldn’t be luckier than to be in the LINE Hotel too, which is such an exciting space and place in the city. The energy here is just incredible. That public interaction is everything. But frankly, I’m not happy yet. It still feels like preseason to me. I’m never really completely satisfied, but that’s kind of what keeps things moving forward. I’m trying to improve every day.

OT: Do you have people walk into the radio station off the street and ask what you’re doing?
JI: Oh yes, constantly – for better or worse. All the radio shows stream live into the [hotel] rooms as well as on the Internet, so sometimes we’ll have a guest come down just having listened to a live broadcast and they get to interact with the host and the guests. There’s this real-time response that’s really neat and exciting.

OT: How frequently do you bring new shows on board? Do you have a goal to reach a certain number per week?
JI: I get flooded with so many requests and I want to embrace that enthusiasm. I don’t want to turn people away. I want to be a person that says “Yes” and welcomes those people in, but we’re definitely at capacity. We launched with 33 shows a week and we still have all of those shows. Come fall, we’ll have a handful more that will come on. My ears are always open for new ideas. At the very least, I want to accept every pitch and idea that comes in.


Can’t Live Without
Cold brew coffee with a tiny splash of milk and simple syrup
A solid (even if messy) “to do” list
Tea Tree Therapy Toothpicks, mint-flavored
Memes, jokes, good tweets – anything that makes me genuinely laugh and smile throughout the day
Relaxing music for a stressful day, energetic music for a shamefully lazy day


OT: Outside of Full Service Radio, are you still DJing and making music?
JI: I definitely stay busy with travel, DJing and producing music. A really exciting project that I’m over the moon about is a new album I made with Odetta Hartman called Old Rockhounds Never Die, coming out August 10. Odetta is an Americana artist and I do experimental electronic production and manipulate her voice and all kinds of weird things. It’s like this f–ked up, futuristic cowboy/soul kind of thing. I’m also working with some other DC musicians, and always DJing around town here and there. And I travel around and interview people in other cities [including visits to the LINE in Austin and L.A.] as well to bring it back to Full Service Radio. [We’ll be] doing little pop-ups in those cities and then finding ways to bring DC stories to those cities to expand our reach.

OT: You are a big part of DC’s art and music communities, but you also have a history in food. How does it influence your life these days, especially being at the LINE?
JI: It’s definitely become a real passion of mine over the years, and I think DC is starting to become known as a food destination as well. [James Beard Award-winning Chef] Spike [Gjerde] brought in [legendary Chef] Alice Waters as a guest on his show, so the food programming on Full Service is actually fairly robust and exciting. It’s one of the few places where policy conversations make it into the mix. And I do generally really draw from good food. Maketto is the first [place] I really fell in love with when I moved here. It’s like okay, I can get some really spicy bone marrow broth and some designer street clothes on sale? Cool. Yeah, that’s where it’s at. I just think that space is like a beacon for the city.

OT: You’re clearly excited about the creative scene in DC, but what concerns you most?
JI: DC seems to be really concerned with DC all the time. Often times, it can end up feeling like a silo here where it’s just everybody talking to each other. I just wish people would get out more and reach out to people in other places more. That kind of goes against this whole community thing that makes DC super special, so it’s not to say abandon that. But to put it in blunt terms, there’s this weird inferiority complex or something. When people feel like they’ve hit the outer walls of DC, rather than just getting down about it, [people should] push past them. It’s something I’m always trying to fight against and help people with.

OT: Who are some of the people in DC you think we should keep an eye on?
JI: Sir E.U and Tony Kill. They just put out an album called African American Psycho, and I think they’re both geniuses and they have been doing exactly what I was just talking about. They were just in L.A. and they’re pushing past the boundaries of the city. They’re crazy experimental and waving their own flag and I can’t say enough good stuff about that album. To me, that’s the stuff that’s giving me inspiration and part of why I love this city so much.

Learn more about Inslee and Full Service Radio at www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio.

The LINE Hotel: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; 202-588-0525; www.thelinehotel.com/dc

Photo: Elijah Jamal Balbed
Photo: Elijah Jamal Balbed

A Day in the Life: DC Drummer Isabelle De Leon

Encouraged by family, Isabelle De Leon has been playing music since she was four and the drums since she was seven. But hers is not a story of a child prodigy forced into a life of performance at any cost. De Leon has talent in spades, and she marches to the beat of her own drums. As an early teen, De Leon found a deep connection in writing music. She has since made it her mission to use the power of music to inspire and heal, and she does it in hundreds of different ways. On any given day, you can find her jetting from one gig to another, running jam sessions, teaching music lessons, serving as an ambassador to the DC music community and being the kickass lady drummer in a rock band.

At 27, De Leon has already played major venues including the Kennedy Center and DAR Constitution Hall, is the recipient of countless music scholarships and recognitions – including a stint as a Strathmore Artist in Residence – and still finds time to rock out with local synth-pop bands Prinze George and Paperwhite, and funk/soul band Lionize. Even with her many accomplishments, the local musician remains humble. On Tap caught up with De Leon to learn more about her  “constant learning journey” and how the musician incorporates her life experiences into the music she plays.

On Tap: You’ve played all over the country. What keeps you in DC?
Isabelle De Leon: I’m from Montgomery County, so not far. I’ve always loved the city, and it was always a dream of mine to move here and be more immersed in the scene. It’s great because the music scene is very active so there are a lot of opportunities to perform and meet other musicians. What’s cool about being here is that DC is a much smaller city but there’s still a lot happening, and I feel like I can be part of creating something here versus where it’s already oversaturated.

OT: You started out playing music at a young age with your family. How did your relationship with music develop as a child?  
IDL: It was always a family thing. My whole family played music. My dad was the one who taught us music when we were really young. He was teaching us all piano, guitar and bass. When I was seven, he brought home a drum set and taught me some basic things. At that point, he started asking each of us which instrument we wanted to take lessons for. I think he had a vision for what to steer us each toward. Our whole family played at church every weekend, and that was where we really learned about music theory, chord structures, arrangements and how to play in an ensemble – the nuances of improvising, taking cues and listening to each other. Those things are really valuable and hard to teach in a classroom.

OT: What drew you to the drums?
IDL: One of our favorite movies [growing up] was Selena, and it’s even more precious now because their story was very similar to ours. Their dad loved music and started them young, playing in this family band. I just remember that scene where he’s trying to get Suzette to play the drums and she’s adamantly protesting and she’s like, “Girls don’t play the drums.” And for some reason, I took that as, “Oh, I’m going to play the drums now and prove everybody wrong and show people that girls can play the drums.” So that was one of the reasons why I wanted to pursue it.

OT: It can be hard to make a career out of your passion. How did you make music both for you?
IDL: When I was really young, I didn’t know any other female drummers except [Santana’s] Cindy Blackman, who I idolized and still do. I realized that I was in a very unique position being a woman on a male-dominated instrument, and also being a woman minority in the music industry. I realized there was a power in that, in being able to inspire young girls to go out for things that people were telling them they couldn’t do. In a way, that’s really what my mission is. It’s one of the reasons why I feel like I can’t ever quit, necessarily. I yearn for that kind of figure I can look up to myself, and if I can be that for someone else who needs a role model, I would love to be that person for them.

OT: How does being a Filipino woman in this space affect what you do within the creative industry in DC?
IDL: Being a female drummer already sets me as a minority, and that’s something I’ve experienced my whole life. But one thing that I didn’t realize until I was much older was what my identity was and who I was. We grew up primarily around white people and because of that, I felt in a way more connected to American culture even though I know I don’t look “American.” But in Filipino circles, I didn’t feel like I fit in, in a way. That same kind of conflict came out when I started studying jazz music and participating in the DC music scene.

OT: What challenges have you faced breaking into the local jazz scene? 
IDL: Right now, I’m trying to get better at and play jazz, funk and soul music that’s oriented around really groovy drumming. There was an instance recently where it came to my attention that some people either roll their eyes at me when I come and play or they kind of judge me because according to them, I didn’t grow up in the “church” so I don’t really have a gospel background. That was hurtful because first of all, it’s not true. Also, music is supposed to be about camaraderie, sharing and connection. People who get hateful like that, or just bitter, defeat the purpose of what we do.

OT: You recently started a regular jam session at Pearl Street Warehouse. Is that a jazz series?
IDL: It’s called Southwest Soul Sessions. It’s not specifically jazz per se. I actually started the jam session with Elijah Jamal Balbed, who’s also an accomplished musician here, and our goal with the session was to bridge all of our music communities in DC. I’ve done a lot of work in the rock and pop scenes, and he’s very heavy in the jazz, R&B and go-go scenes. We realized that together, we would have a vast network of people and we really wanted to bring all of them together. The great thing about jam sessions is that you’re playing with people you may have never played with before and may never again. But in that moment, you’re just trying to create something that’s different and bring all of your influences to the table. We really wanted it to be like a dance party too, and Pearl Street Warehouse is perfect for that.

OT: You are very accomplished and constantly working on different projects. What keeps you focused and awake?
IDL: I’ve always known what my goals are. They’re pretty big, but I also have some that are more tangible like to be Beyoncé’s drummer. [Laughs] One thing that my mom taught me early on was to write down your priorities and goals and make lists of steps that you can take to get there. I make sure I check in with myself pretty regularly. My overall goals have been the same since I started to really pursue music, and I always keep that in the back of my mind. It’s really important to always remember your “Why?” It’s also important to take a break every once in awhile. There are days where I don’t do anything music-related.

OT: What do you enjoy doing on those days away from the music scene?
IDL: I really enjoy movies. I love being adventurous and trying new things, whether it’s an activity I’ve never done or something like bowling or just going on a walk in a park. I love cooking and catching up with friends. Relationships are really important to me, so I try to make sure I stay in touch with the people who are important and make time for them. I also really love shopping. I don’t mind spending money to beautify my room, because I’m creating music there and it needs to be a place of inspiration and a beautiful place that I can relax in and enjoy. My room is pretty decked out and full of plants.

Follow De Leon on Instagram at @isabelledeleon_ and on Facebook at @IsabelleDeLeonMusic. Learn more about her Southwest Soul Sessions with Balbed at www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com and sign up for drum lessons with her at www.7drumcity.com.

Photo courtesy of DASH
Photo courtesy of DASH

Q&A with District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH)

At Red Derby’s latest Tiki Party, each umbrella-topped rum punch was another few dollars donated for notebooks, backpacks and more back-to-school gear. The restaurant in NW, DC raised over $1,500, supporting the child residents of District Alliance for Safe Housing ,or DASH. Their goal before summer’s end is $3,000. 

DASH serves domestic violence survivors and their families to provide them with temporary housing in DC for up to 24 months. During this time, survivors work with an advocate to plan for an independently sustained life, safe from their abuser. Their next fundraiser, the DASH Kids Art Show Silent Auction, will be Thursday, September 13 at Red Derby, 6 p.m.

On Tap spoke with DASH’s executive director Koube Ngaaje, community housing program manager Crystal Jacobs and director of development Meghan McDonough about their services and common issues associated with shelters and domestic violence.

On Tap: What were the options for domestic violence survivors before DASH was formed in 2006?
Koube Ngaaje:
We call the residents survivors of domestic violence because they have survived a lot to get to where they are, and housing is really scarce in DC, let alone affordable housing. So before DASH came on the scene, these survivors had to choose between being homeless or staying in an abusive relationship. We try to make sure they never have to make that decision. So they have a safe space that they can go to.

OT: How is your housing model different from other shelter services?
Crystal Jacobs:
We have two scattered-site programs. For one, the population is [survivors of] domestic violence and/or sexual assault. The other program, which is fairly new, is specific for HIV as well as domestic violence. You have to have a dual diagnosis of both in order to access the program. But in general, [for] our families transitioning, we do like to make that step seamless. In the Empowerment Project we give them [free housing for] 24 months – at the end of the 24 months we want to make sure that their renting history is clean. Our goal is not to give full month’s rent from here to stay. Our goal is to help them get to the next steps.
KN: When a lot of people hear the word “shelter” or “homeless services provider,” they automatically do think of dormitory style. Being truly apartment-style [makes DASH different]. It’s tough when you’re in dormitory style because you’re working with people who have experienced so many forms of trauma. The ability for a survivor to have their own space: their own kitchen, their own bathroom, helps take away some of those pressures of community style living. Because of that we are able to house, in this building, male survivors and female survivors. [Each room houses] different configurations of families – from a one person household to a six-person household with children, a 16-year-old male living with a grandmother, or a family who has little ones from six months all the way up to 15. So that flexibility is unique to DASH.

OT: Do you provide job assistance as well?
CJ:
[Within 24 months] That should be one of the goals if you’re not employed, how can you get employed so you can live in the community on your own? Sometimes people are successful and sometimes some people aren’t. We’re not like a job bank. We get resources, we put them out there, we encourage them to seek those services and see exactly what that can look like for them.
KN: And that is really unique to DASH, that premise of having the survivor be the determinant factor in what success looks like for them. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach, nothing is required of a survivor to do in order to participate in services and receive services from us. And some people are with us for the full 24 months. Some people come in and, based on where they are, can make steps and move out of our program within 12 or 18 months. Some people are only here for six months.

OT: What are some misconceptions and stigmas associated with domestic violence?
KN:
A misconception is that domestic violence only happens behind closed doors. But the truth of the matter is one out of every four women have or will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In 2016, we served about 366 survivors and their families. In 2017, we served 688 survivors and their families, and we are well on track to surpass that for this fiscal year. We know in the coming years we’ll be called upon to do even more, especially because the cost of living continues to rise in DC. DASH has always been an innovator in that space of domestic violence and homelessness, and the reason why our programs do so well is that we’ve got the data to back it up, we know these services work.
Meghan McDonough: DASH does welcome male survivors. Typically people may think of domestic violence affecting only women, or even only women of color, and that’s not true. It affects all communities.
CJ: We have the transgender community that accesses us, something else that makes us unique. Transgender singles have a lot of barriers in itself. So gender identity in certain shelters can look different ways depending on the shelter. We’ll take your 16 year old son. A lot of shelters are like ‘if they’re over 12 they can’t come here.’ So we’ll take what other shelters don’t want to deal with. We have an array of folks here, it doesn’t look one way.
MM: Because we provide apartment-style living here, a lot of other shelters are dormitory style so that sets up limitations right there for male survivors or women with teenage male sons.

OT: Why do you think the number of survivors is increasing?
KN:
I think there are higher incidents of domestic violence. And not only are there more instances but people are probably more comfortable coming forward now, given the narrative that’s happening on the national and global scale. But we also recognize that for as many survivors that come forward for assistance, there are probably just as many who don’t. One of the biggest populations that we’re seeing an increase is in our elder population. Sometimes it’s not physical or sexual abuse, it’s emotional abuse… [survivors] being emotionally abused for 30 years, [and] have no sense of identity when you come into a program like DASH. One of our older residents said “this is the first time I’ve been able to prepare my own meals.” Or another resident who said “my abuser keeps calling me,” and we’ve said why do you keep answering? “Because I’ve always had to answer.” Well, [now] you don’t have to answer. Those instances tell us the occurrences are becoming more prevalent but there is also more work that has to be done.

Support DASH’s mission by visiting their website for more information and ways to donate, and/or by attending the DASH Kids Art Show Silent Auction on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m.

Red Derby: 3718 14th St NW, DC; www.dashdc.org

Photos: Jean Schindler
Photos: Jean Schindler

Finnish Simplicity Reigns at Mikko

Lately, DC’s restaurant scene has been getting high off complicated-looking plates, exotic decor and ingredients we can’t pronounce. Wolfgang Puck called, and he wants his 90s life back. Not to be contrary, but there’s nothing I crave right now more than simple, clean flavors that don’t require a hovering waiter to explain.

Enter Mikko, the first restaurant from Mikko Kosonen, once chef at the Finnish Embassy, and recently of his eponymous catering firm, and now cheerfully ensconced on P St. and serving exactly what I’m craving.

With a minimalist Scandi look courtesy of local design agency INNATE, the cheerful, intimate space seamlessly blends retail, coffee counter, sandwich case, restaurant and bar. Order a cup of fish broth laden with cod, potatoes and dill, or one of the hearty pickled herring sandwiches on hearty brown bread, balanced with fresh cucumber and dill.

The contrast between the very preserved and the very fresh represents one of the most refreshing aspects of Finnish cuisine. The pastries have lots of fruits, cardamon and butter, and there are easy-drinking aquavit cocktails on offer.

Larger plates, including a wonderful venison with lingonberry sauce, are beautifully presented without pretension. The flavors are opinionated and crisp, honest and accessible. Just like Chef Mikko and his team. Now go eat!

Mikko: 1636 R St. NW, DC; 202-413-6419; www.chefmikko.com

Salted licorice ice cream.

Salted licorice ice cream.

Venison lingonberry.

Venison lingonberry.

Finish see bread.

Finish see bread.

Finnish Vodka.

Finnish Vodka.

A fish soup cocktail with Aquavite lemon soda and cucumber dill.

A fish soup cocktail with Aquavite lemon soda and cucumber dill.

Pancake and fresh berries.

Pancake and fresh berries.

Fish soup with cod salmon, potatos, peppercorns and dill.

Fish soup with cod salmon, potatos, peppercorns and dill.

Image: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival
Image: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival

50 Ways… Proves Heartfelt and Hilarious

We all go through breakups. Some of them are hard and swift like a punch to a blind spot. Others are easy and light, two people knowingly nodding their head at the same time and then chuckling about the good times. There are quick breakups and long breakups, the kind you get over real quick and the kind that linger, leaving you feeling empty inside, especially when THAT song comes on.

The Capital Fringe Festival’s 50 Ways… explores the many varieties of the breakup, looking at 50 different scenarios where people, things leave the ones they held dearest. Like I said above, the emotional toll each take vary from crushing to hilarious, and co-directors Samir Bitar and Mahayana Landowne purposefully constructed the performance as a roller coaster.

In order to better understand the balancing act of assembling the massive number of vignettes in 50 Ways…, I was able to chat with Bitar about his involvement as director and choreographer, the play’s tonal shifts and the balancing act of piecing it all together.

On Tap: How did you get involved in the performance?
Samir Bitar: It was my longtime friend colaborator Mahayana Landowne, she’s a theatre director, creator and she pretty much only does experimental theatre. I wanted her to do something more traditional, so I urged her to enter here, and she said if I did she would, so hell yeah. We were about two months in, and she said she had an idea, she explained the song, which I knew. The idea of course, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Paul Simon’s 1976 pop hit. He only spells out six ways in the song and we wanted to actualize the concept. We put the call out to our network and friends, and this is an international list of people, and we wanted to them to submit one minute vignettes. We got back 15 playwrights, and 14 of whom we chose. Together we put together 49, and I choreographed an original work not submitted by a playwright.

OT: Explain the diversity of the breakups, what can people expect?
SB: Some of these are heartfelt, there are two scenes by edler characters and his wife had fallen into dementia, and he has a monologue where he was about to go on a date. He’s ready to take a first step, and there’s another scene with the characters flipped, and his wife is hovering over him helping him ease off into the next world. He tells her he wants to die alone, and those are two heart wrenching moments on stage. Surrounded by a lot of levity and laughter, and even some abstract ones. It’s a really rich tableau.

OT: What was it like focusing and narrowing down the scenarios, because 14 writers is a lot of cooks in the kitchen?
SB: Collectively we have 38 years of theatre experience, and we’re both empaths, and we talked about how it would play out. We received them and spent a month familiarizing ourselves with them, and I went up to New York and we locked ourselves in a hotel for three days, and we read them, walked through them. Most of the plays came out heterosexual, and we’re very sensitive to that, and we carved out a certain number of those to be lesbian, gay and transgender as well. We wanted to avoid agism. There’s all kinds of pairings. There’s an old person leaving a young person, and a young person leaving an old person. A lot of the dramaturgy and scoring happened as early as March. We held auditions at the Hirshorn, and we had our first reading and read through on May 26. With anything living, you push and edit and tighten and pull.

OT: What was it like balancing the emotions of all the breakups?
SB: Well, you know, the question it’s sort of seems predicated on a narrative and we didn’t come at it that way. As an empathetic human, from the outset I was very keen on the overarching physical sense of the audience. We didn’t want too much stillness, and there are some that are wordy, and some that are silent with more abstract, with modern dancers. We really weren’t super specific, it was which of these clump well together, and we had to rearrange as to what actors were, and all variables were pretty equal in forcing the show order. [Landowne’s] first wash was very logical, as these things happen in a bar, and some wrote for high school scene to college scene.

OT: How important was it for you all to make these scenes relatable?
SB: Very, very, very. This is work with the actors. This is authentic work and extensive work with several gifted actors. It’s the penultimate and ultimate to be on top of authenticity. To make sure everyone understands the mood and the real dynamics that play out. There’s always subtext, and we worked very hard on body language, on prop use and facial expressions. Words, beats, cadence, rhythm: we honed in on all of this, so they could connect authentically to the script and play. It was important for the audience to connect, even if it’s ludicrous.

OT: How long was the initial cut? Fifty scenes in 70 minutes is a breakneck pace.
SB: Yeah, I think our first run through, was about 87 minutes. We made the call to our writers, that we may have to cut them down. It’s hard to imagine what will happen in a minute, some of our writers submitted rich ideas that didn’t make it in, because they’re too long. As dramaturg, it was up to [Landowne] to carve out words and remove sentences.

50 Ways… is part of the Capital Fringe Festival. The show’s final times are tonight at 7:15 p.m. and on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. Tickets for the Saturday performance can be purchased here.

Christ United Methodist Church: 900 4th St. SW, DC; 866-811-4111; www.capitalfringe.org