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

A Curated Conversation: Three Voices of The DC Music Scene

It’s no secret that DC’s music scene is growing, putting us on the map with the likes of L.A. and NYC. What once was a buttoned-up city that musicians departed from to pursue careers in the big leagues is now a draw to artists looking to tap into our creative community. In other words, we’re proud of our town and for this year’s Local Music Issue, we decided to pick the brains of three stalwarts of the industry – or rather, to let them pick each other’s brains.

Full Service Radio’s founder and executive producer, Jack Inslee, welcomed us into his studio at the LINE Hotel in AdMo for a conversation on all things music in the District. We were joined by Christine Lilyea, the badass owner of Petworth darling Slash Run – a hybrid music venue, bar and community hub – and vinyl queen Alyssa Bell, who goes by the name Baby Alcatraz when she’s spinning at Showtime and pop-up art parties around the city, just to name a few of her locales.

The mics turned on and the words flowed from three very different voices all equally committed to the sounds of our city. Read on for the inside scoop on all things DC music – from why our artists have earned national recognition to the best spots to get sloppy while dancing to anything but Top 40.

MI CASA ES SU CASA

On Tap: What do you think sets the DC music scene apart from other cities? What drew you to the scene and why did you choose to stay here?
Jack: What excited me and ultimately convinced me to move here was the diversity in the underground music scene. I don’t know if that rings true for both of you, but DC is like – there’s DC music.
Alyssa: Absolutely.
Jack: I find that really interesting and still somehow overlooked in the national conversation even though every now and then, you get the go-go mention and punk mention, but it feels deeper than that.
Alyssa: Definitely. It’s a very special alchemy of things that happens here that seems [in] part [because of the] high cost of living and people having to work even harder to get through and create things. I think that adds to an interesting mix. It seems like a great mix of people.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. The biggest draw for DC for me was that Black Cat would have every band that I grew up listening to playing all the time. That’s what kept me here. Having the opportunity to see the bands that I grew up listening to and then learning about new bands and DC bands, you know? Obviously, DC [is known for] hardcore punk. Not only that, but then there’s the post-punk stuff [and the] house shows.
Jack: So you grew up listening to hardcore?
Christine: I was not a hardcore kid, no. But that’s what I learned when I first moved here, like, “Oh, okay. There’s Fugazi and there’s all this other stuff.” So [I grew up on] punk, rock ‘n’ roll, The Ramones.

OT: Didn’t Richie Ramone play a set at Slash Run in September?

Jack: Oh!
Christine: Yeah, that was a really awesome show. He ended up being a super great performer and it felt like The Ramones were playing. He was so genuine and nice to everyone. I think a lot of people appreciated having it in a smaller venue like Slash because it’s intimate and you can hang out with the performer. And they’re like totally open to it. Maybe it feels like their home too, in a sense. I want people to feel like that at Slash. Mi casa es su casa, that sort of thing.

SECRET GEMS

Jack: Where do you play here?
Alyssa: Right now, I have a monthly [residency] at Showtime [in Northwest DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood]. That’s all vinyl, always. They have a rotating schedule of people that’s mostly in the same wheelhouse of stuff that I play. Strangely enough, you can walk in on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. and someone will be playing some obscure 60s R&B record, and people will be dancing. It’s amazing.
Jack: See? That’s awesome. I think a lot of people, or at least DJs I know, are like, “Oh, it must be hard not to play Top 40 in DC.” I think that’s a huge misconception. Maybe talk a little bit about how special Showtime is, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a special place. I think it benefits from maintaining that consistency […] where when people go there, they’re not walking in and expecting Top 40, which is incredible.
Jack: There’s those little secret gem spots in DC.
Alyssa: Almost all the nights I do are rarely playing anything made after 1970. I’ll mix it up sometimes but if it’s a dance night, it’s almost always going to be something [from that era]. So, it’s amazing to have people who will write to me and be like, “I’m in town for one weekend.” And I’m like, “You’re in town for one weekend and you want to go to this special place?”
Jack: I remember when I moved here, my “What the f—k?” moment was when I went to Jimmy Valentine’s [Lonely Hearts Club in Northeast DC] and I was just like, “This is not what I thought DC was – woahhh.”
[All laugh]
Jack: It was like two thirty in the morning..
Christine: …at least [Laughs]
Jack: …and it was sloppy as f—k and people were playing weird like jungle, I think? I don’t even know.

COMMUNAL SOUNDS

OT: Where do you go to hear live music or DJ sets?
Jack: I follow people more than venues. Like Flash is a perfect example. That place might f—king suck on any given night. But there are some nights where it’s like more eclectic and artsy, so I love to go there. It’s a great sound system, if the right people are there. Same thing with Velvet [Lounge on U Street]: Velvet can be awesome, [and] Velvet can be Velvet.
[All laugh]
Jack: What’s cool about seeing shows in DC for me [is] you can get decision fatigue [in other cities]. I think in New York you’re like, “I don’t know.” There’s so many venues with small bands. DC is easier to navigate. On any given night, you may have four or five things. When something really cool is happening, the community seems to really come around it in a really dope way.

OT: Coming from such a big city like New York, do you like that it seems like everybody knows everybody in DC? Does that feel weird?
Jack: There’s a honeymoon period where I [was] like, “This is the best thing ever. I love it. Everybody supports each other here. It’s like the size of a high school, the creative people here.” And then that started to feel claustrophobic maybe a little bit, but I still think there’s a lot of strength to it. In the rap scene here, it’s like everybody’s one degree away from each other in a cool way. That’s kind of how a communal sound comes to be. I think that’s what New York was in the early days of the rap scene where you hear stories about what the Bronx was like. Everybody knew everybody and collaborated with each other, and then all boats rose with that tide. The rap scene here feels like it’s in a moment like that, interestingly. I think it’s still good, the size, especially for me and what I do because I’m just here to amplify and give people this space.
OT: What local artists are on your wish list to interview?
Jack: My job here is to follow what the city’s doing, what the city wants, what the kids are into. I think there’s a lot of energy around Rico Nasty. I think a lot of people are really proud of her being from here, and she’s just doing so much cool shit. I’d love to have Rico Nasty in here. That star is shooting quickly. The [FSR] space is open. We get pitched all the time. [We’re] always trying to bring new shows in.
OT: Who is on your wish list to book at Slash Run?
Christine: I got Richie Ramone. [Laughs] My first two years at Slash Run has sort of been like, “Man, I got everybody. I think I’m done.” No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] There’s definitely a lot more, but [I’ve had] bigger ones than I ever anticipated so far, so I’m pleased right now.
Jack: I guess the Mos Defs of the world. I think a lot of the older legacy acts would be energized to see what the young kids are doing here in rap, and it’s hard to find places for them to interact.

STAY WEIRD, DC

OT: What’s next? What are you excited about? Any parting thoughts on the DC music scene?
Jack: There are all these initiatives that I think are good and well-intended. I hope [these organizations and government initiatives] continue to listen to the actual people with their feet on the ground doing the work and what their concerns are. I hope […] locals continue to be engaged in a real way and listened to.
Alyssa: Yeah, there’s some changes happening with the grants in the city now. I’m concerned about it and I hope it goes well. I hope it changes in a way that is positive for the people who are here that need it desperately. We all know about cost of living here, and it’s so important to have those programs and to help people do what we do here.
Jack: What excites me the most is hoping that some of these underground cultural leaders keep getting bigger stages and platforms on national levels so that the thought of what the DC sound is continues to change nationally. When I talk to people in other cities, they’re like “DC – go-go,” which of course is legacy [and] amazing. But there are these new sounds and new things that I hope pick up nationally.

OT: I feel like a lot of people say that about Fugazi, and the hardcore and punk scenes in DC, too.
Christine: Yeah, that’s true. It’s one of those things where we’re so diverse now that I don’t have to worry about putting on a certain show and nobody’s going to come, because this is going to bring a totally different crowd and I’m happy about that. I’m glad that it’s not just always hardcore punk, or always just this or that.
Jack: Stay weird, DC.

Baby Alcatraz // Alyssa Bell
Catch her monthly vinyl DJ sets at Showtime and follow her on Instagram @babyalcatraz to find out where she’s popping up around town.
Showtime: 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC

Full Service Radio // Jack Inslee
Go to www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio to learn more about the station’s offerings, and don’t miss Uptown Cypher hosted monthly by Jamal Gray and The Uptown Art House for the opportunity to freestyle with local rappers. Follow FSR on Instagram @fullserviceradio.
Full Service Radio at The LINE: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com

Slash Run // Christine Lilyea
Go to www.slashrun.com for the rock ‘n’ roll joints’ full band and event lineup, and follow Slash Run on Instagram @slashrundc.
Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com

Matt Jackson and Avery Showell at The LINE DC // Photo: courtesy of ThFctry

ThFctry Brings Retro Flair to Local Radio

I’m on the second floor of H Street’s Maketto sipping a latte when I realize I’m not 100 percent sure what the two people I’m meeting look like. I type their collective name, The Factory (stylized ThFctry), into Instagram and realize both Matt Jackson and Avery Showell aren’t ones to beat their chests. There are few proper selfies of the duo, as the stream of photos consists almost entirely of DC artists the two have interviewed or are celebrating – often both.

Despite this, they aren’t strangers to self-promotion, and have carved out a niche for themselves in the surrounding DMV by dabbling in several mediums to promote local hip-hop. The pair curates monthly playlists of entirely new releases and hosts artists cutting their teeth on their self-titled radio program produced at Full Service Radio inside AdMo’s LINE Hotel.

“We’re like hybrids,” Jackson tells me matter-of-factly after he and Showell arrive. “When we run into people, they don’t know whether to treat us like radio DJs of old or new-age playlisters. It’s like a weird gray area of curation that we’re in. Some people call us podcasters, some people call us radio hosts.”

Before the two climb the stairs of the coffee shop, I’m finally able to find a picture of them from a previous recording session. But it’s one of those Insta slideshows and theirs is the last one, buried underneath candids and posed shots of their interviewee.

Today, they are dressed like they’re coming back from the YMCA after a run of several 5-on-5’s in basketball shorts, thrifted T-shirts and athletic shoes. They’re dressed for the outside heat, so scalding the power cut out as they were ordering their iced coffees. Just as they sit down, the Maketto speakers come back on. It’s a hit from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 collaboration Watch the Throne, before the latter wore Trump’s hat and said flagrant things on TMZ.

“We’re going to do a Kanye interview one day,” Jackson says assuredly. “We’ve got some ideas for Kanye that we got to talk to him about – crazy, crazy ideas.”

Forming ThFctry

At Salisbury University in 2014, the idea that Jackson and Showell would be hosting a radio show in the nation’s capital would have seemed like one of those “crazy ideas.” Showell’s primary goal in college was getting comfortable on a microphone and he wasn’t shy, quickly hosting different shows every year for the school’s radio station. The subject matter was “everything,” but he and his cohost at the time kept music a constant focal point.

“My background was always from the perspective of someone who wanted to get into the journalism side of it,” Showell says about his early on-air experiences. “I grew up in love with music, artists and genres. It was: How do I take this to a new level of engagement? What’s my next level?”

For Jackson, Salisbury marked his fourth college of attendance. Despite a music background, including a stint with a preteen, church-based, gospel hip-hop group, his primary focus for higher education was basketball. He played at three schools before arriving in the small Maryland town, calling himself the “college Rudy Gay.” Upon enrolling and acclimating to a lifestyle less consumed with athletic endeavors, Jackson linked up with Showell and discovered a connection through their backgrounds and the shared desire to highlight local artists.

“Every DJ we saw that was going in [to the college radio station] was using it like some kind of chill period of their day,” Jackson says. “They were going in there to chill with their friends and joke around, but they weren’t focusing on content. We thought, ‘Why don’t we do it like we’re on Radio One or SiriusXM right now?’ Taking that initiative at that time made us stand out.”

Their show was titled “Thank You for Not Snitching,” named after a music blog. In the middle of 2015, the radio show outgrew the small website, which left all parties a little unsettled. After parting ways, the friends were forced to decide on a new platform, name and mission, and thus ThFctry was born.

“We had to start a whole new thing because coming off of working with a blog, you don’t want to go after the same stories or same artists,” Jackson says. “We went back to the drawing board, because even if we were doing a good job finding new artists then, we have to an even better job now and make those new relationships.”

Showell adds, “That was a crucial period. That was the moment that everything fused together into something that more resembles now.”

Life at the LINE

Both Jackson and Showell graduated college in 2016, leaving behind the familiarity of the university radio booth in favor of returning to DC. Though the two were able to cobble up funds for bills by doing odd jobs around the city, they were also laying a foundation for their next radio endeavor.

“It was a year of due diligence,” Showell says. “It was us interacting with everyone we’d need to call upon once we got set up. Down the road, it’s like, hey, they know who ThFctry is.”

Eventually, people did start to take notice of the curating dynamos as they began introducing themselves to all of the artists they promoted via social media, forming relationships and cementing a foundation for a robust guest list. As everything lined up perfectly for ThFctry’s on-air return, the LINE Hotel announced its plans to host an Internet radio station.

“Timing is everything,” Jackson says. “It was divine timing. I sat on the idea for a few months, afraid to hit send on the email [to ask for an audition]. We went to the hotel on New Year’s Eve [for] some random party. I was stalking Jack Inslee’s page. I know what he looks like. We were about to leave because we couldn’t get in, and the one guy we came to see walks out to smoke a cigarette.”

Inslee, Full Service Radio’s founder and creative director, told them to send an email. Jackson did. He sent two more over the course of the next five months, before Inslee finally gave them an audition in the summer.

“We thought it wasn’t going to happen,” Jackson says candidly. “We went in there and bodied it the first time – one take Drake.”

The formula of the show was simple, a call back to hip-hop radio in the 90s. Interviews with artists would be interspersed with music from their latest mixtapes, bringing a nostalgic, retro feel to the program and a personal connection to the local talent.

“I want an artist to [be able to] drop locally, because they can’t go to [93.9] WKYS to play their whole album,” Jackson says. “[The station] is just not going to do it, or at least they haven’t been doing it. I felt like that model was the most effective. [On] the first couple of episodes, we just played all of our favorite music that you don’t know about, but we needed to add that personal touch.”

Local Lists + Future Forays

In-between radio booths, Jackson and Showell became Internet investigators in search of new local music. SoundCloud became a useful tool as the website operates as a stomping ground for up-and-coming artists. However, the limitless supply of songs can be difficult to sift through. That’s where ThFctry came through with their monthly “Sounds and Smoke Daylists,” available on SoundCloud.

“That’s a great part of it,” Showell says. “There’s definitely something to mastering how to navigate SoundCloud or making stations [based on] music you like. It’s that combined with submissions [and] word of mouth.”

“[Follow] the trail of quality,” Jackson adds. “Most quality artists work with other quality artists. We canvas the platforms pretty well and we’re super active on social media. I always knew there were artists here.”

ThFctry’s own trail of quality doesn’t end at playlists and podcasts, as the duo has a score of ideas for future multimedia projects including an upcoming radio tour consisting of stops at the LINE’s sister hotels.

“We’re going to be kicking it with artists for like a week, so we can have a good amount of content,” Jackson says. “[And] just really shine a light on something not only we can use, but they can use while they go along. We’re just going to be doing dope shit.”

Check out ThFctry’s dope shit, including playlists and full episodes of their radio show, at www.soundcloud.com/thfctry. For information regarding their upcoming schedule and future projects, follow them on social media @thfctry. Learn more about Full Service Radio at www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio.

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Matt Jackson as Matt Jones. We regret this error. 

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