October 31, 2010

The DJ As King

Worn Magazine Issue 2 is now available at 14 locations across Washington, D.C. Here is the full unedited text of "The New Spin Crowd" which features local DJ's in a 12-page photo spread. The artists selected here represent an essential part of DC's creative community and have attracted both attention and admiration from club owners, music journalists and record labels. This response is triggered largely by a renewed interest in electronic dance music and the presence of a new generation of DJ's who share ideas, performance spaces and markets for their music. These artists, inspired by their local scene and the music of our time, are now recieving enthusiastic applause. With respect to the many omitted, here is one writer's take on the most recognized and best liked DJ's in DC.

The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of DJ events and monthly dance parties, with many of DC’s most talented DJ's enjoying unprecedented musical recognition. Members of this gifted group, an essential part of DC’s creative community, dominate at venues across the District and have gained a good deal of fame and even notoriety. As the main attraction, the DJ always takes center stage and gets directly to the point, building up excitement in the crowd and compelling listeners to decide for themselves if the party is right.

Boosted by the emergence of popular music and culture websites such as All Our Noise, The Couch Sessions and True Genius Requires Insanity as well as hip bars Marvin, Dodge City and Little Miss Whiskeys, DJ’s play an integral role in the growth and transformation of the city’s cultural landscape. Accessible to any audience, offering a wide spectrum of musical styles and genres, the sheer volume of DJ’s and dance parties can often be somewhat overwhelming. The recent revival of dance music has been facilitated by local standouts like DJ Dave Nada, DJ Matt Nordstrom, DJ Sam “The Man” Burns, DJ Stereofaith to mention only a few who have paved the way and continue to point the direction. The artists selected here represent only a fraction of the DJ’s who have influenced and impacted the Districts flourishing dance community.

“Every DJ has a very similar dream club in mind, but Will Eastman and Jesse Tittsworth really took it to the next level… Their model of an open door policy, great bookings and an amazing sound system draws large numbers through the door. It’s the Black Cat of dance music in DC.”
- DJ Chris Burns

U Street Music Hall has thrust DC-based DJs, producers and co-owners Jesse Tittsworth and Will Eastman into the nightlife spotlight. This March, the opening of their popular dance club and performance venue U Street Music Hall - or U Hall for short- has shaken up the DC DJ community. U Hall was built from the ground up to be a music-focused venue catering to the District’s top DJ talent. It boasts an impressive 40,000 watt sound system, described by DJ Keenan Orr as “sick,” and provides a superior dance space for several of DC’s largest dance parties. “U Street Music Hall really has it all,” says DJ Gavin Holland. An immediate success, U Hall hosts local heavyweights Nadastrom and Tittsworth, the deep house party Red Fridays, the funk and soul inspired Soul Controllers, Beautiful Swimmers disco DJ night, The Whale, to name only a few of the artists and events representing DC proper.

Co-owner Will Eastman came up with the idea to open the space about five years ago “I listened to a Chic record backwards and Nile Rodgers sent a subliminal message that I heard as, ‘Open aaaaaaa dance clubbbb,’” he jokes. A pioneer of the DC dance community, Eastman exerts tremendous influence. He is known in the District for his wildly popular Blisspop dance party which, to his delight, has more than doubled in size since its move from the Black Cat to U Hall. His inspired use of techno, indie dance, electro, hip hop and club creates the vibe for one of DC’s longest running dance parties. “There’s a renaissance underway in dance music culture and production in DC right now... Better DJ’s, better music, better clubs and - most important - good attitudes all contribute to more people coming out to dance,” Eastman says.

U Hall co-owner Jesse Tittsworth has been a champion of innovative dance music for over a decade. From local DJ to global headliner and club owner, he has recently achieved cult-like status for bringing U Hall to the burgeoning 14th and U Street corridor. “I am happy U street Music Hall can provide a home for live dance music. It’s cool to see music get a bit more dance oriented” says Tittsworth. Drawing from a combination of styles as varied as Baltimore club, rave, house and hip hop Tittsworth is driven to make music as complex and powerful as he can. Tittsworth builds his sets around “Attention to detail, energy, swagga, confidence, musical knowledge, technical ability…First and foremost, I gotta like the tunes. From there I consider its place in a set, crowd reaction and artistic merit.” Tittsworth believes that style is really important “What do you have without your own identity, sound, look, and feel?” He asks.

“Local DJs are teaming up and realize that there is power in numbers.”
-DJ Keenan Orr

DC DJ’s have found much success in forming key creative collaborations with fellow artists. At monthly dance party Nouveau Riche, Gavin Holland spins with DJ’s familiar to DC club regulars, Nacey and Steve Starks. Equally versatile as a solo DJ and producer, Holland’s reputation as a risk taker and innovator has earned him residencies at Marvin and Wonderland Ballroom. Holland applauds, “DJs that aren’t afraid to do something interesting and push new sounds.” And in the words of Tittsworth, “Starks and Nacey are killing it for sure.” Since 2006, Nouveau Riche has attracted a loyal and diverse following, recently moving venues from DC9 to the larger and louder U Hall. Derisive of labels and resistant to the limitations of any musical styles or genre, this innovative group of three is adamant about playing music people haven’t heard and don’t expect to hear.

The trio’s collaboration with DC-based clothing company DURKL marries music and fashion. “Presentation is a strong clue as to the quality of the product…If you're a great DJ, you will style yourself so as to indicate that you're passionate about what you do. That doesn't necessarily mean being flashy, although I often am - it means adopting a look that helps the audience understand what you're doing. I rely on thrift stores and DURKL,” says Holland. He continues that the team at DURKL is, “taking major design risks and making clothes that get worldwide recognition, yet they remain focused on the fact that they're based in DC.”

DJ Chris Burns believes “The DJ’s job is to both entertain and educate the crowd, but more importantly make sure the room is dancing and having a good time.” Inspired by and collaborating with the district’s best DJ’s and producers, DJ Chris Burns is well known for playing and promoting epic underground parties in alternative venues such as abandoned warehouses and church basements. His after hour events at the Trinidad and Tobago Association Clubhouse (TnT) on Georgia Avenue have hosted house music’s biggest names, including Diplo, DJ Spen, DJ Mandrill, and Deep Dish. “We did well there because at the time there were no other proper clubs or underground platforms in DC to showcase local dance music talent and other out of town talent that is otherwise internationally renowned outside our area. TnT was the perfect venue; cavernous, raw, and open to anyone who wanted to dance and hear top class DJs in a positive environment.” Chris Burns and Nouveau Riche’s Gavin Holland perform under the moniker Party Bros, hosting the popular Shorts, a joint venture with DURKL at the Adams Morgan hangout Asylum, where the only requirement of admission to the party is that you absolutely must wear shorts.

Adrian Loving is one of the only DJ’s in DC that has found a way to effortlessly bridge the art world and the dance scene. As a graphic designer and co founder of the art gallery and multimedia studio, Dissident Display, Loving has made a name for himself at both art events and hotel rooftop parties. “I like to let the music speak for itself. I layer sounds and beats and really try to create a story with the music” says Loving. Masterful at self promotion, Loving’s style is a key element in how he presents his music and personal brand. Last years Coolout, which featured Loving alongside the renowned DJ Harry Hotter and DJ Jahsonic at The Beacon Hotel was a huge success, as was this years La Especiale at The Donovan House Hotel rooftop. Loving says good DJs, “read the crowd, sense the energy, tell a story and transport you somewhere. They are unselfish, and have great taste in music. They are also willing to take chances on the dance floor.” Among his current artistic endeavors Loving is helping the Museum of African Art develop music for their forthcoming After Hours Series which begins in October. He is also working on design and branding development for a non-profit that focuses on arts and education in Brazil and Africa.

DJ Keenan Orr brings a special mix of hip hop, old school, electro and house to his residencies at Cobalt, The Rock and Roll Hotel and Marvin. DJ Keenan was voted Best DJ in Washington City Paper’s Best of DC 2010 Reader’s Poll 2010. Heavily influenced by hip hop music and its remixing tradition, Keenan’s party ‘Ol Skool’, every Tuesday at Marvin, includes some of the best of 80’s and 90’s hip hop, R and B and ‘new jack swing’. He is a skilled DJ and promoter whose spirit of collaboration has contributed to his success. Keenan is often seen and heard around town spinning with venerable dance scene player DJ Smudge, whom he describes as, “a DJ that can play to any crowd… and has an awesome taste in music.” Spinning together for two years as Two Sisters and most recently throwing The Sunday Tea Dance at Marvin, Keenan and Smudge complement each other’s musical style. “I met Smudge in 2008. We knew about each other, but we never met. By, chance we spun together at Rock and Roll Hotel and we just clicked.” Keenan says, “Sam ‘The Man’ Burns will always be my favorite local house DJ. I’ve learned tons from hanging out with Dave Nada, Jackie O, and Tittsworth. Ed Metaphysical, Stereofaith, Doc Roc, and Trevor Martin are my favorites too.”

“As time passes and more female DJs come onto the scene, women will be respected for their musical and creative talents and not simply viewed as eye candy behind the booth.”
- DJ Fabiana

DJing is, “one of those jobs where there are a higher number of men than women,” says Ellen Lovelidge aka DJ Lil’ Elle. While this is true, female selectors including DJ Jackie O, DJ Cassidy, DJ Fabiana, and DJ Lil’ Elle are quickly gaining recognition and are considered by the press, the public and their peers to be some of the city’s finest presenters of electronic dance music. “You’re always going to have the [female DJs] who are more about sex appeal than the music but they get weeded out quickly and it’s nice to not have many like that in DC” says DJ Lil’ Elle. In fact she is currently helping to develop the styles of two up and coming female DJ’s. DJ Jackie O brings a fresh perspective and works to propel her own blend of electro and hip hop music into a new state of diversity. Her passion and insight is demonstrated in the monthly party Sweatshop with DJ Trevor Martin and KIDS, a collaboration with Lil’ Elle and Nouveau Riche’s Nacey and Steve Starks.

According to DJ Fabiana, “Women DJs have started becoming respected members of the music industry, taking on producer roles, as well as becoming promoters for their own events.” On the third Saturday of each month at the Rock and Roll Hotel, DJ Cassidy and DJ Fabiana’s monthly Garutachi stands out among the influx of dance parties in DC. “Fabiana has a unique eclectic style and a wealth of musical knowledge which spans across all genres. During our sets, we not only challenge and inspire each other but we have a lot of fun doing so,” says DJ Cassidy.
Satisfying a wide variety of tastes, Garutachi attracts an eclectic mix of attendees and is a favorite in the Atlas District.

“With Pink Sock, this is my party, I’m DJing, I’m trying to create an energy… sustain it, build it, and get everyone to go crazy and let loose.”

Pink Sock is the self proclaimed “party for gays and for the straights who are cool enough to have gay friends (or want to meet some).” Since its debut in November 2009, Ryan Duncan, aka DJ RAD, has transformed the second floor of Wonderland into a cross dressing, high heeled, glittered extravaganza “that people can’t find anywhere else” says DJ RAD. “I’m proud to say that Pink Sock seems to bring an influx of DC’s most interesting, creative, and fun guests every month.” The crowd is unquestionably drawn to Pink Socks reputation for delivering an over the top experience complete with stripper poles and XXX rated performances. “I purposely set out with a vision for what I wanted Pink Sock to be about, which was something completely different than DC is used to” says DJ RAD. RAD and a bevy of special friends including DJ Bradley Portnoy, DJ’s Shea Van Horn and DJ Matt Bailer, DJ TMY, DJ Aaron Riggins, DJ Bil Todd among many others guest DJ for Pink Sock.

Over time Pink Sock has attracted a larger and more diverse audience. “Each Pink Sock has a different monthly theme. Those themes usually lend themselves to different genres of music, which is always fun and inspiring to me” says DJ RAD. “The party’s been happening for less than a year and we’ve already been picked up by Washingtonian Magazine as DC’s Best Alternative Gay Dance Party. Pink Sock is a party not to be missed.

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