Words by: Alan Pyke, Clarissa Villondo, Bryce T. Rudow, Phil Runco, Cale, John Marble, Svetlana Legetic, Robert Winship, Shauna Alexander, Bradley Portnoy, Andrew Bucket, Andy DelGiuice, William Alberque
Photos by: Clarissa Villondo, Shauna Alexander, Julian Vu, Bradley Portnoy, Andy DelGiudice, Dakota Fine, Janie Briggs
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DC9. This week one of our District’s finest and most beloved venues turns 10 and my, if those walls could talk. Between the dance parties, the bands you’d always see there first before they BLEW UP, the Nerd Nights, the finest damn bar food, the evenings on the roof deck and so much more, DC9 has become more than just a city staple; it’s a home to DC’s music lovers of every creed and demographic.
To celebrate 10 whole years of the city’s live-music gem, we asked some of our favorite BYT writers and photographers to weigh in on their favorite memories. From playing the venue to scantily-clad block parties just outside the front door, let’s revisit some of our best moments made possible by DC9.
When I found out CunninLynguists were playing DC9 in the summer of 2011, my first thought was that the Kentucky-meets-Georgia trio really ought to be commanding bigger venues, and shame on the Black Cat for letting a good booking pass them by. In retrospect, though, DC9 was an ideal spot for the under-appreciated rappin-ass rappers with the lasciviously punny band name. A small, crowded, sweaty room full of diehards is where you want to be for a beloved rap act anyway. DC9 gave all of us who were there that night the perfect platform for that special pretension we call “a real hip-hop show,” that mixture of genuine pride and low-key insecurity at being one of the too-few wise enough to turn up for a band that really ought to be rocking bigger spots. DC has lots of those too-small venues that transform periodically into shrines to one or another subculture, and the upstairs at DC9 is an important star in that constellation.
Now that I am a photographer, I have gotten the pleasure of shooting so many great acts at DC9 with my boyfriend who’s also a photographer. As two concert photographers dating, it’s not easy finding shows in which we can both shoot, not worry about having to sneak cameras in and not be DIY house/dive bar shows. DC9has become one of our favorite places for cute photo shoot dates. Together, we’ve gotten to photograph Cymbals Eat Guitars, The Silver Liners, PLOY and Sylvan Esso to name a few, with Sylvan Esso being our favorite to shoot. We only knew the three Sylvan Esso songs posted online, but we couldn’t help but shoot, sing and (awkwardly, yet adorably) dance together. I keep checking DC9’s schedule for more awesome shows to shoot (with or without a date). I don’t remember a line up that disappointed me at DC9.
Bryce T. Rudow
On the 26th of September, 2012, I went to one of my favorite concerts of all time.
It was a random Wednesday and All Things Go editor Adrian Maseda told me he had a +1 to check out this group Stepdad at DC9, who were opening up for someone I had never heard of named Rich Aucoin. We were one of many 40 people there to see Stedpad, but after their set ended and everyone realized how late it already had become for a Wednesday night, a lot of that crowd dissipated before the headliner, the unknown Rich Aucoin, had even begun setting up. For some reason though, the three of us decided to stay.
And as the lanky French-Canadian took the stage with just the drummer from Stepdad behind him, we were a bit skeptical of the whole thing. Then, video screens flashed to life playing clips from popular YouTube videos like “Drinking Out Of Cups,” only to have them eventually dissolve into the backbones of beats for Aucoin’s unique blend of raw indie pop. What followed was something somewhere between a punk show, a cult ritual, and a team-building exercise. Microphones with industrial lightbulbs were passed around for all 15 of us still in the audience to chant into, gym class multi-colored parachutes were draped over us, and at one point all baker’s dozen of us were locked arm-in–arm together dancing to Aucoin’s riotous finale.I know as a writer I’m supposed to be able to properly articulate the experience of live music into words, but this was something indescribably amazing. And it was the kind of thing that could have only taken place at DC9 on a random Wednesday night.
DC9 is my favorite place to see a concert in DC. And it isn’t even close. Little makes me happier than seeing DC9 on a band’s itinerary. This was the case before the rooftop deck and the new staircase and the revamped beer selection. These things are great. They make it unquestionably a better venue. People don’t hesitate about going to DC9 anymore. That used to happen. Do I miss the old seedy entrance to the concert hall sometimes – the one a little too close to the bathroom? Yes, of course. It felt like a portal. It felt like a secret. I remember the first time that I walked up it to see Asobi Seksu. It was the summer of 2006, the band closed with a cover “Then He Kissed Me,” and my brain melted.
I’ve gone on to see many other great shows there. One that stand outs is Women in October 2010. The band was touring on the incredible Public Strain, and that night those songs sounded somehow both more dissonant and melodic. Everything was cranked to 11 and my ears hurt the next morning. “Eyesore” and “Black Rice” were shimmering, massive, majestic things. Bradford Cox approached the band after the set to geek out. He was wearing a sweatshirt that celebrated the Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series victory, because, of course. A couple of weeks later, the band got into a fight onstage in Canada and called it quits. Fourteen months after that, guitarist Christopher Reimer died in his sleep. So, I’ll never get to see Women again, but I’ll always have that memory.
A masturbatory list of fond memories I’ve had hanging out at DC9 over the years:
-Herman Dune, The Glass, Love Is All, Xiu Xiu, and a million other great shows
-Phoenix wishing me a happy birthday. I love birthday.
-Letting us light sparklers in the club
-When the fan in the bathroom almost fell on my head and/or wiener
-Seeing a Cure cover band shortly after seeing the real Cure… and enjoying the cover band more
-Trying to figure out that ridiculous mixer
-The fact that Nerd Night always sold out
-Train spotting DJ The People’s Champion
-Sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Well, mostly rock n roll.
DC9 was really the first safe place for many gay Washingtonians who felt as if they didn’t fit in entirely with current gay culture. It has always been the place where we could go to hang out with our straight friends and with other gay people. It wasn’t a gay bar, but it was a place where gay Washingtonians knew that they would be welcomed, and a place where we knew that we could find other gay people like ourselves.The DC9 also acted as an incubator for art and music. The prominent rise of Washington’s national role in nightlife and music is due in large part to the DC9. If you had an interesting idea, you could try it out here. This was especially true in the gay community. The long-running party TAINT brought together a wide-section of gay Washingtonians who wouldn’t normally hang out with each other. It collided ideas, exposed people to new music, introduced up-and-coming acts, and inspired many of its attendees to try their own hand in the arts.
I’ve seen people come to the DC9 for a party, be inspired by what they saw, and then turn around and start contributing to the Washington social scene by creating art themselves. One friend’s arc brought him from being inspired by hanging out with interesting artists at the DC9 to being featured at the Hirshhorn himself. The DC9 isn’t just a bar. It was an innovation lab.On a personal level, I met so many of my good friends at the DC9. I remember one boy at my gym on whom I had a nervous crush for the longest time. I was too anxious to approach him at the gym, but the relaxed atmosphere at the bar removed those barriers. He spotted me and came up to talk about our overlapping running schedules. That conversation ended up turning us into great friends, and I’m always thankful that the DC9 helped to introduce us. The DC9 is a place where I’ve flirted, forgotten heartaches, danced with friends, and discovered new art that still inspires me. It cut across class, race, gender, sexual orientation and musical taste. It represents the best of what Washington is.
DC9 is not a big venue, either by comparison to neighborhood giants (930 Club, Lincoln Theater, Howard Theater) or even as an outsized force for DC’s DIY ideals (Black Cat). This is not to speak ill of the venue, rather to point out one of the few remaining clubs that draws people off the street and maintains a low profile. DC9 serves as a launching point for bands passing up through the ranks and local staples. I’ve had the privilege of playing more shows at DC9 than any other venue in DC and every time, the relatively small 2nd floor seems full and lively. I’d point to my inaugural Dead Meadow show as the most appropriate. Dead Meadow is the psych-heavy parallel to a somewhat obscure and incredibly rewarding venue, which serves the locals as much as the touring acts. U Street is quite literally packed with venues, but DC9 is an understated gem.
It can’t be stated any bolder — as a photographer and a music lover DC9 is my favorite venue in the District. From taking my some of my first concert shots for BYT of Amazing Baby (my favorite show of 2009), to photographing The XX before they sold out every other space in town and even seeing my own friends play in this comfortable space, I’ve grown to expect nothing but the best from the staff and talent that comes through the door.
I shot my first ever concert at DC9, I’ve had plenty of first dates at DC9. I attended an early Mixtape and the last ever Taint there. It was at DC9, over drinks and burgers, that I cemented a friendship that’s now one of my most important. I DJ’d the Robyn & Kelis afterparty with Shea Van Horn and one of my best friends from college, and that night I saw the roofdeck before it was opened.
Most of all I got to know, at least in passing, the staff, who are some of my favorites of any bar in the city. And I can’t deny that DC9 probably has the best bar food of any straight-up bar I know. Seriously so good.
Nouveau Riche was the same night as my 23rd birthday, and a fire broke out at a restaurant next door just when the room filled in around midnight. The music stopped, and the place was evacuated. A couple hundred people in party clothes (read: next to nothing) filled the street as the fire department arrived. A few minutes later NR deejay Steve Starks pulled up and cranked a mix from a car, which turned into a block party.
This is Stephen Parsons, a kick-ass guitarist who plays in a myriad of DC punk bands. For this show he was playing with Blacksmith Tomahawk, a thrashy three piece side project. The set itself was technically plagued by broken strings and uncooperative equipment but was a great example of why local punk scenes can be such a great scene to be a part of. Each time a guitar failed, which was often, an audience member would unpack THEIR guitar and pass it up to the stage. When a big touring act comes through town and something breaks, a perfect replacement is waiting patiently in the wings, pre-tuned by an unknown roadie or stage hand. At the local shows, a guitar gets passed up from the audience and is usually owned by a member of one of the other bands playing that night.
DC9 has provided extraordinary entertainment, consistently, to a diverse section of the DC population. The club itself has been a haven in chaos for many, many years. I have never felt threatened by any form of violence in the club, which is safe and incredibly well run. The staff are phenomenal, and show a patience and kindness in the face of any form of drunken tomfoolery.
Bill Spieler is an avid lover of new music, a savvy businessman, and, most important a kind and gentle man. He has welcomed me often into his wonderful club, and I count some of my evenings there among my greatest nights out in DC.
I have been awestruck at the quality of bands from all around the world that have had the fortune to be on stage – from Japan, Sweden, the UK, France, Germany and beyond. My favorite moments this year alone include seeing the magnificent Delphic, Golden Filter, and Hundred in the Hands – all in a venue personable enough to meet the band, and well-engineered enough to hear every note as though on a home stereo. All time, I can recall the magnificent DJ nights I participated in, the special themed parties, falling in and out of love and, above all, the abiding friendships that I forged in that utterly unique space.
Finally, I would like to close with the words of Ward 1 Council Member Jim Graham, from an article in the papers: “Facts are facts — let’s be fair. The record of DC9, I think you’d say, is almost perfect,” he said, stating that it had only minor violation of a provision of a voluntary agreement on record.