When one thinks of one of D.C.’s most avant-garde art spaces, DuPont Underground, 16th century madrigals don’t usually come to mind. In fact you might not even know what a madrigal is. It’s basically a song where different voices sing at the same time, usually from the Renaissance period. If I’ve lost you, come back, because what Direct Current has been doing from March 5 through 19 is notable to D.C.’s art and music culture and is not something to ignore.
Direct Current is Kennedy Center’s first year attempt at making contemporary culture accessible to an expanding audience in D.C., and they didn’t take this role lightly. From drag, dance, electronica, to hip-hop, and even video games, Direct Current is putting accessibility forefront. They’ve created new partnerships with four nonstandard venues around the district to reach as wide of an audience as possible. Judging from the crowd at the DuPont Underground pop-up, it’s working.
Walking down to the cool blue-lit venue, one is hit immediately with projections produced exclusively for this show by S. Katy Tucker. You make direct contact with pairs of Renaissance painting eyes as you walk along the streetcar station admiring the abstract projections that perfectly complement the unique nature of what DJ Justin Reed is producing for the young, well-dressed crowd.
The Kennedy Center made the first move with Reed, inquiring about his interest in collaborating with The Washington Choir in what became the sonic texture experience that is Madrigals Meet Minimalism. Reed played what he describes as “tasteful minimalist vocally infused tunes” before and after the choir set. When it came to the collaboration part, he contributed a “light touch” as to not distract from the goosebump inducing choir whose voices proved that the perfect venue was chosen for this pop-up.
This collaboration was a first for Reed whose music background is “heavily minimalist influenced from like Detroit techno, very stripped down sounds. It’s kind of where my preference lies opposed to like heavily produced stuff. I like the minimal, stuff that can combined layers nicely”
Mason Bates, a composer, DJ and frequent collaborator, bragged about Reed noting, “when we’ve done classical music, electronic music parties there aren’t many DJs that can spin in that context—in a way that like reaches you and is accessible and works with the off the left field. Justin’s a really rare bird that can do that.” The two seem to be somewhat of pioneers for this new world of music that wants to welcome you with open arms and shows you a world you could’ve never anticipated exists.
The choir set was perfectly timed; long enough to show off this otherworldly type of music many were probably not familiar with, but short enough to not lose anyone along the way. When playing his classical and minimalist reverberation within clubs, Reed has noticed that in that world specifically, “people want to hear songs they know. Sometimes we’re more about trying to educate and create spaces that they didn’t know they wanted.” But once the audience has found it, there’s certainly no forgetting the unexpected and enlightening contemporary experience.