(Photos are from previous shows)
Words by Ashley Wright
The oft-praised cork dance floor of U Street Music Hall was unusually barren when I arrived at 11:30PM, half an hour before The Hood Internet’s set. I grabbed a drink (strong as usual; the bartenders at U Street have always been generous) and leaned against the bar to observe the milling crowd in the half dark. What I saw surprised me: Far more eclectic than the usually hipster, usually tattooed, usually mid-twenties audience that regularly frequents the venue, there were older men with white (or no) hair, young African American dudes with neatly rolled dreadlocks and football jerseys, and white kids in Georgetown sweatshirts, but only a sprinkling of the usual suspects.
The diversity of their listeners reflects what makes The Hood Internet special: The samples they weave together into energetic dance tracks tend to span both decades and genres, and their sound appeals to a wide audience as a result. It’s not unusual to hear vocals from late nineties hip hop laid over a Ting Tings backing track, or vice versa. Unlike the mashup style popularized by Girl Talk, which could be characterized as a frenetic whirlwind of an auditory assault, Aaron Brink and Steve Reidell take just two songs – usually a more indie pop/rock track and and a hip hop track – and weave them into something both seamlessly cohesive and irresistibly danceable. (Listen to this, this, this, and this as an examples.) The result is a melding of worlds and sounds analogous to the kaleidoscope of humanity that is their fan base.
When I introduce people to The Hood Internet, the listener tends to find something both familiar and alien: “I know the backing track, but I love these vocals! Who is this?” It’s what makes listening to the music both an education and and an adventure: You’re hearing what was once familiar in a new, exciting way while at the same time being introduced to another artist or song you didn’t even know you liked, or wouldn’t usually enjoy. This typically touches off a flurry of exploration after which my friends come back to me and say, “I didn’t know about so-and-so until I heard that song, and now I’ve had their album on repeat for a week.”
The Hood Internet’s live show is like their music: Unique. Situated on the rear stage rather than the more often utilized front, Brink and Reidell were kinetic energy incarnate: They bounced around behind their turntables, waving their hands in the air and singing along to the lyrics. Their hypnotizing light show (another unusual aspect of their set – usually DJ sets at U Street are illuminated only by the house lights) was bigger than I would have thought possible for the space allotted. Geometric shapes flashed across the screens behind the pair as U Street’s sound system, one of the best in the city, and the acoustics of the room did their music justice. The heaving crowd, covering the dance floor by the dyad’s midnight set time, sung along to every song as they jumped and danced and crowded close to the stage. Reidell and Brink played the crowd, smiling and laughing at their antics when they weren’t dancing around on the stage themselves.
While I’m sure the light show was a pared down version of their usual set-up, the crowd was smaller than they’re used to, and their set was an abbreviated version of the one they do at festivals like Wakarusa, CIMMFest, and SXSW, if The Hood Internet comes back to DC in any capacity – either for a festival or a smaller show like this – I’ll buy a ticket whether I’m covering the set or not.