all words: Marcus Dowling, all photos: Cesar Olivares
As significant as it was that Jamie xx closed out Saturday, June 14th’s Union BBQ with a sumptuous and groove-friendly DJ set, the most important story about a dance music and food festival that took place in Northeast Washington, DC had so much more to do with a cadre of DC-area native DJs pretty much owning the afternoon and making an incredible statement as to the arrival of a generation of those from the Metropolitan area truly setting a national and global standard of excellence.
This was also an event that many people spent $55 to attend in order to eat a hot dog. No, I’m being entirely serious. The “pho dog” (13th Street Meats sausage cooked in Toki Underground owner/lead chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s pho broth, accented with hoisin sauce, spicy cole slaw, basil and cilantro) isn’t just a regular hot dog, just as Washington, DC isn’t the city that it was four years ago when Union BBQ co-partner and world-renowned dance venue U Street Music Hall (and for 18 months, the home of the pho dog) opened.
In 2010, the moombahton that Dave Nada and Matt Nordstrom (aka Nadastrom), DJ Sabo, Jen Lasher, Tittsworth and Gent and Jawns significantly played on Saturday was at its best when heard in U Hall’s temple of boom at Moombahton Massive. There – both then and now – the sound was boisterously supported by crowds of 500-plus people per month getting sweaty and dancing freaky in the dark, creating an underground phenomenon that the Nation’s Capital hadn’t seen since the days of go-go and harDCore.
On Saturday, immediately upon entering the back lot of the Union Market, thousands of revelers were immediately greeted with the reggaeton meets house vibes and responded positively, one of those underground-to-mainstream moments where the symbolism and significance shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
This was a festival about the food, too. Four years ago, the economy of Washington, DC was on the rise, but not at a place where one could throw a festival and have the food covered entirely by local vendors representing bars and restaurants featuring truly solid, inventive and/or oftentimes much more than locally-respected cuisine.
From Dolcezza’s gelato to The Greek Spot’s “Riddim” natural juices, Rita Loco’s burritos and yes, Dave Nada’s mother’s “Mama Nada’s” Empanadas and the aforementioned pho dogs from Toki Underground (and more), this was a festival for gourmands, too. This wasn’t about food trucks, but – like the music being played and DJs being advertised going from local to global – was about something far more sustainable.
The festival’s infrastructure was amazing, too. The indoor/outdoor setup at Union Market was ideal for the roughly 2,500 attendees. Outdoors was narrow but long, and enclosed enough where any potential issues with noise pollution were non-existent. Indoors was the Market’s second floor space and (likely on purpose) gave off the feeling of entering a classic underground dance warehouse space.
Furthermore, regarding sound, DC-based ITI Audio was on the case, and the team responsible for the sound system at U Street Music Hall (as well as Brooklyn’s Verboten and a plethora of large national/international festivals) provided a quality and clarity of sound not heard at other music festivals on the DC area’s rapidly filling festival calendar.
As well, organizing acts to appear in a timely manner is one of the most important things that a performance venue does, so the team behind U Street Music Hall having a hand in the orchestration of the run-of-show was important. Transitions were seamless and acts appeared on time. The festival appeared to be a tightly run ship, and unlike the horror stories of other festivals on a local, national and global level, the appearance of severely disoriented and or impaired revelers was minimal-at best.
The blog-revered and globally respected sounds of acts like techno dean Martyn, Viceroy’s breezy vibes, Orchard Lounge’s hypnotic grooves and futuristic soul tune-smith Kaytranada struck a chord with many unaware of their excellence. Dance as a pop cultural staple is still a growing notion in this generation, so for as many people rushed inside to hear one-half of the locally and globally-based and well respected psych rock quartet Animal Collective play tunes, just as many who came in to hear Martyn, and especially Kaytranada’s sets, stayed for the duration.
Montreal-based rap-meets-house at the nexus of soul styled producer Katranada spun an inspired set of music than ran them gamut of Chicago house legend Paul Johnson’s soulful staple “Let’s Get Down” to Swizz Beatz’s 2012 single “Street Knock” and all spaces in-between included edits of SWV’s “Rain,” and for the turnt up contingent, yes, some trap music, too.
As amazing of a day as this was for fans of big name musical acts from around the world playing in the Nation’s Capital, it was a day moreso about the ability to book a well-attended festival in Washington, DC, where the best that Washington, DC has to offer on multiple levels is just as significant and noteworthy as what the world is doing at-present.
From Sam Burns and Steven Faith to rising DJs like Lisa Frank, and yes, our area’s still locally connected, yet now LA-based “family” (as Matt Nordstrom referred to the DC-based DJs at the festival during Nadastrom’s two and one-half hour set) like Nadastrom, Tittsworth and more, it was yes, a gorgeous 81-degree day, but moreover a gorgeous statement about where DC is now, and where DC is likely headed in the future.
and now for some more snapsssss: