For the past seven years, I’ve been writing about dance music and underground culture in Washington D.C. According to Foursquare, for two of those years, I was the “mayor” of U Street Music Hall. To this day, fellow journalists and friends of mine who will see me anywhere in D.C. (or for the matter the world), and refer to me as the “mayor of U Hall.” On March 10, 2015, my “city,” U Street Music Hall – the “temple of boom” at 1115 U Street NW – turns a half-decade old.
At some point in late 2009, Will Eastman invited me on a private tour of the raw underground space next to a dry cleaners, Subway and 7-Eleven that was once Cue Bar. We walked downstairs, and with grand sweeps of his hand pointed out where the ticket booth, two bars, ten foot-wide DJ booth and small stage would be located. He mentioned nothing about the sound, only to note that I’d never have to worry again about the bassline clipping out on a track ever again. I was hopeful, but not yet ebullient in praise.
There are those who believe that my praise for things is not earned, that I’m more excitable as a reviewer than anything else. I’m not. I am someone who writes what they feel, and it wasn’t until the venue opened and I could feel the music on that epic soundsystem and the true love and appreciation for underground culture from the venue’s staff that my praise (and constant attendance) was an absolute certainty.
I was in the venue for the first two events, a concert featuring Bluebrain and a DJ set featuring Aeroplane, and was impressed, but not in love. U Hall was still just-opened and the new car smell and feel were all over it. It was still “that new place on U Street,” and was not yet “that dance venue you had to attend for a premium underground experience.” For me, it wasn’t until about three weeks after that (when the “new car smell” was somewhat gone) that on April 3, when Baltimore club legend Scottie B was headlining at the venue and I walked in just after midnight after waking up late and wearing a musty white v-neck, really unfortunate looking crustacean-print Tommy Hilfiger boating shorts and tennis shoes and felt right at home that it all made sense.
U Hall works because it’s dark enough where regardless of ethnic, social or class background, everyone looks the same. U Hall works because nobody’s there taking pictures of what you’re wearing and there’s no bottle service as an aspirational goal of being in the club. U Hall works because it’s just you (even in the most ridiculous outfit of all time) and the music. And when I stood in the middle of that dance floor during Scottie’s set, there was a moment that was the first of many (amazingly neither drug nor alcohol-aided) transcendent moments I’ve felt in that space. I literally felt my shirt levitate off my body because of the chills I felt from a deep, sumptuous bassline, and my feet were moving, too. Every part of my body was moving in rhythm, my mind and soul joined in unique unison.
That’s not the last time I felt that way. There was that time that house DJ Rich Medina played the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running” at 2:45 a.m. and I just started spinning in circles. There’s the time that Will Eastman played Rusko’s “Da Cali Anthem” and stage dove into the booth on top of me (and I felt no pain from his landing). Then there’s that time that Dave Nada invented moombahton and played his (and Matt Nordstrom’s) remix of Alex Clare’s “Too Close” and the room felt like it was going to explode from the positive vibes. Or, the time that underground legends Munchi and David Heartbreak went back to back at a Moombahton Massive and dropped tracks that the music world still isn’t ready for that hit the crowd like atomic bombs. Or the time that Tabi Bonney bear hugged me just because the moment felt like a “bearhugging” moment during the benefit for Stereofaith’s brain surgery. That literal fog over the crowd when Flosstradamus took D.C. to the trap for the first time was epic as well.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N535RekE4c8
Or, there’s the times that I promoted amazingly very well-attended “Michael Jackson is Still Alive” happy hours. Or, even better, none other than Skrillex playing Michael Jackson songs. The rap concert where Jim Jones performed “We Fly High” while drinking from a bottle of rum and standing on the bar? Amazing. That time when Tyler, The Creator had literally just released “Yonkers” and 500 teenagers rapped every word verbatim when Golf Wang seemingly invaded and played their first D.C. show at U Hall was crazy. That’s the moment I realized rap (and maybe all things) done changed. But wait? Was it as amazing as Dave Nada bending down on one knee top of the booth and proposing to Jen Lasher? Definitely a better situation than the near (literally) shitty one that happened when DJ/producer Billy the Gent hung from the venue’s main sewage pipe and plunged into the crowd.
“Things done changed.” That describes U Hall best. U Street Music Hall’s the venue that changed the notion of what dance music and underground culture was in America (again), as a minimalist, carefully curated and still ideally presented experience. I go to New York on occasion, and stepping into Output and Verboten (with their U Hall-similar dark walls and booming sounds) feels right, like they got the message that (again) things done changed.
And to think this all started because Will Eastman told me he wanted a venue where D.C. residents could truly feel proud to come and hear great music, and that “the bass would never clip out on a track ever again.” Let’s all be thankful for that.