Tune In to Local MusicBy Alex BaldingerWashington Post Staff Writer Friday, March 13, 2009; WELL Maybe you know all the words to Wale's "Nike Boots," or maybe you haven't been plugged in to local music since your last Fugazi show. Well, it's time to step it up.
The Washington music scene doesn't start and end with those two big names. Sure, the District might not have the cachet of the New York or Los Angeles scene, but there's plenty of room for musicians to thrive.And thrive they have."D.C. has a scene where it tends to be more tightknit than a lot of other cities, big cities anyway, which is nice," said Stephen Kilroy, lead singer for the Northern Virginia band Middle Distance Runner.Washington has been abuzz with talk of change lately, but it hasn't been limited to inside the White House and Capitol Hill; the city's arts community is feeling that change, making 2009 the perfect time to acquaint yourself with some talented local acts."There's a new energy in this city. I think it's being brought forth by the new administration," said Cassidy Karakorn, who performs as DJ Ca$$idy. "And I think it's going to attract a new wave of creative energy to the city, and it'll probably inspire and bring more focus to the musicians that are already here."If you're looking for a good place to dive back in to local music, from hip-hop to pop to experimental rock, here are six names -- some signed, some unsigned, some just starting out, some vets -- to keep your eyes (and ears) on.
Location: Langdon Park, Northeast Washington
Sounds Like: Common, André 3000, Q-Tip
A college degree isn't necessarily a prerequisite for a career in hip-hop, but don't tell that to Tabi Bonney: He has two, a biology/pre-med bachelor's from Florida A&M University and a master's in biology in secondary education from George Washington University. "Getting two degrees is not easy at all. I figured I'd take that and apply it to my dreams," Bonney said of his decision to forgo a career -- first in medicine, then as a science teacher at the District's Roosevelt High School -- to pursue music.Best known for his catchy 2006 single, "The Pocket," the would-be Dr. Bonney, who is in his early 30s, released "Dope" in January as the first installment of an ambitious sophomore trilogy, with parts two and three ("Fresh" and "Superstar") slated for release later this year. The trilogy showcases Bonney's sedatedly articulate flow. "Not everyone can turn their dreams into tangible things like it ain't no thang," the Banneker High School alum rhymes on "Go Hard," a rebuke to life's naysayers. "I told 'em that we got Luther King, and we got Obama, so what is you saying?"If there are increased expectations on the city's hip-hop scene thanks to the hype surrounding rapper Wale, Bonney seems unfazed. "I think that everybody feels like it's just time," Bonney said of the city's nascent hip-hop renaissance. "It's not just Wale, or it's not just Raheem [DeVaughn]. At the forefront right now, it's at least three of us. I think people see it, and they see how it's going on.
"Next Gig: Visit http://www.myspace.com/tabibonney for local concert dates. Bonney (along with DJ Ca$$idy and Fabiana) will be appearing later this month at the Winter Music Conference in Miami.More
DJ CA$$IDY AND FABIANA
Location: Atlas District, Northeast WashingtonWhat
You'll Hear: the Black Eyes, Le Tigre, Justin Timberlake
Some say the Atlas District in Northeast Washington is difficult to reach; on the contrary, Cassidy Karakorn, below right, and Fabiana Talbot, better known as DJ Ca$$idy and Fabiana, find it difficult to leave, and it's not because they can't catch a cab on H Street.After hearing the duo spin at one of its two monthly residencies at the Rock & Roll Hotel and Sticky Rice, you might not want to leave either. The pair has become a mainstay in one of the city's busiest areas for up-and-coming musicians by catering to the wide variety of tastes of those who frequent the strip."I've played all different types of parties, from indie dance parties, to hip-hop parties, to gay parties where the clientele just wanted to hear Madonna or Britney," said Karakorn, 31. "I'm a pleaser. Whatever the crowd wants to hear."The duo began performing together in August, after a happenstance meeting at a local after-party yielded immediate chemistry. Their monthly dance party at Sticky Rice, "BFF at First Sight," reflects their friendship and their upbeat musical sensibilities. "I tend to be more of a romantic, so I like to take traditional love songs that don't really have a dance beat to them, and put a dance beat behind them," Karakorn said."There's a certain integrity to it where I'm not going to play something I really despise," said Talbot, 23, a classically trained viola player who favors obscure dance-punk records. "It's such a joy to have someone come up to you and go, 'What was that?'
"Next Gig: "Garutachi," March 21 at the Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. 202-388-7625.More Info:
THE HALL MONITORS
Location: Capitol HillSounds Like: the Hives, the Raconteurs, the Black Keys
There's nothing flashy about the Hall Monitors, and that's exactly how they like it. The lo-fi foursome makes the sort of bluesy roadhouse rock that your old man might have washed down with a few boilermakers.That's not to say their sound is outdated. If anything, their throwback anthems, such as the fuzzed-out stomp of "Girls," are invigorating, particularly in a city that has long appreciated a do-it-yourself aesthetic and a good, sweaty rock show."I don't think we're consciously or actively trying to create any sort of counterculture or counter-scene or anything," said bassist Matt Sullivan, 29, citing Link Wray and D.C. punk legends the Slickee Boys among the band's influences. "Most of us have pretty serious day jobs, so when we get together as a band, it's supposed to be fun and not hyperintellectualized." The group (Sullivan, brother Mike on drums and guitarists Sean Crowley and Ginger Richards) caught the ear of Wicked Cool Records, a small New York label that signed the Hall Monitors to a deal the band hopes will result in its first LP later this year.Meanwhile, the focus is on an upcoming series of shows at Austin's South by Southwest music festival next week."It's hard not to get your hopes up when you've been accepted to the festival because it's such a big thing," said Crowley, who handles most of the band's vocals. "But we've got to keep in mind that there's over 1,800 bands playing this year, so we're going down there just trying to make the most of it.
"Next Gig: April 15 at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. 202-667-4490.More Info: http://www.hallmonitors.net
Location: Mount Pleasant, Northwest WashingtonSounds Like: Umphrey's McGee, Particle, Muse
With so many concerns about the global financial system, leave it to a trio named for one of this country's top economic rivals to pioneer a new method of maximizing resources: band members, in this case.Hearing a performance by Imperial China could make you believe that the Mount Pleasant band consisted of more than just Brian Porter, Matt Johnson and Patrick Gough. They each play multiple instruments, as when, during a January gig the Rock & Roll Hotel, Johnson, 28, slung his bass over his back mid-song, grabbed a set of drumsticks and began assaulting an auxiliary drum kit throughout the band's hyperkinetic, 45-minute set."It makes for good theater, doesn't it?" mused Gough, the former drummer for '90s art-punk band Pitchblende, during a recent interview.Imperial China's meandering compositions feature abrupt changes in tempo, spiraling grooves and pummeling percussion, with an arsenal of prerecorded samples and effects pedals accenting the sparse lyrics by the 30-year-old Porter."We all have short attention spans . . . so it keeps us all happy and not bored," Gough, 40, said of the band members' shifting musical responsibilities. "I get kind of bored when I go see a show and everybody's playing the same instrument and standing in the same place for 40 minutes," he added, describing a phenomenon so foreign to one of his band's shows that he might as well have been speaking Chinese.
Next Gig: Tonight at the Velvet Lounge, 915 U St. NW. 202-463-3213.More Info:
MIDDLE DISTANCE RUNNER
Location: Northern Virginia Sounds Like: OK Go!, the Strokes, Doves
Even if the band is still shopping its upcoming album in hopes of attracting a record label, Middle Distance Runner has had no such difficulty selling some larger-ticket items.The unsigned band has found the makings of commercial success thanks to its versatility -- whether it's the jangly, foot-stomping "Brother John" backing a Harley-Davidson spot or the angst-ridden uncertainty of "The Sun and Earth" scoring an HBO commercial and a trailer for Disney's 2008 documentary "Morning Light" -- and by generating visceral, distinct emotion through its music.At the helm is lead singer Stephen Kilroy, 26. "One of my favorite things to do when writing songs is to make them sound like a lot of fun until you actually listen to what I'm saying," he said, noting his knack for burying dark lyrics under upbeat melodies. On "Naturally," hand claps and sunny chord progressions can't hide Kilroy's tale of a serial home-wrecker who longs to be caught in the act. "I hope she's got a husband," he sings cheerfully.Next week Middle Distance Runner returns to the South by Southwest festival, with an appearance at "DC Does TX," a showcase of Washington bands. A spirit of collaboration permeates the Washington area's indie rock environment, Kilroy said, whether it's in Austin or the nation's capital. "We all kind of feed off each other's ideas," he said. "It's turned into a collaborative sort of environment, as far as learning how to do it.
"Next Gig: March 28 at Iota, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-522-8340.
More Info: http://www.middledistancerunner.com
Sounds Like: O.A.R., Jason Mraz, G. Love & Special Sauce
Being laid off isn't generally considered a good career move, but then again, nobody writes songs about their 401(k), right? That's how Leesburg singer-songwriter Justin Trawick looks at it.The 27-year-old lost his job with a digital performance royalties firm in November, which gave him the push he needed to pursue a music career full time. The experience led him to write "Starting Over," a raw rumination on facing life's hardest lessons that became the title track for his latest five-song EP."It was always a hard idea for me to sit down and go, 'Man, I'm just going to quit this,' on my own," Trawick said. "Ultimately, [being laid off] was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I don't know if I was going to be able to make that decision on my own."Now Trawick is on pace to play 100 to 150 shows in 2009, a busy schedule that includes monthly appearances in Washington, Alexandria and Richmond. He also hosts the Nine at DC9, a quarterly singer-songwriter showcase that he hopes to expand to other cities along the Eastern Seaboard."Who knows if I'm succeeding, but it's definitely something I'm trying to do," Trawick said. "My goal originally was to make a big name for myself in D.C. . . . And now my goal for 2009 is to transfer that success to other cities like Richmond and Baltimore and Philly and New York -- just do it the hard way.
"Next Gig: Tonight at Stan & Joes, 37 West St., Annapolis. 410-263-1993.
More Info: http://www.justintrawick.com--
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