The evolution of the DMV’s music scene over the last two decades is something to behold. The scene is no longer dominated by punk kids or go-go, though stalwarts from both are holding court. Soul, hip-hop, classical and crossover musicians are on the rise, ushering in the future and putting D.C. on the map. Read on for five behind-the-scenes spotlights of our top local picks, and 18 DMV musicians you’ve got to know.
David Combs takes my call from outdoors in Randomtown, Ohio, enduring a combination of poor Wi-Fi connectivity, the screaming whistle of a passing freight train and interruption by random strangers. It’s the life of a musician. Combs’ personality is warm and funky — and oddly familiar.
As one of four members (David Combs, Katie Park, Daoud Tyler-Ameen and Emma Cleveland) of the D.C.-based power pop band Bad Moves, it’s what you’d expect from an individual who often spends his nights rocking and serenading crowds of bobbing heads, many of whom are loyalists to the punk cause.
Combs is a mixture of edginess, steadiness and organized chaos. I imagine it’s the same energy he and his bandmates bring to the stage.
“We try to write pretty catchy melodies and somewhat dour lyrics,” Combs says. “It’s high energy music about depressing things.”
Combs’ dream of being in a band took hold in high school and he’s followed it for over 20 years. To this day, he still plays in the band he started with his high school buddies, although the frequency of their rendezvous is limited by the pandemic.
Combs and Bad Moves continue the proud lineage of local punk bands, with decades of staying power. They’re descendants of bands like Fugazi, whose punk ethos and association with Dischord Records were (and remain) baked into D.C.’s musical and historical DNA.
Though, of course, they are eccentrics, characters and originals, who conjure their own unique sound.
“We draw on a mixture of plastic power pop, guitar-driven pop music and also contemporary indie,” Combs says. “And we’re also drawing from post-punk influences.”
Combs is quick to point out Bad Moves subscribes to an egalitarian approach: Each band member is a front person and contributes to writing and arrangements. Bad Moves resists the urge to resign themselves to one category or subgenre — although the band proudly identifies as “intellectuals,” an ethos organic to D.C. itself.
“In the past decade, [D.C.] established itself as a music hub across genres,” Combs says. “Historically, D.C. has been an intellectual city in terms of breaking ground on certain musical genres like hardcore punk, go-go and lots of great rap.”
I couldn’t help but ask about the origins of the band’s name, with curiosity dripping from my question. Though, like most stories about musicians you build up, the explanation is less exciting — but still comical.
“We don’t have [a] good story,” Combs confesses. “We just tossed around a bunch of names and ‘Bad Moves’ was the one we thought would look best on the T-shirt.”
For the full lineup of other local artists that should be on your radar, go here.