The District’s Dance Music Subculture
March 9, 2022 @ 2:00pm
Washington, D.C. is the center of American politics and commerce, but lesser-known to the tourists and transplants of the District is the city’s longstanding history with dance music. Despite misconception, the District harbors a thriving underground scene that caters to residents with an affinity for electronic music. Strengthened bonds between DMV-based DJs, combined with shifting tastes towards experimental textures of sound, have given rise to a unique dance music scene that exists in the heart of the nation’s capital.
The history of D.C.’s dance music scene dates back to the ’50s, where the club Nob Hill was a pivotal form of expression for the District’s queer Black community. In contemporary club spaces, the influence of this dance music expression is undeniable. Today, the sound of electronic music reverberates from one-off warehouse parties, underground collective events, and D.C.’s more commercial techno clubs. In conversation with District Fray, DJs Jus Nowhere, DVONNE and Furtive discuss the unique dynamic that D.C.’s many club spaces contribute to the city’s intimate dance music industry.
D.C.’s queer club scene has offered momentous contributions to the District’s nightlife environment. The esoteric nature of the industry, “and the fact that D.C. has this perception on the exterior, just fosters creativity for those with creative minds and seek community,” says DVONNE, a prominent DJ involved in queer nightlife. Devon Trotter, aka DVONNE, is part of the collective Noxeema Jackson. Founded by Ayo Dawkins and Juana Llorens, this party night forges a safe space of expression for D.C.’s Black and Brown talent that belong to trans and queer communities.
Noxeema Jackson and the subculture developed around it was born out of the necessity to make sure “the right people are being centered” in nightlife experiences in D.C., DVONNE says. Coming out of the pandemic, this sentiment is especially crucial.
With Covid, “the queer community has seen a lot of spaces go, and we lack that big open-warehouse-type gay dance space,” he says.
DVONNE references the closure of DC Eagle and Sequence, prominent collectives that utilized warehouse spaces to house queer parties. Ultimately, this setback pushed the queer electronic music into bar settings and DIY spaces, including the Beverly Snow ballroom at the Eaton Hotel, 618 H Street and DC9.
While the loss of a larger venue is notable, there is beauty in queer party nights operating in intimate spaces, explains DVONNE. The creation of an intentional space for POC queer folk to enjoy nightlife “fosters and facilitates the kind of space that we want and need for our community,” he says.
618 H Street is one of the DIY spaces that organizes dance music events catering to a range of sounds, from trance and ambient sounds, to house and techno. Sasha Rindisbacher, known as Furtive, is a DJ, producer, and sound engineer that was working as a booker at 618 H St. up until the end of last year. Furtive just released “Tephra EP,” their first vinyl release of 2022, which features four new tracks that blend psychedelic sounds with a four to the floor beat.
Although Furtive recently relocated to Philadelphia earlier this year, their appreciation for the eight years they were involved in the District’s dance music scene is apparent. What’s unique about D.C.’s underground scene, “is that you can make any party happen in Washington for a lot of different crowds. There’s a lot of cross-pollination of different kinds of genres, and people like the underground,” Furtive notes.
Ultimately, music is so fundamentally moving, and being able to evoke those magical moments for other people is really fulfilling, says Furtive. The most gratifying part of DJing in the District, and spinning records at large, is “seeing a stranger smiling, and seeing people out of their gourd having a transcendental experience on the dance floor,” Furtive explains. “There’s something really rewarding about that.”
The nucleus of larger electronic spaces that book international DJs is Flash. Seamlessly blending minimal house and trance music into avantgarde digital harmonies is District-based electronic artist and producer Justin Nouhra. Entering D.C.’s music scene 10 years ago, Nouhra operates under the DJ moniker Jusnowhere, and regularly spins records at Flash to locals who hold a deep affinity for electronic music.
In recent years, Flash has booked some European big names in the realm of dance music — Seouls’ Peggy Gou, acid-house DJ Anetha and Berlin techno-duo FJAAK. Spinning in the same club alongside these artists is a great source of inspiration for Nouhra.
“It was a huge help being able to play there, because the United States is not as advanced as Europe in terms of electronic music, and I was fortunate enough to play there and have the music come to me,” Nouhra says.
Alongside DJing, Nouhra co-produces experimental techno music under the record label Rush Plus with long-time friend and electronic artist Jackson Ryland. The pair founded Rush Plus in 2015, and later digital label Metro Xpress, out of the frustration of not having control over the
music they wanted to produce. D.C.’s dance music scene is compact, and frankly, “I never realized there were this many people here making music,” Nouhra says. “For a long time, it felt like we were on an island.”
Nouhra attests to the growth that club culture in D.C. has experienced in the last 10 years, and in particular, the growing popularity of techno music among the District’s residents.
“It’s a thriving electronic scene that I’ve watched grow — I know it’s been around longer than I’ve been around — but I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of it,” Nouhra notes.
Furthermore, DVONNE, Furtive, and Jus Nowhere offer a glimpse into the fairly esoteric, but ultimately rich club culture that exists in the heart of the nation’s capital. While the club spaces mentioned are certainly prominent, integral spaces to D.C.’s club scene, they are by no means all-encompassing. Even so, D.C.’s thriving culture remains beautiful because of its secrecy, molded by the hands of locals.
Flash: 645 Florida Ave. NW, DC; flashdc.com // @flashclubdc
An earlier version of this piece was previously published on February 23 with several factual errors. We have now corrected the piece and apologize for the mistake.