Learn more about what to expect following the inaugural shows at OG 9:30 Club replica The Atlantis.
Just as this issue of District Fray was heading to mailboxes and distributors around the District, the Foo Fighters performed the very first show at The Atlantis, the District’s newest music venue, on May 30: an iconic band opening the hotly anticipated club, kicking off 44 nights of acclaimed acts with deep ties to the 9:30 Club. While The Atlantis replicates the OG 9:30 Club on F Street Northwest in many ways, it’s not all nostalgia all the time. The Atlantis is supporting the evolution of new music.
“All of us look back at when a band played a venue that was just so small before they really took off,” says Zhubin Aghamolla, co-director of booking for I.M.P. “Beyond the 44 [shows in the inaugural lineup] will be really incredible. It’s gonna be great when someone sees a new band there and then three or four years down the line, they’ll say to themselves, ‘I cannot believe we saw this band at this venue.’”
The History + the Future
The Atlantis’ design is full of nods to the OG 9:30 Club’s storied past, from the twisty floor plan that recreates the original labyrinthine flow to the black-and-white vinyl flooring. While the original 9:30 Club had several problematic poles obstructing views, there is now one floor-to-ceiling pole near stage left that gives a wink to the past without blocking sightlines. (What’s left in the past are the infamous rat problems and even worse stench. Even nostalgia has its limits.)
And, of course, there is the corner-stage, just like in the original, that brings the action even closer to the audience.
As construction crews climbed scaffolding a few weeks before the grand opening, this shortie reveled in the fantastic sightlines. The Atlantis will boast two levels — with a bar on each — and the proximity to the performers will be incredibly close. The venue is somehow both compact — with a capacity of only 450 — but also beautifully designed for access and intimacy. Whether grabbing a beer at the downstairs bar, leaning against the railing on the mezzanine level or posted up on the floor, you will always have a clear view of the elevated stage.
But the Atlantis is not just old-school; it’s also a state-of-the-art, 10-million-dollar renovation, designed as a high-tech music box, engineered to buffer out noise from next door and to best support its own acoustic integrity, as designed by master acoustician John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group. There is an elevator that makes the new space more accessible for patrons with limited mobility, but also makes loading equipment and gear easier, too.
The building’s facade, too, is futuristic. The facade of The Atlantis replicates the original building’s exterior, but — recalling the interior curtains and swags decorating The Anthem — it is composed of perforated metal backlit by thousands of lights. A ghostly visage of the past is now rendered in a multi-story, postmodern marquee that is of the moment: A large “2023” adorns the cornice above The Atlantis.
Beyond the 44
The Atlantis will cultivate the next wave of music by inviting emerging artists and niche acts to play a smaller venue that has all the perks of playing a major venue: clout, visibility and representation — and joining the I.M.P. family.
Seth Hurwitz — chairman of I.M.P., which owns the 9:30 Club, The Anthem and The Atlantis, and operates both Merriweather Post Pavilion and Lincoln Theatre — points out key differences between other 450-capacity venues and a musical behemoth like the I.M.P musicverse.
“We have the same resources, personnel and talent that work on the big shows working on The Atlantis,” Hurwitz says.
He credits his marketing and communications team for teaching the public about artists coming through I.M.P.’s venues.
“So much of the presentation of these artists is also about education,” Hurwitz says. “And that translates to the next time the band comes back, and now people know who they are.”
The other key part of The Atlantis’ strategy, Hurwitz says, is carefully selecting up-and-coming bands with the potential to be the next big thing.
“For some promoters, it’s like playing Monopoly and buying everything you can land on,” Hurwitz says. “We’re not going to book everything we land on. We’re going to be picky and curate The Atlantis just like the way we curate the 9:30 Club.”
Hurwitz should know. He’s been the owner of the 9:30 Club since 1986 and has seen it through its different iterations. He is the one who believed in little-known bands, like four girls from LA in a surfer pop-punk band, booking the iconic Go-Go’s on their first tour. The list of before-they-were-stars — R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and so many more — who played the original 9:30 Club with its 200-person capacity, condemned-building look, stench and terrible sightlines is the stuff of legend.
“When I was young, I booked bands because I believed in them, and I see that happening with Zhubin now,” Hurwitz says. “It’s very exciting for me to see him doing what I did 30 years ago.”
And that brings us back to Zhubin Aghamolla, who since 2015 has been booking bands for The Anthem, Merriweather Post Pavilion and now The Atlantis, too. As major venues, The Anthem and the Merriweather attract nationally recognized artists or artists from multiple genres touring together. It’s a whole new frontier for The Atlantis, though, and Aghamolla is always searching for what’s new and next.
“The best way to learn about new acts is to ride around in Zhubin’s car,” Hurwitz adds, sharing that he’s been introduced to such diverse artists as the Backseat Lovers, Goth Babe and Rainbow Kitten Surprise because of Aghamolla.
Aghamolla, for his part, is curious, open and eager when it comes to his musical voraciousness, listening to almost anything but trusting his gut when he thinks he’s heard the right artist.
“Sometimes, I just hear it and think, ‘Other people need to hear this,’” he says.
He then plays an artist’s music for some of his most trusted friends to see if they have the same visceral or emotional reaction. If so, he books them.
For Hurwitz, it’s all about having faith in the next generation of artists, and asking audiences to have faith, too.
“We want the public to trust us to say, ‘We’ve booked this band: You should go see them.’”
Where Music Begins
The first roster of artists after the first 44 Atlantis shows was just announced in mid-April, demonstrating that commitment to exploring the next wave of music.
There are international artists, such as Irish singer-songwriter Cian Ducrot and Jerusalem-born Saint Levant who sings and raps in French, Arabic and English. Multi-instrumentalist Vagabon combines synth beats with delicate acoustic guitar in her introspective and powerful womanist songs; Brooklyn trio Nation of Language carries the torch for dark wave; JP Cooper creates smooth, sexy pop hooks; and Couch’s jazz-inflected pop is pure and uplifting. And there are the classics who want to get back to basics: Bob Mould will play a solo electric set.
Ahead of their gig at The Atlantis, New Orleans-formed indie pop duo Generationals share that the group has a long history with D.C., recording their first three albums here — “Con Law” (2009), “Actor-Caster” (2011) and “Heza” (2013) — with producer Dan Black in his D.C. studio, and attending many shows at 9:30 Club over the years, including Built to Spill and Arctic Monkeys. Touring in support of their most recent record “Heatherhead,” guitarist Ted Joyner says the latest album is “the further crystallization of our sound; the clearest, best cluster of Generationals’ songs.”
When we discuss how The Atlantis plans to carry on the mission of the original 9:30 Club, Joyner reflects, “It’s so interesting that there’s this connectivity stretching back. Maybe some of the same people will be here in this new room. The spirit of a place lives on even though scenes change and evolve, and it’s cool to be part of that.”
Hurwitz sees this all as a continuum, too, stretching back and forth throughout time and uniting music lovers, hence The Atlantis’ motto, “Where music begins.”
“Every single act in that 44 — people went to see these bands before they became big,” he says. “That’s the 9:30 Club and that’s The Atlantis, now, too.”
The Atlantis: 2047 9th St. NW, DC
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