Summer is finally here, and as Covid protocols begin to relax, venues are opening their doors again and new events are popping up around the D.C. area. It’s a welcome change for a city eager to socialize and experience live performances again. Vinyl-only DJ nights, an important part of the District’s nightlife, are beginning to make their return, too. We spoke with area DJs about their experiences performing in the area, what makes vinyl special, their favorite clubs, bars and other venues for spinning records, and other ways area music lovers can enjoy vinyl this summer — from radio shows to record collecting.
The DMV is home to an eclectic variety of creative DJs who play a diverse range of music. Sun Kim, who goes by Sally Go Round when DJing, says, “The vinyl scene is pretty solid depending on what type of music you’re into. You can easily find nights featuring all types of music. Whatever you want to explore, there’s a DJ or night for you.”
Les Talusan, who goes by Les The DJ, began DJing in the Philippines before moving to the D.C. area in the late ‘90s, where she continues to spin records.
“I was already DJing in the city when my friend told me about the First Ladies DJ Collective,” Talusan says.
First Ladies was the first all-women DJ collective in D.C., which started up in the early 2000s. Talusan invited Kim to join soon after. While First Ladies is no longer active, former members still DJ, and the collective’s ethos is reflected in vibrant, community-oriented venues, DJ events and experiences around the city.
DJ Geena Marie, a DMV local born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, started DJing around 2014 at the Mousai House Collective, which held shows and made space for artists of all kinds in the former Union Arts building at 411 New York Ave.
“It’s been seven years, and I’ve just been growing from there,” she says. “Right now, since things are opening back up, I’m at Eaton Hotel, Hill Prince [and spinning at] various events around the city.”
Vinyl has the power to turn people into music devotees. Suresh Abeywickrema’s love of records kickstarted started his extensive DJ career in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Going by Dr. J on the turntables, he eventually launched the first-ever live dance radio show in Sri Lanka. After moving to D.C. last fall, he’s now getting to know the community.
“I’ve been so long in the scene elsewhere,” he says. “Here, I feel like I’m starting fresh.”
For Abeywickrema, records were irresistible from an early age.
“The beauty of vinyl got to me. This thing turning on a platter was something to watch and enjoy. From [then] on, it’s been a long journey.”
He says one of vinyl’s best-known qualities is its “warm, analog sound.”
“It’s the closest thing to a live band playing,” he adds.
It’s not just the great sound that makes records so special: Vinyl-only events offer a unique experience every night.
“What you can get out of vinyl-only nights is exposure to music you might not otherwise have an opportunity to encounter,” Kim says.
DJ Geena Marie adds, “Vinyl is the foundation of DJing. [We] get [our] records [and] crates together, go out and make people party. With vinyl, those parties tend to be more focused because what you bring is what you can play. The audience has to trust the DJ and know they’re going to play well.”
It can be a special experience for the DJ, too.
“With vinyl, you have to dig in the crate [and] feel what the next track should be,” Abeywickrema says. “From an artistic point of view, there’s a certain magic that happens when you feel that next right song without going through a screen.”
D.C. residents looking for a night of excellent vinyl music can find several opportunities now, and more are likely to follow as venues start booking new shows and reestablishing recurring DJ nights.
“I’m looking forward to attending vinyl DJ nights in person, such as Biff Bang Pow at Slash Run and I Dig Your Mind at Showtime, and other nights at the reopened Neptune Room,” Kim says.
She also notes that she’s planning to reunite with Talusan and DJ Laura Lopez for their DJ night, Punk Soul Sisters. DJ Geena Marie says she’s looking forward to having the opportunity to express herself creatively and get back to the fun of live experiences.
“[I’m excited to] play gigs where I sound like me and the audience is connecting with me, [and I’m] able to play the music I love.”
The opportunity to hear vinyl isn’t limited to D.C.’s nightlife. It can be found in some of the city’s most iconic places.
“I’m looking forward to working at museums again,” says Talusan, who played regularly at the National Gallery of Art before the pandemic.
The REACH at the Kennedy Center is also offering live music and DJ events through its Millennium Stage programming. And for folks who aren’t quite ready to be out and about yet, there’s plenty of ways to enjoy vinyl from home.
Abeywickrema agrees, noting, “One of the first things I started doing here was looking for vinyl shops, and I came across some amazing people and places like HR Records on Kennedy Street.”
Kim adds, “A lot more music gets released, or rereleased, in vinyl now, which is great for collectors who prefer to own music in this format.”
Radio is another great option for folks who want to hear great local DJs but are taking socializing more slowly. DJ Geena Marie’s “50/50 FM” show through Eaton Hotel’s radio station runs from 6-8 p.m. every other Tuesday. Talusan also plays sets through Eaton on her show “Bahala Na.”
“It’s Tagalog for ‘Que sera, sera,’” she says of her radio show. “Whatever I can come up with, that’s what I will play.”
DJs encourage people to do what they feel comfortable with. And as always, remember that while you’re having fun, DJs spinning records are working hard. Give them their space (while Covid is subsiding, it’s still a crucial safety concern) and keep the requests at home.
“Go with an open mind and enjoy the records the DJ has spent time and care selecting to play for you,” Kim says. “Ask the DJ about what they’re playing and discover an artist or song you never knew about but find that you love.”
And most importantly, she says, “Never try to touch the DJ’s records!”
As the summer unfolds, we’re sure to see more parties, events and opportunities to hear the magic of vinyl in person with friends and loved ones. It’s another great way to (safely) reconnect after a year of uncertainty, show up for the amazing local DJs who call the DMV home, discover new music and have fun doing it.
Eaton Hotel + Wild Days
Learn about vinyl nights and Eaton Radio events at Eaton Hotel and rooftop bar Wild Days. 1201 K St. NW, DC; eatonworkshop.com // @eatonworkshop
Learn more about Biff Bang Pow vinyl night and other events at Slash Run at slashrun.com. 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; slashrun.com // @slashrundc
Other Spots to Check Out
Hill Prince: 1337 H St. NE, DC; hillprince.com // @hillprincebar
Neptune Room: 5405 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; fb.com/neptuneroomdc // @neptuneroomdc
Showtime: 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC; fb.com/showtimebardc // @showtimebar
Vinyl Radio + Recorded Sets
Listen to DJ Geena Marie’s “50/50 FM” show. For Les the DJ’s “Bahala Na,” stay tuned at mixcloud.com/eatonradio. DJ Laura Lopez plays a vinyl session for Barrelhouse Radio every first Monday of the month at 3 p.m. EST. Find Lopez at mixcloud.com/djlauralopez. Listen to DJ Sally Go Round at mixcloud.com/sallygoround.
Featured Vinyl Shops
HR Records: 702 Kennedy St. NW, DC; homerulerecords.com // @hrrecords
Som Records: 1843 14th St. NW, DC; somrecordsdc.com // @somrecordsdc
Sonidos!: 11011-B Baltimore Ave. Beltsville, MD; sonidosmusicshop.com // @sonidos.musicshop
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