Dancing Yourself Clean in D.C.

By Zach Schlein

What you get out of clubbing is directly proportional to what you put into it. For many, the popular conception of clubbing is that of finely tailored trust fund babies tossing hundreds of dollars in the air as streams of champagne whiz on by. All the while, some anonymous and dimly lit DJ cues up a playlist of the Billboard Hot 100, illuminated only by the collective flash of selfies being taken all around them.

Much like the mediocre alcohol that fuels such excursions, this routine of clubbing is brimming with empty calories and devoid of actual nutritional value. By and large, mainstream clubbing has fallen into a rut, due in large part to the influx of a general populace all too happy to lower their expectations for what qualifies as a transcendent night out. Unfortunately, many hubs of late night activity are all too eager to oblige, no doubt saving large sums of money in the name of meeting a barely-there-as-is standard.

Growing up in Boca Raton, FL and later attending college in Gainesville, I didn’t come of age in particularly musical cities (Okay, Gainesville gave the world Tom Petty, Against Me! And Hundred Waters, but it’s certainly no New York City or Washington.) When I was looking ahead and planning on moving to Washington, I was excited not only for the myriad career opportunities I’d be afforded, but to finally reside in a big city with appropriately big concert venues and music halls. The richness of Washington’s musical history could fill a whole book — or series –, but as it stands today, Washington offers several diverse and compelling options for those who like to work through their troubles of the week by sweating them out on the dance floor.

On U Street one can find, appropriately enough, U Street Music Hall. Owned and operated by longtime DC resident and famed DJ Will Eastman, Music Hall offers a much-needed and appreciated alternative to the deliberately safe, glitzy norm offered by the city’s more visible clubs. The club dispenses with superficial excess in favor of substance, forcing listeners to do just that- listen. Although an “underground” venue both literally and in conception, it primarily books acts that could successfully qualify as crossover acts, such as Drake associate Sampha and Dipset founder and NYC hip-hop mainstay Cam’ron/  With no dress code, affordable drinks and consistently compelling acts, Music Hall lowers the bar of entry for Washington residents looking to get their groove on, in turn raising the bar for the actual experience to be enjoyed once inside.

For those whose tastes may run a little deeper than pop, there is Flash, located on Florida Ave. Like Music Hall, Flash could be considered an “underground” venue, albeit one that rises three stories into the air. The main draw, its second floor lined with LED lights and faux flashbulb lights, consistently books acts who may be unknown in the larger cultural sphere but are titans within their respective genres. This includes, but is far from limited to the likes of The Black Madonna, Chicago house pioneer DJ Sneak and the D.C.-based Benoit & Sergio.

When done right, a night of dance music can be much more than something designed solely to occupy the wee hours: it can be relieving, revelatory and reinvigorating in equal measure. Fortunately, Music Hall and Flash exist to fill a hole in people’s lives that many didn’t realize they had.

Originally posted November 4, 2016

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