There’s a lot of variety on the calendar this week: The experiemental Sonic Circuits festival comes to town for five nights, the Corcoran Gallery of Art hosts a happy hour with food, drinks and a scavenger hunt, Oktoberfest kicks off on H Street NE — complete with a new beer from DC Brau — and local Latin/reggae/electronic group Empresarios celebrates its new EP at the Dunes. On stage, we’re looking forward to Talib Kweli and Mos Def’s reunion as Black Star, a performance by trailblazing female post-punk group the Raincoats and alt-country star Dale Watson.
Wednesday, Sept. 14
One of the most unique annual music events in Washington is the Sonic Circuits Festival. Each year the festival highlights the wide spectrum of experimental music, and the variety is so wide-ranging that each year’s edition is completely different. This year there aren’t any (relatively) big names, but there will still be plenty of way-out-there sounds. The festival begins Wednesday at AFI Silver Theatre with local collective Stylus providing a soundtrack to Man Ray’s experimental short film “Emak Bakia” by playing locked-groove vinyl on vintage record players, accompanied by two cellists. “Transformers 3D” this is not. For those who are simply curious about the festival, a 14-piece ensemble conducted by Anthony Pirog will give a free performance of Terry Riley’s “In C” at Silver Spring’s Veterans Plaza at 5 p.m. Saturday. Silver Spring’s Pyramid Atlantic hosts shows Friday through Sunday, which will be alternately loud, minimalist, bewildering and always weird.
Thursday, Sept. 15
It’s not as easy to hear ska and reggae bands in D.C. as it used to be, but that’s where the monthly Bluebeat night at Solly’s comes in. This time around, the featured attractions are the smooth, loping ’60s-style reggae of the Pressure, a seven-piece band from Pittsburgh that you can listen to here, and the Thrilltones, a 2-tone ska group featuring vocalist Caz Gardiner, formerly of the Checkered Cabs and the Ambitions. Admission is $7, and doors open at 8. Not sure where you’re going? Just look for the scooters parked on U Street.
Do you have happy hour plans after work? Go ahead and forget them. Trust us: The 1869 Society’s Cultural Cocktails at the Corcoran is going to be more interesting than sitting around in a bar. Grab beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres, then explore the museum’s permanent collection and the new exhibit “Chris Martin: Painting Big” while taking part in an arty scavenger hunt. One correctly completed scavenger hunt will win a pair of tickets to the Corcoran’s NOW at Night gala. Admission is $20, doors open at 6:30 and the museum will stay open until 9.
Friday, Sept. 16
Hopscotching between Latin beats, dubby reggae and funky house rhythms, the Empresarios are the next name to watch on the city’s international party scene. Actually, that’s not true — the five-man team of DJs, producers and musicians is being heard far beyond D.C., thanks to an appearance on the soundtrack of the new FIFA ‘12 video game. The group’s new EP, “Bestia,” is about to drop — you can listen to it on Soundcloud — and they’re celebrating with a party at the Dunes, the growing Columbia Heights arts space. Along with a performance, the evening includes DJ sets by Sonny Cheeba and Arsam and a late-night dance party with Video Killers VJ John Bowen. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
Saturday, Sept. 17
Your Nightlife Agenda correspondents are self-described night owls, chasing down great DJs and tasty beers after dark. But if we can do all that while the sun is still shining, so much the better. That’s one reason we love the H Street Festival - beyond the street vendors and art cars, you can experience some of H Street’s best nightlife in the light of day. Take the Biergarten Haus , which will be celebrating the beginning of Munich’s Oktoberfest with seven seasonal German beers and traditional German music and dancing. Little Miss Whiskey’s will have DJs inside and out, including DJ Dredd (1 p.m.) and Stereo Faith (4 p.m.) in the bar and a banging lineup of New York DJs (including frequent U Street Music Hall guests Stretch Armstrong, Cosmo Baker and Cousin Cole) onstage at the corner of 11th and H from noon to 7. (The DJs inside play until 3 a.m.) Little Miss Whiskey’s will also have DC Brau’s German-style Atlas Festbier, which is making its debut at the festival. And finally, Kostume Karaoke , the outrageously fun karaoke night that encourages dressing up before singing, will have a stage in the 1200 block of H Street between 3 and 7 p.m. (If you’re worried about parking, a free shuttle will ferry festivalgoers from the Eastern Market Metro station.)
Moombahton maestro Dave Nada has taken his intoxicating dance music genre around the world. In less than two years it has become one of the hottest, sweatiest sounds of underground club culture, as anyone who has been to U Street Music Hall’s regular Moombahton Massives can attest. On Saturday, instead of spinning the slow and steady beats in a club, Nada will be DJing at the Global Grooves Dance Party , a party celebrating the All Roads Film Festival, National Geographic’s annual celebration of cinema from remote areas around the world. Even though this is a more formal location for Nada to be spinning, you can expect the usually pandemonium when he takes over the turntables. DJ Underdog, who is no stranger to getting Washington audiences to move with his regular Afrobeat parties, also spins.
The Raincoats are post-punk icons, formed in the U.K. in the late-’70s after the Sex Pistols changed everyone’s expectations of what a rock band could be. The Raincoats changed some of those expectations, as well, becoming one of the most influential female-fronted bands of their time. Gina Birch and Ana da Silva crafted raw, spiky songs on their self-titled debut and then veered into a more experimental direction with the follow-up, “Odyshape.” That album was just reissued for its 30th anniversary, complete with liner notes by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, one of countless rockers who have been inspired by the band. The group has played intermittently over the past 15 years, but Washington is one of the few stops on a tour to promote the “Odyshape” reissue, so be sure to catch them at Comet Ping Pong. Felt Letters, one of Ian Svenonious’s rarely seen bands, and Grass Widow open.
Sunday, Sept. 18
From its black nationalist and literary themes to its introduction to soon-to-be-lauded MCs Mos Def and Talib Kweli, the duo’s 1998 Black Star collaborative album seems whisked from another dimension of hip-hop. It still resonates today as a certified classic, thanks to hits such as “Definition” and beats from such ’90s underground greats as J. Rawls and eventual Kweli partner Hi-Tek. Any time the two touch a stage together or are sighted in the same Zip code, the clamor for a Black Star sophomore project cranks up. Apparently that hunger is enough to draw grown-up hip-hop heads to a pricey show that is one of the first in the Fillmore’s opening run. Admission ranges from $50 (general admission) to $100 (VIP), but this reunion is just rare enough to make it worthwhile.
After a summer in which almost every single country song featured a singer boasting about how he drove his pickup down a dirt road to some party at a fishin’ hole where they knocked back cans of beer and flirted with girls, it’s time to listen to some real country music. Dale Watson, who takes the stage at Hill Country this weekend, is one of alt-country’s surviving outlaws - the Texan’s whiskey-soaked back catalog is full of honky-tonk tunes that recall Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, with such titles as “Whiskey or God,” “Cheatin’ Heart Attack” and “Nashville Rash.” His personal story is almost as compelling as his music: After his fiancee was killed in a car accident in 2000, Watson descended into a spiral of depression and drugs, only to recover and record some of the best music of his career. Frequent appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and European tours have increased the Austin resident’s stature. Watson is known for performing without a setlist and playing tunes suggested by the audience, which should make an intimate show in Hill Country’s Boot Bar even more unpredictable.
Monday, Sept. 19
DC’s axis is still wobbling from Big Freedia’s show at DC9 earlier this year, but party people are apparently ready to bounce again as Vockah Redu raps over more frenetic New Orleans beats at U Street Music Hall. Bounce music is the freaky exhibitionist of all Southern dance and rap music. Neither shyness nor decorum are appropriate at a bounce show, but cardiovascular capacity is mandatory for the fast tempo and booty shaking.
One of the best double-bills to come down the pipe in a while is tonight’s Dirty Beaches /Frankie Rose show at DC9. Dirty Beaches, the one-man project of Alex Zhang Hungtai, is a deserved breakout act of 2011. His songs are part swaggering ’50s rock-and-roll, part bleak, minimalist drone and sound like the ghostly remains of a half-century-old jukebox. Rose’s self-titled debut album came out on Slumberland Records and continued that label’s fine tradition of sweetly shimmering indie pop. Expect to hear songs from her upcoming second album at this show.
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Van Hunt , a Southern funkster who salutes Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone every time he sings a note into a microphone or bends one on a guitar, has finally found himself on the right side of an actual release date, following popular albums in 2004 and 2006. This year’s “What Were You Hoping For?” finds Hunt tapping more classic and garage rock to season his soul stew. He returns to the Birchmere to get re-acquainted with D.C.
Break out the flannel and head to either Landmark E Street or AFI Silver for your one chance to see “ Pearl Jam 20 ” on the big screen. The Cameron Crowe-directed documentary traces the grunge greats from their beginnings to their sudden, reluctant superstardom and up to the present. There’s also plenty of live and behind-the-scenes footage of Eddie Vedder and the gang.