DJ EZ distills two decades of U.K. dance music into one memorable set


DJ EZ (a.k.a. Otis Roberts) spins a headlining set at Flash Nightclub. (Josh Sisk/For The Washington Post)

On Thursday night, the proceedings at Flash Nightclub were decidedly British: Headliner DJ EZ (pronounced E-Zed) was in town to play U.K. garage (pronounced GARR-ij), a style of electronic dance music that the London DJ has pioneered for nearly two decades.

DJ EZ began his music career in 1989 at the age of 15, DJing on pirate radio stations and in clubs across London. In the mid-’90s, he was one of the main British DJs who gave their own twist to U.S.-born house music by keying in on soulful vocals and syncopating the beats with a distinct shuffle, creating U.K. garage. By the end of the decade, the sound was ascendant, and EZ landed a gig on influential London radio station Kiss 100.

After its early-aughts peak, U.K. garage gave way to rap-influenced grime and bass-
worshiping dubstep; now, the pendulum has swung back as English acts such as Disclosure and AlunaGeorge have found critical and commercial success by updating the comparatively pristine sounds of U.K. garage.

In his first gig in Washington, DJ EZ distilled the past two decades of U.K. dance music history into a masterful three-hour set, meeting and exceeding his reputation as one of the best technical DJs in the business. EZ bounded through his collection, connecting the dots in endlessly inventive ways: every transition, loop, scratch and rewind was wielded as a tantric weapon.

The set featured dance classics like Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” grime anthems like Lethal Bizzle’s “Pow!,” seminal dubstep like Benga & Coki’s “Night,” and UKG remixes of old favorites like Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Each track was in the right place and was met by cheers from an appreciative audience.

The crowd members didn’t abide wallflowers as they shuffled, two-stepped and pogoed across the dance floor. And while DJ EZ’s set was one for the ages, the club’s audiovisual system was equally impressive, delivering the sternum-rattling bass, crisp drums, thick vocals and perfectly timed light show that the set required. With an array of strobes, LED beads and the wall of paparazzi bulbs behind the DJ booth, the night often felt like a rave on Space Mountain.

While the crowd did thin out when the bar closed at 2 a.m., the die-hards buckled down for another hour of tunes and used the extra space to flex their dance moves. EZ didn’t quit either, serving as a reminder that — at a time when “button-pusher” DJs phone it in on festival fields and in Vegas showrooms — DJing for a dedicated crowd in a top-notch club can still be a form of artistic expression that shares the narrative of a person, place or time. DJ EZ did all that — and made it look easy.

style@washpost.com

Kelly is a freelance writer.

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