At Recess, the DJs are game to skip genres
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Washington's nightclubs love to fit themselves into neat little boxes: places that specialize in hip-hop, clubs where it's Top 40 all the time, the spots that play only cutting-edge electronic music or the deepest house. When you pay your cover charge and walk through the door, you know what you're going to get.
And yet, that seems an increasingly outdated idea in a world where genre-skipping is the norm, where R&B hits borrow the wobbly, dancefloor shaking bass of dubstep and hip-hop stars lace their singles with pumping beats lifted from house and trance hits.
The exception: The Rock Creek Social Club's Good Life Parties at Recess, where the crowd expects its DJs to literally mix things up, hopscotching between underground hip-hop, indie and house like the world's most perfectly programmed iPod Shuffle. In just over a year, this has become one of the most vital and unique clubbing experiences in the city. As Tuesday night bleeds into Wednesday morning, there are crowds outside the velvet ropes of Recess, half a block north of the Treasury building on 15th Street NW.
Inside, the upscale lounge is throbbing with a crowd that's black, white and Asian, fashionable guys in chambray blazers and just-so pocket squares rubbing elbows with fashionable dudes in skinny jeans and Bathing Ape T-shirts, while the DJs move effortlessly from Kanye to old-school R&B jams to smooth disco and back to bleeding-edge electro while the dance floor never misses a beat.
This blend of music and cultures - oft attempted, rarely done well - is exactly what DJ and promoter Jerome Baker III was aiming for when he launched Good Life Tuesdays last year. "I was getting fed up with everything being so separated," he explains. "I think people's interests run the gamut nowadays, and I feel like they had to go to two or three different clubs if they wanted to hear all the music they liked, you know, this is the house club, this is the hip-hop club."
Baker's eclectic DJ tastes find him equally at home at the gritty Rock & Roll Hotel on H Street or the upscale soirees on the Donovan House's rooftop deck. Good Life offers many turntablists a chance to get out of their musical box. Take DJ Harry Hotter, who spins the usual radio-friendly hits at high-end clubs, including Lux and Love, but listens to everything from Serge Gainsbourg to blog rap at home. When he recently guested at Good Life, "I played dubstep remixes of hip-hop songs. I'm able to play bedroom house, a Prince song, some go-go, a moombahton song. I thought it was going way out there, but it killed. If I played [underground rapper] Big K.R.I.T. on a Friday at Lux, I'd get the thumbs down from everyone, but [at Good Life], everyone was singing along on the dance floor.
"These people appreciate the cutting edge - it's well-informed people who just want to dance to cool music," he said.
Stop in the one-room shoebox of a lounge on a Tuesday and you could hear WKYS' DJ Alizay switching between Latin tracks and hip-hop slow jams, or Cuzzin B, known for the old-school hip-hop party Tru Skool, dropping a Southern-flavored set of UGK, Big K.R.I.T. or Three 6 Mafia alongside new remixes for the grooving masses. Because the DJ booth is on the edge of the dance floor, virtually at eye-level, the crowd feeds off the energy of the DJ and vice versa.
"The goal of the party is opening your mind," says promoter Baker, who usually spins before the headlining DJ. "While we have people's attention, let's push boundaries."
It doesn't hurt that Good Life eschews the usual lounge trappings: There's no cover charge or dress code. Every party starts with an open bar from 10 to 11 p.m. And while some people reserve tables for parties, almost all the couches and booths along the walls are first-come, first-served seating.
"It's not a regular D.C. party - it's a non-pretentious party," says Khaleelah Po Rome, a 28-year-old assistant at ESPN who has been coming to Good Life "two or three times a month" this summer. "It's just different. You can go and listen to Jay-Z and N.E.R.D. in the same night. You see a variety of styles - people ready to go on the runway and people wearing Vans and printed T-shirts."
Her favorite moment came when hip-hop star Common was in the house earlier this year. "He was feeling the vibe, and all of a sudden he asked for a mike and just started performing."
For his top nights, Baker points to a January gig by well-known D.C. native Dave Nada, who spun his trademark mashup of electronic dance music slowed down to the pace of reggaeton, dubbed moombahton. "People had never heard moombahton before, and he killed it. It was our ideal night: music you've never heard before while having the time of your life."