By the early ’90s, go-go seemed destined to stay put in Washington. With adoring crowds gathering to see bands perform each week, playing locally was more lucrative than touring. Instead of releasing albums, bands issued live recordings on cassettes and CD-Rs. The culture became proudly insular.
That’s why the bounce beat feels like a tsunami in a small pond. Local band TCB coined the sound at a fire station gig in Riverdale in the summer of 2003, somewhat by chance. When the P.A. system went on the fritz, percussionist Eddie “Luv” McCoy and former drummer Neal Thomas kept the show going by introducing a thundering new beat they had been tinkering with.
“The crowd went nuts,” McCoy says. “We were like the baddest guy in the movie.”
If go-go had been Washington’s heartbeat for the past 30 years, TCB had just performed a heart transplant.
“We actually changed the sound of go-go,” McCoy says.
Last weekend at the Scene, the 10 members of TCB — who range from 20 to 35 years old — showed how the bounce beat works. After luring fans to the dance floor with a grooving backbeat, the tempo slurred into a half-time downbeat and exploded. Go-go’s signature congas (think popcorn, firecrackers) were abandoned for booming timbales and rototoms (think mortar fire, armageddon). Keyboards triggered juggernaut drum samples. Bass guitarist Jody Poe slid his fingers up and down the strings as if he were revving a giant engine. Melody was swallowed by rhythm.
On the dance floor, the laws of gravity went fuzzy. Fans jumped high off the ground or squatted down, convulsing their hips inches off the hardwood. Some raised their hands in an “L” shape to commemorate TCB founder and bounce beat hero Reggie “Polo” Burwell, who suffered a brain aneurysm on April 11, 2010, and has been in a coma since. (The “L” is for “ ’Lo,” an abbreviation of “Polo.”)
Dozens of groups have formed in hopes of imitating TCB’s sound. They’re known as “alphabet bands” for the loose, three-letter abbreviations they use in their names. XIB (Extreme Intentions Band), TOB (Take Over Band), ABM (All ’Bout Money) and others are scheduled to perform at Saturday’s Bounce Beat Teen Awards. (TCB stands for “Taking Care of Business.”)
Many of the groups are thankful for the gig. The two main venues for bounce beat go-go — the CFE Event Center in Forestville and Le Pearl Ballroom in Capitol Heights — were shuttered last year after a series of violent altercations during and after the concerts.
“For the average bounce beat band, you’re playing once a weekend, and that might be a private party or maybe at a school,” says Mikey Harrison, manager of XIB. “There’s only one or two spots to play at now.”
Promoter and community activist Ronald Moten — who’s also running for D.C. Council in Ward 7 — co-founded the Bounce Beat Teen Awards to provide this generation with some formal recognition and set a standard for safety.
“Young people should have somewhere to go where they can have positive energy and do the same things we did,” Moten says. “If we just give up and say our children can’t have what we had, what does that make us?”
When a skirmish broke out after last year’s awards at the D.C. Armory, Moten recruited the teens involved to help him with the promotion of this year’s event. Moten is bringing different musical voices to the mix, too. He’s booked Necessary Kaos, an all-girl group, and Critical Revelation, a bounce beat group with gospel vocals.
On Wednesday night, as TCB rehearsed for Saturday’s performance in a Hyattsville warehouse, band members said they see all of this — the awards, the tenacity of the alphabet bands, the skepticism of older fans and the begrudging respect of their go-go elders — as validation for the bounce beat.
“We got the whole city bouncing,” says TCB rapper Antonio “Big Redz” Lovett. “This is it . . . until somebody comes along with something new.”