D.C. go-go bounces back

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 9:16 PM

The music sounded like a marching band being swallowed by an earthquake.

The dancing looked like a teenage stampede on a 64,000-square-foot trampoline.

It was Saturday night at the inaugural DMV Bounce Beat Teen Awards, where nearly 2,000 fans gathered beneath the pockmarked ceiling of the D.C. Armory to celebrate the sound of bounce beat - a younger, wilder, goose-bumpier strand of Washington go-go music.

The scene's leading groups - TCB, TOB, Reaction Band, XIB and ABM - each delivered 45-minute sets in concussive slow motion, transforming go-go's dotted rhythms into a sludge that skewed more toward heavy metal than Chuck Brown.

TOB opened its set with a cover of Bill Withers's "Lovely Day" but quickly obliterated any melodic sunshine with a tempest of thunderclaps. Boys in baseball caps, kufis and aviator hats jumped up on chairs. Girls in fur vests, turbans and halter tops gyrated beyond their years.

This wasn't "Bustin' Loose." This was a whole new kind of go-go rapture.

It's been over three decades since Brown minted go-go as Washington's official dance music. And while the genre never found the national audience it deserved, it finally has its own generation gap. Old-school go-go fans have dismissed bounce beat as discordant, chaotic, defiantly slow and nightmarishly loud. They're right. And that's exactly what makes it some of the most thrilling live music you could ever hope to experience. (Don't bother with YouTube. Just like the decades of go-go that preceded it, bounce beat sounds best in person.)

Know how techno or house DJs tend to speed things up over the course of a set, accelerating the tempo until it's almost impossible to keep up? The inverse idea fueled all five sets at the armory on Saturday, each troupe slowing the beat down until they approached the rhythmic equivalent of absolute zero.

ABM got the closest. The group opened its juggernaut set with a sugary take on Rihanna's "What's My Name," but quickly plummeted into a beat so slow, so raucous, the song threatened to disintegrate.

The 13 members of XIB were more dynamic. Spaceman, the band's lead vocalist, barked out mutant phrases from Kanye West's "H.A.M." while his band swerved from tempo to tempo in perfect sync, like a flock of birds suddenly changing direction in flight.

Each group featured at least two keyboard players - one to sketch out melodies, one to trigger electronic percussion. The conga drums, a sonic hallmark of go-go, were used sparingly, often replaced with rattling timbales and rototoms. There were no horns, but each band boasted at least four vocalists - the lead vocalist, or "lead mike," often loomed in the background near the drum kit.

Fans would incessantly compete for their attention, waving Hanes T-shirts with the names of their neighborhoods scrawled on in Sharpie. Those in the front row would type their address onto a cellphone screen and pass the device onstage in hopes of getting a shout-out. (The bands would always hand it back to the rightful owner.)

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