Quick, hard and loud the drum beat begins: Doom, da da doom, da doom, da da doom, da dom! . . . BOOM! Doom, da da doom, da doom. BOOM!
"Are you ready for the people who make you freaky deak to the beat, everybody? To the beat ev-erybody. To the beat . . . To the beat ev--erybody . . . To the beat."-- A D. C. funk-rock band.
It's the Saturday night "Go-Go" at he Washington Coiseum and Trouble Funk, one of D.C.'s own funk-rock bands, is "pump, pump, pump, pump, pump, pump" pumping up a crowd of about 4,000 preteens, teens and young adults with a "nasty," funky beat.
The crowd is mesmerized by the pounding sound. That funky, thumping, rhythmic beat has heads shaking, arms swinging and torsos jumping in groovy, improvised, spasmodic motions. Tape player-recorders are held above the sea of heads, waving to the beat, preserving the loud, pure funk on cassettes.
After Trouble finishes rocking the crowd into a sweat, Rare Essence hits the stage, and with its popula lead singer-rapper James "Funk" Thomas at the miek, the band start working the crowd as only a local band can.
Thomas, 24, a native of Anacostia-Congress Heights, pulls the audience into the show while the Rare Essence musicians blast that hard and heavy beat. "we're gonna put everybody on display tonight, yall," he tells them, meaning the spotlight is about to shine down on the crowd so he can see "who's in the house," then, he will call out the names of individuals or the areas of the city or the specific neighborhoods where they live.
Looking out at the thousands of youths dancing on the concrete floor and boogeying on the steps and on the secondlevel ramp of the Coliseum. Thomas, who stands on the edge of the stage in tan corduroy slacks, a black leather cap and a red and white sweater, starts the "roll call":
"Is the Northwest crew in the house tonight?"
Crowd: "Hell, yeah!"
"Is the Northwest crew in the house tonight, yall?"
Crowd: "Hell, yeah!"
"Shine the spotlight on the Northwest crew now . . . I want to see what they doin' in the house tonight, yall."
When the bright beam puts a group of Northwest residents on display, a cluster of about 100 youngsters dancing near the edge of the thick crowd add a little more vigor to their "moving and grooving" and wave their hands in the air "like they just don't care."
Thomas continues the chant, putting youths from all over the D.C. metropolitan area on display. After he identifies each group, Thomas tell them: "Aw, get on down, yall!"
With that fast, funky beat and the home-grown familiarity that they have with their audience, the D.C. bands fire up D.C. youths like no outsiders can.
A decade ago, local bands like Rare Essence and Trouble became popular by being carbon copies of "brand name bands" like the Commodores and the Jackson 5 and by playing the top 20 rhythm and blues hits at high school dances and cabarets.
Today, local bands popular among the high school age crowd still play the hits -- the ones they compose themselves. All their hit tunes are spiced with acentuated rum and bass playing and continuous rapping and chanting. There isn't much singing. In most of the tunes, the group leader simply talks to the audience and the audience and the audience talks back, all to the steady beat of the drum. So the audience is very much a part of the music.
The top bands in the city, according to youths and other people involved in the local band scene, are Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited (E.U.), The Peace Makers and Mass Extinction. Other lesser known, but up and coming bands include Agressive Funk, the School Boys and Black Love.
The leading local bands have been together for an average of about 7 years. The ages of their members range from 17 to 25. While some performers devote all their time to improving their bands, others attend high school and college.
The bands started gaining recognition in their own neighborhoods and began making themselves known throughout the Washington area several years ago during the summerr months when they performed at free concerts in various parks in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The D.C. Department of Recreation's Show Mobile program sponsored many of the concert engagements in D.C.
And, although the bands usually attract legions of youths, some of whom smoke thick joints of illegal substances, there are few fights or disruptions, according to D.C. Metropolitan Police and security agencies. Still, some people find it hard to believe that so many young blacks can actually come together, party and have a good time without mayhem.
Band members and managers credit Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers for creating the D.C. sound. The Soul Searchers group was formed in D.C. about 10 years ago. The group later moved to California, where it recorded the hit single "Bustin Loose" in 1979.
All but a few of the members of the different local bands are from D.C.Many grew up in or near public housing developments. And every weekend, thousands of youngsters who grew up in the same neighborhoods pack themselves shoulder to shoulder in family cars and Metrobuses and head to the Go-Go, ready to dance to the music of their "home boys" until the wee hours of the morning.
Radio and spots and posters displayed along major bus routes, on telephone poles and around the high schools let the people know where the weekend's Go-Gos will be held. Sometimes, D.C. bands will play four weekend gigs, two on Friday and two on Saturday. The 5,000-seat Coliseum, and the Northwest Gardens, Tres Chic Maverick Room and Club LeBaron (in Palmer Park, Md.) discotheques have become popular Go-Go arenas. On average, the admission tickets run from $6 to $8 and the bands receive $1,500 per show.
Rio Edwards, manager of the Troble Funk Band, says, "These Go-Gos give the kids something to look forward to every weekend; they can say, 'This is ours.'
"The music we play has a very black sound. You don't hear the major groups playing it. The major groups are trying to sell to both blacks and whites, so they're really into the middle-of-the-road or corssover music. The yonger crowd is rejecting that conservative, crossover stuff. They want something they can feel, something with a beat that makes them move. Yo can't sit still when you hear this music," Edward says.
It's the drums. This is drummers' music. It makes them feel something they don't even know is in them and they like it. The band members dig it, too. The people and the bands groove each other. It gives everybody a chance to get loose and do their thing."
When the youngsters get loose, they create frenzied, free-style, impromptu dances for which they have no names. When asked to name the dances they were doing, several 16- to 19-year-olds said they were just having fun, doing "whatever gets me off."
In recent months, it has become fashionable to tape record the live performances of D.C.'s teen-pleasing musical artists. The fashion actually arose out of necessity -- the tunes can't be purchased at record shops. Only two bands, Trouble Funk and Experience Unlimited, have recorded albums. But neither group produced their tunes at a major record label.
D.D. radio stations have not given the tunes much play, even though they are hits locally. (About 25,000 copies of Trouble Funk's current 12-inch disc, "Pump Me Up," have been sold at D.C. record shops. Experience Unlimited's "E.U. Freeze" disc has sold about 20,000.) Thus, the music of the local bands is still an underground phenomemon. But the D.C. bands and their young fans are determined to keep the D.D. sound alive and pumping -- in spite of the establishment's reluctance to recognize it or legitimize it as a respectable, marketable art form.
The roll of D.C. natives who have become nationally known entertainers includes names the kids known so well: Van McCoy, marvin Gaye, Peaches and Herb, Stacy Lattisaw, Osiris, Roberta Flack. Spokesman for the groups say these performers inspire their bands to continue practicing and performing, striving to improve their skills. But band managers and members emphasize that even though they dream of becoming big hits in the entertainment world, they don't ever want to lose contact with the "D.C. folks who are helping to make us big."
And the people would never let them anyway. The many tape recordings youths throughout the D.C. metropolitan area have collected serve as documented proof of where the bands originated.
"Is Southwest ready for the E.U. Freeze . . . ?"