Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ditching the Whitehouse Tour

I recently read an older article (from January, I think) in which the author claimed that the city of Washington D.C. was much more than a town of business suits. Though filled with lawyers, lobbyists and politicians, the author claimed that the city was also a hotbed for the music scene due to the large numbers of musicians who live there as well. From country and bluegrass to Duke Ellington, hardcore and go-go, D.C. has had its share of music history (note that D.C. was also home to some of the most famous guitarists to ever touch a fretboard -Roy Clark, Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton- and you'll have to agree).

But today, apparently, experimental music is thriving under the official radar and is gathering quite a following. There's this really popular place called the Velvet Lounge where people go to hear the city's up and coming experimental artists (if they can be "up and coming" in the sense of the phrase). Many feel that the experimental music scene, happily dominated by a bunch of amateurs, is a result of the fact that D.C. doesn't have a major music school, and since, in the words of one musician, "even nominal financial success is impossible" in this genre it remains strong because "few participate for any reason other than the music. That has helped eliminate stylistic cliques, allowing jazz, noise, electronica, modern composition, free folk and psych rock to all rub elbows."

Apparently, this close-knit and open community of experimental musicians, composers, and enthusiasts keep pretty busy, forming networking groups such as Electric Possible, a gathering of die-hard experimental-music junkies who meet monthly in a basement classroom of George Washington University's music department. Electric Possible is run by a musician named Jeff Bagato who, by day, works at GWU's law school. By night, he's Tone Ghosting — a respected local act with a signature sound achieved by scraping a handsaw over thrift-store vinyl records. Bagato is widely credited with helping keep D.C.'s experimental scene vibrant.

So next time you're in the area, you just might consider ditching the tour of the White House and catching up with one of the many groups. Jeff Surak, another fixture at Electric Possible, could even play for you on his autoharp that, he claims, is "pretty much warped, and I removed all the keys, and it's never been tuned." Sounds like a good time to me! :)

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