State of the union: The Hatchet’s guide to live music in the nation’s capital

So you sussed out the scene in your hometown, went to the shows and got to know the bands by their first names. That’s great, but guess what, kid – you’re in D.C. now, so you’d better start getting the lay of the land. Brandish your band T’s and make for the clubs baby, because D.C.’s music scene is buzzing. Whatever your taste, we’ve got it, and it’s out there waiting for you. Ready? Here’s a quick rap sheet to start you on your way. There’s lots more out here to explore, but hey, you’ve got four years, so let’s just start with the basics.

Indie Rock and Emo:

It’s music borne from the depths of emotion and thoughtful contemplation. Be it emo, indie or whatever, it’s huge in this town.

The low-down: D.C.’s own Dischord Records, featuring bands such as Q and not U, Faraquet and the infamous Fugazi, is at the forefront of the national scene. These bands and a slew of national acts frequent the District’s smaller clubs. Admittedly this can be a pretentious scene, you’re not likely to see a lot of fans hopping over each other at shows. Crossed arms and thoughtful gazes are the norm, accented by an occasional head nod. Still, it is a vibrant scene, with a steady stream of talented musicians.

Hot Spots: Random venues abound, but there are a few places that can be counted on to fulfill your indie needs. Smaller bands, of the super-obscure or local variety, tend to gravitate toward The Metro Caf? (1522 14th Street, NW) and The Black Cat’s Backstage, a small room located at the back of the 1811 14th St. club. National acts, in the vein of Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie, can be seen in relative frequency here. You can catch an occasional show at the 9:30 Club, but generally the Black Cat remains your best bet. Check their Web site,, or, for listings.


Fedora-clad kids are a dying breed in this city. A ferocious bunch, ska fans refuse to let the scene die, even when all the venues close down.

The low-down: A scattered scene in recent years, D.C. ska is making a slow comeback. Spearheaded by new interest in the genre, local group has emerged to offer a home base for District fans. National acts do grace the area, but generally most bands have opted to take their tours through Baltimore. Local favorites like The Pietasters and Eastern Standard Time get steady gigs, but generally bands have to scramble for shows.

Hot Spots: Ska shows at places like the 9:30 Club (815 V St. NW) and Black Cat are sporadic, but they do come now and again. The scene as it is mostly in random bars and tiny concert spaces. The shows are out there somewhere, but you’re not likely to spend much time in any one venue.


Yeah, so D.C. played home base for the Bad Brains and Minor Threat and pretty much birthed Hardcore. We’re hot in the history books, its true, but that’s all in the past. These days the scene is shivering.

The low-down: Looking for D.C.’s legendary street-punk scene? Sorry kids, you’re gonna have to travel. The scene’s taken some crippling blows in the last year, as a number of venues have suddenly closed. Places pop up only to close a few weeks later. The scene persists, but it is scattered. A number of fairly steady, metro-accessible venues have begun to emerge in the peripheral D.C. area, i.e. Virginia and Maryland. On the whole, a lot of migration is taking place right now. Bands like Strike Anywhere, Trial by Fire and Pg 99 are big D.C. draws but are playing the area less and less. Pop-punk fans can see bands at 9:30 Club, which has started to bring in national punk acts. Those looking for a more obscure fix are going to have to search. The shows are out there, and the pits are ferocious when you can find them. The kids do have heart, they’re just tired of getting moved around. The most comprehensive, up-to-date punk listings can be found at, an indispensable resource for D.C. punks.

Hot Spots: 9:30 Club if you’re looking for big names, otherwise it’s usually tiny bars and fire halls. Nation Nightclub (Half and K St, SE) brings in decent punk bands from time to time, and attendance to their Winter Hardcore Superbowl is requisite for those in the area. usually has the best listings for these smaller shows. On the super-local front, a number of groups sometimes book shows in the Hippodrome and the Mitchell Hall Theater at GW – watch for flyers around campus.

Hard Rock and Industrial:

My dear creatures of the night, fear not, we’ve got you covered. Call it a fetish market if you want, but if you’re looking for places where leather is in and light-rock is out, D.C. can accommodate with whips, chains and all the rest.

The low-down: Admittedly a small scene, the hard-rock/industrial community in D.C. is tight-knit. Lacking many consistent underground venues, fans are generally left to big name acts. If you’re just in the mood to dance, and don’t need the bands to make all that noise, there are gatherings of that sort which may suit your taste.

Hot Spots: For hard rock and industrial acts in D.C., you’ve generally got to make the trek over to 9:30 Club. Nation has, in the past year or so, set a standard of resurrecting old metal bands of the Judas Priest variety and might also offer something to wet your lips. As far as hard rock clubs, Nation’s goth night “Alchemy” is the way to go. This Thursday night event tends to bring the city’s downtrodden, misshapen masses to their feet. For goth fun and music (and a bit of cross-dressing to boot) check out the Catacomb (1707 L. ST, NW ) on Saturday nights.


Sweating under the lights for hour after euphoric hour. You wanna hit a rave baby? Well we’ve got the best one around.

The low-down: We’ve got national DJs, producing, mixing and everything else you could possibly want. They come with fair frequency, doing live sets and taking their turn behind the tables. Buzz, a weekly event at Nation, is by far the largest dance party in town, lasting into the wee hours of the night. With elaborate light shows, huge crowds and admirable guest DJs, it’s definitely your best bet. D.C. locals and national celebrities of great acclaim, Deep Dish can be seen around town, especially at Nation, on a pretty regular basis.

Hot Spots: Nation, Nation, Nation. There are plenty of dance clubs around town, but for great techno, spun live, Buzz is the best.


Smooth and cool, or sharp and soulful, D.C. is a place where Jazz hounds flock. The problem is you might have some trouble getting through the door.

The low-down: The city is filled with clubs, the problem is that most are 21 and over to get in. This is not to say that you can’t hear some hot improvisational stuff, simply that it might have to wait until senior year. Locally, the GW music department has a weekly Friday afternoon jam that is well worth checking out.

Hot Spots: Blues Alley (1073 Wisconsin Ave.) is the place to go if you’ve got cash. Georgetown, Adam’s Morgan and U-Street are all filled with jazz clubs waiting to be explored.


I thought this scene died in the early 70’s but, you kids searching for a bit of British pop might still find some action. Just make sure you dress to impress.

The low-down: It’s not big, but hey.

Hot Spots: Check out “British Dance night” at the Black Cat.


The Black Cat
1811 14th St. NW

Located in the heart of D.C.’s U-street district, the Black Cat offers two stages, a main stage and backstage, sometimes putting on two shows in one night. Recently relocated, the club has expanded a bit and now boasts a large, open main room. Acoustics are not always the best, but the place manages to pack in a decent crowd while maintaining the feel of a tiny club. Cheap prices, and up-and-coming bands are the clubs staple. The back stage, which tends to feature super-alternative or local acts, is roomy, fit for 50 or so and offers a chill listening experience.

The Metro Cafe
1522 14th Street, NW
(202) 588-9118

With a maximum capacity of slightly more than 50 people, the Metro Caf? is your basic bar put to good use. Not only does it host some of the best up-and-coming local bands, it also manages to squeeze in art exhibits, occasional films and decidedly nontraditional theatre performances.

Nightclub 9:30
815 V St. NW
(202) 393-0930

The 9:30 Club has been in D.C. since the mid-80s, but became host to larger acts after renovations in 1995. For D.C., it is the first step down from stadium-level shows. It’s a big place, bragging a capacity of more than 1,000 with two levels. Bars can be found on both floors, but sitting space is super-limited. And despite the club’s name, never expect a concert to actually start at 9:30.

Half and K St, SE
(202) 554-1500

Nation is a sometimes-concert venue in Southeast D.C. It features an eclectic musical lineup and hosts bands several times a month. In addition, the club transforms several times a week into a dance club hosting cutting edge electronic music and very popular raves. It is the home every Friday to “Buzz,” one of D.C.’s most popular dance nights.

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