The 9:30 Club and other popular District venues certainly offer their musical merits – artists with well-established reputations usually promise a good night out. But there’s a way for music lovers and musicians alike to branch out from the high-traffic scene in the D.C. area, and it’s called DIY.
The DIY (that is, “Do-It-Yourself”) music community is based on the principle of creating music and art on your own terms: musicians, artists and show organizers work collaboratively to host concerts at independent venues.
Relying on a shared love of the work rather than the expectation of money or fame, the network of DIY shows – which began in the District in the 1980s – stretches across the country, connecting artists and fans with venues for their independently made tunes.
For those unfamiliar with the DIY scene, know that there’s a perfect venue for everyone: You just need to know where to look.
1. The Lab
Inside an unassuming building in a suburban neighborhood of Alexandria, Va., hardcore punk artists are thriving.
If you’re looking to experience an intimate and charged performance, head to The Lab. A banquet room allows bands to play on the same level as the audience — an unexpected and rare characteristic for the area’s locales.
The Lab describes itself as an “arts incubation program dedicated to the emerging music community” around D.C.
Every show held at the venue, no matter the genre, is all-ages, but that also means The Lab has a strict “no alcohol, no drugs, no dummies” policy. All-ages shows are common in much of the DIY music world, with many proponents of the straight edge (that is, people who abstain entirely from alcohol, tobacco or drugs) punk culture attending, booking or playing in these shows.
Though a great deal of DIY music falls into the indie rock, hardcore or punk rock genres, The Lab also offers shows for emerging artists who play a wide variety of music, including both folk and hip-hop.
The toughest part of attending shows at The Lab is getting there: Show-goers have to hop on a bus from either the King Street or Pentagon City Metro stations.
1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, Va.
2. The Dougout
The Dougout, located in the basement of a home near the Brookland-CUA Metro stop on the Red Line, has been a go-to for small DIY shows within D.C. limits. But that changed a few months ago when the house venue began to host more popular bands.
Now, it feels more like an intimate club, where the ceilings are low, lighting is dark and wristbands are sometimes required to enter.
With rules like “No jerks” and “No drunk lunatics. Regular drunks are acceptable,” The Dougout definitely adheres to the unspoken rule of the DIY music scene: Take care of each other and be safe.
Upcoming events include a show Sept. 20 that features the bands Cloud Rat and Nervous Mothers. For those not in the know, the acts run along the musical lines of those you’d find at the Black Cat.
1489 Channing St., NE
3. St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church
Punk shows have rocked St. Stephen’s for the past three decades. The church, located in Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant, hosts DIY shows and events between regular religious services.
While the church is known for its DIY music festivals like the Damaged City Fest, it also hosts non-music events. It holds the annual DC Zine Fest, for example, in August to share the works of self-published authors and independent artists.
Another event called The In It Together Fest, a “celebration of underground art, music and activism,” offers a lineup of punk bands and has an overall aim to bring together the D.C. DIY community.
1525 Newton St., NW