Bartees Strange’s genre-blurring music has turned the indie-rock singer into one of the area’s best-known young artists. Though he grew up in Oklahoma, he’s lived here for years, soaking up Washington’s cultural offerings. Strange’s new album, Farm to Table, just came out, so we asked him to talk about some of his local influences—both musical and otherwise.
No surprise to see the wildly influential hardcore band—which formed in DC in the ’70s—on Strange’s list. “They came at a time when punk music was all about the roughness of life. And then this Black band emerges from the nation’s capital talking about, yeah, the world is horrible, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and here’s how we get there.”
Beauty Pill Frontman Chad Clark
Clark cofounded Beauty Pill in the early 2000s. “Chad is just a madman, a genius musician. I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s kind of the backbone of the music scene, and he’s a big part of why I wanted to move to DC when I graduated college.”
When he moved here from Oklahoma and was missing his mom’s cooking, Strange found comfort at this U Street restaurant. “Just perfect soul food. The people are really kind, and it always feels a little loose. Every time, I’m like, ‘Is my food going to come?’ And it always does, so I’m like, ‘Why do I always worry?’ ”
Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights is also widely known by this moniker. “If you’re ever in DC for a day and want to see what the vibe of the city is, Malcolm X Park is the perfect place. All incomes and tax brackets are represented. It’s kind of a shitshow, it’s kind of gorgeous, and there are a lot of dogs.”
Good luck finding a local rock musician who isn’t in some way influenced by this band and its cofounder Ian MacKaye. “I went to a show this weekend and ten people walked by and were like, ‘Yo, Bartees, Ian is up at the front, you should meet him.’ Like, this guy is a real legend—and he’s just going to gigs. The [band members] are so down for community and contributing to the next generation.”
Don Zientara’s Arlington studio has recorded scads of classic DC albums. (It had to relocate last year. ) “It all comes back to the community for me. People like Don really pressed the conversation nationally that there was a sound in DC. A lot of the reason I’m talking about any of these bands is because of his vision.”
Patty Boom Boom
The reggae spot on U Street closed in 2015. “I used to go there all through my twenties, and it was rad. Everybody was smashed against each other, so you couldn’t be mad if somebody danced with your boyfriend or girlfriend. It was probably a fire hazard, but it was so charming and special.”
Song to check out: The first single off his upcoming new album is the smooth “Úsame.”
What he sounds like: His current music is a beguiling mix of R&B, dancehall, and reggaeton. His biggest hit so far is “Mimosas,” a laid-back 2019 track that was born after a day of DC brunching.
How he got his start: Raised in Gaithersburg, Jiggy began making music in high school and has built an audience as an indie artist, despite record-label interest. “I just want to blow up doing what I like to do,” he says, “and if that takes longer, so be it.”
How he developed his language skills: The Trinidadian American didn’t grow up speaking Spanish at home, but he frequently sings in the language. Jiggy picked it up from friends who slipped Spanish into their conversations.
What’s next: His new album is out this month. Called Flavors 3, it’s the final installment of a trilogy.
@latenightjiggy something about sundays and drinking bottomless mimosas is special idk.. vibes or na? 👀🥂 talk to me nice #fyp #spanglish #sech ♬ original sound – LATENIGHTJIGGY
3. Alex Vaughn
Song to check out: “Mirage,” her first single after signing to the Atlanta label LVRN.
What she sounds like: Modern R&B that’s full of atmospheric synth textures and nuanced singing.
How she got her start: She never had any doubt about her career path. “It’s always been music,” she says. “When I was a child, my grandmother had a piano and I would crawl onto it and bang on the keys.”
What Maryland means to her: “I am from Prince George’s County all day,” she says. “I’ve lived from New Carrollton to Capitol Heights to Bowie to Accokeek to Brandywine. Being surrounded by so much Black excellence—personality, edge, attitude, directness, wittiness—the energy of this area has influenced who I am as a person, as an artist.”
What’s next: After performing in LA in late June on a bill with Summer Walker, Ari Lennox, and Jasmine Sullivan, she’ll release a full album in the fall.
@alexvaughn This really started as a personal voice note & now we’re here! 🥲🙏🏽My new single ‘MIRAGE’ is out now! 🔮 #blackmusic #blacktiktok #music #LAN ♬ original sound – Alexvaughn
Song to check out: The Virginia singer’s earnest earworm “Sun and Moon” came out in April and has now exceeded 38 million streams on Spotify.
What he sounds like: A warm day with a cool breeze; ice cream in a convertible; a blanket in the park with your dog. Good vibes and catchy tunes, in other words.
How he got his start: It wasn’t until after he graduated from law school in 2017 that he got serious about making music. Depressed and unexcited about a legal career, Anees began performing on Instagram Live. “It’s almost like my artist self was born in response to the depression,” he says. “I found not only a way to heal but maybe the thing I want to do with my whole life.”
What’s up with the ’stache: “Everybody’s got their thing. For some people, it’s a hat, their shoes, their belt. For me, it’s my mustache.”
What’s next: A July 29 show at the Howard Theatre and a new single.
@aneeswhat if i told you this is going to be the song of your summer?♬ sun and moon by anees – anees
EP to check out: Born at the Right Time (Exquisite Corpse), which comes out July 15.
What they sound like: The DC sextet’s sound has evolved, becoming less country-rock and more spaced-out pop.
How they got their start: Frontman Andrew Grossman founded the group in 2011, and the band has had different iterations over the years.
What “exquisite corpse” refers to: That parenthetical in the title references how it was made: “Exquisite corpse” is a way of creating where each collaborator builds on what the previous one did. “We enjoyed the end result,” says bassist Austin Blanton, “so we decided to get it mixed and mastered and make it a real thing.”
What’s next: After the release of Born at the Right Time (Exquisite Corpse), the band will kick off a two-week tour, ending with a record-release show at DC9 on July 29.
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This article appears in the July 2022 issue of Washingtonian.