A sign is waving in the distance that reads “Get VonStroked.” A man, in an orange and yellow spandex suit with a cracked egg emblem on his stomach, is at the front of the crowd alongside a gaggle of raving brethren. I am backstage. Beside me is Grill$on, Dirtybird’s resident pit master, and we are wearing matching Vans sneakers; they have cheeseburgers on them.
This was the Dirtybird BBQ in Washington, D.C. With many excited attendees, especially after D.C. failed to win the city vote in years past, I took a moment to soak in the atmosphere. An atmosphere that I had heard stories of, but never witnessed firsthand. It felt good.
In the 12 years since it established itself as a label, Dirtybird has become synonymous to myself, and others, with “home”: no judgmental attitudes, pretension, and an emphasis on letting your true self fly valiantly – all to the soundtrack of genre bending and boundary pushing electronic music. And while I have attended many Dirtybird DJ sets in the past, even being so fortunate as to DJ alongside a few of the Dirtybird Players, I had been told by peers that club gigs featuring DB talent didn’t hold a candle to the bigger events they curated.
I had major inclinations of what to expect at my first ever Dirtybird BBQ. These expectations, over the course of the next 12 hours, were met, surpassed, and blown out of the water from every angle. The BBQ was the satisfying, comforting environment DB naturally creates, but multiplied tenfold: showcasing a stunning Void sound system; a roster of some of the label’s finest DJs; and a winning combination of food and beer.
“This was a visual feast.”
Upon arriving at the D.C. Brau Brewery lot, I found myself surrounded by my kind of people: enthusiastic weirdos looking for solace in music and a salacious need to party. D.C., I would argue, can have a self-serious attitude when it comes to going out – especially amongst the increasing throngs of well-off millennials. And while I anticipated a certain level of these contingents to say “fuck it” and let go, I found myself pleasantly heart warmed at how many seemed to take the Dirtybird aesthetic to heart.
Some were in costume, some were adorned in Dirtybird swag, some were in the typical “too cool for school” black-on-black with NMDs. One person stood with a flag, waving it in the wind confidently, as the phrase “DC Shipfam” danced in the breeze. Even the stereotypical, boujee types were getting their weird on: trading Snapchat stories with #Brunchfam for an opportunity to throw photogenic bullshit aside and chow down on plates of barbecue. Still chasing the high from the previous night, an open-to-close set by Billy Kenny at D.C. venue Flash, this was a visual feast that jolted my level of excitement.
Sadly, while I was stoked, I’m sure the excitement slightly dissipated for some as tickets at the door were cash only and ATMs in the area were scarce – a hiccup from the ATM vendor backing out at the last minute. Despite the circumstances, checking in was a quick and thorough process thanks to the professionalism of the security team on site, most of whom were from stellar local venues like U Street Music Hall and the 9:30 Club.
Despite being overcast for the majority of the event, the lot would eventually become stuffed to the gills with Dirtybird fam and industry insiders: some buying Dirtybird merch which, to be fair, was a tad out of reach as far as cost goes and many taking advantage of a beer garden. Most would find their way to the DJ tent.
Early birds were treated to fabulous sets by relative newcomers to the Dirtybird roster, Weiss and Walker & Royce. Weiss played a set which showed his diversity as a DJ, spanning from classic house to the tech sound he’s been honing with recent releases like “Charlie Brown.” Walker & Royce, fan favorites with releases like “Boy,” “Hit Dem Draws,” and their remix of Justin Martin’s “The Feels,” followed with their unique, emotional, left-field sound which pulsated with electronica laced ecstasy.
The Void system at the event was a real treat. Crisp highs, bone shattering lows, but a crystal clear level of sound which allowed for comfortable interactions without feeling the need to shout or yell. Seeing as the major venues in D.C. showcase the likes of Martin Audio and Funktion One for sound, it was a welcome experience to have the eccentric looking Void system on display for this event.
“So many smiling faces, so many embracing the vibe.”
Much like other Dirtybird curated events, there was an opportunity to engage with DB familia in some fun and games. At the BBQ, many competed to win tickets to this year’s Dirtybird Campout festivities by tossing eggs, shuffling, and strutting their stuff in costume. The winner of the costume contest, who would later find his way on stage, rocked a flashy, feathered chicken costume that clearly drew inspiration from the label’s early era mascot on the cover of Beware of the Bird. These Best in Show categories made for an entertaining segway into what has made Dirtybird so special to begin with: a sense of community. In an instant, strangers became friends and memories were made, highlighting the power of family that Dirtybird prizes so much.
Kill Frenzy then graced the stage rocking his signature style of heavier, bass laced tech and sexy, booty shaking vocal drops. It was around this time I decided to explore a bit more when I experienced the ATM troubles firsthand and had to bolt to get some cash.
After a trek to get some cash, I got back to the event to continue gallivanting. After discovering that you couldn’t leave the beer garden with alcoholic beverages, and that there was no sound in the beer garden to hear the DJ set clearly, I decided to go back to the main tent.
By this time, Justin Martin was gracing the stage in front of a hungry, dazed, and enthused crowd of fans. I made my way backstage to pay my respects to some of the Dirtybird homies I have met over the last few years. From this angle, I had a true outer body moment: so many smiling faces, so many people embracing the vibe, the moment, and so much laughter between the typically jaded industry types and the people who just came to jam.
It made me realize how special D.C. can be when the right combination of attitude and desire to live in the moment comes together. Not to sound overly poetic or sappy or anything, but after a while, shows just become shows and the feeling of something ornately special starts to fade – save for the rare exception.
In that moment, the Dirtybird BBQ in D.C. became one of those exceptions. To see so much happiness in such a condensed period of time was such a simple pleasure and that was what would color the rest of the evening’s proceedings.
“The love on display was insufferably toxic.”
After Justin went into a drum & bass fueled finale, and a mysterious edit of Strafe’s “Set It Off,” Claude VonStroke made his way onto the dais and started to energize the crowd with chunky tech house proceedings. Highlights of his set included a now legendary VIP edit of “Make A Cake” followed by crowd pleasing classics such as “Who’s Afraid of Detroit.” By this point, with the sun down and the sweat continuing to flow, and a cuddle puddle of industry officials starting to grow stage right, the magic reached an all time high.
Grinning ear to ear, I found myself in a shell shocked state of unadulterated joy. All of the love on display was insufferably toxic, creeping its way into every single person still there, anxious to see what would happen next.
Eventually, news broke that an after party was scheduled at U Street Music Hall: somewhat unsurprising given the obvious empty slot that evening on U Hall’s calendar since the initial BBQ announcement back in March. Regardless, the crowd at the end of the night erupted, leading to the feeling that the day has only just begun and that the dancing was only to subside for a short intermission.
I made my way back closer to the heart of D.C. via a shuttle from the festival to the Rhode Island metro. After a brief decompression cycle that included a couple McDonald’s cheeseburgers and a beverage at a Dirtybird after party pre-game, I made my way to U Street Music Hall. By the time I arrived, however, it was “one person out, one person in.”
I wasn’t surprised seeing as admission was free for everyone who attended the BBQ.
So I waited in line, making a few new friends from Philadelphia who caught my ear talking about Patrick Topping’s “Forget” and discussing plans to see J. Phlip the following weekend. Eventually, I got inside the venue and, to my shock and pleasure, it was a legendary B2B: Weiss, Walker & Royce, Justin Martin, Kill Frenzy, and Shawn Q. All flexing their muscles as master selectors, taking turns with various USBs, each DJ played a game of cat and mouse attempting to outdo the previous DJ – while maintaining the overall vibe in the building.
“It spoke volumes to see a sense of community even at everyone’s most exhausted level – and to see people floating on an emotional high despite moving on their feet since the day before.”
The building was nuts to butts. Somewhat claustrophobic, I found a nice little space in the area I tend to like at U Hall: on the right hand side, facing the booth, up against the wall in the walkway. The energy eventually reached an apex at around 1 or 2 AM, however, as the event slowly turned into a B2B between Justin Martin and Kill Frenzy who were operating at a whole other level compared to their sets at the BBQ. Balancing between after hours techno and house party bangers, the two of them took U Hall by storm elevating the madness to a whole new high.
I eventually found myself in the middle of the dancefloor, jacking and breaking to a series of tech leaning heaters. Justin Martin took over near the end of the night, opting to take attendees down a deep rabbit hole of lush house music.
By the end of the night, the line between fan and family was officially blurred. Everyone congregating on the sidewalk outside U Street Music Hall, hugging and appreciating each other’s company, there was nothing but heartfelt love between everyone who made it to the end of the night together. After close to 12 hours of partying, there was a refreshing level of comfort and sincerity. It spoke volumes to see a sense of community even at everyone’s most exhausted level – and to see people floating on an emotional high despite moving on their feet since the day before.
I feel like there’s nothing really left to be said about the Dirtybird BBQ. Going through how the day’s events unfolded, at least from my point of view, I feel like the proceedings speak for themselves. It was a good time aside from a couple minor setbacks out of the control of the promoters earlier in the day and, even then, it was handled so gracefully that there’s really nothin negative to say. U Street Music Hall and the event team at Dirtybird came together on something that D.C. dance music kids are going to remember for a long time – even drawing comparisons to the Union BBQ event from a few years ago.
I, for one, will remember looking out at a continuous sea of smiling faces, reigniting my hope for mankind at a time when we need more positivity than ever.