It’s the summer of 2001 and every week I look forward to Sunday night. Four blocks from my apartment in Adams Morgan is a club called the Blue Room. It’s a slim three story building two doors down from Heaven & Hell (which, remarkably, is still open for business in 2018). For me, Sunday night at the Blue Room has two major things going for it. First, it’s free. This is a major plus when you are fresh out of college web consultant with no dependable source of income. Second, it’s smart. There is no other place in DC that sounds like Sundays at the Blue Room, there may not have been another club night that sounded like this night anywhere. The soundtrack veers from spry electro to the latest Warp sides to deep dives into minimalist soundscapes and unexpected spaces in between.
The night is called FILLER. From 2001 to 2003, the weekly Sunday function pushes the concept of what a club night could be into a new realm. Richard Chartier, William Alberque, Milo, and George D’Adhemar serve as the night’s hosts and DJs. Even though the music is outré, the atmosphere is personable and welcoming. The DJ booth is behind a curved wall with a cut out, the decks at eye level with the crowd, open. The music is clear, but also soft enough to hold conversation.
Subconsciously, my memories of FILLER have spoiled me. It gave me an image of how a club night could both push your imagination and draw you in. It set a high bar for experiences to come. As I thought more about the night, I was interested to learn more about how it came to be from its residents. For this piece, I chatted with Richard Chartier, Milo (Rob Blum), and George D’Adhemar about their backgrounds, their memories of FILLER, and where the residents are now.
George D’Adhemar: I’m a Brit by birth but grew up in DC and consider it home. I’ve also spent time in the UK during the late 80s, and in Montreal during the mid 90s. In every one of those locations, I’ve come across and been drawn to a music scene with local roots. My time in England exposed me to Manchester’s shoegazing scene, acid house and a burgeoning electronic sound from labels like Warp and R&S. I was young but realized there was something significant happening there that wasn’t translating in the same way in the US, and I wanted more of it. While in Montreal, I continued to seek out similar sounds from record shops, through friends, and on the radio. It’s funny that I was first introduced to Tiga while listening to his weekly radio show with Gnat on local college station CKUT. It’s also where I got to experience what decent clubbing was like. There were a number of impressive raves, but the club Sona was really something else. The sound system and calibre of DJs was just phenomenal.
Milo: I grew up in a military family, so we were rarely in any single location for more than three years. Though I was born in Georgia, I had lived in Southern California, Colorado, Nebraska, Ohio, and finally, Northern Virginia by the time I was 16. I had been in the DC area since 1986, completing high school and college during those early years. I eventually studied art history at George Mason University, knowing that the proximity to some of the world’s finest art museums provided an invaluable primary resource. I also worked at a hobby shop in Springfield Mall while going to school, and my fellow employees exposed me to a wide range of music and cultural backgrounds. We were permitted to play our own music in the shop. It was during this time that I made the transition from listening primarily to music of the 1960s and 1970s to more contemporary music. This was around the time that alternative radio station WHFS boosted their signal, and it opened up a new world for me. I was excited about music again, absorbing everything from The Stone Roses to Pixies to Renegade Soundwave.
I later worked at Tower Records, first in Vienna/Tysons Corner, then in the Fairfax location. It was during those years that I really gained access to the abundance of new releases of electronic music being released. I recall grabbing the first and only copies of new import releases such as Aphex Twin‘s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 or Global Communication‘s 76:14 right off the floor, before anyone else could. Autechre, The Orb, Future Sound of London, Jonah Sharp‘s Reflective label, and the em:t label all prompted me to seek out more. Above all, though, was Warp Records. They were wise enough to find and cultivate artists who brought a wide range of exciting sounds to the forefront. I was also informally in charge of the electronic section while at Tower Records, and always enjoyed helping listeners find new sounds. My early interest was in ambient electronic music, and at that time producers were greatly influenced by 1970s analog sounds. After some time, I began appreciating the sounds of proper house and techno. Labels like Tresor, Tribal, and Deep Dish expanded my knowledge and spurred my interest. I really wasn’t able to narrow down a favorite genre, so I tried to keep up with all of them.
Richard Chartier: I grew up in the thrilling world of Springfield, VA on the outer rim of the DC area. I started DJing in 1990 at the James Madison University radio station and that got boring to me. I missed going out in DC, so I started DJing techno/industrial stuff at various artsy house parties, then started a semi-monthly night in Harrisonburg, VA at a sports bar called Players in 1991. It had a great sound system and the owner was open to almost anything. It was a bit goofy looking back. I had 2 door people/fabulous hosts, Nathan + Angie Lee and a live dominatrix on a little stage. The visuals were projected on a giant screen, sometimes strobing between 2 channels of video… like B-movie trailers, autopsy footage, and Barney the Dinosaur. A few strobe lights on different speeds. The music was all over the place but mainly techno-industrial, it was named TECHNOmasochism. Electronic music in the Shenandoah Valley! It caused a big stink at a local religious college. The flyers were actually sent to the FBI because people thought it was a CULT.
My Pinkcourtesyphone moniker actually started in the mid 90s when I was DJing a couple of short lived events including BENT at Ozone (with Ian Svenonius and Michelle Mae of The Make Up) and a night I organized called HALOGEN at Bent Bar (former Andalusian Dog on U Street).
George D’Adhemar: By the time I got back to DC, I realized this city wasn’t immune to the wave of electronic dance music I first experienced in the UK. Tracks delivered a queer landscape for house music and was one of my first gay clubbing experiences. Buzz at Nation dug deep into the rave world, proving to be one of the best venues I could have hoped to experience such a wide range of DJs and genres. We were spoilt — one week we’d get to hear Richie Hawtin, the next LTJ Bukem. But the smaller venues also had a big impact. It was incredible to me that I could check out Deep Dish in the backroom of State of the Union on U Street. Sam ‘The Man’ Burns introduced me to the spiritual side of house music with his inspirational Sunday night sets. And I loved the more intimate nature of clubs like Red, especially when local DJs like The Dirty Crew would lay down some outstanding tech house.
Richard Chartier: So many of my nights starting as a late teen were spent at clubs like: 9:30 club on F Street to see shows and DJs beforehand, Poseurs (which was in Georgetown somewhere first, then at the Fifth Column, and other locations… I think one turned into Buffalo Billiards in Dupont), The Vault (where I first really heard techno as it evolved from the Belgian New Beat scene), Tracks (on Thursdays for Techno and Industrial/new wave, sometimes Fridays, and Saturdays for a healthy dose of house and bitch tracks), Roxy (for Industrial and later a great drum and bass night on Sundays), Red Room (for great house music, French filter disco type stuff and random guests), Nation for all sorts of electronic music. I went to these nights to hear music I hadn’t heard before. Pre-internet, pre-smart phone you relied on others to learn.
Milo: We had all met each other through DJing at Pharmacy Bar, an intimate bar in Adams Morgan, just up the street from Blue Room.
Richard Chartier: Pharmacy was my favorite bar, located in Adams Morgan with a … PHARMACY theme, great owners & bartenders, intimate and socializing. Capsule was organized by Dan Searing . It was great to hear electronic music in a small setting. I did a few Capsules and then proposed a night in 2000 called Proto-synthesis (with William Alberque) to focus on our mutual love of unusual and less heard electronic music from 1977-1983, it was a precursor to the renewed interest in Cold Wave. We did a few of these at FILLER as well. Capsule ending certainly inspired FILLER to be created. There was a gap that needed to be filled and expanded.
I always start new nights with my birthday party. FILLER started as my 30th birthday party … this showed Blue Room where FILLER was to be hosted, that we could bring in a crowd.
Milo: When in the planning stages, I immediately thought Blue Room would be a perfect space, as it was a great middle ground between and club and a lounge. The big lure was that their sound system had some nice subtlety, and the owner, Frank, was a DJ himself. The DJ booth was out of the way, situated in the corner of the room, raised a bit with a nice view of most of the space. I’d never felt the DJ should be front and center, so this booth nicely met my personal dictate. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite DJ booths I’ve played in.
George D’Adhemar: When we started FILLER we wanted something that spoke to our varied interests in music that generally didn’t get played out. The name sort of encapsulated the open nature of format which focused on more understated and less accessible electronic sounds. It was a stripped down experience, one that felt loungey at times, disquieting at others.
Richard Chartier: The original tagline was: “BEATS . BLEEPS . TONES . DRONES . SPOTS . DOTS . PIXELS . POPS” which I still like. There were 4 of us, I wanted 4 DJs representing differing takes on electronic music to engage the guests. William Alberque played more indie-influenced-electronic slower stuff and classic electronic, I played minimalist, IDM (if you will), experimental Raster-Noton, Mego, Mille Plateaux, 12k type stuff, George D’Adhemar played tech house, Perlon, Kompakt, Force, Inc. Milo played a mix of avant-garde house, electro. Basically we played almost all electronic except hard techno and heavy drum and bass. The whole night was a confluence of sounds, styles and personalities. The Washington Post described it as “the most cutting edge stuff you’ll hear in town.”
Milo: Each of us had fairly distinct music styles we tended to play out, though I probably had the broadest repertoire. I often played IDM and electro, such as was being released on Warp, Skam, Neo Ouija, or Clear, with occasional ventures into minimal and deep techno territory, such as was being released on Mosaic or Perlon. George mostly played slower tempo Cologne style techno, as was most often found on Kompakt. William’s focus was less on electronic sounds, more the UK-centric indie inspiration that bridged the gaps between experimental and indie pop genres. Finally, Richard often played the extreme minimal end of electronics, so much so that his sets often kicked off the evenings when the club was at its quietest.
George D’Adhemar: Richard could bring the sonic minimalism of his own record label, LINE, or launch into a set of early electronic artists like Chris & Cosey. Milo and I tended to veer towards stripped down techno and house. I loved venturing into dubby grind from Cologne or glitch from Montreal.
Richard Chartier: One of the key things we all wanted for FILLER was for it to be free, but more importantly we wanted it to be a crossroads for a wide variety of listeners. The crowd was very diverse and we got a lot of feedback about how people actually talked to other people there. People met new people. It was a very open space, a safe haven. Because it was every Sunday night, we also got a lot of industry people. We had lots of regulars. Lots of dancing.
Milo: There wasn’t going to be any door pressure to screen people out.
George D’Adhemar: It was also queer. We projected a wide range of obscure, campy, art-house styled movies that worked with our alternative soundtrack.
Richard Chartier: There was that GIANT PROJECTION screen. We had some great live video artists and screenings by AElab, Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, Alan Callander, Jeremy Bernstein, Phase4, Sue Costabile, Jorge Castro, and Telia.
George D’Adhemar: We featured local visual artist Alan Callandar whose stunning works graced our projector multiple times while at the Blue Room.
Richard Chartier: We also had a partnership with the video rental place, Video Americain, which allowed us to get super strange films to show. We had themed film nights. The projector had a great zoom function so that we could just show a small section of a film making it purely visual and confusing. I liked that.
Milo: Opening night was very memorable. People seemed to come out from all over the area to witness the birth of FILLER. It felt special, mainly due to the sheer variety of people and scenes being represented in a single space. People from the music, art, and design world were all in attendance. It wasn’t stuffy; the atmosphere was lighthearted. It was hard to find that kind of vitality in nightlife. The vibe was to be fairly chill overall, but I was often tempted to throw on some more beat heavy tracks if there was a larger crowd.
George D’Adhemar: And sometimes we liked to have fun. If Monday was a holiday, we might amp it up with something a little more accessible. I miss Richard’s dead-on lip syncing while playing his favorite electroclash tracks. “Hello, you’re the one I adore … Oh please. I’m Catherine. Deneuve!!!” However, usually the vibe was chill and intimate. As one of the FILLER button’s pronounced, Please Don’t Dance to the Art.
Richard Chartier: FILLER was very special in a time when the dance music scene was in my opinion becoming fractured, distant, and unfriendly. I still get contacted by people who say FILLER was a big influence on them or that they miss the atmosphere. For something that was 15 years ago, that’s pretty good.
Milo: Our strength was not only in the diverse range of sounds we all represented as DJs, but in attracting a wide range of performers as well. My favorite guest was probably “local boy made good” John Selway. As I recall, it was a Memorial Day weekend, so our quiet little Sunday evening would essentially operate like a Saturday night. There was always a tension on these nights between keeping the evening mellow and accommodating the masses with some more energetic tunes. Well, you don’t book Selway for a mellow evening out, so we gave him full autonomy to play what he desired. He centered on Italo-Disco, and completely tore the place up with tracks the general public doesn’t often hear. The crowd ate it up and the bar was very happy with drink sales that night.
We staged a number of collaborative live music and video performances. Like our patrons, we often didn’t know quite what to expect when they came on. Matthew Dear was on the cusp of blowing up; that was a great night. Sutekh was cool. There were many performers and DJs we brought in that were completely foreign to me, hence the mixing of different scenes.
George D’Adhemar: We were very fortunate to feature some outstanding acts, both audio and visual. It was amazing to have someone like Matthew Dear drop by our little shindig. But it was equally enjoyable to be a venue for local artists. When a nearby electronic music festival like Once Twice [was] happening around the same time, there was always a chance we would be able to feature acts that we couldn’t do otherwise on our shoestring budget. It was pretty mind-blowing to have Soundhack, Steve Beaupré, and Geoff White play on the same night. Our two year anniversary was also rather impressive because we were celebrating 104 consecutive Sundays (and hungover Mondays) with over 10 of our favorite guest DJ’s including Tomas Jirku.
George D’Adhemar: It’s funny to look back at it now because at the time we were having fun doing what we wanted, but in retrospect I think we may have created with something distinct and different for DC.
Richard Chartier: I loved every night we did. The one year anniversary party was pretty crazy and jam packed. The final FILLER was uplifting but sad.
FILLER at Buzz
Richard Chartier: My favorite FILLER related thing was when the FILLER crew got invited to DJ the huge patio the whole night at Buzz at the DC mega club Nation.
Milo: In September of 2002, we were booked to play the patio at Buzz. This was pretty exciting, as it provided us with the chance to expose our sounds to a wider audience. I was happy to play to a dancefloor, something I didn’t often have the opportunity to do. It was a beautiful night, in the low 70s, and the crowd was receptive.
Richard Chartier: It was wild … I was not sure what to expect really, but once I saw I had gotten people breakdancing to the sounds of dot matrix printers, I knew we all had something special on our hands.
Milo: Little did we know that would be the final Buzz event, as DC police officers conducted a sting operation that resulted in Nation’s liquor license being threatened.
Richard Chartier: That was the night Buzz ended up being shut down in some military drug sting. DRAMA!!!
Milo: We would occasionally joke that was the night we killed Buzz.
Milo: After FILLER wrapped up, I continued to hold down a few other weekly residencies at Blue Room, Gazuza, Gua-Rapo, Science Club, and Bohemian Caverns. I mostly played extended sets with a range of genres from downtempo to house.
Richard Chartier: I moved to Baltimore toward the end of FILLER’s run and started a monthly event called Treatment was a monthly event I did with DJ Pneuma at Sonar with some great guests.
I moved back to DC after a miserable Baltimore experience. Mies was a more free-form music night incorporating post-punk, goth, avant-pop randomness … not purely electronic with fellow DJs Kyle Storm, Mark Williams, Scott Seymour. Its tagline was “something for everyone … and nothing for some.” It changed names to PROCEDURE then moved to Local 16 on U & 16th street and gained popularity. We then moved it to Science Lab and then to the downstairs lounge of Saint-Ex on 14th Street. I left it in Mark’s hands in 2010 after I decided to move on. I did a few LGBTQ nights called MOVE TO TRASH with Kid Congo Powers before I left DC in 2012/2013.
George D’Adhemar: For the past couple years I’ve been commuting up to Pittsburgh on a monthly basis. I’ve gotten hooked on a party up there called Honcho. It’s a queer-centric afters that’s housed in same building as the local bathhouse. The night is solely focused on gay, lesbian, and trans artists and DJs. It’s a scruffy, unpretentious, no-frills approach to clubbing. And it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s a real sense of community within the walls of the venue, Hot Mass. After being given the chance to DJ there several times, I was invited to become part of their crew. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life and I’m very happy to say that at the end of this month I will be calling PGH home. We get to enjoy an amazing level of talent from our guests every month. I’m pretty blown away when I think about it. Last month a good friend of ours, Bret Bowerman, played his first headlining set there and slayed the floor with some beautifully sculpted techno.
But we are also hard at work on something really big. For the past 3 years we’ve managed to pull off something that’s kind of ridiculous — a camping trip that’s also a queer rave in the woods of Appalachia. It takes place on the third weekend in August and is called Honcho Campout. This year will be our biggest yet. We are programming four full days with a diverse selection of phenomenal artists and DJs. The venue is gorgeous and every year the reaction of attendees exceeds our expectations. It’s like an outdoor version of Hot Mass, one that allows an extended community of underground queer scenes from across the country to come together. This year we’ll be continuing our goal of providing a varied lineup of male, female and trans artists, along with a mix of up-and-coming talent and some favorites from the past couple years. And no shortage of different sounds. We haven’t revealed the lineup yet, but it’ll be available shortly at www.honchocampout.com. This is definitely one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of.
Milo: A move to Los Angeles in 2006 sidelined my DJing and I began thinning out my library through Discogs. I’ve DJed a bit here and there, most often for the recently defunct Cinefamily movie theater. Those sets were often themed to the movies scheduled for the evening, and they challenged me in new, fun ways.
I’m still collecting music, old and new. I enjoy raiding the clearance bins at Amoeba, filling in the holes in my collection. I’ve digitized my library and am making the transition to laptop DJing. I’m intrigued by how each format completely alters the way I DJ. Laptops are a big lure for convenience, but I really miss physically flipping through albums to find the next selection. It’s a difficult habit to shake.
I still curate/run my label LINE since 2000 documenting sound installations and composers focusing on minimalism. I still release sound art work + music under my own name and Pinkcourtesyphone. Some of recent albums have been issued on Editions Mego, Room40, and Ash International. You can learn more here. You can listen to and download my work on my Bandcamp.
You can also listen to my DJ mixes and radio shows on my Mixcloud including several unearthed “vintage” recorded sets from FILLER!
Richard Chartier: You know, it would be great to do a FILLER reunion event in DC! (hint, hint)
Upcoming: April 20: Massimiliano Pagliara, Rebolledo and George D’Adhemar @ Ten Tigers (Washington, DC) April 27: Maria Minerva, Pinkcourtesyphone (Richard Chartier), Kid606, and Dahlia @ Coaxial (Los Angeles, CA)
Wednesdays: PROCEDURE with rotating resident DJs Pinkcourtesyphone, Ale Cohen, Maria Minerva, Pete Swanson, Nick Malkin, and guests @ Zebulon Café (Los Angeles, CA)