The Union BBQ made its inaugural run at Dock 5, a warehouse space behind DC’s Union Market. The programming set you up for a diverse spread of electronic music and legit local food fare. The layout consisted of two stages – one in the actual warehouse space and the other stage, the Moombahton Massive Stage, in the lot adjacent to the warehouse.

Some of our favorite locals, including Lisa Frank, Steven Faith, Will Eastman, and Sam Burns warmed up the indoor stage with house ranging from deep to funky as attendees rolled in. Orchard Lounge exercised restraint before buildup with subtle layers of tribal influenced drums. Animal Collective dropped an artistic set that unfolded like an installation piece before it pulled in bodies and set them free to move. Martyn wasted no time throwing bass heavy body-jacking techno into the crowd.

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But we can’t forget that music was only one half of the equation. The festival featured several local food vendors. I was able to hit three stops. Toki Underground’s Pho Dog, a hot dog marinated in pho and topped with basil, cilantro, hoisin and sriracha sauce, and spicy slaw, triumphantly returned for its first appearance since its days as an item at U Street Music Hall. DCity Smokehouse’s brisket sandwich is easily the best brisket I’ve ever had–sweet, tangy, and smoky flavors hitting in waves. They have mastered making a notoriously tough cut of meat as tender as a cut of higher end steaks. Mama’s Nada’s Empanadas, prepared and served by Dave Nada’s mother, offered a variety of fillings in their golden-fried crisp pastry dough; I ended up going with the chicken empanada just before Jamie xx’s set. Other food vendors included 13th Street Meats, Riddim, DGS Delicatessen, Rito Loco, The Brixton, El Ray, and Dolcezza.

The Moombahton Massive Stage proved solid. Jen Lasher was playful and freeform with her set, finding ways to incorporate and bounce between trap, hip hop, moombahton, and elements of drum n bass. Tittsworth stayed taught with his hard blend of techno, moombahton and house. Nadastrom would stay with sights focused on the moombahton theme.

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Though Nadastrom and Tittsworth transplanted to LA, all three are local talents. What’s interesting is the development of a DMV sound – something to be proud of and loyal to, something regional and specific. Though nascent and stylistically different, these ideas for a ‘sound’ have already been accomplished in Detroit and Chicago. The three performances can be looked at together as blueprint, construction and product. Lasher’s set laid out an array of styles that are having influence on DC. Tittsworth’s alchemical experiments in track sequencing are not poorly compiled pastiche and his explorations in sound design, particularly in the percussion section, are highly innovative. The DMV sound is sophisticated, an alchemy, hard, and swinging.

The DMV seems to have always struggled with identity anxiety. The themes previously described came to a head during Nadastrom’s performance. Enraptured by the call they made during a peak moment of the set, Nadastrom dropped their new track ‘Fallen Down’ during sunset. The crowd was consumed by an experience of synaesthetic beauty. It could have been the numerous DC Brau IPAs and vodka sodas toying with my emotions or it could have been the near perfect aesthetic experience that defines this moment as one of the highlights of the night. Most likely it was the right mix of both.

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The highly anticipated London-based headliner Jamie xx promptly followed Nadastrom and opened with ambience that filled the space with warmth. Surreal lighting – minimalist starbursts of alternating colors in the background – and heady grooves produced with intelligent and thoughtful drum patterns continued to trigger peak sublime moments. Lush, pulsing with momentum, and at times bittersweet, Jamie xx proved to be an excellent choice to close the evening.

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The first few years for a fresh festival often are a series of growing pains, but the Union BBQ made a flawless impression during its inaugural run. What I interpret as significant is the sense that Union BBQ is reaching for an aesthetic of legitimacy comparable to that of no-bullshit festivals recognized by an international electronic music community. The successfully chosen location, billing and staging gives reason to add the festival to a growing list of serious electronic music projects in the DMV.

For the rest of the photos, go HERE