Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Interveniew! Behind the Scenes at DC9

In this new weekly series, DJ Emily Simpson takes us behind the scenes at major DC music venues and chats with the people who make the action happen. For her inaugural installment, Simpson headed to DC9 to meet with Bill Spieler.

Name: Bill Spieler
Age: 46
Sign: Pisces
Official Title: Managing Partner at DC9
Favorite album of 2010 (so far): Vampire Weekend’s Contra (“But I’m really looking forward to the new MGMT album, Congratulations.”)
Favorite DC bands: Exit Clov, Alex Gruenberg, Vita Ruins
Craziest thing to happen at DC9: “There was one night when I was over at The Red and The Black, and I got a call from one of my employees at DC9. They were shutting down the bar, it must have been 3:30-4:00 in the morning at that point, and apparently some guy in the diner next door had shot at something in the bathroom. Technically it wasn’t in this particular space, but still. I was just glad no one here was hurt. There used to always be these four teenaged kids smoking weed in front of that diner, too. You could smell it everywhere.”
Meaning behind the venue’s name: “Well it’s pretty straightforward. We’re in the District of Columbia, and this is 9th Street.”

The first thing Bill Spieler does after shaking my hand is to offer me a beer, setting the stage for a comfortable and low-key interview. In that way he is very much like the bar and music venue he helps to manage. DC9, with its cozy bar area downstairs and intimate stage area upstairs, provides a down to earth atmosphere that can be quite elusive in a city as vibrant as Washington, D.C. Nowhere to be found is the pretension that frequently inhabits the indie music scene. Here again, Spieler and his venue are quite similar.
 “It’s more about what I don’t do,” he laughs in response to a question about his actual job description. As it turns out, that is only one thing: booking. Everything else seems to fall under his jurisdiction. He lists off several of the tasks he can remember doing recently, ranging from helping out in the kitchen to handling the paperwork to DJing every couple of weeks.
“Booking bands is a crapshoot,” he explains. “There’s almost no way of knowing what’s going to get big and what isn’t, or when a band is going to draw ten people, one hundred fifty, two thousand.”  DJing, on the other hand, comes easily for Spieler. He cites indie pop commercial radio station Xfm as inspiration for his sets, but takes care to filter a lot of the music he uses. Instead of scouring blogs and pushing all of the bands he finds there onto the public, he limits himself to those bands that people will love to dance to.
The focus on more of a dance music scene is yet another thing that sets DC9 apart from all of the other venues in the district. Prior to the opening of the club, there wasn’t really a small to midsized venue in the city – especially not one that emphasized the work of both local and out-of-town DJs. Since that time, DC9 has hosted bands from nearly every genre of music (“with the possible exception of Dixie, or maybe orchestra,” Spieler notes). And though the stage area is relatively small when compared with behemoths like the 9:30 Club, that doesn’t seem to limit the abilities of the venue.
 “It’s surprising what we can do here,” offers Spieler about DC9’s capabilities. “Frequently we’ll get bands here that stop at the 9:30 Clubs of other cities. And this summer we’re looking at putting in a roof deck, so that will give us even more space up here.” The club can boast playing host to newcomer British darlings The XX about a year ago. To provide a telling comparison, The XX are now opening for fellow Brits Hot Chip at a sold-out 9:30 Club show at the end of the month. A similarly exciting show, at least for Spieler, was a Does It Offend You, Yeah? event that demonstrated once again what such a small space can accomplish with charm and a genuine appreciation for the music scene.
 Spieler himself has been deeply involved with that scene since he was a teenager going out to local shows. He continued that passion in college, where he worked at first as a DJ and eventually as General Manager for Montgomery College Radio. From there, he bounced around several different bars and clubs, including Heaven and Hell, where he remained for a brief six months. After that location didn’t work out as well as anticipated, Spieler continued to take jobs as night manager or DJ until arriving at DC9 in February of 2004, where he seems to be perfectly content.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, honestly,” he muses, fiddling with his keys on top of the booth’s table. “Twenty years. I don’t know what I’d be doing otherwise.” Fortunately for DC9 and for the district’s music scene in general, he has yet to find out. 
-- Emily Simpson
"Don't You Wish We Were NPR?" Monday 8:00-10:00 AM on WGTB

1 comment:

igs said...

man, the people at DC9 are so much nicer than people anywhere else. what's their problem?