Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Inteveniew! Behind the Scenes at U St. Music Hall

Name: Will Eastman
Profession: DJ, co-owner of U Street Music Hall
Music at U-Hall is: “eclectic, provocative, left-of-center,” “forward-looking,” “accessible”
DJs: in his apartment, for Bliss (DC’s most famous monthly dance party)
Managing a music club: “is a lot of fucking work, at least if you want it done right. But I'm happy.”
Will Eastman has 8,000 records, a graduate degree from George Washington University, and one-sixth ownership in the recently opened U Street Music Hall. Will Eastman is maybe the coolest person I’ve met in a long, long time.

Which is fitting, really, considering the fact that the club he helps manage is definitely the coolest place I’ve been this year. Relatively nondescript on the outside front, the building opens to reveal…a staircase, of all things. The stairs lead down into a basement-style dance floor, complete with two adjoining bars, several booths, a small stage for live bands, and an impressive DJ booth lining the back wall.

 “I started off DJing for parties in my parents’ basement when they were out of town,” Eastman grins unrepentantly. “Basements are the best environments for dance parties.” And though he has essentially moved from playing in one basement to, well, playing in a much larger one, he has certainly come a long way from his hometown of Neenah, Wisconsin (which is famous for the production of manhole covers, as it happens).

He began his official career as a DJ began in the same month as his job as a historian for the Smithsonian Institute, where he developed public programs and exhibitions in the areas of technology and inventors. Even there, he never strayed far from his passion. His research focused largely on the history of the electric guitar and sound recording techniques – a focus that lined up perfectly with his night job. After nine years of trying to juggle the two, both of which he loved, Eastman realized that he had to make a decision. (read more)

“It was a really difficult decision, too,” he presses. “But that was three years ago now, and there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice.” The choice to switch to DJ production full-time started Eastman on a whirlwind schedule that hasn’t really let up since. With three tours and one hit single under his belt (and another single in production to be released this summer), it would seem that he’s hit a pretty good stride. So what does he do next? He gets together with five of his friends and decides to open a club.

hat is, of course, a gross understatement of what actually happened. U Street Music Hall, or at least the concept that would eventually become the U Street Music Hall, has been in the works for years.
“A lot of the guys I’ve DJ’d with over the years, we would get together and talk about what we liked or didn’t like in a club, or what our ideal place to DJ would look and feel like,” Eastman explains. “It used to just be a vague idea until Brian [Miller] approached me one day and wanted to make it happen.”

His first reaction was an immediate “no.” He didn’t know how to run a club, how to get an alcohol license, how to do taxes for a business like that. But once another friend brought up the idea a couple years later, and they met the people with the right kind of expertise, the idea was closer and closer to becoming a reality. About a year ago, the six soon-to-be-owners did a walk-through of the space, and by mid-March of this year the U Street Music Hall had opened its doors to the public.

Now, there are a lot of buzz words for the club – Eastman describes it as a place with “no attitude, no bottle service, no red velvet ropes,” a "democratic place" where all are welcome to just dance. And though it is apparent that he uses these exact phrases pretty frequently to promote the space, it is also obvious that he is completely sincere each and every time. Here again it’s easy to see the connection between the owners and the space they manage – “U Hall” is unpretentious, honest, up-front, relaxed. If you love music of any and every kind, it’s the place you want to be on a Saturday night instead of fighting your way through a crowd of the over-dressed, overly-privileged-and-flaunt-it segment of DC.

Seriously. Even the bouncers are nice.

-- Emily Simpson
"Don't You Wish We Were NPR" Mondays 8-10 AM on WGTB


emily said...

just in case i didn't gush enough in this piece...let me say that i went to bliss on saturday night and holy fuck was it fun. YOU SHOULD ALL GO NEXT TIME, FOR REAL.

stout cortez was even there. true story.

Bitchfest 2010 said...

I don't believe you