Rare Essence at U Street Music Hall. Photo by MWV.
Rare Essence at U Street Music Hall. Photo by MWV.

When you think of the word “nightclub,” what comes to mind might be the extravagant, inaccessible lifestyle of the rich and lazy. That may be the case for places like Las Vegas or Ibiza, but D.C. club U Street Music Hall eschews that for something a bit more real.

U Street Music Hall booth. Photo courtesy of U Street Music Hall.
U Street Music Hall booth. Photo courtesy of U Street Music Hall.

D.C. nightlife may not have the reputation of places like Miami, New York, or Los Angeles, but the venues there know their community and build an experience for them. For U Street Music Hall, a DJ owned and operated club, that means they got rid of the traditional club trappings like bottle service, fancy dress codes, and seen-and-be-seen Instagram photography. Instead they built a different, and arguably better, experience around truly appreciating the music and the inclusive community of music-lovers.

For Melissa Beattie, the promotions director at U Street Music Hall, that mission underpins her every single day on the job, and it’s a mission she takes seriously to fulfill faithfully. I got a chance to speak with her about the club, what she does, and how her passion, and the passion of everyone she works with, drives the venue to new heights.

You’ve been around for about eight years now, and, in that time, you’ve established yourselves as one of D.C.’s premier music venues. What do you think sets you apart?

When U Street Music Hall first opened, it received praise for introducing several ideas that were fairly groundbreaking at the time for a dance club in D.C.: No dress code, no photography, no bottle service or VIP areas, no frills. U Street Music Hall was created as a black-box theater with a world-class sound system, set up for both artists and fans to truly focus on the music, dancing, and having fun. Our goals were to present the best dance music in the world and provide a space where people could truly be themselves.

It’s been over eight years since we opened, and since then, we’ve prided ourselves on being a pillar in the D.C. music community and beyond, presenting both legendary and up-and-coming DJs, producers, and bands from all genres and backgrounds at our club while providing an enjoyable, inclusive experience for our fans. Fortunately, we’re in good company in D.C., as many venues and promoters understand how vital inclusivity is to fostering a happy community.

Clutch at U Street Music Hall. Photo by MWV.
Clutch at U Street Music Hall. Photo by MWV.

As a DJ owned and operated venue, what values are important to you that might be reflected in the club experience?

As a DJ owned and operated club, we really understand how special the bond is between the artist and fan and do what we can to make that experience the best it can be for everyone. Even down to the way the club was designed, which doesn’t have VIP areas and eliminates unnecessary barriers between the fan and artist, there is a sense that we are all in this together.

U Street Music Hall is also staffed by many people who are DJs, musicians, and longtime music fans who have come up through dance/rave scenes, DIY punk scenes, etc. Though the music is different, the common theme in those scenes is fostering inclusive and supportive communities. This is a value that is very important at U Street Music Hall and hopefully shows in the way we operate our club.

The U Street neighborhood has a long legacy of being a hotbed of music talent. How do you recognize and honor that today?

The U Street corridor has such a rich musical and cultural legacy. Black Broadway, go-go shows, Ethiopian music, LGBT+ dance parties, DJ, punk/hardcore, hip-hop, experimental, and indie rock shows at unconventional DIY spaces. We feel honored to operate a venue on U Street and feel strongly that our programming should be diverse and should give a nod to U Street’s storied past.

As an example: We recently debuted our “Go-Go Returns to U Street” series, a curated showcase that pairs some of D.C.’s most exciting artists with legendary go-go bands. With this series, we aim to provide a permanent home on U Street for go-go artists while exposing a new generation of D.C. residents and visitors to this vital homegrown genre.

So far, we’ve hosted go-go groups Rare Essence, EU, Junkyard Band, Be’la Dona, Backyard Band, and Trouble Funk. One of my favorite moments at U Hall so far was seeing Clutch (performing under the name “Small Upsetters”) collaborate on stage with Rare Essence. Seeing the crowd, which was a mix of Clutch and Rare Essence fans, dancing together that night, united by the groove and excitement of go-go, will always be a special memory.

Our recent show paired the incredible Be’la Dona with one of my favorite D.C. bands, Beauty Pill. We can’t wait to announce more shows in the series in the coming months.

Vic Mensa at U Street Music Hall. Photo by MWV.
Vic Mensa at U Street Music Hall. Photo by MWV.

You’ve hosted many artists who were or have gone on to be huge names, particularly those making their DC debuts. What’s been your favorite experience and/or your proudest moment?

U Street Music Hall has hosted the D.C. debuts of artists like ODESZA, Nina Kraviz, Maya Jane Coles, Disclosure, Rita Ora, Sam Smith, Kaytranada, and many more. There is nothing that makes us happier and prouder than seeing those artists go on to reach widespread international appeal and knowing that our fans had the opportunity to see them play in our 500-capacity club.

Where do you hope to take the venue in the future?

Over the years, the U Street Music Hall experience has expanded beyond our venue’s walls. This allows us to present shows and parties that are properly tailored for both our artists and fans. We regularly present larger-scale shows at 9:30 Club, provide a platform for up-and-coming local DJs at Backbar, and we bring some of the world’s most forward-thinking dance and electronic artists to Ten Tigers Parlour, an intimate Petworth venue/lounge that has a welcoming vibe and boasts an amazing sound system. We’ve also had the pleasure of co-presenting Dirtybird BBQ last year at DC Brau.

We have some really exciting plans in the coming months that extend outside of 1115 U St. that we think our fans are going to love. Stay tuned.

What do you hope people get out of an experience at U Street Music Hall?

We hope that our fans are truly able to enjoy themselves and be themselves when they come to see a show at U Street Music Hall. Cultivating a fun and supportive space for each of our fans and our artists is one of our top priorities and has been since day one. That is what drew me as a fan to this amazing club back when it opened in 2010 (the fantastic sound system didn’t hurt either!)

Any upcoming events you’re particularly excited about?

Too many to count! This Labor Day weekend we are presenting the very first Blisspop Disco Fest, a two-day festival taking place at U Hall and 9:30 Club that celebrates the evolution of disco. We’re thrilled to host the “Father of Disco” Giorgio Moroder (!!), Claptone, London-based queer disco collective Horse Meat Disco, Holy Ghost!, François K, Nancy Whang, Ultra Naté, and many more phenomenal artists. (You can RSVP to some of the shows here!)

Be sure to regularly check our website and social media (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) to see what we have planned this fall. We announce new shows every Tuesday. From Louis the Child and Whethan at 9:30 Club; to parties like Deep Sugar, Bashment, Jungle Fever, Werk Ethic ’80s-’90s House and Techno, REV909; to debuting Love + Happiness and The Blisspop Disco, our newest house and disco parties, respectively, we hope there is something here for each of our fans to enjoy.

U Street Music Hall
1115A U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009

U Street Music Hall stage. Photo courtesy of U Street Music Hall.
U Street Music Hall stage. Photo courtesy of U Street Music Hall.