Initialize festival sounded like the start of something good

Back in my art school days, I once heard an apocryphal anecdote about how Picasso used to tote his freshly completed canvases over to the Louvre to see whether he could hang with the Old Masters. Initialize — a one-night, all-night, festival-size dance party staged inside the Republiq Hall megaclub in Northeast Washington on Friday — offered something like the inverse, giving hundreds of District night-lifers the chance to hear how the visionary Detroit techno architect Robert Hood might sound next to the proud, steamrolling go-go of D.C.’s own Trouble Funk.

Was that the organizing principle here? To measure our city’s indigenous rhythms against the rest of the planet’s? Or can an omni-rave this vast even have a unifying premise? Curated by the virtuous local DJ collective Hast du Feuer, Initialize offered some of the most inspired rhythm music being made right now, old and new, near and far — techno, trap, house, club, go-go, drum-and-bass, electro and more — on three separate dance floors. So, by default, your body was the organizing principle. How many ways could you move that thing?

End of carousel

Trouble Funk’s near-midnight set was an opportunity to get loose, for sure, but also to witness young ravers in leather trench coats tentatively learning how to two-step while the band pummeled the air with local anthems that were older than nearly the entirety of their audience. With a sort of juggernaut hospitality, the group delivered loping grooves at crushing decibels, and when they slid into one of their most familiar call-and-response routines — “Fee-fi-fo-fum! Tell me where did you come from?” — the looks on their faces appeared more inquisitive than usual. With the evening’s dress code broad enough to include Hollister sweatshirts and bondage gear, the question made the city feel bigger and stranger.

It was harder to clock what anyone was wearing in the throng that had crowded onto the adjacent dance floor during a set from Floorplan, a DJ partnership featuring Hood and his daughter, Lyric. Together, they kept an array of shimmery house and disco cuts tethered to a stern techno pulse, every track exuding a tacit warmth — something that was even easier to feel if you had a sightline to the DJ booth, where the duo seemed to communicate exclusively through half-smiles in one another’s peripheral vision.

Other acts tempered familiarity with disorientation. New Jersey DJ crew OSSX raced through concussive club tracks, often following them with nostalgic chaser melodies from the likes of Rihanna and the Spice Girls. Florida rapper 454 spat evocative rhymes in an innocent singsong, but at speeds that spun the brain. And when Anno, the D.C.-based post-(post?)-punk polymath formerly known as Olivia Neutron-John, took the stage for the first time in years, the beats resembled classic ’80s electro while the vocals, whether whispered or groaned, sounded like ancient curses leaking out of a broken urn. Who else is making music like that?

Washington is a singular city. It creates singular musicians. And if you needed one last reminder before stepping out of Initialize and into the tiny hours, there was a curtain-closing set from Dee Clark, whose zigzag journey through our local house, hardcore and go-go scenes somehow made her into one of the city’s most reliably thrilling drum-and-bass DJs. Her set was invigorating, profuse, unrelenting. As 4 a.m. approached, Initialize was coming to its close, but Clark was doing what all great D.C. musicians must: continuing.

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