Best Signs the Rest of the Country Still Cares About D.C. Music

All these artists
Ex Hex, Priests, Lo-Fang
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery

In an interview with Brightest Young Things last year, Kathleen Hanna casually name-dropped art-punk quartet Priests as one of the more exciting bands coming out of D.C. these days. That wasn’t too surprising, given Priests’ clear-cut debt to Bikini Kill and riot grrrl, but it did say something about the current state of the local music scene: People are starting to pay attention again.

Case in point: Priests announced that their newest EP will be a co-release with popular New Jersey label Don Giovanni Records (home to critical favorites like Waxahatchee and Screaming Females). And Ex Hex, the latest group from local guitar virtuoso Mary Timony, announced it had signed to Merge Records—Timony, a veteran of Autoclave and Helium and an indie-rock lifer, had had one of the bigger successes of her career a couple of years ago with the quartet Wild Flag, featuring two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney. And multitasking D.C. expat Matthew Hemerlein, who performs under the moniker Lo-Fang, signed to 4AD last year and is currently touring with Lorde.

While the fame Wale garnered when he signed to a major label several years ago once seemed to largely elude other DMV rappers, last year local heavy Fat Trel signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group while Maryland MC Logic signed to Def Jam. And local dream-pop and EDM acts like GEMS, Beautiful Swimmers, Maxmillion Dunbar, Misun, and others have gotten their share of love in publications like Pitchfork, SPIN, and elsewhere. (Although Misun, like plenty of local up-and-comers before them, bolted for elsewhere.)

It’s been a minute since eyes looked to D.C. as a music town, even if—in jazz, hip-hop, indie rock, metal, roots rock, electronic music—the city has been plenty fertile; the golden years of hardcore and go-go are well behind us, to say nothing of the compelling argument that in an era in which all you need is some home-recording software and a Bandcamp account, regional scenes don’t matter much anyway. But there’s clearly something going on here that’s worth celebrating, and we might as well cheer wider audiences noticing it.