Nativesun needs to feel the beat as much as you do

Last Saturday night, Nativesun drove up to Baltimore to catch a set by dance music legend Theo Parrish, hoping to feel something, hoping to learn something and ultimately being reminded of how tightly those two somethings intertwine.

“As soon as I got in there, I went straight to the middle of the dance floor and closed my eyes,” the District-raised DJ says. “I’m dancing for like a good 45 minutes, but then I had to see where [Parrish] was at, so I went over to the side and watched. And I could see him feeling it. He was speaking through the tracks. That look on his face after he finished, I could tell he got something off his chest.”

For Nativesun, it was a moment of admiration and self-awareness. “There are times when I’m DJing and I know I need this set,” he says. “It’s therapy. And it’s work. And it’s service. The people out there need to feel this, too.”

Empathetic and alert, Nativesun says he first learned about music’s cathartic power during Sunday mornings in his childhood whenever the Holy Ghost had “people running circles around the d— church,” and later, at age 20, when he joined the go-go group Indecent Xposure Band on second mic. But he eventually settled behind the turntables, honing his DJing and production skills during a years-long residency at the now-defunct Velvet Lounge. “I got some good advice from a friend early on,” Nativesun says. “‘When you go out, listen to what the DJs are playing, but also try to listen to what they’re not playing.’”

In 2020, when those broad ideas about underplayed rhythms landed him a spot on “HOA010” — a landmark compilation album from HAUS of ALTR, the New York dance label championing young, Black techno artists — Nativesun noticed he wasn’t the only Washingtonian on the track list. So he formed the group Black Rave Culture with producers Amal and James Bangura, and the trio are putting the finishing touches on their third album of house-techno hybrids this month. “When you mesh with people musically, it really means something,” Nativesun says. “It’s brought us closer, as friends, as brothers. We learn from each other. I’m helping them from the DJ side of things; they help me on the production side.”

There’s plenty for the rest of us to learn from Nativesun, too — and with the recent opening of the Owl Room on 14th Street NW, opportunities abound. He appears there every Wednesday night at a party dubbed Layover, a double wink at the midweek booking as well as the night’s all-styles-go aesthetic: “You don’t know where we’re going to land.” He’s also spinning this Saturday at Formula, a new monthly party at the Owl Room with Bangura and friends.

Which means, in these different contexts, there’s also much for us to feel. “The energy in music is serious,” Nativesun says. “I try not to play with it too much. I come into the spot and do my little tradition — pour out a little liquor for my pops and my ancestors. And then I get it in. Sometimes, it’s not fun. I have some [things] I need to get off. And if y’all want to work it out with me, we can work it out.”

Layover takes place on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. at the Owl Room, 2007 14th St. NW. Free. Formula takes place on Saturday at 9 p.m. $20.

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