In Conversation: Max D

In Conversation: Max D

Max D is a beatmaker who operates on the fringes. His style feels classic but almost impossible to place in today’s landscape. The same could be said of many mavericks who have emerged from the 202 area code which covers Washington DC and Maryland. We sat down with him to find out more about the roots of the city’s current music scene. 

Semtek: Before you started Future Times in 2008, what was the scene in DC like for house music? 

Max D: Yeah, I’m trying to think. Definitely in terms of once we got into finding records and stuff, there were shops like the Club House which was kind of not too far from where I live now. There were clubs like Traxx, it was kind of the place where you might also hear Ministry or something (I think). I mean in any sort of heyday I was a child. Urban music in DC is just music actually. I mean, go-go and stuff was a huge thing ever since that came out, whatever sort of the season even in the 60s probably. DC was pretty much a very go-go centric city. Even when I was younger, people at my school listened to the go-go version of a song and not the actual version of the song you know. That’s a pretty common thing, you would just hear go-go versions of hip hop songs or something, any song, literally every song. To the point where the examples are kind of moot. It was like a version of the song at all times sort of thing with go-go. As far as I can tell house paled in comparison here to that, although it was definitely pre-internet and stuff, it was kind of just like you were going out clubbing, disco and shit was huge here too, people were partying.

S: Tell me what is go-go, for a newcomer to the style.

MD: Yeah, I mean there’s definitely better go-go historians than I but for the uninitiated, it’s DC’s sort of special thing. It doesn’t really get too much play very far from here. You can kind of find pockets of interest in it in some states that are neighbouring but for instance, people from New York don’t particularly fuck with go-go automatically or something like that. It’s DC’s thing. I guess the most prominent historical example of it outside of DC would be Trouble Funk or EU (Experience Unlimited) who did Da Butt from the Spike Lee movie. Like, doing da butt, you know. “Trina got a big ol’ butt, ooh yeah.” That’s probably… I mean go-go, those being huge hits. I think go-go had a moment in the UK for a couple years where it was even on charts and stuff? Grace Jones – Slave To The Rhythm is a go-go beat.

Ever since I moved here with my family in 95, we didn’t move to DC proper, we moved to Maryland like 5 minutes away from DC. It’s like, that even in High School out there and stuff it was a huge factor. All music sort of filtered through go-go you know. It never stopped having its moment here until maybe recently… there’s eras now, so older people are into the 90s stuff and younger people are into young band go-go. There’s all sorts of different things.

S: Okay. How about right now, does go-go still exist as a scene for young people? 

MD: The most recent sound that was big, was probably slow bounce go-go or young band go-go, I’m not even sure what they would call it go-go. The most recent big wave of go-go that I caught was bands like The Reaction Band.

S: So you mentioned a couple of night clubs but is this a music that exists in night clubs in DC?

MD: Well, nowadays the police have pushed some of the stuff out of the city too. I think it’s a lot of the times, the shows will be in the ‘burbs now. PG County which is a neighbouring county from DC, has a huge complicated thing with what venues allow etc. Go-go wasn’t at the parks and stuff, weird shit like that, but, there are clubs for it and restaurants. I mean even the classic bands and stuff like that, when they’re in the mode of playing all the time, they play all the time as far as I can tell. It’s a sound here, it’s a thing that you go see even on a Wednesday.

A jazz band, a combo in a place will hit a go-go groove for a while certainly, almost definitely. Even if it started out as a jazz band or some night where it’s just like a combo of people playing or jamming or whatever, they’re gonna hit a go-go thing in DC too. It’s kind of a sound, no matter what.

The Junkyard Band

S: Tell me about the clothes associated with the scene, what are the fashions?

MD: With go-go, as far as I can ever tell, it’s just people in tank tops man. It’s like a very dress to sweat sort of party centric thing. I mean, you know, it’s the nitty gritty, especially classic go-go is just the relentless grooving sort of thing, no one is really prepared to have nice clothes any more because you’re just going to be going… I mean, I’m pretty young, I’ve never been to any heyday go-go stuff but if I look at videos, it’s pretty much like tank tops and people sweating it out for sure. That’s just a thing. Yeah, I guess you weren’t probably going to maintain a silk shirt at a show, you know?

S: Is there much slang associated with the go-go scene?

MD: I mean, DC stuff, yeah go-go you definitely have crank, that’ll be a thing. Yeah, whether or not something’s cranking, let’s crank. Even Davon who does Dreamcast, we did a song together, when he plays live, when he’s trying to get the band to lay a hit on the one or something like that, he’ll be like let’s crank. It’s kind of like a thing, there’s definitely some go-go centric but DC slang for sure.

S: What’s your relation to bands like Minor Threat and the rest of the DC punk thing from the 80s? 

MD: For me, like I was saying, I moved in the 90s here from… I lived in the woods in Pennsylvania. We moved to the city sort of ‘burbs but total city ‘burbs. That was sort of a music (in the mid 90s at least) that was very… right away I could get into it, just plenty of kids at high school were into it. I just heard about it pretty promptly, going to school, even I went to summer camp when I moved there and I heard somebody talking about it.

S: So does punk still exist in DC?

MD: Yeah. It’s like, sort of had a renaissance of late which is pretty cool. There’s kind of a lot of good young bands, I don’t know, there’s even, I always liked the sort of wilder Void, type bands, that side of DC stuff, just the sort of rotten caveman type hardcore bands and stuff. There’s a bunch right now, I have cool tapes. There’s nice stuff right now, there’s a lot to check out. There’s a record store Joint Custody too here which is pretty cool because it sort of tapped into that and you can go browse and sort of, my man Ambrose works there and he has good taste in shit and I find out about cool shit.

S: Was punk a predominantly white thing in DC or were bands like Bad Brains part of a larger black punk thing?

MD: Well it’s kind of interesting too because, to be real, there’s not too much of a Bad Brains being outsiders thing even, actually. I mean they were just sort of a band that came from a predominantly black area at the time in the city. At the time the city was extremely, I’m not even sure about number wise but very much majority black. I mean, there were tons of black kids involved in punk, in some of the bands you know, more than some of the bands. I’m sure Minor Threat were obsessed with Bad Brains.

S: Moving to the DC rave scene, my understanding is that there was quite a big D&B scene in DC, is that correct?

MD: Yeah, when I grew up actually, I never got exposed for whatever reason to anything super good so I was kind of, the stuff in the late 90s, I was going to punk shows at that time. There was so much bad D&B around my life, like high school D&B, like oh no, what is this! It took me so far into my adulthood to ever hear Photek or something. It wasn’t like I heard good stuff, I just heard awful jump up shit. But that was huge here so it was like, there was so much of the scene, like this dude Scott who still does some behind the scenes stuff here, booking stuff or just doing events, he was part of that era in a cool way and i never knew. There’s some really cool people, it was huge. It was kind of this thing that sort of bypassed me entirely at the time but looking back on it now like seeing stickers on records or Youtube videos or something, okay, it was this kind of simultaneous huge thing.

S: Who was the main D&B DJ in Washington, DC?

MD: So the thing to me that I remembered the most was Buzz was the place, Buzz was a party and I guess it had a resident DJ and a label. I remember it got shut down by a sting operation on the news. That’s what I remembered of it. I got into going out around 1999 or so, I was going to Grown & Sexy parties to hear Prelude Records and stuff, that sort of vibe. Really really deep deep house parties and liking half the tracks but having a good time.

S: So let’s come to the house thing, were there parties where you could hear house music in DC?

MD: The early 2000s was a really weird sort of time for electronic music. I mean the stuff going on here, there was this place DJ Hut and you could buy records there and it was cool and there would be parties related to those dudes. You know, I’d love half the tunes and we started getting into more stuff. You would go out hoping to hear Sound Signature songs or something like that. I guess that was kind of a big thing for… Right when I crested up into trying to figure out what was completely up with this music, that’s when Theo Parrish, Moodymann, Marcellus Pittman, Essential Selections, the orange and blue ones and stuff, those started coming out, and Metro Area, CBS, and stuff. We started getting into shit like that or listening to mixes by all those people, I’d clock the old tunes.

The now defunkt DJ Hut store

There was a whole bunch of stuff going on here where you would piece together what you liked. It was so sparse, people forget how sparse it was. There were not a lot of labels, there were not a lot of people making cool shit. You’d get Omar S records, you’d get Sound Signature, all the Detroit dudes were making great shit that whole time but it wasn’t reliable beyond that. Not really. Of course there was creativity and cool records but not like now.

S: There were a couple of house labels out of DC in the 90s right? 

MD: DC had specifically like… Yoshitoshi is DC, that label and some of the Deep Dish, some amazing Deep Dish tunes. The Chiapet records are so crazy. Those ones on Yoshitoshi, those are some really… I mean they came out in DC, I don’t know if they were made in DC but the Chiapet ones are like, that sort of bonkers DC house label shit to me. There’s some, oh man, I’m just drawing a blank on it but Ari has crazy DC tunes… I really like Jeanette Harris and some of this Studio Records house music that came out. More like roller rink house music than techno, more DC-ish. Just Another Man, some of that stuff is very DC to me but sort of way under the radar but you know, it’s sort of cheap records but amazing stuff. Plus you had People Change by Test Of Time and so on. In DC it all blended together a lot. R’n’Bish, vox lead house music sounding, club stuff.

S: In a way a lot of it sounds rooted in p-funk. Were there p-funk bands out of DC during the 70’s? 

MD: No, but DC was obsessed with p-funk. You can look up stories online how they dropped the Mothership off in PG County. At least that generation of DC was definitely taking part in that. It’s a little different from the New York side of things I think too. It’s a little bit more bluesy maybe, funky. DC’s maybe slightly more into something like Detroit where there’s a Prince p-funk emphasis on a lot, that sort of thing. Prince hits hard in DC too, you know what I mean? Like p-funk, you know… Trying to think of midday radio classics, like She’s Strange, that’s very DC you know, Word Up, Zoom Zoom. You can still hear it today like drive time radio at lunch time or something, you’re definitely going to hear She’s Strange.

Max D’s new LP, Many Any is out now on 1432 R 

Photographs: IMKA