For a few years, the best place to catch a DJ set in DC wasn’t a warehouse club like Fur, or a posh K Street joint, or one of the dozen Adams Morgan joints promising cheap drinks and cheaper women. It was at the far end of U Street, on the upstairs dance floor of DC9, on a stage graced by underground rock bands during the week, behind a well-worn loveseat of unknown origin.
While the club still hosts its open bar, indie-dance party Liberation, its highpoint as a dance club was when first Saturdays belonged to KIDS and last Saturdays belonged to Nouveau Riche. Whether it was throwback jams at KIDS or the anything-goes atmosphere of Nouveau Riche, there was a constant: Starks and Nacey.
Steve Starks (né Bock) and Nacey (aka Andrew Wallace) grew up in the nearby bedroom community of Columbia, MD. Friends since high school, they returned to DC area after college. At that point, Starks had DJed at the University of Maryland, College Park and Nacey had massaged a handful of hip-hop tracks under the moniker Enaisee, but things didn’t come together until they joined up with party starter Gavin Holland for Nouveau Riche in 2006.
And while Starks and Nacey are some of the most skilled DJs in a city with more selectors than partiers, their true talent – and what portends best for continued success – is behind the boards. Their shared palette draws heavily from classic funk breaks, Baltimore club, and Southern hip-hop, all with plenty of bass. But as a painter uses the same colors to paint both a sunrise and a sunset, Starks and Nacey have each carved out their own signature sounds.
2009 saw the release of their self-released, self-titled EP. A true crate digger, Nacey’s samples ranged from the Emotions on the funky “Lose Your Love” to “International Player’s Anthem” on the gun-cocking “Money on the Dressa.” For his part, Starks ranged from grooving electro (“Don’t Let Me Go”) to pure Bmore (“You Don’t Want None”). The duo’s first official EP, last year’s TRO/Lydia (T&A Records), featured Starks experimenting with new sounds: big room electro on “TRO” and Latin house on “Lydia.”
Since then, Starks’ productions have continued further down the club tech rabbit hole. “Git Em” (also on T&A) has more bass than most dubstep tracks and a Baltimore beat like a blast from Omar’s shotgun; its EP mate “Witness” is the perfect track for when those late Saturday nights turn into Sunday mornings.
The finest moment in Nacey’s young career came with his remix of La Roux’s “Bulletproof.” With the mournful violin of Matt Hemerlein, Nacey’s remix is stark and dramatic, lovelorn in a way the original fails to be. One of DC’s secret weapons was unveiled to the world, as the track led off the Major Lazor / La Roux collaboration Lazerproof.
Nacey’s remixes, whether a subtle refix or a complete makeover, are organic extensions of the original, never du jour stylings. As with “Bulletproof,” he’s given new life to M.I.A.’s “Steppin’ Up,” re-purposing Maya’s vocal for a smooth bass jam that ignores the original’s industrial noise machine. He even did the unthinkable – remixing an Outkast track! – and infused “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” into warm, funky house. Yet the remix that I always return to is his Miami bass take on Paper Route Gangsterz’ “Hood Celebrity.”
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Despite all their collaboration, Starks and Nacey are rarely credited together. While they’ve remixed tunes by Rampage & Nader and Old Money, their best official team-up combines their deep house leanings with their love of the Dirty South. The rhythm on “The Flip” and its “I’m known for the flip of that cocaína” lyric make this one addictive.
Starks and Nacey would have lost their DC DJ memberships if they didn’t touch the city’s finest export, moombahton. In keeping with their own styles, Nacey flipped A Tribe Called Quest into 108 G-funk on “Doin’ It.” Meanwhile, Starks’ “Get Fr33ky in tha Club” is a drum-heavy moombahton anthem, and headlines his upcoming moombahton EP.
Starks is also busy preparing his next EP for T&A, which promises to pick up where “Git Em” left off, if “Problem” is any indication. Only Steve Starks can take a Cardigans sample and craft something so fierce.
Nacey’s next musical endeavor is a bit of a departure for someone who has built his name spinning hip-hop, club, and electro for eager club kids. He’s currently putting the final touches on an EP with DC vocalist Misun. The singer has the soulful, smokey voice of Adele (without the histrionics), and as he’s done with those remixes of La Roux and M.I.A., Nacey’s instrumentals key in on a song’s essence and never let it go. The recently released “July” is a bouncy summer jam, updating funky disco hallmarks without falling into pastiche.
Drinking at DC9 is still a lot of fun, but dancing there isn’t quite the same. After two years, KIDS ended this summer. Last April, Nouveau Riche took the next logical step and moved down the street, where the crew turns U Street Music Hall into a rave every second Saturday. The location may change, but Starks and Nacey are sure to be there, rocking the party.
Starks and Nacey headline a Moombahton Massive pregame at the Looking Glass on Wednesday. Next up at U Hall: Nacey joins Craze on August 20, Steve Starks plays a very special set on September 8 and the Nouveau Riche gang does it all again on September 10.
BONUS: Nacey’s remix of Kingdom’s latest “Take Me” just dropped, and it’s a killer. With a beat somewhere between club and house, Naomi Allen’s vocals slink over a “Show Me Love”-esque bassline. And watch out for those strings!