What Exactly Is Go-Go Music and Why Is It So Important to Washington DC’s History?

Go-Go music is a style of music that is unique to the US Capitol that is saturated with percussion as well as derivative of Funk. It first gained it’s popularity in the 1970s and was drum-heavy, but featured a potpourri of instruments such as the guitar, trumpet, and others.

In the 1970s, Washington DC was known informally as “Chocolate City”, being predominantly African American. This was because the famous Funk band, Parliament nicknamed the city in their third album release in 1975. Funk and Go-Go have a long history. However, although Go-Go music was hugely influenced by the Funk revolution, it was a style of music that was mostly rhythm based with a particular emphasis on dancing, as opposed to the general blueprint following multiple verses and a bridge– while also featuring a balance of other instrumental accompaniment.

The Pioneers

Chuck Brown , originally from North Carolina, is known as the “Godfather” of Go-Go. He got his start playing guitar for Jerry Butler and advanced his career subsequently as a singer and guitarist. He later began to do Go-Go covers of famous Jazz prior to writing his own Go-Go music. He became the inspiration for many bands to ever be popularized around the DMV (an abbreviation for DC, Maryland, and Virginia).

Some of these bands included EU (Experienced Unlimited), Soul Brass, Backyard Band, and more.

From Funk-influenced to Hip Hop-influenced

Covers can be a huge aspect of Go-Go but as time goes on, this particular style of music has evolved to feature heavy drum riffs . This has led to a style of Go-Go dancing known as “chopping” or “beat ya feet” that involves isolating the lower body in various running-like movements. Songs are often sampled and remixed to feature heavy and monotone percussions with less emphasis on lyrics and other types of musical accoutrement.

This style of Go-Go was attributed to more influence taken from Hip Hop and Rap styles–leading more bands to do a far more heavy sound. This can also be known as “Bounce Beat”–the new Go-Go.

Most modern Go-Go involves a combination of singing and shouting over idiosyncratic percussive crescendos that hit a climax and are succeeded by a percussive descent into a bounce-like drumming rhythm that is a mixture of multiple drum patterns intertwined.

This is the case with much newer bands like TCB, DTP, and more.

As stated in a Washington Post article that was published in 2012, TCB, short for Total Control Band, popularized this style accidentally. During a concert, two of their band members tried to salvage a show after one of their P.A systems began having technical difficulties. They introduced a new beat that they had been experimenting with prior to their concerts. The residual effect was that audiences quickly latched on to this new heavy beat. Soon after, other bands began to follow-suit in implementing these new heavy percussions and the Go-Go profile instantly became more varied.

Some musicians prefer the old style while other favor Go-Go bounce beat. Nevertheless, both are still equally appreciated and played around the city still.

To date, this genre remains popular  in east coast cities like DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Moreover, it remains a fixture in the life and overall culture of the District of Columbia in spite of overdevelopment and gentrification.

Even Go-Go Bands like Mambo Sauce (named after the famous and mysterious DC condiment) birthed the unofficial Washington DC anthem, “Welcome to DC”.

As Hip Hop and R&B will continue to evolve inevitably, leading to new developments in the music world, so will Go-Go–reflecting DC’s colorful history that has forever made a unique impression on the music world.

Madrid-based traveler, visual and performing artist, and content writer.

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