Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour: Go-Go Clubs (‘the Go-Go’)
Go-go clubs were the center of activity and socializing for fans and bands.
The most important feature of go-go music that continues to make it so popular is the fact that the audience can take part in creating its unique sound. No two go-go performances are the same, partly because of the audience participation. For this reason, Natalie Hopkinson, an associate professor at American University and journalist, describes go-go not just as a musical genre, but also as a type of news outlet, with audience members receiving shout-outs for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and many other important milestones. Also, having one’s name called out and recorded showed who was attending which concerts, who they were with, and where they were from. Go-go became a source of communication, and go-go clubs were the conduit for new information.
As go-go’s popularity grew, so did the need for spaces where go-go bands could play. Many go-go clubs were owned and operated by local African American residents, which helped build community spaces for young people to gather. Clubs like the Icebox, Blackhole (Celebrity Hall), Capitale, and Kilimanjaro popped up throughout the city’s neighborhoods, with fans lining up to dance, sing, and try to find their way into the call-and-response of their favorite bands.
Go-go clubs were also the main places where performances could be recorded. Because of the genre’s reliance on live and interactive performances, recorded performances required a live audience in order to complete its unique sound. In order to record performances, audio technicians working at the clubs would record the audio feed directly through the sound system onto cassette tapes (known as PA tapes), later to be distributed in go-go music stores or as bootleg copies. Fans would then be able to go to stores that sold go-go recordings in hopes of finding a specific performance that they attended, that of a favorite band, or one where they were called out specifically.
Go-go clubs served as a first point of contact for socializing, updating one another on what was going on in the neighborhood, and, of course, for listening to the music. Clubs also acted as a hub for economic investment, with money circulating to and from businesses owned by its predominantly-African American residents. With many citing the continued changes to their neighborhoods’ demographics, go-go clubs were community anchors in areas that were continually changing from what its long-time residents knew.
This site is a stop on the Exploring DC'sGo-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour.