Rents rise, transient populations come and go, and gentrification relentlessly turns over neighborhoods, but every generation finds a DIY space that serves its needs. In DC, recent years have seen the rise and fall of Paperhaus and OTHERFEELS, and now attention has shifted to Dwell, a red brick carriage house tucked in an alleyway in the Trinidad neighborhood.
In addition to housing an arts and literary space, rooftop garden, and yoga studio, Dwell also serves as a performing arts space for local and touring bands. On May 3, Dwell served as the space for a rare quadruple-bill of local and national touring acts, kicking off with Evan & Jonny, guitarists from the local ensemble Cigarette, who performed without the ornamentation that appears on their 2016 album Warm Shadows / Love’s Mirror or their later singles.
Double Winter from Detroit did an exciting set that showed the band and lead singer and songwriter Holly Johnson as an adept student of multiple generations of alternative rock. Frequently sung in a dreamy murmur, their classic blend of strummed electric guitar and female vocals — think Throwing Muses, Look Blue Go Purple — shows how a familiar formula can still generate attention and novelty. They’re like the archetypal indie band that loved the Pixies but always knew that Kim Deal had best songs.
Double Winter has not yet released a full-length, but they spotlighted some of the tracks from their singles and EPs. A highlight was “Fall On Your Face” from their new self-titled 7’’ single, and the dreamier “XO Skeleton,” from the 2016 EP Watching Eye. Johnson is an engaging singer and frontwoman, who can go from a languor into an urgent frenzy in the span of a verse or two, and Double Winter benefits from Augusta Morrison’s keening electric violin, which lent an unearthly tone to otherwise standard instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums.
Double Winter was celebrating the one-year anniversary of touring with their friends in New York City’s Blush. Blush is the bedroom pop ensemble led by songwriter and songwriter Maura Lynch, with bandmates Jonathan Campolo (Pill), Nick Campolo, and Andrew Chugg (Pop. 1280). Listening to Blush at Dwell, one would be immediately struck by the throwbacks in their sound. Who remembers the Sarah Records bands from the UK? Or DC’s own Velocity Girl? Maura Lynch does – or she’s channeling that era with remarkable acuity, with songs about relationships and doubt with hummable choruses and jangly guitars.
People have loved the sounds of cooed female vocals over guitar feedback and fuzz for years, and Blush has the formula mastered. Some songs lean toward the plainspoken directness of Juliana Hatfield; others broaden the bedroom-pop vibe to embrace a bit of shoegaze blur. They kicked off their brief set at Dwell with “Just Kidding,” from their self-titled 2017 full-length, then the breezy “Daisy Chain,” which manages to be both sunny but indistinct at the same time. Blush was spotlighting a new single, “Forever Is a Long Time,” an unadorned but direct song about the risks of ruining a relationship that sounds like Mirah’s You Think It’s Like This But Really It’s Like This. They concluded their rushed set with their theme song, “Baby Don’t Blush,” and then a blurry, almost unrecognizable cover of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” that interpolates the Tom Tom Club lyric, “I’m in heaven with my boyfriend,” on which Lynch swapped genders midway into the song.
Sets at Dwell are held to a strict curfew, and DC’s Slow Love had barely fifteen or twenty minutes to do its set. They made the most of their time as a trio — two percussionists, samples, and vocals — in Miami Vice outfits, with downtempo lounge vibes and songs that tilt toward the mid-1980s schmaltz of Billy Ocean or Wham! There was a definite Roxy Music-sensuality in the performance and singing by vocalist Bryan Gerhart aka Baby Bry Bry, but the lyrics were all about violence and alienation in the urban squalor, sung with orchestrated dance moves. It was what the band calls “soft brutalism,” a reaction to gentrification and the poured-concrete architecture that dominates DC’s business center and federal offices. It’s all very high-concept, but it’s undeniably fun — and Gerhart made unique use of Dwell’s tire swing in the middle of his set.