Deep in her career, Dee Clark is teaching us to dance through our deepest feelings

Anyone who says D.C. isn’t a music town isn’t listening the way Dee Clark listens. The 53-year-old DJ grew up in a Washington household filled with eclectic piles of records — disco, funk, pop, soul — that made her world feel big. When she finally ventured into the District nightlife as a teen in the mid-’80s, she was dancing to ecstatic house music at the Club House some nights, slamming around at punk shows on others. “It wasn’t until later that I got into go-go,” Clark says. “But I really got into it.” Over time, she learned that a “vibrant” music scene is actually a patchwork of scenes.
Then, in the late ’90s, when Clark first encountered jungle and drum-n-bass music, she felt all her musical interests charging at her at once: “Hip-hop, reggae, pop songs, R&B, jazz, everything — I heard all the genres in jungle and drum-n-bass,” Clark says. “It turned my life out all over again.”
Roughly a quarter-century later, Clark now finds herself spinning alongside a new generation of DJs fascinated with the rhythmic rush of classic drum-n-bass. At a recent dance night at the Eaton Hotel with Black Rave Culture — a new power trio of District DJs: Amal, James Bangura and DJ Nativesun — scores of young party people couldn’t believe what they were hearing. “When I’m around those kids, they have no idea what my age is,” Clark says with a laugh. “They don’t know I’m old enough to be their mom.”
Aware of it or not, what they’re hearing through the subwoofers is Clark’s experience. Her sets can span eras, styles and moods, and she only adheres to one rule: Vinyl records only. No CDs, nothing digital. “When you’re putting that needle to the groove, the energy that comes out of that is way different,” Clark says. “You’re getting the true essence [of the music]. … People will come up to the DJ booth with tears coming down their face because it hit their soul.”
For Clark, the ultimate idea is to move listeners in a way that collapses their sensation of time. “I want people to feel,” she says. “Certain sounds mixed together the right way, you can be touched by it. With my mixes, it could be an hour-long mix, but I want it to feel like your favorite song.”

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