Where Synthesizers Meet Cinnamon Rolls: It’s Drone Brunch

By Keith Mathias

Br'er played the most recent edition of Drone Brunch, now a tradition in D.C.'s experimental-music scene.
Br'er played the most recent edition of Drone Brunch, now a tradition in D.C.'s experimental-music scene. Keith Mathias

On a Sunday afternoon in May, Pat Walsh stands in the kitchen of Petworth house venue Paperhaus, cooking brunch. As he readies batches of scones, heat from the oven mixes with the day’s unseasonably warm weather. The air fills with smoke from the oil into which Walsh is dipping chicken breasts.

But Walsh isn’t cooking for one: He’s getting ready for the latest edition of Drone Brunch, a now three-year-old event series that combines delicious food with nichey music. In the living room, keyboards and synthesizers litter the floor, and the musicians to which they belong mill about. A show is about to begin.

Two acts from Philadelphia are on the lineup — Hallowed Bells and Charles Cohen — alongside D.C. synth ensemble Br’er. When the show starts, Hallowed Bells’ peaceful twinkling gives way to Cohen’s dense and contemplative aural storytelling, and Br’er shows that it exemplifies Tom Waits’ adage of “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

And there were scones.

Drone Brunch started when Walsh “heard from a friend of mine say the phrase ‘drone brunch,'” Walsh says.

Walsh later found out that the idea was never meant to be taken seriously. He says the term’s inventor, ex-D.C. resident Cole Goins — whose former house venue The Cherch hosted the first Drone Brunch in 2012 — told Walsh that it had been a joke he and some buddies had come up with over a few beers.

Charles Cohen at Drone Brunch

Charles Cohen performing at Drone Brunch (Photo: Keith Mathias)

“It happened to be a great idea because there’s this tradition of hardcore matinees on Sundays,” Walsh says. Famed New York City club CBGB hosted them for years, and D.C.’s hardcore scene has had its share of daytime gigs. But hardcore isn’t a calming way to wrap up the weekend.

“I enjoy a hardcore matinee,” Walsh says, “but on a Sunday afternoon, I’d prefer something a little less aggressive.”

So drone it was. It’s music built on sustained, repeated sounds — which can be made acoustically, but usually require some electronic manipulation — and the audience for it is decidedly limited. Case in point: On this particular Sunday, the people trickling in mostly seem to know each other, and conversation revolves around which shows everyone has seen recently. This is a crowd that sees a lot of music in D.C.

“Somebody who goes to one show a month isn’t going to make that show a weird Sunday afternoon show,” Walsh says. “It’s sort of a self-selecting group in that way, but it’s certainly not exclusionary and we don’t want to be exclusionary in any way. That’s just kind of the way it works out.”

Hallowed Bells at Drone Brunch

Hallowed Bells (Photo: Keith Mathias)

Walsh says Drone Brunch and the people who attend it are “a little bit weird.” That’s just his style. “I like the weirdos. They’re my people,” he says.

Now, Drone Brunch isn’t the only music-and-brunch event circulating around D.C.: Northeast space Hole In The Sky recently kicked off its own series of brunch concerts, and Walsh has been working with the venue to host a Drone Brunch there sometime over the next couple of months. If it’s anything like the most recent edition, everyone in attendance is in for a treat — including the edible kind.

But Drone Brunch has no large-scale ambitions. Its purpose is simple. The series is “really just about having a nice time and eating some scones,” Walsh says, “because it rhymes with ‘drone.'”