The most significant thing about “Sugar” by D.C. producer and DJ Will Eastman isn’t the track’s uplifting, well-informed layering of house and techno sounds. It’s the attribution: no moniker, no mystery, no messing around — just “Will Eastman.”
There’s a good reason for that transparency: Eastman, a founder of U Street Music Hall, has spent much of 2015 clarifying who he is as an artist. He handed over day-to-day control of the now-landmark D.C. dance club in January to concentrate on making music, and “Sugar” marks the beginning of a new era, he says.
“It was a long-overdue thing,” he says. “U Street Music Hall sort of absorbed my entire life for the first five years of its existence. I love that place, and I’m very proud of it. But as a career move for DJs and producers, I’d say, opening up a club can be one of the worst things to happen to your music career.”
The new track isn’t the only big marker in the process. Saturday night, Eastman will DJ a six-hour set at his club (he’s still majority owner) to mark the end of Bliss, the party night he’s been running since 2000.
“I love [U Street Music Hall], and I’m very proud of it. But as a career move for DJs and producers, opening up a club can be one of the worst things to happen to your music career.” — Will Eastman
Bliss, with a history of blending of punk and dance music over the past 15 years, is considered a crucial element in the development of D.C.’s DJ scene. He started it partly because he thought D.C. needed it, but now that it’s ending, he hesitates to say what the city needs next.
“There’s a lot of things that I think could be done better. But I’ll leave that question to come back to later, because part of the process of what I’m doing now with ending this is to sort of free up my brain for fresh inspiration and new ideas,” Eastman says. “So maybe ask me again in six months when I’ve had some time to really think about it. I feel like nothing lasts forever. You shouldn’t try to drag every last ounce out of something that you can.”
As for “Sugar,” Eastman says it’s one of two tracks that he’ll release this fall as a ramp-up to an album next year. It’ll feature D.C. vocalists, but he won’t say who. “Sugar” is on Nurvous, a sub-imprint of legendary New York dance label Nervous. Eastman declines to specify which label will release the next track, but it’ll have a decidedly different vibe: “French house and big-beat sounds from the ’90s,” he says. The purpose is to channel the sounds he loved “when I was very young and first excited about dance music.”
His next single will be released under the name “Will Eastman.” He’s basically retiring the moniker Pentamon, which he’d been using on techno tracks over the last few years.
“I spent some time with that, and I sort of got that out of my system,” Eastman says.
“My attention had been divided for years. I spent all of my energy in 2011 and 2012 on Volta Bureau, and a lot of it in 2013 on Pentamon, and I got sick of dividing my attention,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, what if I released all of this s*** under my own name — it might not all sound the same, it’s counter-intuitive in terms of a branding strategy … but that’s not how my brain works. I like to make disco, I like to make house, I like to make techno, I like to make ambient electronic music, and if people can’t wrap their brain around that, I’m tired of trying to brand to meet them.”
The good vibes in “Sugar” seem to spring directly from what’s inside Eastman.
“All of my tracks are optimistic tracks. I am a glass-half-full sort of guy,” the producer says. “Even if it’s a track that is sort of in a minor key or is sort of somber, everything is designed to be uplifting. And I firmly believe that music is better now than it was five years ago, and it will be better five years from now than it is right now.”
The final edition of Bliss takes place Sept. 26 at U Street Music Hall.