By Sam P. K. Collins
For nearly a quarter-century, the MetroPCS store on the corner of Florida Avenue and 7th Street in Northwest kept residents and passersby alike jamming to the sounds of go-go, over time solidifying its status as a staple of authentic, homegrown culture, especially as gentrification displaced countless residents and businesses in the Shaw area.
That may no longer be the case, however, as T-Mobile’s corporate office recently told the local MetroPCS branch to cut off the music, allegedly in response to complaints from residents in nearby condos about the volume.
Upon hearing this news Monday, local activists, go-go aficionados and others rallied against what they considered the latest assault on their way of life.
“When I left school, I would fall asleep in my mother’s car and get woken up by the music at MetroPCS,” said Tyrell Brunson, a local producer and alumnus of the now-shuttered Gage-Eckington Elementary School.
Brunson counted among the more than 50 participants at a protest in the parking lot of the CVS Pharmacy across the street from MetroPCS on Monday evening.
Brunson, who said Backyard Band influenced his sound, said a Twitter post by award-winning producer Tone P spurred him into action Monday. He and several friends gathered in the parking lot and listened as Tone P, Kymone Freeman of We Act Radio, DJ D-Money, Swamp Guinee, Dusty of Tru Expressionz and countless other musicians and activists spoke on the microphone about the MetroPCS’ impact on their lives.
“I went to go-gos from the age of 14 until the city tried to eliminate it,” Brunson, 28, said. “This is a bigger issue than the music. They’re shutting down our culture. A lot of people are here. I understood the strength in numbers, and this won’t be the end of it.”
Donald Campbell, who owns the MetroPCS branch under Central Communications, reportedly received threats of a lawsuit from nearby residents about the music blasting from the store’s speakers. The orders from T-Mobile’s corporate office followed Campbell’s several successful appeals to the D.C. government to maintain the status quo.
On Monday, he politely denied a request for an interview, asking that The Informer instead email him a list of questions to be answered later.
By Tuesday morning, more than 29,000 people have signed an online petition circulated under the auspices of the #DontMuteDC movement.
Later that day, the Take Ova Band, also known as TOB, had been scheduled to perform in front of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in Northwest in a show of solidarity with the go-go community. Campbell hosted a press conference Wednesday morning, and Check-It Enterprises and We Act Radio scheduled a town hall discussion for the following day.
D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) also entered the fray, sending a letter Monday to Kathleen Ham, T-Mobile USA’s senior vice president of government affairs, asking that the corporation reverse its order and honor the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ determination that no noise violations had occurred.
Later that evening, Nadeau and fellow Councilman Robert White (D-At large), a fifth-generation Washingtonian, spoke words of support to their constituents.
“Go-go is something that we need to hang on to as MetroPCS keeps that alive,” Nadeau said. “I live just up Georgia Avenue and see people getting some music and jamming out. Ward 1 is vibrant and diverse and we love music.
“It’s not the government that shut this down,” she said. “Now we just have to figure out how to restore music in the corridor. We have to do more work in our communities and help people appreciate what we have.”
Since 1995, Campbell’s MetroPCS store has garnered a reputation as one of the largest retailer of cellphones in the D.C. area and a provider of go-go music. At one point, Campbell opened four locations, including one on 4th and R streets in Northeast next to a barbershop owned by the late Polo of go-go band TCB.
For Dusty, founder and frontman of the Tru Expressionz Band, 7th Street and Florida Avenue has a different level of significance for him as an entrepreneur and go-go fan. He reflected on what the current battle meant for go-go bands and the industry at large.
“The spot [across the street from the MetroPCS store] used to be the late-night spot with the photo booths,” Dusty said moments before addressing the demonstrators at Monday’s protest.
In recent years, Tru Expressionz, which Dusty started as a teenager, has kept bands grooving at Peace Lounge near Howard University and Fire Station 1 Restaurant & Bar in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“Even though you got new folks coming in, you got people who live and are from here,” Dusty said. “It’s about the store, but in general, this is one of the only sections of the city where we got street music. We can’t let that go.
“We just got to continue doing go-go shows on a bigger platform and push the music in a different way,” he said. “You got cover bands in different areas making money. So even if your band is doing radio covers or making original music, we can still push our genre. We can’t limit our music when we are so powerful.”
This is article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.