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DCMD Interview: After 15 Years, Will Eastman DJs His Final “Bliss” Party Tonight

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After 15 years of dominating D.C.’s live electronic scene, Will Eastman’s Bliss is coming to an end–this Saturday marks the final dance party at U Street Music Hall, which Eastman also owns. Bliss’ last call promises to provide a solid bookend to the event series’ successful run, with Eastman playing a 6-hour set. Before the show, we spoke with Eastman about his favorite moments from Bliss and what’s next for the D.C. music influencer.

DC Music Download: Bliss has been around for fifteen years now–how did it begin, and where did the inspiration come from?

Will Eastman: D.C. was a very different place in 2000. A lot of places that hosted DJs had dress codes and velvet ropes. I came from a punk rock and indie rock background playing in various bands, so I hung out at rock clubs. There was a party called The Mousetrap that focused on Britpop and classics like Iggy Pop, Bowie, etc. I used to hang out there in like 1998-99, and the guy who threw the party let me open a few times.

I wanted to play newer stuff that was coming out like Le Tigre mixed with dance music like Daft Punk. I didn’t really know how to DJ yet so dance clubs weren’t going to book me, and I preferred the no-attitude, no-velvet rope vibe of rock clubs, so I started a new party. The owner of the Metro Café which hosted Mousetrap, Nick Nichols, gave me a chance and when only about forty people came I thought he wouldn’t have me back, but I’ll never forget at the end of the night [when] he said “See you next month, Eastman.” I was on cloud nine.

DCMD: How has Bliss changed over the 15 years it’s been active? I assume a lot of this has to do with how music changes over time, and the venue changes you went through.

WE: The way I describe it is like a band. You wouldn’t expect a band to sound exactly the same for 15 years, and you shouldn’t expect a dance party to either. The party evolved over time based on the evolution of music and technology, and my own interests. It’s really been a reflection each year of what I’ve felt is most interesting in dance music. When I look back at the playlists and fliers I take pride in what I curated, but there are also some things where I was way off–remember Electroclash?

As I’ve grown as a music producer, and focused on my own sound and style, I don’t follow yearly trends as much and the party has really focused on the Holy Trinity of house, disco and techno in recent years–but I’m still always looking for the best new music. In 2003, we started posting a “Hit Parade” of our favorite new tracks to the website and over time that evolved into a music blog with about a dozen writers. I’m very proud of the work they do, and the contributions of the managing editors over the years. They’re always ahead of the curve.

DCMD: What are some favorite memories from Bliss events? Anything stand out in your mind as being representative of what Bliss is/was all about? This might be like asking a parent to pick a favorite child, but do you have a “favorite” Bliss event that you’ve hosted/performed in?

Will Eastman: Our first anniversary was a few days after September 11. It’s difficult to describe how somber the mood was. It was hard to imagine throwing a party in light of the tragic events, so I decided to cancel it that month. My friends encouraged me to move ahead with the party because people needed to come together and just hug and take their minds away.

We made the event a benefit for the Red Cross and it was magical. It was the first time I truly witnessed the healing powers of the communal music experience. It was then that I also realized the potential of what we were doing and also the responsibility to not just party, but to really take things seriously and respect the vibe and audience.

DCMD: You’ll be DJing a 6-hour set at your final Bliss–how do you prepare for a set like that? Do you have a skeleton laid out of certain songs/beats you want to use, or is it more free-form/based on the audience’s energy?

WE: Well, I haven’t started yet…I guess I better get on that. I generally pick about a hundred tracks each month that I’m thinking about playing and put them in a crate. After that, it’s just playing it by feel and gut instinct based on the crowd and feeding off the energy. I also like to throw in left field tracks occasionally, classics or funky covers, particularly at the end of the night. For the last party, I’ll be playing tracks that span all 15 years of Bliss, drawing on my favorites over the years. If you’ve been to the party before, you’ll recognize it for sure.

DCMD: What can our readers expect from the final Bliss–do you have any surprises/new things planned for the event?

WE: Just me playing my heart out. I try to do that every month, but this one will probably be very emotional for me. There have been a great many people who’ve helped me and supported the party as you can imagine over the course of 15 years ,and I’d really just like to give them all a big hug.

DCMD: You’ve got a new track, “Sugar,” out now–is an album in the works?

WE: Yes, “Sugar” is out now on Nurvous Records. It’s outsold all of my other releases in a week, so I guess that’s a good sign. [I’m] currently working on my debut album, and I’d say I’m about 80 percent finished–Stay tuned for more on that in 2016.

DCMD: I saw that Blisspop will be continuing–will you have a hand in that at all?

WE: Yes, the blog will continue completely unchanged under the stewardship of Zach Eser and an amazing team of writers. My role is more advisory and I suggest new music we might cover and features–I’m mostly cheerleader-in-chief. The writers and Zach do all the work.

The team will also continue to throw parties around D.C. featuring our crew of DJ friends. I’ll play occasionally, but I’m really handing off the reigns to the Blisspop crew. I feel a really important element of Bliss the past ten years has been providing opportunities for up-and-coming D.C. DJs to play at an event with a built-in audience. The local Blisspop parties will continue this tradition.

DCMD: What’s next for you? After your final performance at Bliss, do you have more performances planned, or will you be focusing more on creating music?

WE: I’m DJing a couple times around town in the fall and opening for Chris Lake at U Hall in December. I’ll still be playing around town, just not every month. [I’m] focusing on finishing the album, and I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to play more out of town and see my friends. I feel like I’ve had three jobs for most of the past five years.

DCMD: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

WE: Thanks so much for reading about Bliss. If you’ve ever been, read the blog or visited U Hall, thanks for believing in music presented with no attitude, no velvet rope–just fun and just insane dancing. I’m looking forward to what comes next. [Also,] thanks for starting D.C. Music Download and for helping bring attention to music in our community.

Bliss’ final show will take place tonight at U Street Music Hall, starting at 10:30 p.m.