It’s a total Empire Strikes Back play: Satellite Room is one of the latest bars produced by Eric and Ian Hilton, entrepreneurs who are regarded by many as the face of gentrification along Washington’s hippest corridors. For example: In a recent cover story on dive bars for the Washington City Paper, Paul Vivari, owner of one such dive bar (Showtime), complained that the Hilton brothers named one of their properties, Marvin, after life-long D.C. resident Marvin Gaye. Specifically, Marvin is a Belgian restaurant that refers to the year that Gaye spent in Belgium—a swagger-jacking move if ever there was one. (To be fair, Marvin is also one of the most diverse bars in all of Washington.)…
A pseudonymous punk going by the name Jack on Fire put out a song called “Burn Down the Brixton” just days after the Post‘s story. In this song, “The Brixton” refers to another one of the Hiltons’ properties, a multi-story bar and restaurant in D.C.’s historic U Street corridor that’s packed to the rafters most nights. The song couldn’t be more topical:
Burn down the Brixton!
Send it to its doom!
Then we’ll have a milkshake at the Satellite Room
[ . . . ]
They paved Black Broadway for a breeding ground
A nice patch of grass for some K Street cows
But the snappiest pushback against gentrification—and against development of any kind, really—is by Chain and the Gang. “Devitalize the City” is an anthem celebrating chaos in the face of market-driven homogenization in Washington (and elsewhere)…
While it makes sense from a certain perspective for D.C. musicians to target developers who appear to turn over properties and churn out bars by a formula, artists’ wrath may be better directed at a higher office. Only Congress has the power to lift the Height Act of 1910 that puts a cap on building height in Washington. That law restricts the supply of housing, office buildings, and taverns alike, meaning that when demand is as high as it is today there’s that much less room for dives, group houses, art galleries, and DIY venues—things that help a scene to thrive. To be sure, plenty of developers, homeowners, and local pols are satisfied with the status quo, but only Congress can change it.
Gentrification has raised concern in a number of American cities but not all of the movements against it have prompted songs. Any of these songs draw the attention of activists who use it for their cause?
It might also be worth exploring what exactly gentrification does for the careers of punk music. I suspect punk groups are not exactly welcome in swanky spots for young professionals in gentrifying neighborhoods. But, that suspicion is based on a single notion of gentrification where it is only white and wealthy people who quickly take over a neighborhood. The process is often slower and can include a wider range of people, perhaps leaving space for theaters and bars and other performing spots for punk artists.