Noon:30 (l to r): Blue, Vivianne, Aissa
From the days of Black Broadway on U Street, to the crankin’ beats of go-go, to hardcore punk forefathers Bad Brains – DC has always been home to a long line of groundbreaking black artists. Today, we have a new movement emerging in Chocolate City, led by a wave of genre-blurring acts that are transcending boundaries like never before. One of the most exciting bands to come out of this scene is all-female trio noon:30.
Featuring vocalist/bassist Blue S. Moon, drummer Vivianne Njoku and bassist/guitarist Aissa Arroyo-Hill, the band has quickly earned attention for its unique sound, energetic live shows and ability to straddle worlds in a city that can still be pretty divided. With their fuzzed-out guitars, atmospheric art-rock, and riot grrrl growl, these ladies are making some of the most interesting music to come out of DC in years. Listen for yourself here and read on to find out what drummer (and recent Brooklyn transplant) Vivianne had to tell me about avoiding labels, why DC is still so homogeneous and taking noon:30 beyond the beltway.
How did noon:30 get started?
Aissa and I were roommates in Mt. Pleasant and we started another band. It was just not a good fit. I left the band; Aissa was still there. Blue, I met through mutual friends. She had been trying to get something started as a vocalist and was not having much luck. She and I got to be closer friends and I was like “We’ll make music together and we should get Aissa to jam with us.” One day after work we set up a time to jam – really non-committal, just for fun. We came up with this really beautiful song “Orphane.”
Did you set out to be in an all-black or all-female band? Or did it just happen that way?
I personally hadn’t put much thought in it. But I know that we were really glad that it had come together that way. Like, here we are three black females but also three really, really, really different black females. We recognized immediately that our configuration was something that people just haven’t seen before. We have a lot of, for lack of a better word, power with representing something new and giving a voice to people who haven’t seen their own representation in the arts before.
How would you describe the noon:30 sound?
I think what makes our sound really definitively noon:30 is the fact that we’re such different people with such divergent tastes in music and in expression. I remember last year we had our roadtrip for our first tour. In the car listening to music, we had about 3% overlap of actual music that we all listen to. I’ve never experienced anything like that where people just do not listen to the same music. And yet we are able to create and I feel like what we create is that 3% overlap. There really isn’t a lot of direction when we sit down to create a song. A lot of times it’s just jamming. If the air in the room at the moment is really hype we came up with a song like “French Song.” If it’s more somber, we come up with a song like “Absinthe.”
You’re based in Brooklyn now, but still very involved in things here. What do you like about being part of DC’s music scene?
We really appreciate the part of it that’s familial. You can have a show in mind and call up your friends with the DIY space or email a certain booker. It’s really conducive to building those sorts of relationships. In New York now, we’re starting from the ground up. In DC, what is great is that there is so much community. You can tap into these communities and once you’re in, you’re in.
DC is known for its indie and punk roots. Do you see yourselves part of those scenes?
I guess the answer is yes and no, because people a lot of times don’t know where they want to put us. They don’t know where they think noon:30 fits. We look one way; we sound a different way. So I think the easiest label that a lot of people stick on us is indie. Which isn’t necessarily accurate, it isn’t necessarily inaccurate either. People for the longest time latched onto referring to us as post-punk. Which is great, but it doesn’t represent our entire catalog.
DC is diverse but the music scene here doesn’t always reflect that. Are things changing?
Unfortunately, in our experience it is still pretty homogeneous. A lot of the scenes here are divided across race lines. There are pockets of people here and there who are trying to transcend that. We have played in a room where it was straight hip-hop heads. People who didn’t know what to make of us – because we’re black but we’re not playing hip-hop or R&B. And we’re females but we’re not just up there singing. But as soon as we started playing they were like “Oh, I’ve never really thought about listening to music like this but now that it’s presented to me, I dig it.” We’re hoping 30 years from now, people are going to look back and go “That was even an issue? We were surprised that black people were playing rock music? So what.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an all-black female band?
We constantly get men who will ask if I can play. A sound guy asked me that as I was setting up my drums one time. Blue almost ripped his head off. Homegirl was livid. A lot of people still greet us with this scratched record effect. We played this show last summer, we walked in the door and the conversation stopped. Like came to a halt. People were just staring like “Who said Gladys Knight and the Pips were going to come?” I think in the beginning it was more frustrating, now it’s a bit more comical.
Now that you’ve moved to Brooklyn, the band splits its time between DC and New York. What’s that been like?
It’s been a great move personally and for the collective. Aissa and Blue come up regularly to the city now and I’m down in DC regularly too, so a lot of times people have no clue that I’ve moved. We really believe in the potential in the District to be prominent in the arts scene. We want to continue putting it on the map and bring more recognition to the District. It’s not just politics – there are some really cool communities, some really cool movements happening here. But you know, there’s only so much I felt I was capable of in DC. There’s just more opportunity as we start to expand into other cities.
Check out the band in New York on Jan 29 at the Women’s Experimental Sound Festival. In DC, catch them on Jan 31 at LIV with Joell Ortiz.