Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson, the only founding member of the legendary go-go band Rare Essence still regularly playing with the group, told the News-Press that, even after nearly 40 years, he considers the band a new, indie act.
Rare Essence plays tons of shows in the metropolitan region every year. But now they are playing a D.C. music showcase at a festival typically frequented by much less experienced acts: South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Johnson said his group has been “dying” to play the festival for years.
“In the regional area, we’ve been known for decades. But on a national level, they’ve heard a few songs like “Overnight Scenario,” “Work The Walls,” and “Lock It,” but they haven’t really put all of that together with us as an act,” Johnson said. “And we are an indie act…so we thought we would try to get down there because there are a lot of people down there. Important people – record companies, film companies, a lot of booking agents, publicists – that could spread the word on the group. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Johnson said that he is honored that Rare Essence was booked to play the showcase, which takes place next Tuesday, March 17, at The Bungalow in Austin and is being presented by the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership. Another D.C. music legend, DJ Kool, will be featured on the set.
“It’s great. It’s a tremendous honor,” Johnson said. “We’ve been dying to get to South by Southwest for years now, so for us to get invited and then to be a part of a D.C. music showcase is really a tremendous honor. We’re eternally grateful for that.”
When asked what he thinks has changed about D.C.’s music scene, heavily dominated by go-go and punk music since Rare Essence was founded in 1976, Johnson chuckled while saying, “That’s an awful long time.” But he said a lot has changed.
“For one, back in the day, the group size was a whole lot bigger. Back then, we had 14 or 15 members. Now we’re traveling with 10 or 12 members,” Johnson said. “Also, the pace of the music has slowed down. If you listen to the tapes from the ’80s, the pace that we were playing at was a lot faster back then. But what we’ve been able to do is keep the integrity of the percussion aspect of go-go alive and consistent.
“So as soon as that beat comes on, anyone who is familiar with go-go will know that’s a go-go record, from that distinctive sound. Those are part of the changes, as well as the lyrical content. We try to stay with whatever is current so people can really relate to what’s going on.”
Rare Essence released a new single called “Cups to the Floor,” which features Killa Cal, at the end of February. It’s the lead single on a new album, Turn It Up, that Johnson said the band just finished. Johnson said the album, the band’s first full-studio offering in over a decade, was created with all new and original material to try to give the band the same reach as they got out of their biggest singles in the 1990s.
“We felt like doing a studio record, since we haven’t done it in a while, it was time for us to do it and the audience outside of D.C. gets with go-go better if they hear it in a studio form,” Johnson said. “But that helps us to get to that market and then be able to bring them in for the live show. And once we get ‘em in the building at the live show, we got ‘em.”
• For more information about Rare Essence, visit rareessence.com.