‘SXSW A Go-Go’ Brings Beloved D.C. Genre to Austin for Its Big Break

Malachai Johns of the Aliive Agency has spent most his professional career in Washington, D.C.’s go-go scene, first as a teenage guitar player linking up with the Northeast Groovers before creating and producing the band Mambo Sauce, whose 2007 hit “Welcome to DC” charted on the Billboard charts. 

“We were trying to do for go-go what No Doubt had done for ska,” explains Johns, who laments that the song didn’t popularize the genre but takes pride knowing it’s played at the home games of the Nationals (MLB), the Commanders (NFL) and the Capitals (NHL), and is the walk-on music for the Wizards (NBA).

Today, he works as a promoter and talent agent and go-go apostle working non-stop to grow the genre and create a new audience for artists he’s known most of his life. “My overall objective is to expose the rest of the world to the amazingness that is go-go music,” said Johns, who now lives in Long Beach, Calif.

Go-go music dates back to the late 1970s in D.C., thanks to groups like the Young Senators and Agression, and later the music of singer-guitarist Chuck Brown, long credited as the Godfather of go-go.

Brown was a fixture on the Washington, D.C. music scene with his band the Soul Searchers and developed a relaxed style of funk and Afro Caribbean rhythm that he would infuse into go-go. One of Brown’s signatures was the use of percussive breaks in between sets. Having to compete with DJs spinning Top 40 records, Brown would pepper his sets with drum breaks during lulls, finding a way to keep the audience engaged at all times, Johns explained.

Go-go music would reach its zenith in the mid-80s and early-90s with artists like Kurtis Blow and E.U., Slim and Junk Yard Band — but the genre largely remained centered in Washington D.C., where go-go performances still take place most nights.

Johns will host South by Southwest’s first-ever go-go showcase. “SXSW A Go-Go” will feature the all-star house band Crank Caviar with sets by Big G and Weensey from Backyard Band, Chris “Rapper Dude” Black with the Northeast Groovers, Frank Scooby Sirius of Sirius Company and the Chuck Brown Band. 

“SXSW A Go-Go” runs from 8 pm to 2 am on March 15 at The Venue,  516 East 6th Street in Austin.

Dave Brooks