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E.U. featuring Sugar Bear

go-go Washington D.C.
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EU -square-PC courtesy of artist

For over half a century, Experience Unlimited—commonly known as E.U.—has been synonymous with the funky, quintessentially Washington, D.C., dance music known as go-go. Founded and led by front man and bassist Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot, E.U. expanded on a style developed by go-go pioneer Chuck Brown, creating a signature sound and helping build go-go into a local institution. Ambassadors of a tradition symbolizing D.C. culture locally and nationally, E.U.’s dynamic stage presence, irresistible grooves, and sheer longevity have earned them an intergenerational fanbase and an elite membership in the pantheon of go-go greats. 

A highly syncopated, percussive, homegrown offshoot of funk, go-go combines elements of R&B, gospel, hip hop, and jazz; African and Latin-derived rhythms; and call-and-response vocals—all layered over a signature percussion pattern. Crowd participation and a nonstop groove are essential: shout-outs to individuals and neighborhoods keep audiences engaged, and songs blend into one another, keeping energy high. “It’s like a beautiful, interactive record [of D.C.],” as go-go scholar Natalie Hopkinson put it. “It’s party music. It’s soulful.” While go-go never quite broke through nationally, it continues to thrive in the region thanks to performances, bootleg recordings, social media videos, and the loyalty of its fans. In 2019, it served as a catalyst and driving force behind #DontMuteDC, a grassroots movement addressing the cultural impacts of gentrification. And in 2020, the D.C. city council called for a program to support and archive go-go music and history, passing legislation declaring go-go “the official music of the District of Columbia.” 

Originally influenced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (the group’s namesake), Sugar Bear formed E.U. as a rock band in 1971 with William “Ju Ju” House and Ivan Goff while attending Southeast D.C.’s Ballou High School. After opening for Chuck Brown—a prize for winning their school talent show—the young musicians were inspired to develop a funkier sound, quickly gaining a regional following alongside Brown and their contemporaries Trouble Funk and Rare Essence. E.U.’s big break came in 1986 while playing a party for Spike Lee, who enlisted them to perform a song in his next movie, School Daze. “Da Butt” became a dance sensation, reaching #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart and scoring a Grammy nomination. Hits like “Buck Wild” and “Taste of Your Love” followed, as did recordings with rappers Salt-N-Pepa and Kurtis Blow. 

More recently, E.U. performed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s commencement ceremony in 2016, opened for the BET Awards in 2019, and enjoyed an unexpected burst of media attention in 2021 when actress Glenn Close gave them a shout-out at the Oscars. Later that year, E.U. performed at Dave Chappelle’s Untitled documentary screening in D.C., they began recording a long-awaited new album, and Sugar Bear received the Chuck Brown Foundation’s Legend Award. After 51 years, E.U. shows no signs of slowing down. “I still have the same passion I did when I was 16,” Sugar Bear says. “Come on out, put on your dancing shoes and let’s get busy!”

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