Philly Music 101: The basics everyone needs to know about the Philadelphia scene right now

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Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com
The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com

Philadelphia is a city of many wonders: a buzzing food scene, an established craft beer culture, and a parade of historical landmarks. But one aspect of our city that we are particularly passionate about is our magnificent local music community and all that is has to offer. Here at The Key, we often focus on the particulars of our scene – where artists will be playing each night, brand new local releases, etc. – so much so that we can forget how overwhelming it can be for newcomers to get their bearings.

So for those of you having trouble finding where to start, we are introducing this new Philly Music 101 series as your guide through the wonderful world of the Philadelphia music scene: all of its passionate, loving members, from artists to venues to studios and more. It’s meant to help new fans navigate the scene as much as emerging musicians looking to break in and behind-the-scenes folks trying to get their start. We hope it will illuminate just what makes it so damn exciting for music lovers to live here. To kick it off, here is a by-no-means-complete overview of the different pieces of the Philadelphia music scene that have come together to make up its sturdy foundation.

 

Photo by David Gerz via West Philadelphia Orchestra Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/west-philadelphia-orchestra/10002971276)
Photo by David Gerz via West Philadelphia Orchestra Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/west-philadelphia-orchestra/10002971276)

We encompass so many genres and have supportive fans for each: from folk to indie-pop to hip-hop to punk.

An important reason our music scene is so vibrant is because there are styles for everyone to be jazzed about. Philly’s genre game couldn’t be stronger – there’s the grand emergence of the indie scene in Philadelphia with artists like CRUISR and Cheerleader. Our famed hip-hop scene continues to put out fresh new artists, just to name a few: OCD: Moosh and TwistSugar Tongue Slim and Chill Moody, who is even heading a Five Spot-esque initiative called Phirst Tuesdays at Bourbon & Branch to support local talents. (That’s not to mention local icons The Roots, whose Roots Picnic this year looks better than ever, or breakout celebs like Meek Mill.)

Philadelphia also has a strong foundation for the folk scene with the annual Philadelphia Folk Fest and the array of established local folk artists like Birdie BuschNew Sweden, and The Stray Birds (some of which are archived in our Folkadelphia sessions).

And these only skim the surface with genre-defying outliers like West Philadelphia OrchestraChipocrite and Square Peg Round Hole. Our city encompasses folk to funk, pop to punk and every genre in between.

 

Catyetana | photo by Rachel Del Sordo
Cayetana | photo by Rachel Del Sordo

Our music DIY network is completely killing it right now.

Although we were bummed at the loss of our beloved Golden Tea House, the do-it-yourself mindset is alive and very well in Philadelphia. We continue to have an amazing array of DIY venues and local support initiatives that prioritize the needs of musicians with a vision on a budget.

Our underground punk scene has been lauded on the national level, like that time Noisey ran a piece on Philadelphia having the best punk scene in the U.S. Yeah, that article was one back-handed compliment after another, but it featured some of the bright emerging bands from the Philadelphia punk community and was, at it’s core, a positive commentary on our close-knit underground punk music scene.

But perhaps we don’t need the opinion of a New Yorker to validate our fine city: RedBull spoke with localite Greg Barnett, lead singer of The Menzingers, about what exactly is making our punk scene so prolific:

“The music community’s very supportive, and there’s no competition. We help each other out, go to each other’s shows, help each other get shows. We sit in backyards with guitars and help our friends finish songs, and they help us with ours. Everybody’s in it together.”

From labels like Kat Kat Records and Lame-O Records to promoters Guild Shows, it’s clear what Barnett means: a lot of passionate people working together can make major things happen.

photo by Rachel Del Sordo
photo by Rachel Del Sordo

Philly’s local music fans are as loyal as it’s sports fans.

The Philly music community is really that – a community – and thanks to this mindset, bands are able to gain access to audiences who are excited to hear what they have to put out since the fans are just as dedicated to the music scene as the artists are. All of that enthusiasm is what makes the scene so successful. Emily Robb, of Philly-based rock n’ roll band Lantern, put it simply in an interview with It’s Psychadelic Baby Magazine:

It’s a very supportive community.  You can go to a local show and see at least half your friends there…I would say it’s almost impossible to not be a part of the scene.

And Robb isn’t the only one noticing our support system in Philadelphia: local hip hop artist Chill Moody mentioned to us late last year that the drive behind our music community is what is gaining us that attention:

Everyone is working hard, from the artist to the journalist covering the scene, and it seems like everyone is finally on one accord. We all want our city to shine, and it’s showing.

Something fantastic happens when the people of Philadelphia come together to share music as an experience and not just as a product to be consumed. These dedicated folks build the strong foundation that our kickass music scene relies on.

Photo by Brittany Salerno
Kindness | Photo by Brittany Salerno

But we’re equally supportive of visiting & touring artists

Kindness, a UK singer / songwriter known offstage as Adam Bainbridge, has openly stated that Philadelphia inspired him for his project, even naming it based on a lesson he learned in the city. MTV spoke with him as he explained:

“When I started recording in Philadelphia, the people there were really open and generous and it was a quality I liked most about who I was meeting,” he says. “The name was trying to kick back against that ‘it’s cool to be cruel’ attitude. I was like, ‘F*** that, it’s even better to be open-minded and real and not give a shit if it’s unfashionable.”

This open and encouraging mindset is what makes for a positive artistic perspective and our city has become known for it, especially when looking at the gender confines that many other cities’ music scenes have. In our piece on PhilaMOCA’s She Shreds showcase, Cynthia Schemmer, the managing editor of She Shreds and member of Philly’s Radiator Hospital, elaborated on how Philadelphia posed a different mindset than her former home of New York:

“I feel like every show I go to there’s a band of women or there’s a woman in a band. I just feel like it’s way more supportive than the scene I was involved with in New York and definitely way more encouraging.”

The way that Philadelphia embraces other artists is something that has created a kinship in the music scene here, making it the unique entity that it is.

Photo via Johnny Brenda's Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Johnny.Brendas)
Photo via Johnny Brenda’s Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Johnny.Brendas)

Our music venues allow for musicians to climb the music totem pole, all in one magnificent city.

From Johnny Brenda’s to World Cafe Live to Union Transfer and The Electric Factory, Philly has so many opportunities for artists to expand their audiences solely through performance spaces. The pursuit of a venue can be tough on up-and-coming musicians; However, in Philly, there are venues all over the city that fill a particular niche which allows for artists to grow their audiences and slowly move up the chain. (Think I’m kidding? How about that recent sold-out War on Drugs show at The Tower Theater?). Philly indie rock group Sonnder explained to From The Depths Entertainment that these venues are a huge help for smaller artists in the scene:

There is a lot of music happening in Philadelphia. Pretty much every genre is represented in some way, shape, or form. There are a lot of small venues, too, that cater to helping that small independent artist get on their feet and find themselves as a performer.

Having a wide variety of performance spaces allows artists to find the room for them. Additionally, a lot of Philadelphia music spaces – Boot & Saddle, MilkBoy and Bourbon & Branch being just a few – span a spectrum of genres, hosting artists that range from hip-hop to folk, allowing up-and-coming artists to be heard without bias to genre.

Philadelphia has many glowing qualities that have attracted the 1.5 million people that live here – the food, the beer, the sports. But it’s important to note that what’s happening in our music scene is something really special and these reasons we just listed only skim the surface. From our supportive fans to network of venues, our music scene is thriving. If you need any more convincing, stay tuned for future segments every few weeks that will spotlight more of the aspects of Philadelphia’s thriving scene.

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