Community and Eclecticism: Philly gig promoters All Mutable on making an inclusive, daring scene

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Chicago-based footwork dance originator RP Boo plays an All Mutable show on March 4th | photo via facebook.com/Arpebu.Inc

As improbable a feat as this may seem, the still wet from the womb music promotions collective All Mutable has burned itself into the psyche of the Philly music scene with their daring vision of community and eclecticism. Even more improbable, they’ve managed to become one of the few promoters who force me– your friendly, neighborhood musical curmudgeon– to instantly smash “going” on all of the squad’s Facebook solicits even when I’m wildly unfamiliar with the bands they’re offering. Theirs is the ability to cultivate a strange, impossible oasis of color and sound within a sometimes diversity-barren landscape of independent DIY music.

While the group were all friends and music collaborators in various bands first– Jazz Adam from New York City, Nicki Duval from Connecticut, and Robin Meeker-Cummings from West Philadelphia (born and raised, naturally)– it is together with All Mutable that their true talents have reach an apex. While their roots are in experimental and noise music (and that aesthetic still rings true even as they expand), they’ve hosted raging punk noise outfits like Pinkwash, edgy afro-accoustic post-punk like Daphne, and minimalist drum and noise outfits like NAH under their umbrella and miraculously they’ve avoided any cross-genre clashing, eschewing the 10th grade mix CD model and have taken an approach that speaks more to the deliberate nature of their intention: freeing up class modalities and pushing forward with a futurist vision that is inclusive and liberating.

We sat down with the All Mutable squad for insight into their process, the origins of their name, and the future of DIY indie music Philadelphia and beyond.

The Key: Google Dictionary tells me “mutable” means liable to change. In the beginning stages of All Mutable, was bringing diversity of sound and of bodies into the sometimes daunting world noise/experimental music an initial goal of the collective or did it morph into that—how so, either way?

Jazz Adam: I decided to use the word mutable after learning about mutability in the context of Astrology. A mutable sign is one that is adaptable. This collective does not have a hard and fast goal, there is not an A that will become B. This collective is an experiment. And of course our goal has always been to bring new varieties of music to a scene that is often sonically homogenized, and of course to diversify bodies on stage and in the audience. But, to me, the “end goal” is never ending. The impact is something none of us who conceived this collective could actually imagine. We started last year and I can already see progress, for lack of a better word. But, to me, the future is not only bright, but the complexity of the future uncertain. It’s very exciting.

Nicki Duval: Many people book shows in Philly, but not everyone actively questions the platform of a show and how it can both bring people together and exclude people. We felt it was important to be among those who thought critically about what DIY music has the potential to be. And that potential is not represented by a bill with exclusively straight white cis-men on it; we need to see shows that represent amazing art and music made by people of color, women, and members of LGBTQ+ communities, among others.

TK: Is there ever any difficulty in trying to keep shows diverse without feeling like you’re playing into people’s ideas of tokenizing and maintaining musical integrity? What sources do you draw from with regard to this type of show promotion and event curating?

JA: Tokenization is a real issue in music and it’s something I constantly grapple with as a POC who plays music. Tokenization occurs when bookers seek out diverse lineups once a year, or for special events, like a fundraiser or some other type of event with an altruistic twist. All Mutable resists tokenization because we book diverse shows on a constant basis. We have a mission statement. We hold ourselves accountable. I don’t really draw from sources when booking, promoting, or curating. The source is my weird brain.

ND: I try and listen to more music, to explore different promoters’ lineups (Camae Defstar’s Rockers! Series has always been very important to me), and to generally learn more about what’s out there in order to avoid excluding important voices. We want to develop lineups we feel respect all of the performers involved.

TK: From a cursory glance at noise music’s recent past, it would seem that the genre isn’t very inclusive, from the way shows are promoted to who garners social capital in the scene, down to the actual music and aesthetic. Do you find this changing? If so, how and what examples?

ND: It is and isn’t changing. I think acts like Dreamcrusher, Moor Mother, B L A C K I E, Dean Blunt, Chino Amobi (and everyone on his label NON), TRNSGNDR/VHS, Pharmakon, Elysia Crampton, and Forced into Femininity signal that the parameters of noise are changing; these voices are invaluable to the current landscape of noise and they are getting traction, albeit to varying degrees. I think these artists understand and continue to develop the potential of noise as a fluid genre aesthetically, as a critique of the so-called “traditional” aspects of the genre itself (white noise boys, one-dimensional or vacant artistic aims, questionable politics), and as a vehicle for discussing race, gender, queerness, and other complex ideas and sounds.

All the same, DIY noise still feels white-male-dominated on both the promoting and performing sides. I think there are still a lot of people both inside and outside the genre who have a really fixed idea of noise music as forbidding, aggressive, and inaccessible to people outside of the clique. That being said, there certainly have been people pushing to make Philly noise more inclusive, especially in crossover noise/dance type affairs like ATM Data or that massive Anthesteria Fest a year ago.

Brooklyn’s Aye Nako will play an All Mutable gig on March 24th | photo courtesy of the artist

TK: All Mutable books bands across music lines as well, was there a deliberate shift from experimental/noise music in a traditional sense to booking bands like Aye Nako and Pinkwash? How has the reception been at those kinds of shows where iconclastic experimental electronic artists like RP Boo and Moor Mother are playing alongside hardcore punk bands like Soul Glo?

ND: I think having the mix of Robin who books primarily experimental and noise with Jazz and I who have backgrounds in booking bands made it so All Mutable always was a conglomeration of different types of music.
We all love and want to see more mixed-genre bills. It’s a balance of seeing the connections between acts while not being self-indulgent and just pairing things because you like both of them. I learned this the hard way when I booked a festival about a year ago, where I just mashed a bunch of my favorite acts together across genres; I probably lost the attention of everyone in the audience at least once.

But I think we succeeded when we booked Abdu Ali or Blunt Fang with Soul Glo, Container with Neolibz, Moor Mother with Old Maybe—they’re different on the superficial level of genre and might be different in approach, but each one has similar goals to the other.

TK: What types of venues do you book and what goes into choosing a particular venue? With the rise of the alt-right and other horrifying incidents creeping into American landscape, what do you think the future of DIY Spaces are?

RMC: We all have our own preferences for venues. I feel the most comfortable working with DIY spaces with someone I know running the space. When picking a venue, the performers are a big part in the decision making process, we don’t want someone who will feel uncomfortable in a small basement. We also don’t want a band where people want to mosh at an art gallery with seats. The rise of the “alt right” trying to disable DIY spaces has not affected us personally very much. We did decide to move a show based on the size of the show and the space not feeling as safe as we would like due to alt right threats. Besides us being more careful nothing scary has happened yet. I think it will affect more visible DIY spaces more than random houses.

TK: When you mention it’s your “weird brain” that helps you channel your ideas, do you think that this kind of eclecticism is innate or can it be learned? For the typical promoter or curator booking white dude indie band number 879324 who wants to curate a more interesting and diverse slate of performers, what advice would you give them?

RMC: My advice would be go to shows in a scene you have never been before, learn, listen, ask questions, branch out. Many times I have found a scene in Philly that I had no idea existed. Hardcore, noise, bedroom pop, gospel, indie college bands, all in the same city. Philly is thriving with music and I think we will keep getting more connected with our city every year.

TK: The other night I saw Pinkwash play and the drummer Ashley was wearing a Kilamanzego button. Pinkwash is a chaotic noise rock two-piece and Kilamanzego is a queer identified black woman making dreamy J Dilla-inspired hip hop instrumentals. Do you think that this kind of seamless connectivity, collaboration and friendship between seemingly disparate scenes is something intrinsic to Philly? Why or why not? It doesn’t seem like there’s this much cross- genre camaraderie in other music scenes.

RMC: I have not seen much of music scenes outside of Philly so I can’t speak tothis much. I will say that Philly is very small and I think there is no choice in the crossover of some music. Many of my good friends don’t share my music tastes and maybe don’t like my music but will still come to my shows to say hi and hangout. I think this is where we need to be proud of our differences and share our wide variety of skills.

JA: One of my goals in taking on All Mutable was to expose DIY as a cult, and attempt to obliterate the “scene” which, in an ideal world, should be very inclusive. However, in reality, it is incredibly exclusionary. I used to find the spectacle of the DIY scene to be very attractive. The idea was that a freak like me, who was bullied and ostracized my whole life, could come to a show and feel empowered. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I still have a lot to learn. The DIY community in Philadelphia is a beautiful thing. I still think there is a lot of room for growth and there is a lot of work to do.

TK: What’s next for All Mutable?

ND: We want to keep booking shows at the same clip we have for the past year — roughly four a month, give or take. The All Mutable fest is likely sometime in the later part of the year, as Jazz said, but for the next couple months it looks like we’re just gonna do a bunch of smaller events we’re proud of. I’ve been working on a couple of really cool shows for April — for one, we’re bringing Container back to Philly in a co-pro with Embalming Lately. He’s one of my all-time favorite producers and a continual inspiration who always plays an amazing set; this upcoming show is full-circle in a way since he was one of the first headliners we booked on a show, in April of last year. More info about that and other things soon.

There are two All Mutable shows of note on the calendar this month. On Saturday, March 4th, RP Boo performs with 700 Bliss, LXV, W00dy and DJs Yung Nilla and Diamond Girl (more information here); and on Friday, March 24th, Aye Nako headlines Everybody Hits with Pinkwash, Ursula and Solarized (more information here).

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