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Whimsical, Strange, Perfectly Imperfect: October Revolution was a forward-thinking celebration of jazz in all its forms

Dave Burell Full Blown Trio | photo by Ryan Collerd | courtesy of the artist | ryancollerd.com

In 2018, jazz is having a moment. No — jazz is having a total year. With records coming from acts as musically diverse as Mansur Brown, Sons of Kemet, and current indie-music crossover darling Kamasi Washington, it will be hard for critics to keep the current cadre of musicians, experimenters and exploratory craftsmen off of their year ends lists.  That said, jazz, in all of its infinite expressions, is an often polarizing, fractious musical genre, experienced by many people in many different ways. Here in Philadelphia, that unspoken division can be seen in who partakes, experiences, and benefits from the music’s rich dichotomy. Summer days spent under shade in a park in West Philadelphia where stages are erected for neighborhood jazz concerts can attract hundreds of people of all backgrounds; in fact, Philly’s deep roots in Black jazz will be on full display at these shows that have the more familial feel of a cookout or block party than a seated, black tie affair. Still, there are oftentimes expensive concerts that feel only attainable by a few, oftentimes leaving a generation of latent Philly youth musicians on the outside.

It’s under these conditions that Ars Nova and Fringe Arts colluded to create The October Revolution, a forward-thinking music festival spanning four days with an emphasis on improvisational as well as composed works, delving into the experimental with a strong foothold in jazz. With 4-day passes ranging from $200, to some individual shows reaching up to $85 per day, the price tag could have been preventive in allowing for an audience more reflective of Philadelphia’s diverse jazz community. Fortunately, though, it was on the stage that that diversity really shone. Continue reading →

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Blood Orange cultivates a conversation about gender, duality, and identity to majestic grooves at The Fillmore

Blood Orange | photo by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | nataliepiserchio.com

It was almost 7 years ago that Blood Orange played Johnny Brenda’s on a weekday to about 12 people, one of whom was a sweet townie who sat on a barstool two feet from the stage. That night, Dev Hynes, the eclectic singer-songerwriter of Guyanese descent, tore through an emotional, energy packed set for all 12 of us attendees with just his guitar and a laptop, bouncing from stage to crowd, owning the space, inviting us in to share that moment. Thursday’s show at The Fillmore to a packed, swaying, diverse crowd of orange haired punks, Hood By Air wearing queer goths of color, and Fishtown hipsters (amongst others), kept that same energy.

Opening the set with a dreamy rendition of “Charcoal Baby,” the standout track from Blood Orange’s latest album Negro Swan, Hynes and his crew of six backup musicians ignited the crowd and set the tone for the soulful, southern-black-church by way of 1980’s sun and pastel drenched neo-noir that would follow.  It was evident, then, that Hynes had come a long way since his debut album Coastal Grooves, and even further from his days in screamo bands like Test Icicles; the stage was masterfully, purposefully filled with a rhythm section opposite a keyboardist and saxophonist on two (2!) high rises, and an angelic assembly of back-up vocalists. The mood of Negro Swan is airy and precise, allowing for a live translation bursting with nostalgic grooves and strange, spatial chord changes so subtle that they sound massive. Continue reading →

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Experimentation, Empowerment, Connectedness: Talking with the SELTZER party founders about their first year of LGBT clubbing in West Philly

A Seltzer party in West Philly | photo by Evie Yui-Ha | @snaxho_ | courtesy of the artist

Sometime in the previous decade, Philadelphia’s underground LGBT / queer community stepped out of the pit and onto the dancefloor, oftentimes transforming those same basements and living rooms that nurtured punk rock and other alternative bands into clubs. Powered amps were lugged, turntables were plugged in, and mics were checked. Out of this explosion of banging beats, and with the influence of Philly’s groundbreaking vogue/ballroom scene, the eponymous “queer dance party” was born. Venues like Elena’s Soul and the Treehouse were West Philly staples, where DJ’s like Seltzer’s DJ Precolumbian carved out a musical identity for themselves despite the odds volleyed at marginalized people.

Seltzer is that new, new though; a roving party building on the legacy of queer involvement in house, techno, hip hop and dance music, injected with the raw, nervous energy of downtown ’80’s New York. As such, it’s more than a movement and difficult to pin down to one specific sound. Certainly, there is the ever-present vogue battle beats or the syncopated rhythm and bash of Philly / Jersey club blasting out of speakers. But its playlist is also informed by world music, EDM, and experimental music– like a Soundcloud autoplaying from a queer, utopian Cybertron. With this eclectic, yet culturally refined soundtrack, DJ Precolumbian, along with Bearcat and the whole Seltzer squad, are all set to push boundaries, move bodies, and foster community all at once. With their one-year anniversary party happening this weekend, we sat down with Precolumbian and got the entire dish on Seltzer and what these parties mean for the future of queer dance sounds in Philly and beyond. Continue reading →

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Vogue Evolution: Philly’s DJ Delish leads queer electronic music into the future

DJ Delish | photo courtesy of the artist

The hope for underground music fans with regards to vogue and ballroom culture leaping into the mainstream via FX television drama Pose (on the stiletto-adorned heels of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, and other national TV shows highlighting colorful, performance aspects of the LGBT communities) is that the DJ’s, producers, dancers and emcees involved in crafting and embodying the culture can get a little shine.

Believed to have its origins in 1960’s Black and Latino discos and cabaret clubs, the vogue counter-culture — so named for the dancers who took many of their poses and awkwardly-arched, angular dance moves from the images in Vogue and other fashion magazines as a means of aspirational appropriation — moved from those venues and into underground clubs, community centers, and basements. The music was at first pumping, hard-edged and lesser known disco tracks (like Cheryl Lynn’s “Too Be Real” or Loose Joint’s “All Over My Face”) and eventually, house (Marshall Jefferson’s “House Music” and Derrick May’s “Strings of Life”).

As generations changed, techno-infused house music became the go-to dance beat for vogueing, with songs like Robbie Tronco’s “Walk 4 Me,” and particularly “The Ha Dance” — a rousing, swirling track by Masters at Work that compliments the equally swirling, ninja-like movements of the dancers. As DJ’s like Vjuan Allure (often considered the father/mother of “the Ha” remix movement) became frustrated by dancers only wanting a distinct collection of songs — those songs that had throbbing tribal beats; sassy vocalists chanting; horn stabs to accentuate the ultimate vogue move, the death drop — on the runway or dancefloor. And so, the Ha Remix genre was born.

 As a member of the current generation, DJ Delish‘s music takes the sound beyond what even her influences could have imagined. Her tracks are laced with a deep, resounding soulfulness that speaks to her Philly-injected approach to music. Underneath the slamming club beats are the warm bass and piano lines in songs like “U,” all riding on sinister string arrangements.  But don’t get it twisted: when it’s time to slay, Delish has the ability to do just that — the afro-beat inspired thump of “Men are Doomed” is laced with perfectly timed vocal snippets and an artful placement of the ever-present crash from the aforementioned “Ha Dance” that is the backbone of the genre.

Ironically, it’s on “Bag” that Delish really shines. It’s a simmering, playful piece of summery electronic soul that doesn’t ignore chillwave’s reinvention of the genre, but instead transcends it by paying closer attention to modern R&B’s roots. With its sweetly irreverent lyrics reminiscent of Diana Ross’s mid-’70’s, matter-of-fact storytelling on songs like “Upside Down,” words embedded in assured West Philly vernacular, Delish’s voice sits perfectly amongst the stammering synths and boom bap of the bass drum. We sat down with Delish to chop it up about beats, inspiration and where queer electronic music will take us in the future. Continue reading →

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Put The Needle On The Record: Daryle Lamont Jenkins

Daryle Lamont Jenkins | photo used with permission

Hello, I’m Alex! I love music! I, like you, also love art, film, literature, geek culture (comics especially), sci-fi, and other forms of myth-making, storytelling, and imagining. I also consider myself a political person in the sense that I want to fight for a world more equitable, sustainable, and just. I’ve often thought that music– a medium that encapsulates so much of the art we consume, from the packaging and visual representation, to music videos, lyrics, and conceptualizing– had a chance to speak to many interests at once. This collapsible, packaged idea is often what draws us to specific artists; rarely are we, as music fans, simply interested in just the sound. It’s why artists like Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce are infusing their music with arresting visuals, films, and truly monumental concepts; this “more than music” aesthetic has defined genres like Hip Hop and punk for the decades they’ve been around.  Still, there seems to be a split in rebellious music from its political roots, despite many new artists taking up the reins in the tumultuous Trumpian time we live in. Can the fervor and passion be rekindled?

As a kid in the south, I remember pouring over the lyric sheets in Public Enemy records and being exposed to so many new ideas, so many brilliant people. I remember trekking to the midwest to go to punk music festivals and discovering zines, socially conscious lifestyles, and the empowerment that comes with DIY– that you can do it yourself outside of mainstream, away from corporate interference. In fact, music and the community surrounding it, particularly punk rock, gave me an avenue to come out as a gay man. So, in the spirit of this, we present a new monthly feature: Put the Needle on the Record! We talk with local activists, community leaders, and organizers and ask them their connection to the music scene, to explore the political potential of those scenes, and to see how music (and other art forms) have inspired them to create, to move beyond just beats, rhymes, and guitars and into the heart and soul of their communities. Continue reading →

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Fight Fire With Fire: Philly’s Luxe is a force of change for LGBT fans in hardcore punk

Luxe
Luxe | photo by Andrew Restrepo | photo courtesy of the artist

Although the image of a winking anime character popping out of a turquoise background adorning their self-titled EP may indicate otherwise, Philly’s Luxe is a kinetic, highwire act of a punk band, all nasally irreverence and brash thrash.

The band dutifully marries an artistic elegance (their Bandcamp is found under “haus of luxe”, a shout to the LGBT vogue houses that undoubtedly inspire them) with the clandestine insurgency of a rogue cabal hopped up on Amebix bootlegs. Still, even with all of their poisonous barbs, coated in guitar shrapnel disguised as noise, poised to do open battle with society’s isms, there hangs above the quintet a veil of mystery.

After seeing them shred at the suddenly hip Danny’s bar in West Philadelphia, I knew I had to take a closer step towards unraveling their secrets. Of particular interest was drummer Joey Ross, who acts as the band’s catalyst, its center. Joey’s presence online and in the South Philadelphia streets the band calls home, articulates a passionate, deep-seeded longing for an equity not often found in hardcore punk. We sat down with the enigmatic percussionist as well as vocalist Justin Hyduk to talk punk, passion and the paranoia that comes with trusting your friends. Continue reading →

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Navigating Sound: Kilamanzego on the journey from hardcore punk to experimental beatmaking

Kilamanzego | photo by Manny Arocho | courtesy of the artist
Kilamanzego | photo by Manny Arocho | courtesy of the artist

From the opening notes on “Picking My Kalimba from a Distance” with its bright, high-pitched samples and tribal stutter-step, the listener can tell that they’re not just in the presence of a beat-maker: they’re witnessing magic by Philly’s Kilamanzego.

Imagine a dusty warehouse in West Philadelphia, stocked to the brim with old, rusting pianos, pitbulls with mange and orange bandanas, and a whole lotta white people wearing black clothes and rocking dreadlocks. This was the scene when I first heard Kilamanzego cast auditory spells, lifting the crowd with euphoric organ swells only to pummel them with roaring bass drop after bass drop. That night, Kilamanzego — armed with Ableton Live triggered from a laptop and an infectious energy — wasn’t just playing a beat set; they were opening portals to realms from which I don’t think I’ve ever returned. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying: that sounds like a lot of music guy talk, and the big lofty words volleyed about to describe what’s being thrown down don’t impress you. The thing is, while that performance might have been a welcome surprise — that so much powerful, trance inducing sound could be conjured by a petit yet tough former hardcore punk, black girl in a west Philly punk rock basement — Kilamanzego’s next performance I witnessed? It was a revelation. There is no doubt that we are dealing with one of Philly’s most creative musical minds.

And for Kila, it’s a long time coming. Kilamanzego has created a tightly wound catalog of entrancing beats, mini-séances that invoke both their time spent toiling in Philly’s underground and their Ghanaian roots. At once tribal and atmospheric, Kilamanzego has etched new sounds on the beat-based landscape. With their series backyardbxss that they curate as part of the smth savant collective, they’ve helped cultivate a movement that bridges scenes and communities in the spirit of Hip Hop. For Kilamanzego though, that spirit doesn’t seem to want to be tamed. With a hypnotic new single called “Stay Floated In The Tribe” out this week and upcoming shows including Get Better Fest at the First Unitarian Church, we sat down with Kila to discuss beats, life, and sonic ritual texture. Continue reading →

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Vega on Vega: Exploring profound truths in punk and rap with West Philly’s Ronnie Vega

Ronnie Vega | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Ronnie Vega | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A light in an otherwise bleak universe, the star set to go nova that is Ronnie Vega traipses up and down Lancaster Avenue in west Philadelphia, his trademark white t-shirt reflecting the dull light of passing cars down the cantankerous two-lane. Spotting him out of the 10 trolley window, one couldn’t simply assume what his daily exploits were aligned with, as his gait, temperament and “in-the-cut” persona barely shifts; Vega is an enigma, at least as much as an outwardly sincere and introspective artist can be.

When he’s fronting his self-titled band, his vocals easily moving through the dense, foggy backbeat the band provides, Vega is fully immersed in his element. Despite the band’s heavy, tumbling swaths of moody, cinematic noise — drenched in the residual riffs of Black Flag’s “My War” all tied together with the leylines of a lost early period Public Enemy record — Vega insists on regaling listeners with tales both west-Philly-centric and universal. Vega doesn’t mince words: dodging the po-po, hood drama, and dealing with depression are all themes that find a home on the band’s two albums (The Lost Vega. Vol 1 and Demos2015). As well, the topics and perspectives that Ronnie, a brotha raised in the Philly streets, brings to light rarely find a home at the typical, DIY punk shows that Ronnie Vega often blesses.

Despite his aggressive, sometimes polarizing lyrics, Vega is a real chill dude. His laidback aura allows him to be an observer in a hostile environment that demands he be more of a participant. For Vega, it’s about balance, choosing when to rage, when to tear at the machines. We sat down with the rapper and discussed channeling that rage, that confusion, in an increasingly politicized world. Continue reading →

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If Something Is On Fire, Maybe It Needs To Be: Philly saxophonist Keir Neuringer on distilling a troubled world into turbulent jazz

Keir Neuringer
Keir Neuringer | photo by Peter Gannushkin | courtesy of the artist

The moment you hear Keir Neuringer‘s alto-saxophone vibrating through an art museum — the warm tones bouncing off of avant garde sculptures — and watch those tones solidify into zoetropic color and immerse themselves into Muhal Richard Abrams collages, the only thing that seems to make sense, in the moment, is that you’re watching a reinterpretation of jazz.

It’s with his decidedly experimental (and experiential) band Irreversible Entanglements (featuring Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, on poetic vocals) and his crashy, noise ‘n blues and equally experimental/experiential outfit Neuringer/Dulberger/Masri that Keir is able to accomplish this feat. With the release of Irreversible’s self titled debut on Don Giovanni Records, and the N/D/M trio’s Dromedaries on Already Dead Tapes, Keir has stepped into the same spaces where the conversation on jazz is being informed by artists like Matana Roberts, Tyshawn Sorey and, of course, Kamasi Washington. His rustic, granola-outdoorsmans meets suburban punk dad visage aside, Neuringer channels the spirit of this young jazz movement, often moving beyond the genres confines, yet remaining steadfastly reverential to its roots, expressions, and most importantly to him, the genre’s intrinsic radical politics.

The Key sat down with this eclectic, inspiring musician and discussed what it’s like to transmit waves of change in a world that doesn’t seem to want to. Continue reading →

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Amps and Allyship: SRA Records’ BJ Howze on erasing boundaries in the punk scene

BJ Howze | photo courtesy of the artist
BJ Howze | photo courtesy of the artist

A quick visit to Philly based punk record label SRA Records‘ website reveals the quirky, jagged sense of humor that belies the countenance of label owner BJ Howze, a person whose personal growth has been as steady and pointed as his releases. If you were a fan of BJ’s noise-and-drums duo Hulk Smash and their in-your-face, “The Onion headline if written by Chomsky as heavy metal lyric” brand of punk, then you know what I’m talking about. But despite the adherence to punk’s need to shed light, tongue-in-cheek, on the troubling nuances of living in the world, it’s the evolutionary process — the growing up, the having kids, the accepting of your social position in the world and what kind of positive power that can yield — that has kept SRA continually challenging staid long-held punk notions of do-it-yourself, broadening the concept of punk community but retaining all of its power, humor and intelligence. From releases by agit-grunge outfit Psychic Teens, to the blistering wall of noise political chaos of Soul Glo, the label has stretched its sonic boundaries. By opening up his studio and label while providing support for bands that feature historically marginalized people, BJ has vowed to push social boundaries as well.

After seeing him around the punk scene for years, I finally officially met BJ after my band (Solarized, whose debut LP BJ also has agreed to release on SRA) played a show at a dive bar in South Philly and we’ve been making moves to work on projects together ever since. And while our prog-rock synthwave band might not ever see the light of day– and besides, BJ does duty with his wife and principle song-writer Helen in the band Dialer, holding it down in that admittedly slight genre already– it was an honor to work with him as he graciously lent his expertise to an event I put together, Electrifest (a queer/lgbt empowering event highlighting the avant-garde queer and POC led music scene on the east coast). We sat down with BJ to discuss the maturation process and what it’s like to help erase boundaries in the strange, often bewilderingly unforgiving world of punk rock. Continue reading →