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Calling You In: How Solarized is challenging the status quo and diversifying the the punk scene

Solarized performs at Break Free Fest | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Throughout history, the potent dynamics of race, gender, economic class and sexuality have shaped every aspect of human social activity. Politics, love, war, art, all of it has been invariably touched by these social forces, and music is no different. The realities of racism and the complexity of identity play themselves out nationally, internationally and in our local music scenes. For all its historical emphasis on rebellion, freedom and challenging of the status quo, punk as a subculture has not avoided the oppressive aspects of these social dynamics.

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Sounds of Psychedelphia, Part Three: The torchbearers of today

Ill Fated Natives
Ill Fated Natives | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

Sounds of Psychedelphia is a three-part series exploring the history of psychedelic rock in Philadelphia. this month, we begin by studying the scene’s origins in the late 60s and early 70s.

At the dawn of the new millennium, the post-grunge alt-rock hype had died down, making room for guitar-oriented bands to stretch beyond conventions that had grown stale by the later part of the 90s. This, along with the emergence of mp3s and file-sharing technology, drastically changed the landscape of rock and the music industry in general.

In Philadelphia, an intriguing brew of cross-pollinating musical styles and DIY ethos began to bubble up as underground bands were able to use the internet to engage their audiences. While many of the “Psychedelphia”-era bands of the 90s like Photon Band, Asteroid #4 and Bardo Pond carried on into the 2000s as integral parts of the Philly scene, a new, younger crop of acts began to make noise as well. Much like their forebears of the 60s and the 90s, many of Philadelphia’s millennial bands retained the melodic, guitar-pop influences of the U.K. (The Beatles, Kinks etc.), fusing those sweet sensibilities with a decidedly heavier, muscular sound. Continue reading →

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Rooted in history and looking to the future, Mick Jenkins will bring his sanctified take on hip-hop to the TLA

Mick Jenkins | via facebook.com/MickJenkins

Raised on the Southside of Chicago, but born below the Mason-Dixon line (Huntsville, Alabama, to be exact), the blues lies at the center of Mick Jenkins’ music. Historically, it has been the blues (and its stylistic cousin, gospel) that have acted as the animating core of all black music that has followed it: jazz, rock and roll, R&B and hip-hop. Throughout the shifts in popular music, the blues has remained, like a ghost, giving voice to the struggle, pain and transcendent joy of black American culture.

Over the course of the past decade, hip hop in particular has evolved to a point where synthesis and advanced musical programming techniques have replaced sampling, with more emphasis being placed on creating futuristic soundscapes and less on repurposing the music of the past. For the first time in the history of American popular culture, we are witnessing a mainstream black music that isn’t reliant on the influences of the blues and the gospel sound of the church. Continue reading →

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Bartok and Breakbeats: Philly son Thee Phantom on bridging hip-hop and classical

Thee Phantom | photo courtesy of the artist
Thee Phantom | photo courtesy of the artist

The distance between the North Philly neighborhood of Jeffrey Mcneill’s youth and New York’s storied Carnegie Hall is roughly 97.5 miles. The aesthetic, economic and cultural gap between those two locales is far greater.

Like many kids growing up in the dawn of Hip Hop, McNeill quickly found himself fully immersed in the emerging culture, channeling his creative energy into the new music. True to hip-hop’s tendency of appropriating and recontextualizing older music, Mcneill began writing raps and raiding his father’s classical music collection, making tapes that reflected his curious desire to fuse hip-hop with the music of the European classical canon. After christening himself Thee Phantom, McNeill and his ILL Harmonic Orchestra have succeeded in bringing classical instrumentation and hip-hop flavor to stages around the world, fulfilling a lifelong dream of performing at Carnegie Hall.

Fresh off of a successful run at SXSW, McNeill finds himself on the sunny side of a decades-long uphill battle to win acceptance and bridge the seemingly impassible gulf between hip-hop and Hadyn, Bartok and breakbeats. Continue reading →

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Inside Fishtown’s Watts Studio with budding production duo DYAD

Khemist and friends in Watts Studio with DYAD | via facebook.com/DYADProduction

dy·ad

ˈdīad/ noun technical

  1. something that consists of two elements or parts.

Seated in the spacious control room of Watts Studios located on the second floor of a unassuming Warehouse Space in near Front & Girard, producer/engineer Micah Forsyth cracks jokes with Anwar Marshall, a fellow producer, arranger and his musical partner in DYAD. Marshall, who also plays in the magnificent Philly Jazz Ensemble Fresh Cut Orchestra, crack jokes and casually discuss the work of Nigerian afro-beat pioneer, Fela Kuti. As a small crew of musicians filter into the space greeting the duo, Forsyth plays a rough demo recorded on Marshall’s phone. The voicemail is a recording of rapper and multi-Instrumentalist Khemist strumming a few chords on acoustic guitar.

Marshall recalls the recording excitedly: “As soon as I heard him playing that, I had to record it!” After laying down a drum track that references the complex, polyrhythmic pulse of legendary Fela drummer Tony Allen, Marshall finds his way over to a small keyboard in the corner of the control room and begins plucking out chords and incomplete riffs. Building on the energy of the track, the crew adds a sleek, live horn section and hip, peacocking bassline. As the tune begins to take on a life of its own, Khemist idles around the room, listening. The tune they are working on is for his upcoming solo project and it is clear that he is gearing up to put his stamp on the track. Forsyth asks “you got something?” Khemist nods and makes his way into the booth. In no time he lays down two verses and a slick, Latin inspired hook for the song. Slowly but surely, what started out as a rough demo is blossoming into an elaborate, fully formed piece of music. In the midst of the jokes and easy-going chats lies a serious sense of traditional musical craftsmanship met with modern creativity to make magic possible, even on a random Thursday afternoon in North Philly.

With a sound that fuses hip-hop and soul with tasteful, jazz-informed arrangements, DYAD bring to mind a modern update of 70s jazz-funk pioneers The Mizell Brothers or Steely Dan if Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had been born in the hip-hop generation. Over the past couple years, the duo has been making serious inroads in the city’s music scene, producing tunes for a host of artists including The Bul Bey, Elle Morris and their standout work on STS’ (aka Sugar Tongue Slim) recent Ladies Night project. Continue reading →

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Sounds of Psychedelphia, Part Two: The revival of the 90s

Lilys | photo via Bandsintown

Sounds of Psychedelphia is a three-part series exploring the history of psychedelic rock in Philadelphia. this month, we begin by studying the scene’s origins in the late 60s and early 70s.

As the 60s psych rock revolution faded in the U.S. and England, giving way to the complex, technically dense sounds of progressive rock and the spectacular grandiosity of glam rock, the barrier of entry for rock and roll was at an all-time high.

By the late 70s, punk had come in like a tidal wave, sweeping the table clean and emboldening a new generation of musicians to pick up instruments and play, regardless of experience or technical proficiency. Punk had leveled the playing field, birthing a vibrant DIY (Do It Yourself) culture that thrived in basements, practice spaces and squat houses around the world. The artistic freedom that punk opened up led many bands of the post-punk generation to begin to experiment with new and old sounds. While some post-punks took the music into previously uncharted waters, cross-pollinating punk aesthetics with dance beats, free-jazz, noise and icily dramatic electronica, many musicians began to look back to the psychedelic sounds of the 60s for inspiration.

Following this trend, bands in cities hit hard by punk — San Francisco, Chicago and most notably Los Angeles’ notorious “Paisley Underground” scene — began to experiment with garage rock and acid-fried neo-psychedelia. The city of Philadelphia was no different, seeing a number of its artists by the 1990s begin to explore the psychedelic sounds of the past with an eye toward the future. Continue reading →

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Sounds of Psychedelphia, Part One: The spark of the 60s and 70s

The Nazz, photographed for the cover of their 1968 single “Open My Eyes”

Sounds of Psychedelphia is a three-part series exploring the history of psychedelic rock in Philadelphia. this month, we begin by studying the scene’s origins in the late 60s and early 70s.

Contrary to popular belief, the psychedelic rock explosion of the late ’60 was not confined to the major west coast cities San Francisco and Los Angeles. Virtually no American city went untouched by the musical and social revolution that blossomed out of California. During this time, a number of rich and diverse psychedelic rock scenes cropped up in cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit — and in even smaller markets such as Orlando and Seattle. The teenaged garage bands of the early to mid 60s were growing up, some were going off to college, many were experimenting with new drugs and new sounds.

Fast forward to 1972, Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman collaborated with Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye to create Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968. The first compilation of its kind, Nuggets paved the way for an entire subculture of dedicated music fans, would-be scholars and rare record collectors who would spend the next four decades uncovering countless relics of the psychedelic era from cities throughout the country and around the world. It is through the work of these collectors and archivists that we have come to a clear understanding that the psychedelic rock explosion not only impacted the U.S. but was a truly global cultural explosion scenes popping up in South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, each taking their cue from the bands in the states.

Unsurprisingly, Philadelphia’s psychedelic rock scene was particularly strong during this time. With a long history as an established music industry town, and a healthy amount of local bands as well as venues that paired local artists with touring national acts of the time, Philadelphia’s scene flourished. In the decades following the 1960s, the psychedelic aesthetic has survived on in rock’s lexicon. In many ways, the spirit of the musical experiments of the 60s continues today and the city still hosts a diverse cadre of bands playing sounds that influenced by the 60s psych rock explosion. In this series we will focus on on three periods in which Philadelphia’s psych-rock scene was particularly strong: The initial 60s spark, the “Psychedelphia” scene of 1990s and rounding it out by taking a look at how the city’s scene has developed from the 2000s until today. Continue reading →

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DJ Jazzy Jeff challenged a world-class team of artists to create Chasing Goosebumps in a week, and they delivered

DJ Jazzy Jeff | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
DJ Jazzy Jeff | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

“You put creative people in the room and I’ma show you what can happen…” – DJ Jazzy Jeff

For the past few years, Philadelphia music ambassador DJ Jazzy Jeff has hosted a gathering at his Wilmington-area home called the PLAYlist Retreat. Utilizing his influence as a respected, world-class DJ, Jeff calls together an all-star cadre of some of the world’s finest musicians, producers, DJs and songwriters for a weekend of music making and sharing knowledge. For this year’s edition of the Retreat, Jeff presented the team with a heavy task; to compose, produce, mix, master and release a full-length album in seven days. If that weren’t interesting enough, there’s a twist; a crew would film the entire process and broadcast it live via social media, allowing fans an insider’s “fly-on-the-wall” look into the creative process.

Loose jam sessions evolved into fully realized songs, recording and mixing sessions, downtime conversations about music and life, and viewers were there every step of the way. By the time the album was completed, an entire community of music lovers had blossomed around the project. With a cast of players that includes singer-songwriter Glenn Lewis, The Roots’ James Poyser, DJ Rich Medina, rapper Dayne Jordan, hip-hop / soul wunderkind Stro Elliot and more, the music on Chasing Goosebumps is soulful, evocative and timely. It hits at both the new ways in which contemporary music can be made while reflecting the message of self-determination, love and community, that we need. Continue reading →

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Meet Brandy Butler: A Philly-born songwriter who rediscovered her voice abroad

Brandy Butler | via facebook.com/pg/brandybutlerandthebrokenhearted

“I don’t think of it as a breakup record,” says Brandy Butler. “I think of it more as my journey through learning how to let something come, and then let it go. Letting go of things is like everyone’s struggle on so many levels.”

The Inventory of Goodbye, the latest full length project by Philly born, Zurich Switzerland based singer-songwriter and her band The Brokenhearted is a harrowing journey through a cycle of love, loss, heartbreak and rejuvenation. Touching on soaring rock an soul, twangy country-blues and cinematic retro-pop, The Inventory… is a colorful and diverse listen.

From the bittersweet pop ballad “Crying” to the heart-wrenchingly sparse guitar epic “The Hardest,” Butler’s hushed windswept vocals breathe life into each of the album’s dark, emotionally dense love songs. We caught up with her before a trip to South Africa to film a video and spoke with her about her youth studying Jazz at UArts, new music and building a new life on another continent. Continue reading →

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Boiler Room brings the heat to The Fillmore with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Kur and more

DJ Jazzy Jeff | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
DJ Jazzy Jeff | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Normally, a chilly Tuesday night in January would not be the most ideal setting for a raucous dance party, but when the renowned music and lifestyle brand Boiler Room descends upon the city of Philadelphia, a party is sure to jump off. For the past four decades Philly has been (rightfully) celebrated as a breeding ground for elite DJ talent. This reputation along with a thriving hip-hop and dance music scene made this Budweiser-sponsored meeting with Boiler Room a match made in nightlife heaven. Continue reading →