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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 →

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DJ By Night, Educator By Day: Getting to know James Sauppe’s MontCo Music

James Sauppe at a MontCo Music workshop | courtesy of the artist
James Sauppe at a MontCo Music workshop | courtesy of the artist

James Sauppe is known by many in the city’s underground electronic dance music scene as the genre-challenging DJ / producer RVLVR. During the day, Sauppe applies his knowledge of electronic music as a teacher. As a professor of Music Technology at Community College of Philadelphia, Sauppe uses state-of-the-art music software to guide students through the intricacies of modern music making. He also takes on private students, teaching drumming and music production. Throughout it all, education remains at the center of Sauppe’s creative life.

In February of this year, after coming down with severe flu-like symptoms, Sauppe was diagnosed with diverticulitis, a digestive disease which causes inflammation in the digestive tract. After extended hospitalization, several intensive abdominal surgeries, Sauppe found himself in a tough financial spot. In response to this unfortunate turn of events, Sauppe’s students, friends and family rallied to his aid. “My students started a GoFundMe page for me and raised quite a bit of money to help with medical expenses and lost income. Some of them even continued to pay for monthly lessons, even though they knew they wouldn’t receive them. It was amazing how they came together for me and I’m eternally grateful.” Sauppe says.

It was this act of deep compassion from the community around him that not only provided him with the material support required to get back on his feet, it also inspired his next endeavor, one that would help him continue his mission of spreading music through education. Stated simply: “Their generosity and concern inspired the idea for MontCo Music.” Continue reading →

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Inside opening weekend at Philly’s Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship

At the IHHE's inaugural session | photo by John Morrison for WXPN
At the IHHE’s inaugural session | photo by John Morrison for WXPN

Early Sunday morning, two dozen young creatives and aspiring entrepreneurs are gathered at Center City’s Pipeline coworking space, with a 15th floor view from the Graham Building overlooking a clear and crisp view of the Philly skyline.

At a glance, the room is like any other working space: boxes of coffee and bagels, half empty plastic bottles of water placed throughout the room, folks typing away at their Macbooks. But the energy is different today.

The facilitators of today’s session —  poet Erica Hawthorne-Manon and Dr. Bruce Campbell Jr. (aka DJ Junior) — are speaking to the group, which ranges in age from 19 to about 35, about the fundamentals of listening and conversing with others in a business / networking environment. The conversation is loose but intentional, the questions and observations coming from the group are probing and insightful.

This session marks the end of the Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship’s inaugural weekend. A recipient of The Knight Foundation’s Cities Change grant, IHHE is a unique business school for creative entrepreneurs of the hip-hop generation. Over the course of a nine month period, the program will include a series of lectures, projects as well as Q&As with artists as well as music and business luminaries across disciplines. Continue reading →

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Strength in Unity: Philly’s Kathia Woods on her first Women In Hip-Hop conference

Kathia Woods and DJ Damage
Kathia Woods and DJ Damage | courtesy of the artist

Kathia Woods is problem solver.

With her current work organizing events and managing area hip-hop artists as founder and head of Dimas Events and Consulting, Woods is a passionate advocate for up-and-coming artists in particular and Philly’s hip-hop in general. When asked her opinion on the state of Philadelphia’s hip-hop scene, she offers a no-holds-barred critique that cuts across genre lines into the the heart of a problem that holds so much Philly-based musical talent from achieving nationwide success.

“First, we have amazing talent. Always have,” she says. “The thing that hurts us is a lack of infrastructure and lack of unity. We have old dudes that have been in the chair too long and young folks that have a sense of entitlement, which is recipe for disaster. No middle ground. But the talent is stellar.”

A decades-long veteran of Philly’s music biz, Woods got her start on the Campus of Temple University “throwing parties and through the student union and helping with other events by handing out flyers and such.”

After spending her formative years working in multiple aspects of the music business, Woods’ present focus is on creating platforms for the education and empowerment of the city’s young creatives, especially its young women. Recognizing this need to position Philly’s women musicians, DJs and future executives for success, Woods has launched Women in Hip Hop, a day-long conference of sorts whose expressed mission is to build connections between women in the music business. Continue reading →

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Memory Tapes: Yikes the Zero gets nostalgic on The Animal Box

Yikes the Zero: a Philly hip hop artist to watch
Yikes the Zero | Photo courtesy of the artist

Like many young kids growing up in the 80’s, Jarrett Bair began his journey in music by sitting down with a cassette recorder, creating homemade pause tapes.

In a recent article on the history of pause tape making, hip-hop historian Gino Sorcinelli describes the basic process of this unique practice as such:

“For young hip-hop fans without the means to purchase expensive samplers of the day, pause-tapes were an early DIY way of producing. Using dual cassette decks, aspiring producers would play and record a sample from another tape or record, pausing the tape when the sample had finished its rotation. They would then rewind to the beginning of the sample and unpause the tape, starting the process again and extending the sample loop for several minutes.”

“When I was in like first or second grade, I would take a cassette player and sing and try to rap,” recalls Bair, more commonly known as Philly rapper Yikes the Zero. “I used to write and I was kinda shy about it, my brothers would make fun of me.”

Nostalgia and childhood memory are themes that consistently pop up in Bair’s work. Continue reading →

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To Space and Back: Meet AniLi Mars, Philly’s most tripped-out hip-hop auteur

AniLi Mars | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN
AniLi Mars | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN

“Just blink twice and I’m there where you are / I was off the radar cuz I had to go to Mars / and them faces on the surface told me / Ms. Mars you an ancient, you an O.G.”

On her single, “Ego,” Philly-based MC / producer AniLi Mars delivers confident, stream-of-consciousness raps that range from cocky posturing to space traveling and sci-­fi adventuring. Mars’ confident, rapid-fire flow dances over a bed of thick 808, trap drums and dreamy, reverb-soaked vocal harmonies. Peruse her Soundcloud, you’ll find dozens of catchy songs of light and self-actualization filtered through colorful, self­-produced tracks and a youthful, futuristic aesthetic. Continue reading →

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Digging For Something: Lushlife’s Raj Haldar on sample mixing, musicology and No Dead Languages

Lushlife | photo by Megan Matuzak for WXPN
Lushlife | photo by Megan Matuzak for WXPN

For the past decade-plus, rapper / producer / DJ Raj Haldar has built up a catalog of music unlike any in of hip-hop. Working under the stage name Lushlife, Haldar has carved out a very particular sonic space in the pop cultural landscape. On full-length projects like Cassette City, Plateau Vision and 2016’s Ritualize, Lushlife has explored the seemingly improbable fusion of the flossy, stream-of-consciousness approach you hear from rap outsiders like Camp Lo and Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah with electronic beats and dense, ornate baroque-pop arrangements reminiscent of Beach Boys’ auteur Brian Wilson.

His latest, No Dead Languages, is a unique detour back into the artist’s musical history. Compiled of recordings made at the turn of the millennium, the EP is a suite of dense, sample-heavy instrumental hip-hop and electronica of the sort that ruled the late 90s / early 2000s.

Speaking from the road in the midst of a tour with underground rap pioneers Blackalicious, we spoke with Haldar about sample / crate-digging culture, his creative process and his formative years spent bent over a drum machine, trying to find a way to fuse the disparate sonic locus points into a whole and natural musical cosmos. We’re also stoked to bring you the premiere of the title track to No Dead Languages, which you can listen to below. Continue reading →