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The High Key Portrait Series: Kuf Knotz

Kuf Knotz | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Kuf Knotz | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

It’s hard to try to classify the music of Kuf Knotz, to describe or dismiss it with labels. There’s a little bit of everything here, in Kuf’s work, from pop samples and sensibility to hip hop hooks. There’s a little soul, a little jazz and reggae. There’s a little Philly (where he’s from), a little Brooklyn (where he lives), and a little Netherlands, where he spends a lot of his time recording. As soon as you think you know what he’s all about, this former high school athlete and self-proclaimed jock will politely push on that envelope.

The closest he’ll get to a cohesive theme, though, is the pervasive positivity in his messaging, a spirit of transcendence offered up on everything from 2011’s “Sunny Philadelphia,” to the title track of his last LP “Positive Light,” to “Unstoppable,” the anthem he put together with G. Love and Chuck Treece for the 2008 hometown-hero Phillies team.

Kuf just got home from Holland and Jamaica, where he was at work putting the finishing touches on his newest record, expected to be out early this summer. This one’s more of a “throwback,” as he describes it, “very current, with a heavy 90’s feel,” and will come with a supporting tour. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Bahamadia

Bahamadia | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Bahamadia | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly’s contributions to hip hop stretch back to the roots of the form, but few artists manage to become icons of the elements of style and with an impact and influence as far-reaching as our own Bahamadia.

Having gotten her start as a DJ in the 80s, Bahamadia had the opportunity to hone her craft right in the cultural crucible of a small Southwest-Philly-based production studio — an unassuming outfit that helped train and produce the likes of KRS-One and Boyz II Men. By 1993, Bahamadia debuted her unique brand of steady, potent cadence with her first hit single, “Funk Vibe,” and with championship from Gang Starr and The Roots crew moved on more hit records, and collaborations with the likes of Talib Kweli, Morcheeba, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill.

Here, Bahamadia talks candidly about the early days in the gauntlet of underground performances, and about grateful and proud she is to be a Philly artist. She’s paying it back to her community, too, working now with disenfranchised kids from her neighborhood.

And as an artist who describes herself as “built to do what I do,” Bahamadia is still touring, still working on new music, still entertaining all the requests from fans for deliveries of her catalog of hits. “They always wanna hear it that traditional way,” she marveled, with a chuckle, “they don’t wanna hear you remixin’, they wanna hear it just like the record every night.” She observes of her fans, “people process and interpret things way different than you do! You just give your interpretation for how you internalize and express things, but somebody writes a lyric, and your supporters will come up to you like ‘yo! When you said that it touched my soul!,’ and that gives me more insight! And then I think too as you grow as an artist and as an individual, the lyrics mean something totally different than they did when you first created them.”

“It’s the illest thing, but that happens a lot.” She adds, “It’s cool, ‘cause it keeps the conversation going.”

Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Dominic Angelella

Dominic | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Dominic | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

There’s a bit of a music scene in-joke that circulates about Philadelphia psych-rock cult faves Lilys; so many people have contributed to that band in its 25-year existence that founder and songwriter Kurt Heasley probably couldn’t tell you all of them. Dominic Angelella has experienced sort of the opposite situation in his career; he’s founded, jammed with, recorded and parted ways with so many bands since coming to Philadelphia from Baltimore in 2005, there will probably never be a true and complete chronology of them all.

We’re pretty sure Angelella has never been in Lilys, for what it’s worth. But looking just his higher-profile projects: there was the long running DRGN King, which disbanded last year after two great records on Bar-None; there’s Lithuania, his longer-running punk duo with Eric Slick of Dr. Dog; there’s mewithoutYou, with whom he is currently a touring bassist; there’s Hop Along, where he was an early touring guitarist. And, of course, there’s Dominic.

That’s his first name, true, and it’s also the name of his first truly solo project, which releases its debut LP Goodnight, Doggies. this Friday on Lame-O Records. Back in the fall, The Key brought you the news of his new album alongside a wide-ranging conversation with his onetime bandmate / current roommate, Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinlan, where the two unpacked Dom’s musical journey. This week, we specifically talk Philly for his High Key Portrait Series spotlight. This interview took place in early 2016, and he shares favorite faces and favorite places in the city — and is our first interviewee to give a diplomatic answer about Philly beer! This Friday, February 3rd, Angelella headlines Johnny Brenda’s (his fav venue) to celebrate the release of Goonight, Doggies. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Josh Pelta-Heller makes sense of 2016 through concert photos

Ms. Lauryn Hill | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Ms. Lauryn Hill | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2016 incredible. Today, photographer Josh Pelta-Heller shares a collection of photos that highlight this year’s great moments of music in Philadelphia.

“2016 Sucks!”

It’s the generously sanitized version of the by-now-common mantra of many, as we plunge headlong into yet another unseasonably warm holiday season (this past Thursday’s cold snap notwithstanding), as our climate changes viscerally. This December probably won’t step up to break the trend of warmest months on record, but it will bring home a year of painful passings of a seemingly inordinate amount of beloved artists and cultural icons, and one that saw the anomalous rise to power of an unrepentantly solipsistic oligarch in an election that was at best questionably democratic and at worst finds even the sanest among us checking our toilet bowls for Russian spies again like it was 1962. Cue Dylan’s “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” maybe more relevant now than ever, even as we all watch in real time with mouths open as a once-satirical sentiment becomes the unchecked New World Order.

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Yo La Tengo, Dean & Britta celebrated 50 years of the Velvet Underground at the Gershman Y

yo la tengo
Britta & Dean | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Fifty years after Andy Warhol made Philadelphians uncomfortable with the local debut of his “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” featuring Lou Reed and Velvet Underground, The Gershman Y offered up the very same stage for a commemorative event last Thursday evening. The show was a veritable double-feature, though technically headlined by indie rock vets Yo La Tengo’s full set of Velvets covers, who followed Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ live rendition of their score for Warhol’s “screen test” films.

Having been commissioned some seven years ago to compose an original soundtrack for the films, Dean and Britta offered their 13 Most Beautiful — instrumentals and original songs, with some Dylan and Velvets mixed in — all presented against the backdrop of a selection of Warhol’s short black-and-white video portraits of contemporary icons that loomed hauntingly over the stage. Between songs, the two singers narrated with biographical anecdotes of the likes of models Edie Sedgwick and Baby Jane Holzer, Nico and Dennis Hopper, creating four-minute mini-portraits, the ultimate distillation of a prominent ‘60s counterculture. Lou Reed’s own screen test was juxtaposed against a cover of “Not A Young Man Anymore,” — an early Velvets’ song that surfaced only relatively recently — as their frontman Lou Reed’s nursed a glass Coke bottle, his lips curled characteristically, his eyes obscured behind his trademark dark black shades.

Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Sadie Dupuis

Sadie Dupuis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Sadie Dupuis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly, meet your new neighbor Sadie Dupuis. Oh sure, you know her best as the frontwoman of Speedy Ortiz, the now-veteran award-winning attention-getting indie-rock darlings of every music writer from Noisey to Pitchfork, who’ve been around the touring block with the likes of Thurston Moore, Stephen Malkmus, and the sisters Deal. You know. NBD.

But what you might not know is that, as mononymous solo artist Sad13 (and yes, that’s “Sad Thirteen”), Dupuis has moved from the heart of New England right to our backyard. With her debut record Slugger racking up the critical acclaim, she’s already on tour, and you can catch her at Girard Avenue’s Everybody Hits tonight.

As she settles into life in Philly, Dupuis compares and contrasts for us her experiences in Philly and Boston and tips you local vegans off to the best tofu hoagie in town. You’re welcome. Continue reading →

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Saccharine Melodies and Punk Snarl: Honeyblood takes on Ortlieb’s

Honeyblood | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Honeyblood | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Glaswegian indie-rock duo Honeyblood got a little attention from NPR’s nationally syndicated Sound Opinions a few weeks back, when co-host Jim Derogatis turned a spotlight on them as a newly recommended “buried treasure” band. The episode featured a clip of their new song “Walking At Midnight,” pulled from their upcoming sophomore LP Babes Never Die, out next week.

The fans who made it out to see them slay a stage at Ortlieb’s on Tuesday night though were treated not only to an opportunity to snag an advanced copy of the record, but to a killer live set of almost every new track, interspersed with fan favorites from their self-titled debut. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Dave Davis of Sun Ra Arkestra

Dave Davis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Dave Davis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

This Monday, Johnny Brenda’s will host a show that’s become a standing Philly tradition: a spaced-out afrofuturistic psychedelic New-Orleans-style big band-tastic freaky Halloween celebration courtesy the Sun Ra Arkestra. The show is an outright spectacle as they try to find room not only for all the many Arkestra members, on the precious real estate of the Brenda’s stage, but for all the swinging horns as well.

For this installment of High Key we caught up with Dave Davis, who’s blown a trombone with the Arkestra for over twenty years, and who never misses a gig. Davis is decidedly soft-spoken and understated, and as he spins tale after tale about his history and career among Philly arts giants you lean in, and hang on his words. He’s engaging, charming, the personified illustration of the benefits of pursuing your dreams and following your heart, and he has this wide-eyed-kid-from-Kansas exuberance about having lived in and loved Philly that, for him, makes even the advantage of big city public transit something to be excited about without a trace of irony. With a slow, easy smile, Davis manages to share that infectious, refreshing exuberance so relatably, both in his words and in his music.

Philly’s beloved Arkestra suffered the passing of its founder in 1993, but the now 92-year-old maestro and director Marshall Allen hasn’t lost a step yet in keeping up the traditions, from international stages to regularly local engagements all over the city as well, from the Art Museum’s “Art After 5” Program to local jazz festivals to favorite Philly clubs like Brenda’s. Although this holiday’s event at is already sold out, as always, opportunities to catch them live in Philly abound, as the band continue to be as prolific and active on the touring circuit as ever.

To this day, the Arkestra still convenes for rehearsals at Sun Ra’s West Philly home, and when asked about the latest horizons, Davis notes at the wealth of the untapped archives that the band is still combing through and bringing to life. “He has a stack of music that’s never been played,” says Davis of the late composer and bandleader Sun Ra. “He wrote a tune everyday for The Creator. He has a lotta tunes that he recorded on tapes, so we’re constantly playing new Sun Ra music.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: The Harvey Sisters

The Harvey Sisters | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
The Harvey Sisters | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Cassia and Myanna Harvey have been quietly building a small empire of string music instruction. Music is a family affair for sisters raised in an Oak Lane home rich with the influences of art of all genres, and for the past twenty years Harvey String Teaching has been making proper players of hundreds of cello, violin and viola students of every level, from the prodigal four-year-old to septuagenarian novice.

Beyond local studio lessons, the Harvey sisters’ passion for music education has manifested as an extensive array of hundreds of lesson books for string musicians, each one a document of their unique and evolving approach to relating musical theory. Distributed internationally, the books are now purchased by musicians in over thirty countries, as C. Harvey Publications has begun to establish itself as a benchmark household name for string instrumentalists.

Of course they both play prolifically as well — everything from symphony solos to concert halls, chamber orchestras to lecture recitals. In recent years, they’ve reached beyond their classical roots too, collaborating with Philly Fringe Fest artist Abner Diaz for a multimedia installation, offering contemporary interpretations of ancient folk music from Asia, and at turns playing original Americana at popular local venues with folk band Acton Bell.

However, their published recordings have taken a backseat to their two decades of efforts in music education. More studio work may be on the way soon, but in the meantime you can hear some of Cassia’s and Myanna’s work with the Philmore Ensemble, a group founded twelve years ago at Temple University by flutist Amanda Heckman and heavy-metal-turned-classical guitarist Duane Large. And last month Cassia published her first record, The Russian Cello, now available on all the popular online music venues. Continue reading →

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British psych-rockers Kula Shaker made long-awaited return to Philly with K 2.0

kula shaker
Kula Shaker | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Twenty years ago, in January of 1996, an eastern-music-influenced, post-Brit-pop psych-rock band called Kula Shaker began to release singles from their debut record K. The singles were massive commercial successes, and the record went multi-platinum, offering fans the promise of a new British rock band with all the talent and the ear for radio-friendly melody of Oasis — and, as a contrastable bonus, a lead singer who wasn’t an ornery, conceited ass.

The band would have follow-up success with a movie soundtrack cover of “Hush” (best known as a Deep Purple song), and a new single for a delayed sophomore record. And then, for a series of sundry reasons, the band announced their split, and faded into relative obscurity.

Since reforming some ten years ago, though, Kula Shaker have released another three studio albums, including this past February’s K 2.0 — a tour for which, finally, brought lead singer Crispian Mills and co. back to a Philadelphia venue for the first time since their heyday. You could’ve done much worse last night than to have spent a Tuesday evening at World Cafe Live with the band, among a surprisingly small but enthusiastic crowd bathed in the deep, bright hues of stage lights, and the screenings and sounds of maximalist mod psychedelia.

Continue reading →