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From the Uptown to The Spectrum, take a musical tour of Broad Street

Spectrum
The Spectrum in South Philadelphia, circa 1969 | photo by Michael J. Maicher | courtesy of the Temple University Urban Archives | digital.library.temple.edu

There’s a joke from comedian W.C. Fields that goes like this: “First prize was a week in Philadelphia. Second prize was two weeks.” Fields, who was born in the suburbs of our beloved city in the 1880s, knew its reputation for entertainment was, at the time, laughable. If you were a person in his audience, a person who paid money to be entertained, Philadelphia just wasn’t your bag. Even today, it’s likely you’ve had a conversation with an out-of-town friend that started or ended with them asking, “What’s there to do in Philly, anyway?”

We know there’s a lot. Specifically in music, with the come up of large venues like Union Transfer and The Fillmore, we’re getting less slack for being a flatline between New York and D.C. or Baltimore. Still, despite our scene — rich to us right now  — we’re kind of destined to forget the scene that came before us, or the one before that. It’s not our fault, it’s that these historic, exciting, tragic, romantic, piss-stained buildings, banquet halls and flophouses eventually close down. They disappear, and when they do, there’s no one really touting their memory.

Following the recent buzz around 858 N. Broad, a hulking figure in North Philly that was built in 1908 as The Metropolitan Opera House and recently purchased by Divine Lorraine developer Eric Blumenfeld for future renovation, we decided to play a game of Broad street memory lane. Read about some of the special places lodged in the history of the 14th Street music scene below. Continue reading →

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No Fooling: Get to know XPN’s Artist to Watch Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean
Sunflower Bean | photo by Andy DeLuca | courtesy of the artist

The life of a touring musician is one that’s packed with hacks. It has to be, really. When you’re traveling by van from city to city and playing shows almost nightly, you need to find ways for the comforts of home to tag along, too. At the very least, you need to remember to bring enough clean pairs of socks and underwear.

That’s #1 on Sunflower Bean’s list of tour tricks. And at this point, they have a lot of them. After playing CMJ in 2014, the group got hooked up with a booking agent and a label and hit the road, playing shows stateside and overseas with everyone from Cage the Elephant, the Pixies and most recently, Wolf Alice.

Since that fated CMJ week, they’ve barely stopped working to catch a breath. With one EP and a full length record down, each release — scratch that, each new song — gives their sound new dimension. It’s as much a nod to the New York art rock scene in the ‘70s as it is to Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and, after last month’s single, “I Was a Fool,” Fleetwood Mac. It’s dark, fuzzy and soaked at times, and dreamy, jammy and bright at others. And it’s so, so fun to watch these songs and beautiful people come alive on stage.

Read our interview with Sunflower Bean below. Continue reading →

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Make Music Philly Day returns tomorrow with Sonni Shine, Lazy Eye and more

sonni shine
Sonni Shine | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller | koalafoto.com

June 21st, the longest day of the year makes for a great opportunity to open your porches, sidewalks, storefronts and yards for local musicians to perform in on and around them. Founded in France back in 1982, the fête is an opportunity to put on free shows by both seasoned and new artists testing their craft. If you’re into checking out what Philly has to offer but don’t know where to start, read through the neighborhood offerings below. And don’t be that guy running around screaming “Freebird” at every musician you see, please. Let’s keep it classy.

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Soul Saving: How one man’s obsession with old 45s gave birth to Philly’s Brewerytown Beats

Brewerytown Beats | photo by Ben Wong for WXPN | brotherlylost.com

When Maxwell Ochester’s neighbor asked the then Mt. Airy teen’s parents if he could borrow him one weekend to work Brooklyn’s Roosevelt Record Swap, he probably didn’t know that he was changing a very small life. But he was. At the time, Max was hooked on records of the standard classic rock fare—Guns n’ Roses and Poison, for example. Hip hop, soul and funk were still a bit foreign to him. Foreigner was less so. But when Max got situated behind the booth at his first NYC swap, he found himself face-to-face with some of hip-hop’s biggest artists of that era.

“It just so happened that one of the first shows we did was this now super famous record show in New York where all the hip-hop artists from the early 90s were getting their samples from. So A Tribe Called Quest and Pete Rock & CL Smooth would all buy albums to sample for their records. So that’s how I got into it but I also got hooked right then. I was like, Oh my god, Q-tip is buying a record from me,” he remembers.

Today, that kid is 39 and he owns Brewerytown Beats, arguably the best record shop in the city of Philadelphia. And he wouldn’t have what he has, which includes approximately 20,0000 records and a coveted role as A&R and co-distributor for Jamie/Guyden Records, if it wasn’t for his experience at the swaps. “Watching Q-tip and Pete Rock and all these guys that I looked up to and the stuff that they would buy, I would really pay attention,” he says. “I used to watch what they would buy and then I’d listen to their music and try to dissect and find what kind of samples they were using for their music—and that’s how I got into it.” Continue reading →

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Punk, Funk and Subversive Diversity: Cinedelphia Film Festival casts a wide net for its fifth year

Cinedelphia 5 flyer | via cinedelphiafilmfestival.com

It’s beautiful what Eric Bresler and his team of film aficionados have created with Cinedelphia’s online space, writing features and movie reviews that could hold their own next to The New York Times’ critics. But the organization’s cinematic expertise is best portrayed once a year through the organization’s annual Cinedelphia Film Festival, held April 13-29th at PhilaMOCA.

“Having been in Philly since 1997, I’ve seen so many film screening groups and individuals come and go, so many,” Bresler says, citing long withstanding programs like Exhumed Films, Secret Cinema, and the programs at International House as invaluable exceptions to the local sphere.

“I’ve picked up the slack for the oddball stuff, indie films that would likely be ignored otherwise, music-related films that appeal to a very limited audience, found footage and VHS nostalgia-type stuff,” Bresler explains.

This is how Cinedelphia is different; how PhilaMOCA is different, and it’s the exact mark that Bresler hopes to leave on Philly through forming both. “I’d like to think that I’ve made a difference in the filmgoing habits of locals,” he tells us. “I hope I have, I’d be lying if I said that I do all of this just to entertain myself.” Continue reading →

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Interview: Sunflower Bean talk musical inspiration, making videos, and puppies

sunflower bean
Sunflower Bean | photo by Rebekah Campbell | courtesy of the artist

“We’ve spent countless hours watching videos of early Sabbath playing live, and I think that has really rubbed off,” Jacob Faber says about the way his Brooklyn psych rock band Sunflower Bean performs. “They have this amazing raw energy that I think can only be achieved by being the bare bones of a rock band: one guitar, one bass, one drummer and vocals. There is something so primal about their performances.”

Jacob is the drummer of the trio, another bare bones rock band also comprised of lead vocalist and bassist Julia Cumming and vocalist/guitarist Nick Kivlen. The group matched together after the guys, who played together since high school, saw Julia play guitar with her band Supercute! and brought her on board.

Since 2013, it’s been the three of them (and their manager, Crista Simiriglia) navigating a hectic multi-country tour schedule, festival circuit and the release of two records: 2015’s Show Me Your Seven Secrets EP and this year’s full-length, Human Ceremony, put out by Fat Possum.

We spoke to Sunflower Bean, who just played NonCOMM last spring, ahead of their October 8th show at The Foundry, about how groups like Television, Suicide, The Velvet Underground and Sabbath have inspired them to be a band (and one that’s this close to adding puppies to their rider).

Continue reading →

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Time Capsule: Kurt Vile on channeling blue-collar blues into “Space Forklift”

Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

In Time Capsule, we ask artists to revisit songs they may have forgotten: pieces they wrote, released, and packed away—until now. Each month, we’ll pick one band who will pick one song and tell us the story behind where they were and what they were thinking when they wrote it.

It’s not news that Kurt Vile used to drive a forklift for a living; a lot of his work is influenced by a blue-collar attitude — from folky fingerpicking to his gravely voice and lyrics. In this city, to gain any respect, you better have worked a dead-end job shoveling shit, fixing radiators, or some day in, day out task that propels you to dream of something better — and deserve it when you get it.

Kurt spent two years handling a mini tractor, rising its giant prongs up and down, over and over, 9 to 5, between lunch and dinner. He lived in Boston at the time. Then, he quit and moved home.

Which is how “Space Forklift” came about. Continue reading →

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Time Capsule: Miriam Devora of Queen of Jeans discusses the evolution of “Moody”

Queen of Jeans | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN | cameronpollackphotography.com
Queen of Jeans | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN | cameronpollackphotography.com

In Time Capsule, we ask artists to revisit songs they may have forgotten: pieces they wrote, released, and packed away—until now. Each month, we’ll pick one band who will pick one song and tell us the story behind where they were and what they were thinking when they wrote it.

Last January, Queen of Jeans was born. I remember because around that time the long-standing Passyunk Avenue King of Jeans sign was rumored to be in danger of coming down. At first, I saw Queen of Jeans to be social media’s answer to the handful of people distraught about losing this icon—which featured a shirtless man in Springsteen-tight jeans, kissing a lady who’s passionately crouched down in front of him. But that was something different—a collaboration between street artist Kid Hazo and general Philly-loving t-shirt designers of South Fellini.

And at the same time that these jokers putting up signs insinuating that maybe it was time for ladies to rule the hood, a group of them were already working on it.

Queen of Jeans is also the name that songwriter Miriam Devora gave her then-brand-new project which included guitarist Matheson Glass, bassist Nina Scotto and drummer Patrick Wall. And yes, the group is from South Philly, but they’ve got a sweet and sour ‘60s surf style that couldn’t sound further removed from that part of town with its wiz-covered potholes, hoagie shops and sexed-up Greaser signage.

In this month’s edition of Time Capsule we spoke with Miriam, lead singer, guitarist and original conspirator behind Queen of Jeans.

Continue reading →

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Time Capsule: Justin Pittney of Residuels reflects on his commute in “The Castle”

Residuels
Residuels | Photo by Kelly Kurteson | courtesy of the artist

In Time Capsule, we ask artists to revisit songs they may have forgotten: pieces they wrote, released, and packed away—until now. Each month, we’ll pick one band who will pick one song and tell us the story behind where they were and what they were thinking when they wrote it.

If you took the Market-Frankford El from Fishtown to Center City day after day, morning and evening, you’d probably consider the most scenic thing about it to be the people of SEPTA dosing off in the seat next to you. When Residuels’ front man Justin Pittney took that daily commute to his day job as an Art Director, he noticed something beautiful.

“There was a point in the day—early in the morning—where the Delaware River looks really pretty,” he told us. “And there was an old prison in Camden that I always looked at. I would always fixate on it. To me, it looked like a castle in the middle of all this weird, industrial shit.”

So one of those mornings, he wrote a song about it in his head. Continue reading →

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Time Capsule: Brian Langan of Langor channels seasonal sadness on “Set Me Free for Christmas”

Langor | Photo by Cassie Rose Kobeski-Schlittler | courtesy of the artist
Langor | Photo by Cassie Rose Kobeski-Schlittler | courtesy of the artist

In Time Capsule, we ask artists to revisit songs they may have forgotten: pieces they wrote, released, and packed away—until now. Each month, we’ll pick one band who will pick one song and tell us the story behind where they were and what they were thinking when they wrote it.

Two years ago, someone was dumb enough to break up with the great Brian Langan of Langor, Needle Points, and a handful of other local rock bands, The Swims included.

And it was Christmas. What a terrible thing.

But instead of huddling in his cold (but cozy!) Brandywine street apartment alone, or crying, or drinking too much, he wrote a song.

Full disclosure: I’m a little biased here. As former manager of Brian’s band Needle Points (which, to him, meant I was supposed to bring him orange juice when he was hungover), I have a personal tie with this supremely talented human being. But anyway, listen to this song—rightfully called “Set me Free for Christmas”—and be your own judge about how talented he is, even when he’s sad sacking about some silly girl who didn’t deserve him in the first place. Continue reading →