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That Was Then, This Is Now: An oral history of Philly hardcore cult favorites Flag Of Democracy

Flag of Democracy | photo by Yoni Kroll | courtesy of the artist

Picture this: it’s 1982 and punk and hardcore are beginning to take hold in Philadelphia. Three obsessed and eager teenagers decide to form a band. As luck would have it, their friends are booking the show of the year — Washington D.C.’s Minor Threat, considered at the time one of the finest bands around and today to be absolutely legendary — and these suburban teens are asked if they’d open. The band goes up on stage and rips through a fantastically wild set despite it being their first show ever. Everybody is blown away.

In the movie version of this story that would be it. Maybe they learned a valuable lesson. Maybe they didn’t. The final scene is one of those epic montages showing everybody growing up and the reunion three decades on where you might think they’re all normal adults who aren’t angry at the world because they’ve figured it all out but surprise surprise they show up in leather jackets ready to play their second show ever! Roll final credits and …

But wait: this all actually happened and that band, they’re still playing breakneck pissed off hardcore punk. In fact, they never stopped. That’s the world of Flag of Democracy, one of the finest acts to ever come out of Philadelphia and to this day a cult favorite around the world. Continue reading →

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Two to Tango: Mirah and Sammus

Mirah, Sammus
Mirah | photo by Shervin Lainez | courtesy of the artist // Sammus | photo by Zooloo Brown | courtesy of the artist

Brooklyn-based (but Philadelphia born) Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn would seem radically different from the Ithaca-raised, Philadelphia-based SAMMUS (Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo) at first, with one playing askew folk pop and the other hip hop. Yet, both women keep their musical and melodic processes raw, and both lyricist/vocalist/rappers are emotive, clever and cutting in a fashion that you may not recognize until after the song or the set is over. The subtle glories of Mirah and SAMMUS sneak up you – as you shall find when the make a tour stop at Johnny Brenda’s tonight.

This interview was conducted late this week, via email, and sadly SAMMUS fell off the email chain, but I think the essence of the “tango” is still shared between these two women. Continue reading →

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: Khruangbin

Khruangbin | Photo by Katie Tapman for WXPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade live session is the band behind my favorite album of 2018 (so far, anyway). The road to Khruangbin’s formation is as swirling and easily-paced as the band’s music. Guitarist Mark Speer and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson originally met when they played in a gospel band in their hometown of Houston, Texas. Later, Speer met bassist Laura Lee while touring with another band and the idea came up to form a group focused on performing a mélange of globally influenced music. Once the trio was assembled, their fusion of Thai funk, jazz, film music and more immediately caught people’s attention. Earlier this year, Khruangbin released their second album, Con Todo El Mundo. The album is an expertly crafted blend of in-pocket grooves, textural vocals and the occasional funk breakdown. Before the first of two sold-out shows opening for Leon Bridges at the Fillmore, Khruangbin stopped by our studio for a career-spanning live performance.

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Thee Phantom and the Ill Harmonic Orchestra culminates a decade of intense work into Maniac Maestro

Thee Phantom and the Ill Harmonic Orchestra | via theephantomhiphop.com

Speaking with The Key last year on the heels of their Carnegie Hall debut and a successful run at SXSW, Jeffrey McNeill — aka rapper / producer Thee Phantom — shed light on his early days in hip-hop culture and his first experiments in forging the curious fusion of rap and European classical that he has become known for. “My brother and I had a B-Boy routine where our walk out music was Darth Vader’s ‘Imperial March’,” he says. “I had that orchestral hip-hop thing from the beginning and didn’t even realize it. ’86 / 87, I mixed Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul Revere’ and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony that year when the single came out. I used my brother’s double tape deck to fuse the two together. It was just what I heard in my head.”

After years of touring with his Ill Harmonic Orchestra, McNeill and company began working on a set of songs that would become Maniac Maestro, a full length that stands as a culmination of decades of intense work and dedicated genre-bending. Continue reading →

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Years & Years and Troye Sivan: Queer pop turns a corner

Years and Years | photo by Ed Cooke | courtesy of the artist

If queer pop with subtle, social message points about the ups and downs of the movement for LGBTQ equality and a sense of lyrical sexual freedom had banner years, they would be 2015 and 2018. Those are the years that Australia’s Troye Sivan and England’s Years & Years (and its frontperson, Olly Alexander) first made themselves known in larger, broader ways.

With both starting their careers as actors (Sivan continuously, in this year’s Boy Erased), each explored the melodic ends of ambient dance-pop since their start: Sivan with 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood and 2018’s Bloom, Years & Years with 2015’s Communion, and 2018’s Palo Santo. Further connecting the two is each act’s upcoming tour schedule. While Sivan headlines The Tower tonight, Years & Years play Theatre of Living Arts, October 10. Continue reading →

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Falling Back Into It: Allison Crutchfield on the new era of Swearin’

Swearin
Swearin’ | photo by Alexander Rotondo | courtesy of the artist

It wasn’t long ago that Allison Crutchfield swore off the possibility of a future for Swearin’. 

The band she co-founded with singer-guitarist Kyle Gilbride and released two albums with dissolved not long after the songwriters’ romantic relationship did. Swearin’s breakup, perhaps inevitable at the time, gained a sense of finality as the years stretched on.

“We really had an idea about how this band was just gonna be,” says Crutchfield now, looking back on the events that led to Swearin’s end. “And so when we broke up, it was because none of us could imagine the band existing in the way that we were.”

Until recently it didn’t seem likely that Swearin’ would be revived. Its members moved on to other projects, and Crutchfield released her first solo album, the fantastic Tourist in This Town, last year. But then a conversation between Crutchfield, Gilbride and the band’s third core member, drummer Jeff Bolt, led each of them to admit they missed Swearin’. Weighing what it would take to do the band again, they realized it could be possible — just with a different approach than before. Continue reading →

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Welcome to the Machine: Soft Machine find a contemporary feel ahead of their TLA gig

Soft Machine
Soft Machine | photo by Geoff Dennison | courtesy of the artist

You can’t truly discuss ‘progressive rock’ in Britain unless you discuss Soft Machine. And you can’t really celebrate its currency until you hear its new album, Hidden Details, and see them in action at Theatre of Living Arts on October 7.

Born of the same Canterbury scene that gave rise to the dark earthen folk rock of Fairport Convention, and nicking its name from a William S. Burroughs title, Soft Machine commenced in 1966, with Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), Kevin Ayers (bass, guitar, vocals), Daevid Allen (guitar) and Mike Ratledge (organ), and immediately formed its fusion jazz mad vibe, while making its most eccentric players stars. Well, minor stars – this was the avant-garde, mind you, and while Allen and Ayers have passed away, it is not as if Wyatt gets mentioned in the same breath as those who followed: say, Peter Gabriel, or Jon Anderson (though one-time Soft Machine guitarist Andy Summers did gain traction and cash as a member of The Police).

“Technically I have been in soft Machine for 43 years,” said guitarist John Etheridge. “But you must remember that between 1980 – except for 1 week at Ronnie Scotts in 1984 – until 2004, the band was effectively moribund, though not dead.” Continue reading →

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Black Thought’s appearance on What’s Good With Stretch and Bobbito is full of quoteables

Black Thought’s Live Mixtape | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

You know that Black Thought is going to be in rare form when you hear him laughing off an archival performance from 1994: “and in today’s episode of Cringeworthy…”

It was actually from an old episode of NYC hip-hop radio pioneers Stretch and Bobbito’s old call-in show, The Roots’ first radio appearance with the duo back in the day, and for 47 minutes on their current NPR podcast What’s Good, The Roots frontman talks about how hip-hop saved him, how Philly shaped him, and how he continues to challenge himself 30+ years into his career. Continue reading →

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: BODEGA

BODEGA | Photo by Katie Tapman for XPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session is a band whose debut album is packed with energy, wit and irreverence. Formed out of the ashes of singer/guitarist “Bodega” Ben Hozie and singer Nikki “Icky” Belfiglio’s previous group, Bodega Bay, BODEGA‘s guiding principles are as much about stylistic exclusion as inclusion. With mantras like “No references to Glam Rock” and “No vocal effects,” BODEGA quickly rose as a fresh and exciting entity in the Brooklyn punk scene. It didn’t hurt that Austin Brown, co-leader of Parquet Courts, took notice and produced the band’s 2018 debut album, Endless Scroll, even employing the same recorder that his own band used for their 2013 breakthrough, Light Up Gold. After the dissolution of Bodega Bay, Hozie and Belfiglio teamed up with a new crew of musicians, including bassist Heather Elle, lead guitarist Madison Velding-Vandam, and drummer Montana Simone . The quintet made a special trip down to Philadelphia to record this session, which showcases a young band that’s already locked into a solid groove.

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: OHMME

OHMME | Photo by Eric Schuman for WXPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade session is a band whose co-leaders first met when they were in high school. Formed in Chicago in 2014, OHMME (previously HOMME) is fronted by guitarist Sima Cunningham and guitarist/violinist Macie Stewart. Though both are classically trained pianists, this project finds them exploring overdriven art-rock and intricate vocal harmonies. Cunningham and Stewart are joined in this session by drummer Matt Carroll, who also supplied all the drum parts on OHMME’s newly released debut album, Parts. The record is an energizing concoction of rock, jazz, folk and world music styles, centered around Cunningham and Stewart’s overlapping vocals. Before their Boot and Saddle show (which featured an opening set from IRHP session veteran Renata Zeiguer), OHMME stopped by to perform some of their new songs live in our studio.

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