Rockist sorts love to wallow in the gloom-and-doom idea that we’re supposedly existing in some sort of cultural dark age because major concerts no longer feature guitar as the front-and-center primary means of expression. As though artists like CHVRCHES, Bastille, Lorde, and Imagine Dragons are incapable of “rocking” with their pulsing, beat-forward aesthetic. As though super trad acts Kings of Leon and Foo Fighters aren’t still packing arenas, with next-gen modern rock acts like The Wonder Years not too far behind, selling out numerous nights at theater-size spaces.
And most crucially, as though guitar-free rock hasn’t been a thing for going on thirty years at this point. Exhibit A: this vintage VHS bootleg of Depeche Mode performing at The Spectrum in South Philadelphia, recorded on June 14th, 1990. Continue reading →
From TyDolla$ign to Jazmine Sullivan, Benjamin Thomas’s portfolio as a music engineer spans to some of the biggest names in the industry, and he is only twenty two years old.
Whether working on location at Studio Breed in Philadelphia, or in his own home studio, Thomas — iamBNJMIIN in his credits — is the type who gives his all to the music he mixes.
“You can work smarter and harder, but if you choose to just work smarter; I’m just going to outwork you.” Thomas says.
Thomas is a Harlem native, and moved to Philadelphia when he was in early teen years. This was around the time when he was also introduced to music. “A lot of people would say ‘Yeah, I remember this song when I was five,’” he says. “And I don’t, but my mom liked CDs a lot.”
Instead of listening, he would take his mother’s CD collection, and use it for room decoration.
Thomas admits that Rock Band and Guitar Hero are really the two things that introduced him to music as a child. After learning to master those video games, Thomas began playing bass in the sixth grade, but didn’t learn about engineering until later when one of his junior high teachers introduced him to it as a hobby.
“I got thrown into the fire in 8th grade when I was told to run this twelve microphone setup,” Thomas recalls. From there, the music hustle never stopped even as Thomas began his college career in Finance. Continue reading →
There’s a new venue coming to town. Once called the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House, and now rebranded simply as The Met Philadelphia, the rebirth of a long-dormant Philly venue was announced back in November of 2016, and a is starting to generate some buzz thanks to a new teaser video released earlier this week. The minute-long video details our city’s passion for art, culture, and history, while intertwining shots of Rocky, Jason Kelce (in full Mummer regalia), and footage of the venue mid-rehab.
The Met, boasting National Register of Historic Places-status since ’72, is located at 858 N. Broad St., close to the intersection of Broad and Poplar. The massive 39,200-square-foot building was built in 1908, and now, (*cue dramatic narrator voice*) nearly 110 years later, its doors will reopen once again and fill Philadelphia with world-class live music (*end dramatic voice*). Continue reading →
On the third day of this year’s NonCOMMvention — the annual gathering of public radio programmers and music industry professionals — attendees gathered for something we don’t see often enough in this industry, or any other. For one hour only, attention was directed to four women representatives for a panel discussion titled #ShePersisted — Women Pursuing and Achieving Success in Radio and the Music Industry.
The panel was moderated by The Current’s Lindsay Kimball and was comprised of Jessi Whitten of Colorado Public Radio, Liz Felix of BirdNote Radio and Shannon Kurlander of Terrorbird Media. Discussing a number of topics related to the lack of equal representation in music, they covered as much ground as they could in the time allotted, focusing dually on workplace gender imbalance in the music industry and the unequal ratio of male/female artists we hear on the air.
Only 10.5% of radio programmers are women. There is only one woman General Manager in all of public music radio. Many programmers don’t realize that women are a significant minority of the artists they play on their stations, but when they look at the numbers, they realize how skewed their ratio actually is. These aren’t easy problems to fix, but the panelists attempted to outline tangible and immediate first steps toward change — number one being for programmers to take look at both their playlists and their workplaces to realize. As some noted afterwards, the panel could have benefited from a more intersectional approach, as the inclusion of people of color, nonbinary people and other underrepresented demographics was mentioned only briefly, and these groups were noticeably absent in the audience, as well.
During the following question and answer session, several audience members rose to add their thoughts. Several industry veterans spoke briefly, but each said that they both had so much more they could say, remembering the days when it was even worse but emphasizing how far we still have to go. Younger women in various facets of the industry spoke to the challenges they’ve faced trying to establish their careers and be taken seriously when people assume that they’re the intern or someone’s daughter. It was a productive discussion, but one which many felt was dampened by an uncomfortable moment at the very end. After the last question had been asked, a man in the audience made his way to the microphone to add a comment — which many saw as both unnecessary and an indication that maybe he hadn’t been listening to the panel and its points (like giving women space to have their voices heard) at all.
After the panel, two of my colleagues, photographer Rachel Del Sordo and writer Megan Cooper, and I realized just how many thoughts we had. We were eager to continue our conversation back in the office but thought that instead of just dwelling on our own reactions, we should see what everyone else thought, too. The three of us spent the rest of the evening (in between the fantastic musical performances) tracking down some of the panelists and women who were present in the audience to hear their thoughts, reactions and critiques. Here’s what they said. Continue reading →
Short and sweet. That’s what Philly rapper The Bul Bey thought when putting together his upcoming project, The Bul Bey EP. After releasing the 15-track Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies LP, Bey, who is known as Amir Richardson offstage, decided that he wanted to offer his fans something punchier, with a clearer and stronger impact.
On May 11, The Bul Bey hosted a listening party at a nondescript recording studio at Warehouse on Watts. The setting, simply dubbed Watts Studio, was very intimate, with no more than 30 people in the audience. Friends, fellow Philadelphia musicians such as Chill Moody and Dilemma were in attendance to hear the latest music from their peer.
Throughout the evening, Richardson welcomed all criticism and critique.“I believe that I have a lot of versatility as an artist,” he said. “I believe that I rap very well, but I also believe that I write very well, I also think that I present and perform very well. These are areas that I want to make sure are polished and presented properly.” Continue reading →
If you bring up the phrase ‘world music’ to people, they might think about bands from traditional societies playing traditional tunes while dressed in traditional garb. But it’s 2018 and that trope is stale and should be left in the dust. Like literally everything else in our modern and interconnected world, music and musicians don’t exist in a vacuum. And just because a band is from Nigeria or Indonesia or Ecuador shouldn’t mean that the only way for them to make a living elsewhere in the world is by playing traditional music.
Lucky Goat, an African-owned coffee shop in Brewerytown, is trying to change how these bands are perceived. In their ongoing music series Lucky Goat Presents, owners Toyin Ajayi Frankel and her husband Andrew Frankel are bringing bands from across the continent to Johnny Brenda’s. The series continues tonight with a show by Nigerian-born, London-based Eno Williams and her group Ibibio Sound Machine. The band’s bio says they are “a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West African funk, disco, and modern post-punk and electro” and the eight piece proves that correct over and over again on their most recent album, the Merge Records-released Uyai. Continue reading →
The numbers are chilling: 1,217 people in Philadelphia died following a drug overdose last year, according to the Department of Public Health. These figures have steadily increased over the past decade – they’re up 34% from just 2016 – leading to what is currently being described as an epidemic.
While it might be easy for those who aren’t dependent on opioids to ignore this crisis, users don’t exist in a vacuum. They are our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors and their plight is very much intertwined with ours. The arts and music scenes have historically been heavily affected by drug and alcohol abuse. This is also true today in Philadelphia, with numerous musicians and artists dying after overdoses just in the past couple years.
Because of stigma surrounding drug use, the conversation around how to prevent these tragedies is oftentimes muted. Sarah Kim is trying to change that. The artist and journalist has helped put together an event tonight at the Vox Populi art gallery that is both panel discussion and training for the overdose-reversal drug Narcan, as well as a concert featuring electronic acts Hero/Victim and Orion Sun.
Money raised at the door will go towards the local harm reduction organizations Project SAFE and Philadelphia Overdose Prevention Initiative (POPI). Continue reading →
On March 2nd, I sat in my bedroom talking with my partner Melissa. We both knew something was seriously wrong. For days, I had been suffering from an unruly headache, fatigue and flu-like symptoms. The scariest development was a sudden impairment in my ability to form sentences and speak. Testing me, Melissa asked me if I was excited to catch the premiere episode of Atlanta (it aired the night before). “Tell me about the show” she asked. I struggled. I tried to sound thoughtful and articulate my thoughts about how the show plays with non-linear narrative structure and surreal/absurdist humor. What came out of my mouth pretty much amounted to a barely-coherent mush. “We should go to the hospital,” she said. I agreed reluctantly. As we got up and made our way down the hallway, I detoured to the bathroom, vomiting, the violent force throwing me to the ground. The next thing I know, I was being placed in an ambulance and transported to the Hospital of the University of Penn.
The next two weeks were a jumbled mess of tubes, needles and INTENSE hallucinations. Much of the time between March 2nd and March 13th is unclear to me. The entire experience is either “augmented” by cartoonish hallucinations, or completely missing from my memory. I beatboxed and made up songs, imagined that the doctors were hatching elaborate conspiracies against me, saw and held conversations with friends who weren’t there. I had been diagnosed with a mycoplasmic infection that caused viral encephalitis, which essentially translates to inflammation on the brain. Basically, I had randomly caught a virus that attacked my brain and spine. After weeks of laying in the hospital, one of my lungs collapsed, I developed a blood clot and had lost the ability to walk.
Throughout this ordeal, I’ve had a few comforts. My mom, Jackie has been an indefatigable source of support and inspiration. She’s pretty much been camped out with me since I was first hospitalized. I’ve watched her push the limits of her own body and mind to help me heal and cope with this life-altering series of events. Along with Melissa, my Mother has cried with me, laughed with me, prayed with me and I’m certain that without the help of these Women, I doubt I would have survived.
Along with the love and comfort I received from my family, my partner, friends and comrades, through this ordeal, I’ve been finding solace in music. On Monday, April 2nd, I was transferred from the hospital to Good Shepherd Rehab Facility in South Philly. Much of my day is spent undergoing intensive physical therapy designed to strengthen my muscles, legs and ultimately relearn how to walk. Trying to occupy the long days, I’ve spent my downtime watching junk TV, visiting with friends and family and listening to music. My fam was kind enough to bring me my laptop. I’ve scrolled through Spotify, Youtube, FB, Twitter and my own personal music library to find songs that gave me solace, the same as I have my entire life. Music for when I’m sad, music to motivate me through the hours of exhausting physical therapy.
This playlist features some of the stuff I’ve been listening to for the past month or so. It’s a bit all over the place genre and mood-wise, an accurate reflection of the scattered way that I absorb music. Ranging from nostalgic favorites (Bahamadia’s “Spontaneity” and Mazarin’s “For Energy Infinite”) to staples in my DJ sets (Fela Kuti & Roy Ayers’ “Africa Centre of the World”), the songs on this playlist have been with me through this experience that has changed me profoundly. Continue reading →
There are so many Frank Zappas to consider that it’s often a struggle to focus on which one to pinpoint. Is he the man who lovingly crafted intricate and tender guitar solos from “Black Napkins” to “Inca Roads”?
Or the silly ribald humorist of “Titties and Beer” or “Bwana Dik”?
Or the high-minded composer behind “Lumpy Gravy” or “Orchestral Favorites”?
Or the psychedelic rocker and jazz-bo of “Freak Out” and “Hot Rats”?
What one can focus on, twenty five years after his death, is that innovative guitarist / composer / socio-political satirist / free expression activist Zappa is more crucial than ever (especially when you consider that the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer will soon get his own hologram treatment) and by, all accounts is having a busy spring by Philadelphia standards. Continue reading →
Before he made a beautifully understated suit-clad performance at the Oscars, before his Figure 8 album cover turned the mural at 4330 West Sunset Boulevard into a L.A. tourist destination, before he tragically died at age 34, Elliott Smith was a singer with an acoustic guitar and some beautifully sad songs, traveling the country and playing gigs.
In April of 1997, Smith was on an east coast run in support of Either / Or — an album which, along with his self titled record from 1995, are essential documents of his minimal, home-recorded Kill Rock Stars years — and the tour came through Princeton, New Jersey’s Terrace Club on April 12, 1997. Continue reading →