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The Skeleton Key: October is haunted with thrift store discos, horror flicks in cemeteries, and gigs from Swearin’ to Sun Ra Arkestra

Sun Ra Arkestra | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

“This year Halloween fell on a weekend and me and the Geto Boys were …” Wait a minute! Halloween isn’t on a weekend this year! But even when it falls on a Wednesday I’m still more excited for Halloween than just about any other day out of the year. It’s not just the special, yearly concerts – Dead Milkmen, Sun Ra Arkestra, all the cover shows happening around town – though that’s a huge part of it. Halloween is this huge celebration of the weird and the wonderful, an excuse to dress up and have fun and get real obsessed with ghosts. And there’s really no better city for Halloween than Philadelphia, which embraces the holiday the second the clock turns midnight on October 1st.

Welcome to the Skeleton Key, your monthly DIY calendar and column here in The Key. Let’s get spooky! Continue reading →

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A Very Gritty Playlist: What is Philadelphia’s favorite freak listening to?

Gritty the young bul

In an incredible dose of irony, the most unifying thing to emerge from this dumpster fire of a week is something that looks like it crawled out of an actual dumpster fire.

Gritty, the googley eyed dust mop you see above, went from being universally mocked upon his debut as the newest mascot in the NHL, to being universally memed by thousands of folks with Photoshop and free time, all the way to universally beloved — at least in his home city. I mean, the best donut shop in Philly is selling a limited edition Gritty glazed today, and a Bristol brewpub reportedly already has Gritty beer on tap (although, those familiar with the lengthy brewing process realize this is either opportunistic marketing of a beer already in the works, or something coordinated with the Flyers long before the announcement).

So many questions about this character. What is he, exactly? What are his recreational drug preferences? Does he have a good relationship with the city’s other dayglo colored fuzzy sports freak, the Phanatic? And here at The Key, we’ve been pondering a big one all week — what music does Gritty rock to? Continue reading →

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Experimentation, Empowerment, Connectedness: Talking with the SELTZER party founders about their first year of LGBT clubbing in West Philly

A Seltzer party in West Philly | photo by Evie Yui-Ha | @snaxho_ | courtesy of the artist

Sometime in the previous decade, Philadelphia’s underground LGBT / queer community stepped out of the pit and onto the dancefloor, oftentimes transforming those same basements and living rooms that nurtured punk rock and other alternative bands into clubs. Powered amps were lugged, turntables were plugged in, and mics were checked. Out of this explosion of banging beats, and with the influence of Philly’s groundbreaking vogue/ballroom scene, the eponymous “queer dance party” was born. Venues like Elena’s Soul and the Treehouse were West Philly staples, where DJ’s like Seltzer’s DJ Precolumbian carved out a musical identity for themselves despite the odds volleyed at marginalized people.

Seltzer is that new, new though; a roving party building on the legacy of queer involvement in house, techno, hip hop and dance music, injected with the raw, nervous energy of downtown ’80’s New York. As such, it’s more than a movement and difficult to pin down to one specific sound. Certainly, there is the ever-present vogue battle beats or the syncopated rhythm and bash of Philly / Jersey club blasting out of speakers. But its playlist is also informed by world music, EDM, and experimental music– like a Soundcloud autoplaying from a queer, utopian Cybertron. With this eclectic, yet culturally refined soundtrack, DJ Precolumbian, along with Bearcat and the whole Seltzer squad, are all set to push boundaries, move bodies, and foster community all at once. With their one-year anniversary party happening this weekend, we sat down with Precolumbian and got the entire dish on Seltzer and what these parties mean for the future of queer dance sounds in Philly and beyond. Continue reading →

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Watch Hole bring Celebrity Skin to the Electric Factory in May of 1999

Hole at the Electric Factory | still from video

Twenty years ago, grunge was long gone, hip-hop and corporate rock ruled the radio, and Alternative-era stars Hole realized that the only way through was to evolve. On September 8th, 1998, they released their excellent third LP, Celebrity Skin, an album of sunny Southern California pop that flew in the face of the overwhelmingly white male rock critic world who still wanted to pigeonhole Courtney Love and her bandmates in the “angry feminist” box.

Not that there weren’t elements of anger in the songs on Celebrity Skin, or despondency, or themes delivered from a feminist perspective. But they mixed with sardonic humor (the title track) shimmering earworm hooks (“Malibu,” “Awful”) and beautiful atmospherics (“Boys On The Radio”). Even though Hole was always a group with complexity, here they fully owned those complexities and the result was the best album of their career. Continue reading →

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Listen to Get Better Records talk running a DIY label on the Razorcake Podcast

Ally Einbinder and Alex Licktenhour of Get Better Records | photo via razorcake.org

Alex Licktenhour and Ally Einbinder of Philly / San Francisco punk label Get Better Records showed up on the latest episode of the Razorcake Podcast to play some tracks, and between sets, discuss the operations of their label and the bands they work with. Get Better Records works to represent Philly’s queer arts community, primarily focusing on punk, hardcore, and experimental music in the DIY scene. Some of the artists they have worked with include Sheer Mag, HIRS, Thin Lips, Among Giants, and Cayetana, among others. Listen to the full podcast below. Continue reading →

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Local artists inspire Philadelphia’s youth at Aspiring Young Artists

Aspiring Young Artist | photo by Richard Sanders | courtesy of Aspiring Young Artists

The city of Philadelphia has a very incredibly vibrant music scene and a rich music history that spans genres. But imagine if those two intangible things could become more of a direct resource for the adolescents of the city who are in school and have a passion for creating music. That’s where Aspiring Young Artists steps in.

While most schools can only advocate for more funding so they don’t have to make really hard choices, like cutting out art programs because of lack of funds, AYA cuts out the middle man and connects North Philadelphia students from schools like Youth Build Philadelphia, Kensington CAPA and Olney Charter High School with local artists who teach them how to compose their own music and expose them to the beautiful things that are happening in their hometown’s music scene.

Recently I was able to sit with AYA’s founder Ricky Strickler about how the music programs and the local artists that lead them have made an impact on its students. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Dancehall reggae from Jamaica, psych noise from Italy, post-punk from England…September has you covered!

Hurry Up! | photo via R5 Productions

It’s unreal just how much is happening in Philly this month. I know, I know: I say that every column. But it’s true! Never forget how lucky we are to be living in this great city that has so much going on every single night. Welcome to the September edition of the Skeleton Key. From space rock at PhilaMOCA to Mexican Independence Day at Penn’s Landing to all kinds of punk: we’ve got you covered. Continue reading →

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Listen to Jeff Zeigler discuss creating in the Philly scene on the 25 O’Clock Podcast

Jeff Zeigler
Jeff Zeigler at Boot and Saddle | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Philly musician and record producer Jeff Zeigler is the founder of studio Uniform Recording and has worked with a wide range of Philly artists over the past decade and a half: War On Drugs, Kurt Vile, and Steve Gunn, among others. In the latest episode of Philly podcast 25 O’Clock, host Dan Drago talks to Zeigler about his New Jersey roots, getting started as a sound engineer on the Philly music scene, his work making records and creating his own music, and what it’s like collaborating with other talented musicians in Philly. Continue reading →

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Volunteer Powered: Meet the people behind the scenes that make Philadelphia Folk Fest happen

Philadelphia Folk Festival | photo by Lisa Schaffer | SkylerBug.com

There’s a lot of things that make the Philadelphia Folk Festival one-of-a-kind. It’s not just that it’s the longest continuously-run outdoor festival in North America, having just completed its 57th year. It’s not just the lineup, which manages to be both entertaining but also diverse and interesting. It’s not even that it’s the first outdoor festival in the United States to take the Keychange pledge to achieve performer gender parity.

In fact, the festival has in many ways transcended the music by creating a community, a family really, that gets together for a few days out of the year to camp, catch up, and watch bands play on the stages and in the campsite. It’s within that group of festival diehards and excited newcomers that you find what truly makes Folk Fest unique: the more than 2,000 volunteers that serve as the backbone for this annual undertaking. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Noah Selwyn of Agent Zero

Agent Zero | 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.

About eight years ago, Noah Selwyn began creating electronic music in his studies at The Community College of Philadelphia.

Since that time, the producer’s been advancing Philly’s homegrown dubstep and house scene, as he reimagines traditional EDM with a pop edge and his steady crew of live instruments, and evolves his studio- and stagecraft under nom-de-plume Agent Zero.

In May, Agent Zero released The Awakening, and has been playing a heavy roster of local appearances this summer with a live band — one we got to see in action during their Key Studio Session earlier this year. They just performed at the SENSORiUM Music & Arts Festival at Fishtown’s Ukie Club, and this weekend, they trek up to Northeastern Pennsylvania for the Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival.

This conversation with Selwyn took place a couple years back in Philadelphia’s Boom Room Studios, where the ambitious producer had recently taken up residence as an in-house engineer and producer.

Continue reading →