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Reclaiming Alternative: Why Don Giovanni’s festival is what the music world needs right now

Pinkwash
Pinkwash | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Joe Steinhardt doesn’t mince words. The way he sees it, music festivals are destroying music.

“What I’ll dub the festival industrial complex is the antithesis of what music culture – of what culture – really is,” says the co-founder of the New Brunswick, NJ based punk label Don Giovanni Records.

“It’s basically a bunch of corporate sponsors and corporate bands being shuffled around through a couple booking agencies,” he says. “And that’s why you’ll see, every city, every festival has the same lineup. It’s sort of feels like what happened with radio. Clear Channel bought up all the stations and radio feels the same everywhere. ‘Look at all these local festivals!’ But it’s the same goddam bands playing every one, right?”

Steinhardt thinks there can and should be another way. This weekend, the New Alternative Music Festival kicks off at Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey. A stacked lineup of DIY favorites will play the venue over the course of two days, with after-parties at Asbury Park Yacht Club and Angosta Lounge.

Appearing are indie scene heavy-hitters: Friday night’s bill is led by Screaming Females, Ought and a reunion of P.S. Eliot (the original project of sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Swearin’); on Saturday, Downtown Boys, Girlpool and Laura Stevenson cap off the event. Numerous Philly-regional acts are in the mix as well: Pinkwash, Trophy Wife, Moor Mother, Radiator Hospital.

Most notably: there are no corporate sponsorships. No stages “powered by” such-and-such energy drink. No car company logos on Snapchat filters and merch booths. Steinhardt’s goal was to create a true alternative to the corporate megafestival that has, over the past decade, come to dominate how fans experience live music — and how musicians make their living. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Hardwork Movement at Boot and Saddle, The Bigness and Liz De Lise at Ortlieb’s, Diet Cig at The Chameleon Club

Hardwork Movement
Hardwork Movement | Photo by Zack Garlitos | courtesy of the artist

Philadelphia born alternative hip-hop group Hardwork Movement is sure to draw a crowd tonight at South Philly’s Boot and Saddle. The group promotes the importance of togetherness and striving for uniqueness. Hardwork Movement draws increasingly larger crowds each show they play, from venues like Kung Fu Necktie to Spruce Street Harbor Park. With fellow hip-hop inspired openers Ill Doots and TubaFresh, this is not a gig to miss. Get tickets and more information at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: G. Love

G. Love | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
G. Love | 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.

We seem to be enjoying a bit of a 90s renaissance lately. A bill full of 90s headliners sold out The Fillmore in Philadelphia two weeks ago, and last week another Clinton addressed a Philly-hosted national convention. An “I Love The 90’s” Festival featuring Salt-n-Pepa, Vanilla Ice and Color Me Badd hit BB&T last week. The revival is afoot.

Most of Philly’s Gen X-ers will remember that era of the city’s cultural history with a special reverie, and listening to Garrett Dutton reflect on those years in anecdotes is sure to evoke nostalgia for anyone who was there.

In a candid interview held backstage at his Fillmore show earlier this year, the man known as G. Love talks sentimentally about his days tagging walls and playing street corners and cafes, about basketball and the neighborhoods he called home. He recounts first recognizing the potential of integrating elements of blues rock and hip hop to develop his signature sound. He doesn’t pull punches, either, about the frustrations he faced as a recording artist, with open rebuke for the elements of media or local industry that from his perspective offered paltry support.

While Dutton is known best for the hits that drove his early following, his latest records and performances show an artist still evolving. Last October, G. Love and Special Sauce released their latest record Love Saves The Day, a collection of blues rock tracks including collaborations with the likes of Lucinda Williams and Los Lobos vocalist David Hidalgo.

Speaking of that 90s revival, though, mark your calendars: G. Love plays the Mann with Blues Traveler and The Wallflowers on August 21st. Tickets and more information on that show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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Farewell, ROCKERS: Reflections as a vital scene showcase comes to an end

ROCKERS | Photo by D1L0 | courtesy of the artist
ROCKERS | Photo by D1L0 | courtesy of the artist

“M​ost nights were fueled by whiskey, cigarettes, and caffeine and it sounded like a fight between hip-hop, punk rock and the blues” ​- songwriter / guitarist Joe Jordan

For over a decade, ROCKERS has held down its spot as the city of Philadelphia’s only event dedicated to showcasing punk, metal and hard rock bands fronted by women and queer musicians of color. Throughout its 10-year history, it has acted as an incubator for some of the city’s weirdest and most unique underground rock acts while creating a space of free expression for it’s performers and audiences – comprised largely of black and brown women performers and audiences.

These ROCKERD nights, all helmed by the event’s longtime host, the charismatic and confrontational poet and performance artist St. Skribbly LaCroix, laid a powerful, long lasting foundation. But on August 3rd, the series will be coming to an end. It’s a move the event’s founders Camae Defstar (aka Moor Mother) and Rebecca Roe have been contemplating since Roe moved to California last year with LaCroix and Defstar took the reins as the primary organizer. In the past year, Defstar’s profile as a performer and sound-artist has increased internationally as well, via her Moor Mother project and her work with the Black Quantum Futurism collective. When asked why the duo made the decision to end such a beloved Philly institution, Defstar states plainly that “ROCKERS is ending because it’s completed it’s mission.” By taking the initiative to create a space for black punks and metal kids to rock out freely, without judgement, while nurturing and empowering countless bands and influencing the city’s new generation of artists and activists, ROCKERS leaves behind a legacy that embodies punk’s DIY spirit. Without question, the event will go down as one of the city’s most unique live music nights — loud, roaring guitars, a packed, sweaty room and dreads swinging in the moshpit. Continue reading →

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Here’s what was happening at The Khyber 24 years ago this month

Pavement
Pavement in front of the Khyber Pass | photo from the Spiral Stairs archives | courtesy of the artist

Before it was a delicious and cozy Old City gastropub, The Khyber Pass was a dingy and vaguely frightening Philly rock dive. Actually, no: it was the dingy and vaguely frightening Philly rock dive.

In the early aughties, when I started covering the music scene, The Khyber was an essential hang for indie rock heads and live music lovers in general. Many drunken nights were had there, green Yeungling empties lining up on the tables and stomped-out cigarette butts collecting on the ground. Oh, the cigarette butts. When Philadelphia banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2008, and I left a gig for the first time not reeking like an ashtry, with no musty coat to contend with the next day, my mind was effectively blown. We used to live like this? I wondered. We used to go hoarse from smoke and liquor and screaming? But of course we did. Because music. Continue reading →

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Why is The War on Drugs’ Anthony LaMarca selling his guitar?

Anthony LaMarca | photo by Lisa Businovski | courtesy of the artist
Anthony LaMarca | photo by Lisa Businovski | courtesy of the artist

Many musicians scan the likes of Craigslist on a daily basis, seeing what kinds of instruments and gear pop up around their city. For musicians in the Youngstown, Ohio, area, one 1969 Fender Jaguar stands out. And it’s not just because of it’s worn, vintage beauty.

It’s because it belongs to War on Drugs guitarist/keyboardist Anthony LaMarca. LaMarca plans to donate all of the money received from the guitar to those affected by Multiple Myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer that he has been receiving treatment for. The idea to donate his own possessions came from a chance phone call he received. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Nikki Jean

Nikki Jean | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Nikki Jean | 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.

Few young artists will have the thrill of being asked by one of the Roots Crew to play in his band, only to find herself a short time later singing her songs on a national platform, touring with Kanye and Rihanna, and composing with the likes of Motown’s Lamont Dozier, Carole King, and The Bard himself.

Nikki Jean has had the sort of musical career that might be considered by most counts the stuff of fairy tale. She’s worked with everyone from Dice Raw to Dylan, and although her discography may be short, the collaborations read like a Who’s Who of rock and rap icons. And although her gorgeous voice may be the first thing you notice about her music, her skill and talent as a songwriter shine no less brightly on her work to date, from her acclaimed 2011 debut Pennies In A Jar to the dark comedy of 2014’s “Take You Out.”

Although she’s since relocated to LA, Nikki reports in from sunny Southern California for a short-and-sweet Q&A to spotlight her memories of her time in Philly, featuring this set of photos that were shot back when Philly was home. Continue reading →

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Listen to Lou Reed perform at The Mann 30 years ago today

Lou Reed | photo by Ebet Roberts | via Rolling Stone

The poet laureate of rock and roll debauchery, Lou Reed, had a spectacular run of solo records across the 70s and into the 80s. Some critics argue that that streak ended 30 years ago this May, when Reed released Mistrial – an album recorded with a new group of players and laced with 80s production gloss and drum machine rhythms.

Whatever your take on the record is, the crowd at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts sounded positively pumped to hear Reed play in this recording of a Philly concert from 30 years ago today. Joining him are Fernando Saunders on bass, J.T. Lewis on Drums, Eddi Martinez on guitar, Rick Bell on sax and Woody Smallwood on keys, and the band works its way through seven out of Mistrial‘s 10 songs – the funky “Video Violence” sounds particularly indebted to the Talking Heads. Continue reading →

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Get a piece of CAKE, a photo zine by Caitlin McCann starring The Districts and Sun Club

from Cake | photo by Caitlin McCann | courtesy of the artist
from Cake | photo by Caitlin McCann | courtesy of the artist

If you don’t know Caitlin McCann yet, you should. The Philadelphia photographer has been making a name for herself with music videos and portraits of artists near and dear to the Philly scene, from Pine Barons to TJ Kong. Her latest project is CAKE, a large format, 60-page zine consisting of photos from The Districts / Sun Club US tour.

“It’s all sorts of sticky and sweaty and boozy,” McCann tells us. “But you won’t find any live music photos in the pages.” Continue reading →

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Foggy Notions: Philly artist Sonia Petruse on honoring Ryan Adams in drag

Sonia as Ryan | Photo by Laura Stock | courtesy of the artist
Sonia as Ryan | Photo by Laura Storck | courtesy of the artist

Sonia Petruse remembers exactly where she was the first time she listened to Ryan Adams. Like really, really listened to him.

She was familiar with the album 2001 Gold, of course, and its ubiquitous hit “New York, New York.” She remembered the song being paraded around patriotically in the months after 9-11, and hearing stories about how the songwriter wasn’t keen about its point being misconstrued.

But it was 2004 when the music really kicked in. She was 18, driving around her hometown of Leighton, Pennsylvania with a motley group of teenagers. They were in a small car, an old two-door BMW, and it was crammed to the gills. She sat on a friend’s lap. People were stoned. And “Dear Chicago” from the Demolition album came on the car stereo. Continue reading →