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From Punk Shows to a Pressing Factory: Federico Casanova’s journey to Soft Wax, Philly’s new vinyl plant

Soft Wax Record Pressing | photo by Lissa Alicia for WXPN

Federico Casanova is a first-generation American. Like many kids, he grew up surrounded by music. Before his parents came to the U.S, Casonova’s father hosted a weekly specialty radio show in the Dominican Republic called The Lonely Hearts Club where he would obsess over the music and mythology of Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr songbook.

“My father was a radio DJ back in the Dominican Republic,” Casanova recalls. “He had a show that aired every Sunday for two hours … and he would talk about everything that had to do with The Beatles and the music scene in the DR. My dad had a pretty tight record collection, I always messed with them when I was a git. He didn’t really play any instruments, but he was a huge appreciator of music and so it sort of just rubbed off onto my brothers and I.”.

After his family came to the U.S., Casanova and his brothers came of age in Miami’s vibrant DIY punk scene. Eventually, Casanova would branch out and join his brothers in a move to Philadelphia. Living in a collective house, Casanova and his brothers built up a lifetime of experience playing in bands, booking house shows tours and building community. The punk scene had lit the creative fire in him, but it would be his acknowledgment of a need in that music scene that would lead him down a new path. Continue reading →

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Scenes from the first Khyber show in almost a decade

Radiator Hospital | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN

On a low-key Sunday night, Sam Cook-Parrott of Philly indie faves Radiator Hospital stepped the stage on the second floor of Old City’s Khyber Pass Pub, marking the first public concert that’s happened in the storied space in almost a decade.

From the late 80s to the late aughties, The Khyber had a fruitful run as the indie rock hangout in Philadelphia — check out a calendar from the archives here. But as Philly’s showgoing habits shifted towards Fishtown and South Philly, the venue had a hard time keeping up, and its main room closed in 2009. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: From the first show back at The Khyber to one of the last shows at 1026, we’ve got you coming and going for the rest of this packed July

Soul Glo | photo by Yoni Kroll

Hello Philadelphia! By the time you read this I will most likely be back home but right now I’m in the back of a van hurtling between DIY venues across the Midwest. My band embarked on our first ever tour in the last week of June and I’ve never eaten more fast-food in my life.

Tour is funny because while you might play to literally only the other bands one night — including one group of guys who when they were also only performing in front of other musicians still made it a point to tell everyone there to “stick around for the other bands” — the next night you can play to a crowded room of moshing Midwestern teenagers. Oh, and I was interviewed by someone, which as a journalist is a completely bizarre experience. All in all, no complaints.

But you’re not here for the tour tips. You don’t care where to get a bite to eat before playing the Trumbullplex in Detroit, though if you did I’d recommend Pie Sci right down the street for those massive Detroit square pies that are almost as good as what you’d get at Pizza Gutt up in Fishtown. No, what you want is the Philadelphia calendar listings and some good DIY news and gossip. I got you. Let’s go! Continue reading →

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My Wave: Watch Soundgarden perform at Bethlehem’s Stabler Arena in June of 1994

Soundgarden at Stabler Arena | still from video

As with many artists whose roots lie in underground culture and grow to reach the masses, you can essentially divide Soundgarden‘s career into two halves: pre-“Black Hole Sun” and post.

That’s not to say that the Seattle rock icons didn’t have a robust discography and a dedicated fan base prior to the spring 1994 release of their fourth LP, Superunknown. They’d been a band for ten years; they’d been a major label band for half of that time, following the jump to A&M on 1989’s Louder than Love. They had passionate followers and a rep for a killer live show. What they didn’t have was a song, or songs, that cut through the frenzied noise of MTV and alternative radio.

Even though 1991’s Badmotorfinger boasted classics like “Outshined” (which peaked at 45 on the Billboard rock charts) and “Rusty Cage” (re-popularized in a Johnny Cash cover two years later), the album had the misfortune of being released on the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind and performing not exactly as well. It was embraced by critics, and the industry to a degree, but it didn’t have a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” propelling it, and nobody quite knew how to categorize these four hairy dudes from the Pacific Northwest; the following year at the Grammy awards, they were confusingly nominated for “Best Metal Performance.”

Three years later, Soundgarden finally did connect in that bigger way. MTV and alt-rock were bigger than ever, and the band’s flirtation with heavy psychedelia on Superunknown made their sound incredibly alluring, as well as a bit less intimidating. “Black Hole Sun” dropped as a single in May of that year, and was the third to get the push from the record that had been out since March. Thanks to a dreamy slide guitar lead by Kim Thayil, a hammering hook, and a super weird, apocalyptic music video that was equal parts funny and disturbing, the song was beloved in the alternative world, and pushed the band well beyond it as well, into the collective consciousness of casual listeners and heads alike. “Black Hole Sun” was Soundgarden’s first number one on the Billboard Rock Charts, but was a slow burn over the course of five months.

When Soundgarden played Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Stabler Arena on June 24th, 1994, their wave was just beginning to hit its crest. Continue reading →

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Listen to West Philly Porchfest performances via the 25 O’Clock podcast

Porchfest | photo by Dan Drago | via instagram.com/25OClockPod

The West Philly Porchfest took place this past Saturday, June 8th with a full turnout of both musicians and spectators. In case you aren’t familiar, Porchfest is an annual do-it-yourself music festival where musicians of all kinds play free shows on their porches in West Philadelphia. It was created by residents of the neighborhood four years ago to showcase the diverse music and culture within their community. It gives Philadelphians the unique opportunity to listen to live bluegrass, jazz, rap, indie, and everything in between — all within blocks of one another. Continue reading →

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Two to Tango: Mark Volman of The Turtles and Susan Cowsill of The Cowsills discuss the 10th Anniversary of the weird Happy Together tour

The Turtles (left) and The Cowsills | photo courtesy of the Happy Together tour

Despite each act’s sunshiny harmonies and quirkily humorous lyrical eclat, there’s definitely something wonderfully weird about The Turtles and The Cowsills, two of the groups on Flo & Eddie’s Happy Together tour of pop-psychedelic 60s acts, now celebrating its 10th anniversary at the Keswick on June 19.

While Flo & Eddie are renowned for time collaborating with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention during that mad ensemble’s most conceptual period (e.g. the “Billy the Mountain” song cycle), The Cowsills were the initial inspiration for ABC Television’s The Partridge Family, but were too odd a lot, gangly and pimply to be Hollywood stars.

Though any conversation with Mark Volman and Susan Cowsill, alone, could go a million different ways and tackle a million unique subjects, this Two to Tango interview focused on the relationship between The Turtles and The Cowsills, past and present, and in connection to the gathering of minds that is the decade-long Happy Together. Continue reading →

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Music Auxiliary Support: Listen to Kristen and Paige of Cherry-Veen Zine guest DJ on XPN Local

Paige Walter and Kristen Levine of Cherry-Veen Zine at WXPN | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A few years ago, Kristen Levine watched The Punk Singer, the 2013 documentary on Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna and the riot grrrl movement she helped propel from the Pacific Northwest scene to the national spotlight. It wasn’t just a movement about music, though. It was about art, it was about feminism, it was about independence and DIY — doing things by yourself, for yourself, and answering to no one.

Levine was inspired, and channeled that energy into Cherry-Veen Zine, a Philly music scene chapbook she began publishing in the spirit of the zine-makers she saw in The Punk Singer. Fleshed out with the work of graphic designer Laura Cherry, an initial run of six limited-edition issues popped up at places around Philly throughout 2016 — Milkcrate, Johnny Brenda’s, Steep & Grind, and Rocket Cat (RIP) — with lots of social media activity like gig photos and playlists filling the space between one print edition and the next.

But early 2017, however, the independent publishing grind had taken a toll on Levine, and she left Philly to spend a year in York, Pennsylvania. When she returned last year, she met Paige Walter — a Pittsburgh transplant with a background in education and journalism — and Cherry-Veen Zine was re-invigorated.

Last weekend, Issue 9 hit the streets, and on Tuesday night, Levine and Walter appeared on the WXPN Local show for a guest DJ set spotlighting their favorite Philadelphia artists — corey flood to Barney Cortez, Blushed to Pine Barons — and talk about their mission. Continue reading →

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Seven bands from the Philly DIY underground you need to hear right now (2019 edition!)

Pit Hair | photo by Gabe Coffey | courtesy of the artist

Covered in debris from dust-strewn practice spaces, tucked into dank basements where the drum kit competes for space with old rusting washing machines the landlord refuses to repair or throw out, huddled together under bridges or in struggling speak-easys with one speaker sound systems — it’s Philadelphia punk rock, a movement informed not only by the DIY community at large — a sprawling network of zines (they still exist), record labels, show spaces, and resources that wild youth and curmudgeonly old crusties have tapped into for decades — but also by wack shit like the city’s raging stop-and-frisk laws, the constant assault of rapid gentrification that feels inevitable, and a tumultuous, strange push-pull that has existed within the context of the punk, hardcore and activist/art scenes in a city that still feels reverberations from the MOVE bombing. To say that Philly’s punk rock community has a tenuous relationship with the city is an overstatement.

But more and more, people who exist outside of the margins, not just because they wear all-black or have pink mohawks, but because of who they are, are finding the resources to get involved, and the cultural texture of the city is richer for it. We’re a city that has been home to Break Free Fest — a musical event highlighting bands who feature Black and Brown musicians screaming their brains out, an event that happens this Saturday and Sunday at The Rotunda. We’re a city that, before Break Free, was home to Rockers, a recurring event that for more than a decade sought to do the same. Continue reading →