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Watch Phife Dawg rock a Ricky Watters jersey onstage at Penn’s Annenberg Center with A Tribe Called Quest

Q-Tip and Phife Dawg onstage at Penn's Annenberg Center | still from video
Q-Tip and Phife Dawg onstage at Penn’s Annenberg Center | still from video

The thing about hip-hop icons A Tribe Called Quest — they were purists all the way, coming up during the three-MCs-and-a-DJ era, and that’s how they always brought their show to the stage. Even when their sound evolved beyond its sampledelic beginnings, even when original arrangements and instrumentation became part of their records, the live show always remained true to the classic hip-hop form.

Certainly, in nightclub settings, this rocked the freaking house; as the venues got bigger, though, results were more mixed. As much as the 90s were a golden era of hip-hop, and Tribe was very much a band responsible for breaking down the barriers of genre to reach bigger audiences, mainstream promoters and show producers were still very much confused by it as a live art, clearly didn’t know what the heck what to do with it in big rooms — which is why my two encounters with the band in its heyday were very mixed.

Seeing them open for the Beastie Boys at the First Union Center in 1998, their mix pumped through the massive and reverberant arena without much in the way of sonic reinforcement; their performance was live as hell, but from the stands it sounded like Tribe was lost in a cavern. Playing the Vet for Temple’s football homecoming that fall, they only got a couple songs in before the performance got called.

However, this video I came across today — as I reflect on the anniversary of Malik Isaac “Phife Dawg” Taylor’s passing — sits more comfortably on rock-the-house side of things. It was April 18th, 1997, and the band was playing the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a pretty spacious room, and you can hear the booming mix trying to find its proper space within the walls. Q-Tip mentions mic problems throughout the set, and even freestyles about the topic at one point. But once DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad finds his sonic groove — I’d put this at about the 8 minute and 20 second mark, a remarkable transition from “Buggin’ Out” into “Oh My God” — it’s truly OMG amazing.  Continue reading →

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Support a more inclusive scene with No Gatekeepers, the 2016 First Time’s the Charm compilation

Whipworm | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Whipworm | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

As superb and awesome as Philly’s music scene is, one aspect that remains not-so-hot is the lack of diversity. With so many prominently acts made up of white, straight men, it can be difficult for women, artists of color, and members of the LBGTQ community to feel included and respected. So how to combat this aura of exclusivity, might you inquire? Inclusiveness and active representation for days, that’s how. Enter: First Times the Charm. This event of greatness, founded in 2013 and reprised in 2016, is a two-night festival at PhilaMOCA that celebrates and jams out to new bands with underrepresented members — all of whom are playing their first show.

We’re big fans of First Time’s The Charm — having discovered locals like Marge and Littler from the first edition of the festival — so last year, The Key teamed up with both the organization as well as our compatriots at Folkadelphia to record 15 out of the 20 bands who performed at FTTC 2016. The resulting compilation was just released on Bandcamp as No Gatekeepers: First Time’s The Charm 2016 and includes Aster More, Taxes, Dumb Hair, Heretrix, Whipwrom and Joyful Exit, the songs range from gritty and loud, to soft and melodic, to quirky and refreshingly unexpected. Continue reading →

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Watch Chuck Berry jam with John Lennon on the Mike Douglas show in 1972

Chuck Berry and John Lennon on the Mike Douglas show in 1972

Yesterday we were saddened to hear the news that rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry passed away. Today, we bring you a local memory of him, in video form.

In February, 1972, John Lennon and Yoko One were invited to guest host the Mike Douglas Show in Philadelphia for a week, and they brought on Berry as  a guest. Douglas was an afternoon television talk show host; at the time, he taped in Philly at the KYW studios at 1619 Walnut Street. Lennon, with Ono and their band, backed Berry for two songs, “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and sat for an interview with Douglas together.

“If you had tried to try and give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” Lennon said in his intro to the legend.

Seated in the audience at this performance was XPN midday host Helen Leicht, who worked in the production department at KYW TV at the time — you can see her clapping along to “Johnny B. Goode” beginning at the 10:48 mark. Continue reading →

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Celebrate and support badass music ladies at Pussy Claps Back event

Jacqueline Constance | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about two things: ice cream and badass women being awesome and making changes in the music world. So when I see events like Pussy Claps Back: Celebrating Philadelphia Femmes in the Arts, I get pretty pumped.

The killer event will take place at Johnny Brenda’s this Thursday, March 16th, with all door sales benefitting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA and Girls Rock Philly. Throughout the night, there will be DJ sets featuring Natasha Diggs (of Soul in the Horn,) The Akasha, Baby dot com, and Aura (of Sofistafunk.) Also performing are artists Coco Mamba, Jacqueline Constance, and Queen Jo. Continue reading →

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Community and Eclecticism: Philly gig promoters All Mutable on making an inclusive, daring scene

Chicago-based footwork dance originator RP Boo plays an All Mutable show on March 4th | photo via facebook.com/Arpebu.Inc

As improbable a feat as this may seem, the still wet from the womb music promotions collective All Mutable has burned itself into the psyche of the Philly music scene with their daring vision of community and eclecticism. Even more improbable, they’ve managed to become one of the few promoters who force me– your friendly, neighborhood musical curmudgeon– to instantly smash “going” on all of the squad’s Facebook solicits even when I’m wildly unfamiliar with the bands they’re offering. Theirs is the ability to cultivate a strange, impossible oasis of color and sound within a sometimes diversity-barren landscape of independent DIY music.

While the group were all friends and music collaborators in various bands first– Jazz Adam from New York City, Nicki Duval from Connecticut, and Robin Meeker-Cummings from West Philadelphia (born and raised, naturally)– it is together with All Mutable that their true talents have reach an apex. While their roots are in experimental and noise music (and that aesthetic still rings true even as they expand), they’ve hosted raging punk noise outfits like Pinkwash, edgy afro-accoustic post-punk like Daphne, and minimalist drum and noise outfits like NAH under their umbrella and miraculously they’ve avoided any cross-genre clashing, eschewing the 10th grade mix CD model and have taken an approach that speaks more to the deliberate nature of their intention: freeing up class modalities and pushing forward with a futurist vision that is inclusive and liberating.

We sat down with the All Mutable squad for insight into their process, the origins of their name, and the future of DIY indie music Philadelphia and beyond. Continue reading →

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Sounds of Psychedelphia, Part One: The spark of the 60s and 70s

The Nazz, photographed for the cover of their 1968 single “Open My Eyes”

Sounds of Psychedelphia is a three-part series exploring the history of psychedelic rock in Philadelphia. this month, we begin by studying the scene’s origins in the late 60s and early 70s.

Contrary to popular belief, the psychedelic rock explosion of the late ’60 was not confined to the major west coast cities San Francisco and Los Angeles. Virtually no American city went untouched by the musical and social revolution that blossomed out of California. During this time, a number of rich and diverse psychedelic rock scenes cropped up in cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit — and in even smaller markets such as Orlando and Seattle. The teenaged garage bands of the early to mid 60s were growing up, some were going off to college, many were experimenting with new drugs and new sounds.

Fast forward to 1972, Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman collaborated with Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye to create Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968. The first compilation of its kind, Nuggets paved the way for an entire subculture of dedicated music fans, would-be scholars and rare record collectors who would spend the next four decades uncovering countless relics of the psychedelic era from cities throughout the country and around the world. It is through the work of these collectors and archivists that we have come to a clear understanding that the psychedelic rock explosion not only impacted the U.S. but was a truly global cultural explosion scenes popping up in South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, each taking their cue from the bands in the states.

Unsurprisingly, Philadelphia’s psychedelic rock scene was particularly strong during this time. With a long history as an established music industry town, and a healthy amount of local bands as well as venues that paired local artists with touring national acts of the time, Philadelphia’s scene flourished. In the decades following the 1960s, the psychedelic aesthetic has survived on in rock’s lexicon. In many ways, the spirit of the musical experiments of the 60s continues today and the city still hosts a diverse cadre of bands playing sounds that influenced by the 60s psych rock explosion. In this series we will focus on on three periods in which Philadelphia’s psych-rock scene was particularly strong: The initial 60s spark, the “Psychedelphia” scene of 1990s and rounding it out by taking a look at how the city’s scene has developed from the 2000s until today. Continue reading →

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Just Announced: Porchfest returns to West Philly this June

Porchfest
Porchfest organizers Owen Lyman-Schmidt, Ross Hoffman and Abe Taber in West Philadelphia | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Get your porches ready, people, because Porchfest is making a grand return to West Philly this summer on Saturday, June 3rd.

Porchfest organizer, Owen Lyman-Schmidt, first learned about the event concept when he accidentally took part in one in Massachusetts (for the full back story, click here.) After experiencing the incredible and lively community atmosphere, Lyman-Schmidt and his co-organizers knew they had to bring Porchfest to Philly.

As predicted, West Philly’s diverse, culture-rich neighborhoods provided the perfect landscape for Porchfest to thrive–and helped make 2016’s inaugural event a success.  With one year under wraps, this second installment of Porchfest is sure to be bigger and even more jam-packed (pun most definitely intended.) Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Bahamadia

Bahamadia | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Bahamadia | 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.

Philly’s contributions to hip hop stretch back to the roots of the form, but few artists manage to become icons of the elements of style and with an impact and influence as far-reaching as our own Bahamadia.

Having gotten her start as a DJ in the 80s, Bahamadia had the opportunity to hone her craft right in the cultural crucible of a small Southwest-Philly-based production studio — an unassuming outfit that helped train and produce the likes of KRS-One and Boyz II Men. By 1993, Bahamadia debuted her unique brand of steady, potent cadence with her first hit single, “Funk Vibe,” and with championship from Gang Starr and The Roots crew moved on more hit records, and collaborations with the likes of Talib Kweli, Morcheeba, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill.

Here, Bahamadia talks candidly about the early days in the gauntlet of underground performances, and about grateful and proud she is to be a Philly artist. She’s paying it back to her community, too, working now with disenfranchised kids from her neighborhood.

And as an artist who describes herself as “built to do what I do,” Bahamadia is still touring, still working on new music, still entertaining all the requests from fans for deliveries of her catalog of hits. “They always wanna hear it that traditional way,” she marveled, with a chuckle, “they don’t wanna hear you remixin’, they wanna hear it just like the record every night.” She observes of her fans, “people process and interpret things way different than you do! You just give your interpretation for how you internalize and express things, but somebody writes a lyric, and your supporters will come up to you like ‘yo! When you said that it touched my soul!,’ and that gives me more insight! And then I think too as you grow as an artist and as an individual, the lyrics mean something totally different than they did when you first created them.”

“It’s the illest thing, but that happens a lot.” She adds, “It’s cool, ‘cause it keeps the conversation going.”

Continue reading →

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Jam to Soft Idiot’s genre-mashing track, “Love Like”

Soft Idiot | via softidiot.bandcamp.com

Philly four-piece Soft Idiot released a teaser for their new album, stillborn, and let me tell ya, I’m hooked. The impeccably-named band’s teaser includes two tracks, including “Brother Part I” and “Love Like.”

The latter is the newest release from the album, and is an amalgamation of all kinds of awesome.  I love when songs surprise me, and oh boy did this song surprise me. The track begins in folk punk, singer-songwriter fashion, but then quickly builds into a wopping smorgasbord of different genres. A sweet banjo riff incites a bluegrass feel, only then to be matched by the addition of some psych synth. Then, about half-way through, searing amps and layers of guttural shouts take over, which abruptly fade into a spooky 80s synth send off.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: that’s a lot of different things going on right there. But trust me, all of this actually works together so well. It makes you question why punk-folk-screamo-Americana-synth isn’t already an established genre.  By the end of the song, you’ll be left blinking “what kind of strange beauty did I just stumble upon?” And you will never see the world the same again. Continue reading →

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Dare to be Different: The importance of Philly’s WDRE, 20 years later

WDRE staff and fans, circa 1997 | stills from video by Andrea Corbi Fein
WDRE staff and fans, circa 1997 | stills from video by Andrea Corbi Fein

Preston Elliot had starry-eyed expectations as he drove to Philadelphia in 1995. He was on his way to a new gig as afternoon host at an alternative rock radio station, a format he was very excited to transition into; it was also his first radio job in a major market after several years of hosting top 40 in St. Louis. Visions of an immaculate production studio with big, shiny, state-of-the-art equipment and all the comforts of a big city kept him excited on the 18-hour trip.

And then he got to WDRE.

The station was coming out of a bumpy three years at 103.9 FM on the Philadelphia airwaves, mixing various degrees of local hosting with a simulcast from a parent station in Long Island. It had recently re-established itself with an all-local airstaff broadcasting out of a studio in a Jenkintown office park. A studio that, to put it mildly, was rough around the edges.

“I walked in, and Bret Hamilton was on the air,” remembers Elliot . “He saw the look on my face, we exchanged pleasantries. And then he said ‘Yeah, I thought the same thing when I first stepped in here as well.’ He could read my mind.”

The host microphone was held onto the stand with bumper stickers; the wall was soundproofed with blue foam. The booth was small; Elliot, who now has a much more spacious studio co-hosting the Preston & Steve morning show on WMMR, likens it to a tiny closet. In short, DRE was kind of a dump.

“But it ended up being really really fun,” Elliot remembers. “It was kitschy, it was cool, it had attitude.” And that fit perfectly with the station’s voice in the regional radio landscape. “How ratty that studio was gave us as jocks this feeling of edginess, of not being polished by any means at all.”
Continue reading →