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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

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.”

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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.”
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Shelf Life, free cake for every creature, Chef Kiss, and more on comp benefitting American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Shelf Life at Key Fest | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Shelf Life at Key Fest | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

What’s better than amazing indie artists coming together to contribute songs about self care and then donating the proceeds to charity? I’ll tell you: nothing. Nothing is better. And Sleeper Records, a new West Philly-based record label, just made that happen. The compilation is called Six Weeks of Winter and its basically a lo-fi indie lover’s dream wrapped up in one pretty package. Continue reading →

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Farewell to a Listening Room: Reflections on the closing of Old City’s Tin Angel

Kristen Hersh at the Tin Angel | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Kristen Hersh at the Tin Angel | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Back in early December, I saw something at Old City’s famed Tin Angel that I hadn’t seen in forever: a line. A queue of people running down the staircase, out the door, stretching up 2nd Street, waiting in earnest for a performance by alternative-era singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh.

Certainly the 150-capacity room drew packed crowds countless times over the years, but something felt different this night. It was a sold-out show heading into a long string of sold-out show as the venue calendar wound down, this weekend presenting its final concert after more than two decades in business. Tonight, The Hillbenders take the stage in a show curated by the Philadelphia Folksong Society, and it’s the last gig you’ll be able to buy tickets for at the door; tomorrow’s show with Steve Forbert and Saturday’s double-header with Ben Vaughn have long been sold out. And after that, the Tin Angel belongs to the ages. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Dominic Angelella

Dominic | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Dominic | 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.

There’s a bit of a music scene in-joke that circulates about Philadelphia psych-rock cult faves Lilys; so many people have contributed to that band in its 25-year existence that founder and songwriter Kurt Heasley probably couldn’t tell you all of them. Dominic Angelella has experienced sort of the opposite situation in his career; he’s founded, jammed with, recorded and parted ways with so many bands since coming to Philadelphia from Baltimore in 2005, there will probably never be a true and complete chronology of them all.

We’re pretty sure Angelella has never been in Lilys, for what it’s worth. But looking just his higher-profile projects: there was the long running DRGN King, which disbanded last year after two great records on Bar-None; there’s Lithuania, his longer-running punk duo with Eric Slick of Dr. Dog; there’s mewithoutYou, with whom he is currently a touring bassist; there’s Hop Along, where he was an early touring guitarist. And, of course, there’s Dominic.

That’s his first name, true, and it’s also the name of his first truly solo project, which releases its debut LP Goodnight, Doggies. this Friday on Lame-O Records. Back in the fall, The Key brought you the news of his new album alongside a wide-ranging conversation with his onetime bandmate / current roommate, Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinlan, where the two unpacked Dom’s musical journey. This week, we specifically talk Philly for his High Key Portrait Series spotlight. This interview took place in early 2016, and he shares favorite faces and favorite places in the city — and is our first interviewee to give a diplomatic answer about Philly beer! This Friday, February 3rd, Angelella headlines Johnny Brenda’s (his fav venue) to celebrate the release of Goonight, Doggies. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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Brendan Lukens to sit out of Modern Baseball’s European tour to focus on mental health

Modern Baseball | Photo by Sydney Schaefer for WXPN
Modern Baseball | Photo by Sydney Schaefer for WXPN

Modern Baseball is heading across the pond with Thin Lips and The Superweaks — but they’re making the run a member short, as guitarist / vocalist Brendan Lukens announced today he was not joining the band on the European tour to focus on his mental health.

Here’s his full statement, posted via the band’s Instagram. Continue reading →

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On-The-Job Training: Eric Osman of Lame-O on learning how to run a record label by running a record label

Eric Osman of Lame-O Records | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Eric Osman of Lame-O Records | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

When Philly record label Lame-O launched in 2012, the goal was simple: put out a record. Put out a very specific record, one that did not have a home elsewhere. As it happened, Modern Baseball‘s debut Sports was wildly successful, and it left many wondering what was next for the fledgling imprint — including its co-founders Eric Osman and Emily Hakes. Continue reading →

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It’s Official: Mayor Jim Kenney has declared it Philly Loves David Bowie Week

image002-1This fall and winter, I’ve been busy organizing and coordinating a week-long celebration around David Bowie, both the man and the music … As it stands we have over a dozen events beginning tomorrow and ending next Saturday, January 14. You can learn more about #PhillyBowieWeek at our website, PhillyLovesBowie.com. This morning, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney just issued a proclamation officially declaring January 6-14 PHILLY LOVES DAVID BOWIE WEEK! You can see the proclamation above, and read the text below. Continue reading →