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Fitter, Happier: Watch Radiohead play the Electric Factory on the OK Computer tour in August of 1997

Radiohead
Radiohead in Philly, 1997 | still from video

Around the beginning of this century, Radiohead lost interest in being a rock band. And can we blame them, honestly? Any doc you’ll watch on the “alternative” era — from the band’s own Meeting People Is Easy, released in 1998, back to 1992’s The Year Punk Broke, documenting Sonic Youth’s run on the European festival circuit — demonstrates how for all its perceived authenticity, this generation of artists was never completely unspoiled by the gross clutches of corporate commercialism. Even if they kept it at a distance, global capitalism was never far, and it must have been exhausting and emotionally sapping: everybody around you is trying to use you to make a name or a buck, and your choices are either ride the wave and then check out, or play the long game flip it to your advantage.

Thom Yorke, Johnny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brian and Philip Selway chose the latter route; each record they released was more challenging, and met with greater acclaim, and while none of their other 90s hits reached the chart-topping ubiquity of their debut single “Creep,” I don’t think you’ll find anybody arguing that Pablo Honey is their best album.

That honor typically goes to 1997’s OK Computer, a wild and wide-reaching magnum opus that dabbles in mind-bending psychedelic experimentation, the technical prowess of prog, and good old fashion anthems critiquing society and its mind-numbing, isolated, consumerist drudgery as the curtain fell on the 20th century.

But for all its unconventional intricacies, OK Computer still was, at its core, a rock record. This was before Radiohead began using its position and privilege to make, quite frankly, whatever the hell kind of music it felt like. Before the haunting minimal electronic tone-scapes of Kid A, before the broke-down patchwork of Hail to the Thief‘s unrest, before the orchestral elegies of A Moon Shaped Pool. And as such, Radiohead’s performance at the Electric Factory on August 24, 1997 was the last time they played Philly as a rock band. Continue reading →

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Watch the Beastie Boys bring Hello Nasty to the CoreStates Center in August of 1998

Beastie Boys at the First Union Center | still from video

NYC rhymesayers Beastie Boys were at a point of reinvention when they came to Philadelphia on August 20, 1998. They had a solid decade under their belts as a hip-hop combo — longer as a punk band — and with their fifth LP, Hello Nasty, they were pushing things further still. Out was the psychedelic groove and contemplative flow that defined their previous two albums, the iconic Ill Communication and Check Your Head; in was a retro-futuristic clubby sound, based around turntablist big beats and cartoonish sound bites, with no shortage of contagious energy.

For the live show, out were longtime collaborators DJ Hurricane and percussionist Mark Bobo, in was Mix Master Mike on the 1s and 2s, Alfredo Ortiz on the drums, and an expanded role for keyboardist “Money Mark” Nishita. On the band were coordinated red jump suits, while the band was on a slowly rotating stage as they performed in the round in the center of the CoreStates Center (the name the Wells Fargo Center went by at the time). Continue reading →

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Reconnecting with the past and looking to the future, Philadelphia Folksong Society casts a wide net year-round

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

Most organizations would sell their souls at the crossroads for even half the success the Philadelphia Folksong Society has achieved in the more than six decades since they were first founded. Not only is the Philadelphia Folk Festival the country’s longest continuously held outdoor music festival, but the Folksong Society is deeply ingrained in the cultural framework of the city. The organization’s archives, which have been continuously updated over the years, were recently found to house a fifth of all of Philadelphia’s musical history, an astonishing amount.

​So you might think that after all this that they might be resting on their proverbial laurels. But like so much of the music performed at the many concerts they host, the Folksong Society has remained dynamic and continued to grow. This is even more true since the organization moved into their new home on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough earlier this year. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Pilam is dead, long live Pilam

A flyer for Pi Lam’s notorious Human BBQ, circa 1987

Starting off August’s edition of the Skeleton Key with some breaking news, which for the record is a strange thing when it comes to a column that comes out once a month. Pilam, the venerated “freak frat” at the University of Pennsylvania, is closed, at least temporarily. After more than four decades of being a space for DIY music in Philadelphia, the organization has lost its home. Details are still emerging as to what’s going on but for the time being I’d much rather just focus on the positive. Which, to repeat what I just said, is more than four decades of serving as a home for music in our city. That’s just incredible.

If you were to compile a list of every band that ever played Pilam we’d be here for a very long time. Hell, just looking at the listings of who performed at Human BBQ, the annual all-day concert at the house, is wildly impressive in both quality and quantity. This past year was the 40th BBQ with bands including Old Maybe, Norwegian Arms, Slingshot Dakota, and EDO. Screaming Females and Sadie from Speedy Ortiz played last year, along with a ton of other great bands. Two years ago it was Moor Mother, HIRS, and Japanese Breakfast. We could seriously go on like this forever.

The first time I specifically remember being at the festival was way back in 2001 to see An Albatross, Stinking Lizaveta, and … EDO. Some things never change. Also, I somehow missed Wesley Willis. Maybe I was getting pizza? Continue reading →

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Music for Installations: Stealing Brian Eno’s idea for a box set, The Key looks at the sound of Philly galleries

Vinny performs at Neighborhood Time Exchange | photo courtesy of Ellen Tiberino

This May, producer-composer-sound designer Brian Eno released Music For Installations — six albums of new, rare and previously unreleased music made for use in gallery installations and exhibitions from 1985 to the present — and his longtime work in ever-different and changing music became clearer.

“Generative” music, mastered by a system, and made to order for visual experiments with light and video (his own installations), as well as gallery exhibitions for painterly works, go beyond the idea of ambient atmospheres (his usual, when it comes to instrumental work). They move into something proactive, provocative, and at one with the creation it is meant to score or accompany. An active exhibition art-soundscape should dance along with the images at its forefront, move in tandem with each brush stroke, static video image, and color. At least that’s what happens within the spare, yet opulent, confines of Eno-music that appeared within installations during the Venice Biennale and inside the St. Peterberg’s Marble Palace, Beijing’s Ritan Park and the Sydney Opera House.

With that in mind, I became curious as to how (and why) Philadelphia artists, gallery owners and curators teamed site-specific sound and music (or not?!) to the images portrayed along their four walls. Continue reading →

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Put The Needle On The Record: Daryle Lamont Jenkins

Daryle Lamont Jenkins | photo used with permission

Hello, I’m Alex! I love music! I, like you, also love art, film, literature, geek culture (comics especially), sci-fi, and other forms of myth-making, storytelling, and imagining. I also consider myself a political person in the sense that I want to fight for a world more equitable, sustainable, and just. I’ve often thought that music– a medium that encapsulates so much of the art we consume, from the packaging and visual representation, to music videos, lyrics, and conceptualizing– had a chance to speak to many interests at once. This collapsible, packaged idea is often what draws us to specific artists; rarely are we, as music fans, simply interested in just the sound. It’s why artists like Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce are infusing their music with arresting visuals, films, and truly monumental concepts; this “more than music” aesthetic has defined genres like Hip Hop and punk for the decades they’ve been around.  Still, there seems to be a split in rebellious music from its political roots, despite many new artists taking up the reins in the tumultuous Trumpian time we live in. Can the fervor and passion be rekindled?

As a kid in the south, I remember pouring over the lyric sheets in Public Enemy records and being exposed to so many new ideas, so many brilliant people. I remember trekking to the midwest to go to punk music festivals and discovering zines, socially conscious lifestyles, and the empowerment that comes with DIY– that you can do it yourself outside of mainstream, away from corporate interference. In fact, music and the community surrounding it, particularly punk rock, gave me an avenue to come out as a gay man. So, in the spirit of this, we present a new monthly feature: Put the Needle on the Record! We talk with local activists, community leaders, and organizers and ask them their connection to the music scene, to explore the political potential of those scenes, and to see how music (and other art forms) have inspired them to create, to move beyond just beats, rhymes, and guitars and into the heart and soul of their communities. Continue reading →

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Live From The 215: Exploring Philly’s 90s underground rap scene

The Roots | photo by Mpozi Tolbert | via twitter.com/rootspicnic

For as long as I have been alive, Hip Hop has had a home in the city of Philadelphia. Some of my earliest experiences with this music and culture would become inextricably linked to my understanding of my own personal identity and my place within the broader community. Following its initiation in the early 70s, Hip Hop quickly flowered outward from its homebase in The Bronx, moving into urban centers throughout the nation, taking root and intermingling with each city’s local slang / vernacular, music, dance and visual art cultures.

Long acknowledged as one of the original flashpoints for Graffiti culture, Philadelphia Hip Hop’s heart has always been intertwined with the streets. The first generation of Philly youth touched by this cultural revolution would immediately hit the ground running, developing their own unique local scene and quickly producing a number of MCs and DJs (Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Cool C, 3X Dope, Schoolly D, Lady B etc.) that would reach great creative heights and commercial success. Aside from the commercial victories of a handful of acts, Philadelphia’s formative Hip Hop scene remained largely unheralded, birthing a new class of solo acts, groups and crews who would never attain more than local notoriety. Continue reading →

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“It Takes An Entire Community”: Talking to the artists and organizers of the Shut Down Berks benefit concert

Hardwork Movement at the Shut Down Berks benefit | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN

Last weekend, Hardwork Movement and Frances Quinlan from Hop Along played a special all-ages matinee at Boot & Saddle on South Broad to benefit the Shut Down Berks Campaign, a coalition of groups fighting the incarceration of immigrant families at the Berks County Family Detention Center. Equal parts political rally and concert – Hardwork Movement repeatedly reminded the sold-out crowd that, “They work for us and not the other way around!” – the show raised more than $1200 for the organization. The whole event was organized by Katy Otto (Callowhill, Trophy Wife) in conjunction with Jasmine Rivera from Shut Down Berks. We spoke with the two of them as well as the musicians who played. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Morelli

Jake Morelli | 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 fifteen years ago, guitarist Jake Morelli met wife Donn Thompson, when he saw her perform with her vocal duo The Day at Iron Hill Brewery in West Chester. “I actually purchased a CD [after the show] that didn’t exist at the time, I found out,” Morelli recalled recently during an interview with two of them at WXPN’s studio. Morelli is charming, easygoing and disarming, and seems to put a great deal of thought into his reflections. He continued in earnest, “I mean I was so moved by what I witnessed [that night] on a lot of levels, that I just [gave them] whatever they asked for — and I think it was very modest, six or eight dollars.”

Thompson interrupted his account with a laugh. “We weren’t thieves, can I just interject here? It was eight dollars. And we were embarrassed that we had taken your money!”

The chemistry between the two of them is evident, as they took turns recalling the origins of their relationship: how half a year later the “very basic CD-R” of The Day’s finished recordings that appeared in Morelli’s mailbox would become his favorite piece of music; how a call a few years later from the late Rich Nichols — The Roots’ producer and a friend of Morelli’s — would connect the two of them for a live musical project to promote a new record; how Morelli recognized her voice during the sessions immediately from that recording that he loved so much, even without realizing at first who the singer was with whom he’d be working.

Since arriving in Philly from New York City two decades ago, the third-generation musician has had his skilled guitar handiwork in projects of all kinds. He’d played regularly at the legendary Black Lily sessions at The Five Spot in the early aughts, a beloved Philly soul artist showcase of which Thompson had hinted at hushed murmurings of a revival. Morelli started a reggae project with renowned drummer Chuck Treece, and he’s played gigs and toured extensively with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Alma and Roberta Flack, citing the latter two as a major influences in helping him hone his recording and stagecraft skills. Morelli produced some of Thompson’s work too, as she records now under nom de plume DonnT, and started a record label with her that’s now distributed by Sony’s label group Red Music, out of New York. And he’s leant his guitar stylings to new music from Donn’s nascent project &More, a collaboration with Philly rap artist Chill Moody, He’s also produced their two singles, “My Own Light” and “Woah,” and will join the band when they perform at the XPoNential Music Festival on Saturday July 28th.

At the same time, Morelli’s been working on his own music as well, including new EP Good News, featuring Chuck Treece on drums and Nahla Bee on vocals. He’s constantly on the road as a touring guitarist, currently on a west coast run with Village People, and plans to launch a reggae/punk project called OnWa when he returns. He documents all of it on Instagram at @jmotone. Below, read our indepth conversation about his musical background, and how Philly helped amplify it. Continue reading →

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The Met Philadelphia reveals new interior renderings

The Met Philly, concert setup | image courtesy of LiveNation

The long-vacant Metropolitan Opera House on Broad and Poplar is inching towards reopening and rebranding as Philly’s latest and largest non-arena venue. This week, The Met Philadelphia shared new artistic renderings of the venue’s multi-use grand hall, the lobby, and bars outside the hall. Continue reading →