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Ahead Of Their Time: The 40-year journey of inspiring Detroit rockers Death

Death | photo by Samdarko Eltosam | via facebook.com/deathworldwide

As an Afropunk, interviewing an all-Black punk band called Death might be the most existential thing I could possibly do on a Tuesday afternoon in 2019, but five minutes into the discussion, this writer also realized another thing was true: it was one of the most revealing.

Death’s start began in 1971, when three Detroit brothers — guitarist David, bassist Bobby, and drummer Dannis Hackney — turned on their instruments in a room in their parents’ modest home and got to channeling the raucous sounds of The MC5, the grandiose rock of local upstart Bob Seger, and The Who, much to the chagrin of their slightly more buttoned up neighbors. Despite their reverence to the most obvious, looming musical influence of the city at the time, Motown, and in a move especially treacherous for Black musicians, the brothers instead decided to play music that wasn’t going to get them booked at any R&B studio sessions: rock n roll. Continue reading →

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Resistance and Resilience: Taina Asili on merging music and activism

Taina Asili and band | photo by Kiki Vassilakis Photography | kikivassilakis.com | via facebook.com/tainaasilimusic

Tonight, Philly welcomes back Taina Asili, a musician, activist, and documentarian whose group will be rocking the Rotunda with their highly spiritual, amalgamated blend of merengue, cumbia, reggae and DIY punk.

It’s an amazing mix of styles fully realized on the new album they’ll be celebrating, Resiliencia. Support for the band will be provided by the equally eclectic Afro-latin future fusion band Interminable. We sat down and chatted with Asili about power of music, culture and spirit. Continue reading →

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The never-ending creative story of Kam DeLa

Kam DeLa | photo by Myles Cream | courtesy of the artist

“Never Stop Creating” is more than just a phrase that influenced merchandise made by Kam DeLa. It’s what keeps the 25 year old Cherry Hill producer/singer happy.

Jam sessions with his family when he was a kid geared him into making music, and the production of his happiness is something that has caught the ears of upcoming artist like Mir Fontane, Ivy Sole, Franky Hill and Nightchild. We recently were able to sit and talk with him about his early beginnings and how his creative vision has taken root in projects such as East, User and Overgrown. Continue reading →

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“A musical keg of West Philly weirdo dynamite”: Reflections on two decades of the genre-defying Northern Liberties

Northern Liberties, circa 2003 | photo by Debbie Travis | courtesy of the artist

West Philly post-punk three piece Northern Liberties has been a band for so long that when they played their first show in February of 2000 the neighborhood they borrowed their name from was still a mostly forgotten blip on the radar. Fast forward almost two decades and the band — Justin Duerr on vocals and percussion, his brother Marc on drums, and their lifelong friend Kevin Riley on bass — are set to release their seventh album Parallel Hell later this year.

To say that Northern Liberties sounds like anything else out there would be to do a disservice to what they’ve managed to create over the years. But also this is a band that has comically defied categorization: reviews have compared them to everything from Green Day to Joy Division to Nirvana, Lightning Bolt, Crass, and even Guided By Voices. Clearly something is going on here, even if the band members are usually quite baffled by the comparisons.

“I swear to fucking God this is true: none of us ever heard that God damn Lightning Bolt,” Justin Duerr told The Key. “They weren’t on my radar. I never listened to that much stuff that was noisy. … [but] for the first four years that we played, almost at every show somebody would be like, ‘I get it, you worship at the altar of the mighty Lightning Bolt.’”

Nothing against the Providence bass and drums duo but he’s right: just because Northern Liberties have a similar lack of guitar going on doesn’t automatically make them a noise rock band. Continue reading →

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Philadelphia pianist and composer Orrin Evans gets loose and tight at the same time

Orrin Evans | via facebook.com/peeano88

Just days after Orrin Evans concluded his most recent European tour with The Bad Plus — the math-jazz trio whose membership he’s long befriended, then joined, in 2017 — the Philadelphia-based pianist was home, out-and-about, and driving to a solo gig with his own trio in Chicago. One would expect nothing less from the athletic, yet delicately nuanced and intricately introspective player and composer whose self-named outfit (to say nothing of additional Evans bands such as Tarbaby and Captain Black Big Band) fill his mind and schedule when he’s not Bad Plus-ing. Having just hit his actual birthday the day we spoke, Evans reflected on all that he has on his plate ahead of a week-long gig playing with Steve Wilson and Wilsonian’s Grain at famed NYC club Village Vanguard, then European dates next month.  Continue reading →

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How Laser Background’s Andy Molholt and Ava Luna’s Julian Fader rose to the summer camp songwriting challenge of Coughy

Coughy | photo by Natalie Piserchio | courtesy of the artist | nataliepiserchio.com

With great summer camp memories come great friendships. With highly efficient recording sessions come infectious albums. Combine the summer camp memories with the recording sessions in two vastly different settings; now pour over the friendship and you have Coughy’s debut album, Ocean Hug.

The twenty-song effort comes from Andy Molholt and Julian Fader, of Laser Background and Ava Luna fame, respectively, while spending the summer of 2016 together at Buck’s Rock Creative and Performing Arts Camp in New Milford, Connecticut. While counseling and teaching classes on songwriting to kids aged anywhere from eight to eighteen, the two managed to find time for some late-night recording sessions in the studio at the camp. It wasn’t until they started playing together that they decided to make all their songs as close as possible to being only one minute long. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: King Britt

King Britt | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

A year after graduating from Central High School, King Britt was working at a new Tower Records location on South Street, having been hired for his judicious taste in music imports. At just 19 years old in 1987, having been brought up on all kinds of music and connected to the arts community in Philly, King was uniquely positioned to make moves, and to update dance music and electronica just at a time when the music industry stood ready to be transformed by the impending advent of digital technology.

At this interview at XPN studios, King reflected on his early hustle, and on those days in the late ‘80s and the first years of the ‘90s — a time of mixtapes and cassingles, hip-house and trip-hop. Few would be able to tell the story more capably or warmly than the Philly-born music producer, as he entreats us to fond memories of his days recording Sylk 130 records at Larry Gold’s studio, of the record label he co-founded with then-fellow-Temple-U student Josh Wink, of his collaborations with Bahamadia, and Ursula Rucker, and to musings about what, in his opinion, we all lost when Napster was unleashed (hint: it may not be what you think!). Continue reading →

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Passing by with Christinna O

Christinna O | photo by Shabnam Ferdows | courtesy of the artist

 

Two years ago, Miami native Christinna O made her way to Philadelphia, not only to attend Temple University, but make a name for herself in the music scene. The alternative R&B singer was already a skilled wordsmith, and it probably helped when she joined Temple’s poetry team Babel and competed in the NAACP’s National Poetry Slam. But more recently, it seems that Christinna O seems ready to get people clapping for her singing instead of just snapping their fingers for her poetic lines.

The end of last year, she released the first single for upcoming EP Girl In Passing, “Shelter”, and has recently released the second single “Lay It Down.” While Christinna O prepares for the arrival of her second EP, we were able to sit down with her to talk about her early beginnings and what her listeners can expect from Girl In Passing. Continue reading →

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Chasing Daylight: The road to the final album from late West Philly guitar genius Yuzo Iwata

Yuzo Iwata | photo by Elana Iwata | courtesy of the artist

“Goodnight, Daylight Moon” is the final track on Yuzo Iwata’s final album Daylight Moon, released just months before the Philadelphia guitarist succumbed to kidney cancer last June. It is a beautiful, almost haunting song, with Iwata’s guitar soaring over the sparse arrangements.

It’s not a fitting end, since no end is truly fitting, especially when someone dies at just 59, leaving behind a wife, two kids, and a true community of friends. But if there has to be an end, it’s a perfect one, even if it does leave you wanting more.

Iwata never came to prominence in the way we typically talk about these things. In fact, up until this album, very few people knew him as a musician. Instead he was just Yuzo, a really nice and kind of quiet guy who was born in Japan and worked for decades at Essene, the natural market off of South Street. Sure, he was in the absolutely legendary Japanese psych rock band Maher Shalal Hash Baz back in the 80s, and sure he put out a stunningly brilliant solo album in 1999 called Drowning In The Sky, but it’s not like he went around telling people about it. There was a short tour of Scotland with Maher in the late 90s, but outside of that, barely any other shows until the last couple years.

His reemergence into music came on like a thunderclap. A lot of people were simply stunned, both by Iwata’s songs and the fact that he had been so inactive for so long. It was like he was coming out of nowhere, despite the fact that he had been playing music for decades.The shows he was able to play were packed and the first pressing of the album, released on local label Siltbreeze, sold out in a couple weeks, though Jordan Burgis — who recorded and helped produce Daylight Moon — said that it will be repressed later this year. The cancer came on during the mid-point of the recording process, which started in 2014. By the time the album was finally out he was very sick. The last show he played was at the Philadelphia Record Exchange in March of 2018. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone | 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 recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Posing for some portraits at XPN studios, Lucy Stone calls attention to her sunshine-yellow jacket, and volunteers that her mother said it wasn’t her color and warned her against it, before the singer affixes her own punchline to the narrative, unironically: “That’s why I wore it.”

Having played with local indie rock faves DRGN KING and Sad13 before then striking out on her own for awhile, the Philly native has planned some stage time in the coming months with new crew Vexxed, supporting tracks they recently laid down at a Drexel studio with compositions she’d written when she was 16.

And she can rock her yellow jacket if she wants to, along with a uniquely frank wit and deadpan humor, demonstrated by her response to a mention of her stern portrait visage.

“Good,” she confirms. “I want people to be afraid.”  Continue reading →