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Years & Years and Troye Sivan: Queer pop turns a corner

Years and Years | photo by Ed Cooke | courtesy of the artist

If queer pop with subtle, social message points about the ups and downs of the movement for LGBTQ equality and a sense of lyrical sexual freedom had banner years, they would be 2015 and 2018. Those are the years that Australia’s Troye Sivan and England’s Years & Years (and its frontperson, Olly Alexander) first made themselves known in larger, broader ways.

With both starting their careers as actors (Sivan continuously, in this year’s Boy Erased), each explored the melodic ends of ambient dance-pop since their start: Sivan with 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood and 2018’s Bloom, Years & Years with 2015’s Communion, and 2018’s Palo Santo. Further connecting the two is each act’s upcoming tour schedule. While Sivan headlines The Tower tonight, Years & Years play Theatre of Living Arts, October 10. Continue reading →

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Falling Back Into It: Allison Crutchfield on the new era of Swearin’

Swearin
Swearin’ | photo by Alexander Rotondo | courtesy of the artist

It wasn’t long ago that Allison Crutchfield swore off the possibility of a future for Swearin’. 

The band she co-founded with singer-guitarist Kyle Gilbride and released two albums with dissolved not long after the songwriters’ romantic relationship did. Swearin’s breakup, perhaps inevitable at the time, gained a sense of finality as the years stretched on.

“We really had an idea about how this band was just gonna be,” says Crutchfield now, looking back on the events that led to Swearin’s end. “And so when we broke up, it was because none of us could imagine the band existing in the way that we were.”

Until recently it didn’t seem likely that Swearin’ would be revived. Its members moved on to other projects, and Crutchfield released her first solo album, the fantastic Tourist in This Town, last year. But then a conversation between Crutchfield, Gilbride and the band’s third core member, drummer Jeff Bolt, led each of them to admit they missed Swearin’. Weighing what it would take to do the band again, they realized it could be possible — just with a different approach than before. Continue reading →

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Experimentation, Empowerment, Connectedness: Talking with the SELTZER party founders about their first year of LGBT clubbing in West Philly

A Seltzer party in West Philly | photo by Evie Yui-Ha | @snaxho_ | courtesy of the artist

Sometime in the previous decade, Philadelphia’s underground LGBT / queer community stepped out of the pit and onto the dancefloor, oftentimes transforming those same basements and living rooms that nurtured punk rock and other alternative bands into clubs. Powered amps were lugged, turntables were plugged in, and mics were checked. Out of this explosion of banging beats, and with the influence of Philly’s groundbreaking vogue/ballroom scene, the eponymous “queer dance party” was born. Venues like Elena’s Soul and the Treehouse were West Philly staples, where DJ’s like Seltzer’s DJ Precolumbian carved out a musical identity for themselves despite the odds volleyed at marginalized people.

Seltzer is that new, new though; a roving party building on the legacy of queer involvement in house, techno, hip hop and dance music, injected with the raw, nervous energy of downtown ’80’s New York. As such, it’s more than a movement and difficult to pin down to one specific sound. Certainly, there is the ever-present vogue battle beats or the syncopated rhythm and bash of Philly / Jersey club blasting out of speakers. But its playlist is also informed by world music, EDM, and experimental music– like a Soundcloud autoplaying from a queer, utopian Cybertron. With this eclectic, yet culturally refined soundtrack, DJ Precolumbian, along with Bearcat and the whole Seltzer squad, are all set to push boundaries, move bodies, and foster community all at once. With their one-year anniversary party happening this weekend, we sat down with Precolumbian and got the entire dish on Seltzer and what these parties mean for the future of queer dance sounds in Philly and beyond. Continue reading →

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Philly State of Mind: Listen to Derrick Hodge’s guest DJ set on WXPN Local

Derrick Hodge | photo courtesy of the artist

The closing night of this year’s Philly Music Festival might just be the most unique and exciting part of its lineup. Derrick Hodge, a Philadelphia born-and-raised bassist, composer, producer and jazz luminary, curated a night of music called Philly State of Mind, where he’ll perform alongside a revolving cast of his peers and mentors — including James Poyser, a pianist known for his work with The Roots; Eric Wortham, another keys player who has worked with Jill Scott and Adele; Jaleel Shaw, a renowned saxophonist; DJ Rich Medina, one of the best turntablists to come out of the 215; plus a bevy of unannounced guests and surprises.

Basically, it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime gig for jazz fanatics, as well as a good introduction to our city’s contemporary jazz lineage for newbies, and Hodge called in to the WXPN Local Show this week to get us hype for the gig with an interview and guest DJ set.

Continue reading →

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Eddie Bruce’s Latin Casino

Latin Casino | photo courtesy of Eddie Bruce

Though once located at 1309 Walnut Street, the Latin Casino – Cherry Hill’s “Showplace of the Stars” – opened its gilded doors and glittering drapes in 1960 to ring-a-ding entertainment options from Frank Sinatra to Donna Summer. For practically the next two decades, it hosted every swinging, crooning, joking, era-appropriate act you could think (Ella Fitzgerald, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers), until it closed in 1978. Yes, its shuttering was partially due to Atlantic City’s new-found wealth of casino stages, but the Latin was probably a victim of its time, what with disco and new wave music having the flash that a Lanie Kazan and a Rusty Warren once had to fill up the Latin.

I spent much more time at what the Latin became – Emerald City – than what it had been, yet, fondly remember my mom and dad taking me to the N.J. supper club to see New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt, Sinatra and (wow, if memory isn’t failing me), Ray Charles; all of which looked like the illustrious nightclub scene in “Goodfellas” where Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco come sweeping into the Copa and into the waiting arms of mob goobahs and Jerry Vale. It was beautiful.

Philadelphia-based cabaret artist Eddie Bruce has many of the same memories, so much so that he, and event co-producer Bruce Klauber, created Eddie Bruce Remembering the Latin Casino. The show premiered at World Cafe Live in January, and returns this fall with a preview showcase Monday, October 1, and the gig itself on Sunday, Oct. 14 at the Mandell Theater with a 17-piece band, and singer Paula Johns doing her own Ella Fitzgerald routine. Continue reading →

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Vogue Evolution: Philly’s DJ Delish leads queer electronic music into the future

DJ Delish | photo courtesy of the artist

The hope for underground music fans with regards to vogue and ballroom culture leaping into the mainstream via FX television drama Pose (on the stiletto-adorned heels of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, and other national TV shows highlighting colorful, performance aspects of the LGBT communities) is that the DJ’s, producers, dancers and emcees involved in crafting and embodying the culture can get a little shine.

Believed to have its origins in 1960’s Black and Latino discos and cabaret clubs, the vogue counter-culture — so named for the dancers who took many of their poses and awkwardly-arched, angular dance moves from the images in Vogue and other fashion magazines as a means of aspirational appropriation — moved from those venues and into underground clubs, community centers, and basements. The music was at first pumping, hard-edged and lesser known disco tracks (like Cheryl Lynn’s “Too Be Real” or Loose Joint’s “All Over My Face”) and eventually, house (Marshall Jefferson’s “House Music” and Derrick May’s “Strings of Life”).

As generations changed, techno-infused house music became the go-to dance beat for vogueing, with songs like Robbie Tronco’s “Walk 4 Me,” and particularly “The Ha Dance” — a rousing, swirling track by Masters at Work that compliments the equally swirling, ninja-like movements of the dancers. As DJ’s like Vjuan Allure (often considered the father/mother of “the Ha” remix movement) became frustrated by dancers only wanting a distinct collection of songs — those songs that had throbbing tribal beats; sassy vocalists chanting; horn stabs to accentuate the ultimate vogue move, the death drop — on the runway or dancefloor. And so, the Ha Remix genre was born.

 As a member of the current generation, DJ Delish‘s music takes the sound beyond what even her influences could have imagined. Her tracks are laced with a deep, resounding soulfulness that speaks to her Philly-injected approach to music. Underneath the slamming club beats are the warm bass and piano lines in songs like “U,” all riding on sinister string arrangements.  But don’t get it twisted: when it’s time to slay, Delish has the ability to do just that — the afro-beat inspired thump of “Men are Doomed” is laced with perfectly timed vocal snippets and an artful placement of the ever-present crash from the aforementioned “Ha Dance” that is the backbone of the genre.

Ironically, it’s on “Bag” that Delish really shines. It’s a simmering, playful piece of summery electronic soul that doesn’t ignore chillwave’s reinvention of the genre, but instead transcends it by paying closer attention to modern R&B’s roots. With its sweetly irreverent lyrics reminiscent of Diana Ross’s mid-’70’s, matter-of-fact storytelling on songs like “Upside Down,” words embedded in assured West Philly vernacular, Delish’s voice sits perfectly amongst the stammering synths and boom bap of the bass drum. We sat down with Delish to chop it up about beats, inspiration and where queer electronic music will take us in the future. Continue reading →

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Entering Kazuashita with Gang Gang Dance’s Brian DeGraw

Gang Gang Dance | photo by Ari Marcopoulos | courtesy of the artist

Seven years after blowing minds with 2011’s Eye Contact, the alchemists of Gang Gang Dance finally re-surfaced this summer with their most beatific sounding album yet in Kazuashita. Its ethereal ambience juxtaposes with lyrics that emerge from the ether to reference police brutality, the protests at Standing Rock, and several other forms of tumult that inform life at large.

To hear founding member Brian DeGraw tell it, making the record didn’t come without its own share of struggle. Ahead of the band’s show at Boot & Saddle this Thursday, we talked about how the record came to be, how the band’s process of making music had to change, and what to expect when they take the stage this week. Continue reading →

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Two to Tango: Grandchildren and Balún

Grandchildren and Balún
Grandchildren (l) and Balún (r) | photos courtesy of the artists

When Grandchildren and Balún appear together, on August 23 at PhilaMOCA, the skronky, harmonious Philadelphia ensemble and the rhythmic Puerto Rico dream pop team bring with them arts, smarts and indigenous sounds on its newest albums: Grandchildren with OK, I’m Waiting, and Balún, with Prisma Tropical. We caught up with them right before they hit Philly. Continue reading →

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Espers Everywhere Now: Beloved Philly psych-folks reflect on life ahead of their hometown reunion

Espers
Espers | photo by Alissa Anderson | courtesy of the artist

Family. Work. Relationships. Relocation. Life.

These are things that closed a chapter on Philadelphia’s Espers in 2010, not long after the release of its final album, III, in 2009. “It might have been 2010, maybe sooner, like toward the release of the album, I’m not certain,” said Meg Baird, the one-time singing Epser(s) of how the band dissolved.

And that is it: Espers gently faded out just as they faded in, on a billowing, beautiful, undoubtedly dark and cumulous cloud of psilocybin-laced folk touched by occasional thunderbolts of electricity. Now, with the looming possibility of reissues of its brief catalog — four woodsy, gauzy, tactile albums and EPs — co-Epsers Baird, Greg Weeks, Brooke Sietinsons, Helena Espvall and Otto Hauser return to their rural, ancient-to-the-future roots tied (and unmoored from) folk’s traditions.

Maybe it’s just for one night (August 24 at Union Transfer), but the pairing with the like-minded Andy Cabic and his band Vetiver is perfect. Cabic’s handcrafted, shapeshifting, urbane folk was introduced to the world in 2004, the same year as Espers initial album, and the two in the birth of the modern folk movement, unified by the (then) further adventures of newbies Devendra Banhart, Ólöf Arnalds, Animal Collective and Faun Fables, as well as the return of alternative folk elders such as Clive Palmer, Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan.

Calling from San Francisco, where she’s lived for six years, it is odd speaking with Baird about Espers presently, as we have discussed her solo work (albums such as 2011’s Seasons on Earth and 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light) without ever discussing Espers’ slip into darkness.

“It’s strange talking about Espers now, but not in a negative way,” said Baird, days before leaving for Philadelphia and rehearsals with her old band. “More of it is surprising that we’re here. It has been good, nice, that we’re revisiting the old material, and I’m glad we are able to play music together again.” Continue reading →

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Belly of the Beats: Why Nothing’s Domenic Palermo is turning his sights to prison reform

Nothing
Nothing | photo by Ryan Lowry | courtesy of the artist

Domenic Palermo has been thinking a lot about his old neighborhood lately.

He thinks about the people he spent his childhood with; he thinks about how much things have changed and how much they have not. It makes sense, since the places we grow up shape us in innumerable ways. They’re our first impression of the world; they’re the center of our young universe. Our neighborhoods help us decide where we want to travel with our lives, whether we want to get as far away as possible or if we’d rather just stay in place. And the ramifications of those choices somehow touch the lives of people we knew; our family, our community. Even though he’s up in Brooklyn these days, the frontman of Nothing is constantly thinking about his childhood in the Frankford and Kensington sections of Philadelphia…and the things he can do to make it a better place in 2018.

This Friday, Nothing releases its third LP, Dance on the Blacktop, via Relapse Records; it’s an explosive and highly personal record, touching on themes of mortality, addiction and family, and after a long build-up of writing and working in the studio with producer John Agnello, the band will spend Saturday unwinding with family and friends in the Port Richmond section of Philly — just a short jump down the river wards from his old home.

The Nothing Record Release Block Party is just what its name suggests: a gimmick-free gathering with a DJ, games, food and fun; no Nothing live set, just a day-long hang. “We didn’t want it to be like a Diplo block party, we wanted it to be very neighborhood-friendly,” Palermo says when I caught up with him via phone last week. “We really just wanted to have a few hours where we can just see people enjoying themselves. I imagine that most of the people that show up to this block party aren’t even going to know why it’s really there, which is kind of the point. It’s purely just a Philadelphia celebratory kind of thing.”

For Palermo and his bandmates, its a way to kick back before getting into the grueling stress of another album cycle. But even in choosing the spot, he had a lot to think about. Continue reading →