Superlith is the cyberpunk improv duo of trombonist Dan Blacksberg and circuit bender Julius Masri, two multifaceted sonic reducers with deep Philly roots. Blacksberg is regarded for incorporating music of the Hasidim into avant-metal and free jazz, having collaborated with Liturgy and Anthony Braxton. Masri switch-hits as a synthy noisenik with the likes of Joo Won Park and Charles Cohen, and as a versatile free drummer, often accompanying dance.
Together they traffic in dystopian soundscapes that evoke Paul Rutherford blowing through a writhing neurobiological mass or Bastard Noise devouring the Garritan Personal Orchestra horn section. Last year’s Plasma Clusters (Public Eyesore) is the sound of our world a few hundred millennia after Skynet becomes sentient, James Hansen’s predictions go unheeded, and saprotrophic bacteria are digesting the pixels from subaquatic Buzzfeed GIFs. Continue reading →
Whether documentarian/drummer/massage therapist Jason Hamacher is rhapsodizing about Minor Threat and the Teen Idles or kicking some deep knowledge about the Gnostic origins of ancient Syriac chants, he does so with the same mix of startling scholarship and infectious exuberance.
Hamacher grew up the Headbanger’s Ball-watching middle son of a Southern Baptist minister in Satellite Beach, Florida before moving to the D.C. area in 1992. He cut his milk teeth in knotty 90s post-hardcore trio Frodus—touring with a pre-Shellback Refused in ’98—before going on to play in Decahedron with Fugazi bassist Joe Lally, and Tampa grind militia Combatwoundedveteran.
Hamacher’s decade-long Sacred Voices of Syria project began when he discovered that the world’s oldest Christian music had gone undocumented. In 2005, the Syrian Orthodox Church, one of the earliest Christian communities, granted Hamacher permission to record their oldest chant traditions. Over six years and several trips, he documented the ancient prayers, hallowed rituals, and sacred spaces of Syria.
Hamacher is bringing a showcase of his project to The Rotunda on Monday, and I spoke to him about the roots of community expression, guerilla-style ethnomusicology, and the lasting cultural impact of his endeavors. Continue reading →
Dan Rothenberg remembers being utterly baffled the first time he sat down with Dr. Dog to listen to their “lost” debut, The Psychedelic Swamp.
The album is something of a holy grail for superfans of the Philly psych-rock faves, and it’s bizarre – no question about it. Released on cassette in 2001, it features warbly sounds and trippy textures, slap-back echo and tape delay, chopped-up audio collages mostly constructed by founding bandmates Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman in their West Philly halcyon days. Swamp has subsequently made the rounds on various unofficial YouTube playlists, and most recently arrived at the doorstep of renowned Philly troupe Pig Iron Theatre Company, where Rothenberg is artistic director.
“Scott and Toby were playing it for me and saying ‘trust us, there’s amazing songs in here,’ and I really couldn’t hear them,” Rothernberg recalls, laughing. “Then they would tell me it’s not meant to be listened to. And I don’t know what to do with that!”
Ultimately they arrived at an answer: translate the songs. Which is the mission of SWAMP (IS ON), the new collaborative production from Pig Iron and Dr. Dog premiering tonight at Union Transfer as part of this year’s Philly Fringe Festival. Continue reading →
In the past ten years, the punk scene in Philadelphia has grown exponentially. House venues seem to pop up left and right, while collectives like DIYPHL have made it insanely easy to find, attend and book shows. In a city saturated with punk bands, Teenage Bigfoot stands out with their raw and upbeat anthems.
Vocalist / bassist Tiffany Tavella met drummer Doug Abelow back in the summer of 2012 while they were in another band that never took off. Even so, the two developed a fierce musical bond; they helped come up with a song called “Teenage Bigfoot” for the old band but clearly thought that the title would work better as name for their new one. Continue reading →
There’s a death-defying, almost acrobatic quality to the post-millennially tense pop of Norway’s Jenny Hval. On two critically adored releases, 2013’s Innocence is Kinky and this year’s Apocalypse, girl, Hval traffics almost exclusively in charged elements—both sonic and philosophical. To witness Hval’s avant-songs unfold is akin to watching an escape artist set up seemingly impossible parameters only to elude total catastrophe with grace and style.
Hval’s music is built on extended vocal techniques, vintage R&B-style interstitial monologues, and molten noise, but there’s a fundamental rock n’ roll giddiness that her work elicits: “Is she going to pull this off? How is she going to pull this off?” The synthesis seems scientifically proven to lure the listener into a total body experience where one can be gently (and sometimes not so gently) provoked. Continue reading →
For most people the Detroit Tigers logo is simply that: the emblem of a professional baseball team in Michigan.
But when you see it on the wall in Profond Music and Art, the newest record shop in Northern Liberties, it stands for something much deeper. Profond, a boutique specializing in electronic, house, hip hop, jazz and soul, opened the first week of August.
Owner Gabor K., a former DJ, is ready to provide for a community he knows is strong in Philadelphia but hasn’t yet had a store of its own to cater to it specifically. And he’s using his own prior experience to help shape his business model.
“My main thing is that I could never find what I was looking for,” Gabor says about shopping for records. “So we’re very cautious of what we carry here. We carry what we like and we want to be appealing to the DJ community, which is huge in Philly but it’s pretty much underground.” Continue reading →
There’s a type of folk music that’s difficult to listen to in an abstract way, a type that’s difficult to extricate from the rich context of its history. A type that seems to always evoke a sort of timelessness, along with its most prominent practitioners and all of the artists who have carried it into the modern era. Nick Drake. Fairport Convention. Pentangle.
Oh, and “The Battle Of Evermore. “ Obviously.
Toward the end of her until-then lifelong residency in the Philadelphia area, in December of 2010, Meg Baird opened for the late great folk singer and guitarist Bert Jansch at Johnny Brenda’s, at what would be his last appearance here. Shortly following that show – in retrospect, an evening on which the proverbial torch of this tradition and this artistry was arguably passed, metaphorically speaking, between its masters in two generations – Jansch would pass away, sadly, and Baird would uproot, and relocate to the West Coast. Continue reading →
“West Coast Jazz” means something very specific to most listeners – cool, intellectual, played by guys in short sleeves and horn-rimmed glasses whose calmer brand of hip evoked a more laid-back atmosphere than the frantic pace of New York City. It’s an image, as that description implies, that’s not only reductive but locked in the 1950s, reflecting the eclipsing effect that New York has on other areas of the jazz landscape.
With the release of The Epic, Kamasi Washington explodes that image with the force of a supernova. The saxophonist/composer’s sprawling, monumental three-disc debut is an ambitious Afro-futurist opus that swirls in elements of jazz, funk, hip-hop, electronica and soul, as well as a 32-piece orchestra and 20-person choir supplementing the adventurous sound of his core ten-piece band. That band consists of fellow members of a collective known alternately as The West Coast Get Down or The Next Step, a group of like-minded, genre-leaping artists who grew up together in the Leimert Park section of South Central Los Angeles. Their combined efforts suggest something transformational happening in the incubator of the L.A. music scene. Continue reading →
On the cusp of releasing his Higher PurposeEP and relocating to Dallas for six months starting in September,Mic Stewart is filled with nothing but good vibes and positive energy. Always a favorite of mine for talking all things hip-hop, I got another chance to sit down with the Philly emcee and preview his six track EP last week. The interview wasn’t too different from our first conversation back in February in that I found myself steering clear of written questions and more having a conversation with a guy whose plan and motivation is all-consuming. Continue reading →