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The High Key Portrait Series: Noah Selwyn of Agent Zero

Agent Zero | 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 eight years ago, Noah Selwyn began creating electronic music in his studies at The Community College of Philadelphia.

Since that time, the producer’s been advancing Philly’s homegrown dubstep and house scene, as he reimagines traditional EDM with a pop edge and his steady crew of live instruments, and evolves his studio- and stagecraft under nom-de-plume Agent Zero.

In May, Agent Zero released The Awakening, and has been playing a heavy roster of local appearances this summer with a live band — one we got to see in action during their Key Studio Session earlier this year. They just performed at the SENSORiUM Music & Arts Festival at Fishtown’s Ukie Club, and this weekend, they trek up to Northeastern Pennsylvania for the Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival.

This conversation with Selwyn took place a couple years back in Philadelphia’s Boom Room Studios, where the ambitious producer had recently taken up residence as an in-house engineer and producer.

Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Agent Zero

A lot can change in seven years, and for Noah Selwyn, it’s been quite the journey from his earliest incarnation of Agent Zero to the collective of musicians joining him in WXPN studios this week.

In preparing this session, I found myself doing a deep dive on the Philly electronic dance musician’s Facebook archive of live photos and gig flyers, and discovered an early 2011 shot of him and three peers in We Are Psy-Fi productions on a rooftop near the Kimmel Center. Selwyn’s hair is short and spiky, he was mostly clean-shaven, and wore a button-down shirt and tie. It appears this was his standard stage attire at the time, and it seems like he often took the stage solo as well. Today, he’s got long, flowing and vaguely hippie-ish hair, rocks a beard, and dresses more casually to perform, including a stylish bead necklace worn during his Key Studio Sessions performance. And he has a band that takes the stage with him.

Beyond appearances, the more significant change is Selwyn’s music. It was always bright and upbeat, a bubbling concoction of trance, house and dubstep that he honed studying under Slit Jockey Records founder Starkey. Though his skill as a producer has certainly advanced over the past five years, you can still hear the Agent Zero of today in the Agent Zero of 2013’s EP Sound Sorcery Volume 1 — body-moving BPMs, ecstatic synthesizer tones, progressive rhythms that follow a dramatic ebb and flow. Selwyn always had the chops to make Agent Zero work in the DJ realm — potentially a new generation’s Pretty Lights or Quantic — but the big change that between then and now is his pop sensibilities developed and his ambition grew. Continue reading →

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Agent Zero recruits Acid Orphan and more for the Nemesis EP

Agent Zero | via agentzero.bandcamp.com

Philly producer Agent Zero recently released his Nemesis EP. Sounds foreboding, but the name and cover art are slightly misleading, as the project is gentler than it appears.

The first song is the the title track “Nemesis” features. local rapper Acid Orphan. The dark instrumental builds suspense that settles rather than explodes. There’s a good balance between the whispery vocals and the tart rap, although definitely an acquired taste for some.

“Bad Mouth” features the NYC vocal percussion collective Beatbox House. The track opens with unassuming acoustic guitar before introducing the gritty synths and punchy beatboxing, which makes the song more interesting than a typical EDM track. The song manages to busy without being messy. Continue reading →

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How PhilaMOCA went from a DJ party house to ground zero for Philly performing arts


When the stage is struck, the chairs are cleared out, and the paintings are down off the walls, Philly performing arts space PhilaMOCA is a very different place than concert crowds, theatregoers or film aficionados might recall. Director of programming Eric Bresler likens it to a blank canvas.

“I see an empty room and think ‘this can be arranged in any number of ways,'” he says. “It can showcase any number of things.”

The room was empty like this when I met up with Bresler a month ago. He was getting ready for the inaugural Cinedelphia Film Festival, an eclectic and imaginatively curated showcasing of locally-made and locally-themed cinema that wraps up this weekend.

Eric Bresler, director of programming at PhilaMOCA
Eric Bresler, director of programming at PhilaMOCA

Over the past month, the festival has screened the infamous 1968 documentary High School (filmed at Philly’s Northeast High), reunited the TLA Video crew, screened selections of news footage from Temple University’s Urban Archives and bought together a who’s who of Philly punk players past and present for Joseph Gervasi’s Loud! Fast! Philly!

This afternoon it’s offerings include a screening of 1977’s Rollercoaster in sensurround and the bizarro new wave / sci fi flick Liquid Sky with a live score by Philly’s Cheap Dinosaurs. On Tuesday, Pattern is Movement’s album screening party closes out the month.

The festival is also the culmination of Bresler’s first year as director of programming at PhilaMOCA. Continue reading →

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The Week Ahead: King Krule, Mdou Moctar, Get Better Fest, Sheer Mag and more

King Krule | photo by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | nataliepiserchio.com

This week, your options include mysterious surprise sets and high-profile pop shows, roots and blues (Robert Randolph, Deb Callahan) as well as indie-minded benefits (The Districts playing for Beyond The Bars, the two-day Get Better Fest). Here are 16 concerts you can see in and around Philadelphia this week. Continue reading →

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Items Tagged Philadelphia: I turned the pages solemnly, and then

Bumsweat | via bumsweat.bandcamp.com

Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. Periodically, we’ll check in to present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

Looking back, I totally would have done a few things differently. I would not have set an arbitrary “weekly” benchmark to report back to you on the weird, wild and wonderfully ear-catching Philly artists I find in my Bandcamp digging. My weeks are unpredictable at WXPN HQ; the only constant is an already high volume of listening, reading, writing, recording and editing, before this project even comes into play. I also would have made a more valiant effort to keep up with these artists I uncovered throughout the year; some were easy to follow (shoutouts Sea-Offs, MHYSA, S-21, Erica Gibson) and some I haven’t checked in on since initially spotlighting them.

I might have tried to be more discerning, choosing fewer releases each week so I’d have space and time to reflect and write more about the ones I was highlighting. I would have found better things to say to introduce each column; I should have STFU about the weather, which seems to be a de facto entry point to many of them. Get it together, man.

But for something that started as a New Years’ Resolution whim twelve months ago — ie. give a listen to every single release posted to Bandcamp with a Philadelphia tag in 2017, report back on the good stuff — I’m decently pleased with how it played out. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: goldenSpiral

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

Adrian Palashevsky’s been hard at work. Over the past few years, the hip hop producer, multimedia artist and DJ — better known as goldenSpiral — has been fashioning beats, collaborating with his Philly music compatriots, and staying up late.

A taste of the results of all that sweat equity is available this week, with the release of the Dark Matter EP at goldenSpiral’s Bandcamp site, where it will be featured exclusively for two weeks prior to international distribution via Empire and Redeye. Published by Kyle Taylor’s Philly-based blog-turned-label Funkadelphia, the EP is a diverse sampling of the producer’s talents and influences, and features vocals from the ethereal Alicia Talia, and rappers Calvin MC, and Voss, whose standout single “NightVision” will have a music video directed by Pipus The Wise out later this Summer.

In the Fall, goldenSpiral will drop a full-length LP that he considers to be definitive work that he’s excited to share, a magnum opus called Waveformation which will also be published on the Funkadelphia label. The album will boast two music videos including single “Eternal Life (dub),” spotlighting vocals from Philly reggae darling Sonni Shine, in case you’ve missed her (and you should have) since The Underwater Sounds called it quits earlier this year.

In the meantime, Dark Matter is live as of noon on Tuesday, July 12th, and Palashevsky is offering the EP on a name-your-price basis, or for fair trade for just an email address. So all you hip hop/glitch/dub-heads, just click on that link and hit refresh, refresh… Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Arkells rocks, charms and teases the Philly crowd

Arkells | Photo by Liz Waldie | lizwaldie.com
Arkells | Photo by Liz Waldie | lizwaldie.com

The Canadian band Arkells kicked off today’s Free at Noon double-header, bringing their indie-pop stylings to the buzzing World Café Live crowd.

On the back of their charismatic lead singer, Max Kerman, Arkells ran quickly through an impressive set of larger-than-life indie pop jams. Kerman built a quick rapport with the audience, joking about everything from ripping off John Lennon — they have a song literally titled “John Lennon” — to the Blue Jays beating the Phillies in the World Series over 20 years ago. Continue reading →

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Does it matter that the Tiny Desk Contest winner was once signed by Interscope?

Fantastic Negrito, winner of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest
Fantastic Negrito, winner of NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest

Without a doubt, the Tiny Desk Contest was one of the most inspiring musical happenings of the past year.

After developing a global fan base with their uniquely-curated videos of unfussy, informal concerts held at producer Bob Boilen’s desk, the NPR Music team this winter opened up the floor to the public, inviting them to shoot their own DIY Tiny Desk-esque videos and submit them via YouTube for a chance to win a slot on the series.

On the one level, it felt like the small-time local heroes from around the country were being given a chance at stardom in that special, Tiny Desk kind of way. Beneath the surface a bit, those of us who work in music know that many of the artists already featured in the series are in the midst of some sort of press cycle, a national promotional push for whatever album they happen to be selling at the time.

As I said, it’s a well-curated run of videos, but most of the artists who make their way to Boilen’s desk are doing so with some level of industry connectedness in hand. Continue reading →

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Introducing Top Of The Key, a new column about basketball by bassist Dave Hartley

Baron Davis slams on DH-47 (Dave Hartley)

Top Of The Key is our new sports column written by Dave Hartley, bassist in The War On Drugs, and leader of his own band, Nightlands. He’s also the go-to bassist and multi-instrumentalist for many other musical projects in town. There’s probably only one thing that eclipses his love of music, and it’s basketball. To put it bluntly, Hartley is a basketball freak with a encyclopedic knowledge of the game. He writes an occasional column for Impose and his one time appearance on ESPN’s SportsNation with his War On Drugs bandmates is legendary. Nightlands releases its new album, Oak Island, on January 22nd on Secretly Canadian. Nightlands play a show at Kung Fu Necktie on January 28th and you listen to a new song here. Hartley’s first column is on a topic that’s on almost every 76ers’ fans mind: Why the Bynum injury doesn’t spell doom for the 76ers.

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On Monday, Andrew Bynum updated us on the status of his knees (and his hair). He sounded optimistic, but if you read between the lines there is some really troubling information, particularly this quote about his left knee in an interview with he did with the press. “Health is going to be an issue. There’s nothing I can really do about it. It’s arthritis in the knees. Cartilage is missing. That’s not going to regrow itself. Maybe in the future, the next three to five years, there may be something out there that really does help. For right now, it’s a waiting game.” For 76ers fans, this is dark news, but it’s not the end of the world. Here’s why. Continue reading →