Items Tagged Philadelphia: Smash the decks, smash the system

Sieve | photo by Tiny Haddad | courtesy of the artist

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.

I’m coming off of a month of more DJing-in-public gigs than I ever expected to have in my life, and I’ve reached the conclusion that I have a lot of work to do towards becoming a better DJ.

I’m not particularly showoffy about it. I don’t beat match, I don’t do mash mixes. The closest I get to clever during my sets is when I line up two songs that echo one another — like Friday night before Dr. Dog’s Free At Midnight concert when I played TV On the Radio’s “Golden Age” into Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something.” And even then, I’ll only do something like that maybe once per song pairing, because I hear Prince’s “Kiss” out of Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” one more time, it won’t be a pretty sight. (Yes, yes, Prince worked with Janelle, the songs are similar, WE GET IT ALREADY!! Next, please.)

Basically, my criterion for a DJ set is simple: I play songs that I think are good. That might mean widely accessible, upbeat ones like Arcade Fire’s “Keep The Car Running” and Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Or it might mean songs that totally test the room’s patience, like a seven minute club mix of Madonna’s “Vogue” into a punishing, dissonant take on Puff Daddy’s “Victory,” remixed by Nine Inch Nails. I’ve totally looked up from the decks at moments like this to a sea of perplexed faces. Continue reading →


The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Ewald of Slaughter Beach, Dog

Jake Ewald | 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.

Jake Ewald would position the dissolution of beloved hometown heroes Modern Baseball more as an indefinite hiatus. One of the most heralded band of recent Philly history, MoBo played three sold-out goodbye-for-now sets at Union Transfer last Fall. Just before that, the below interview was recorded backstage at the inaugural Philadelphia Music Fest, where Ewald played a set with his new project, Slaughter Beach, Dog.

In the time since, Ewald has kept busy touring behind and gigging locally in support of Birdie, the second full-length for that band, and confounding music writers everywhere with Slaughter Beach, Dog’s unanticipated comma. The band trades pop-punk for a more acoustic-centered approach to Ewald’s unique brand of storytelling, and was recorded at his Fishtown studio The Metal Shop, a setup asselmbed with fellow MoBo-er Ian Farmer and Sorority Noise’s Cameron Boucher over the past four or five years, in a space he found on Craigslist. In this interview, we got Ewald’s perspective on straddling the space between one band winding down and another winding up, the scene that he discovered upon moving to Philly six years ago, and the ups and downs of different neighborhoods.

Explore more by reading on, and catch Slaughter Beach, Dog playing a gig on the 23rd of this month, at West Philly spot Hole Foods. Continue reading →


PREMIERE: Curtis Cooper’s Messy is a visceral work of compelling catharsis

Curtis Cooper | photo by Abigail Townsend Photography | courtesy of the artist

“I feel like all my closest friends are damaged,” says Philly’s Curtis Cooper. “And I don’t mean damaged in a bad way. I mean they have been beat down in one way or another and they’ve come back, and now they know the difference between having a good life and having a bad life, and they really appreciate what’s going on in their lives now. Those are the kind of people I want to spend time with.”

We’re talking one evening last week over falafel at Mama’s Vegetarian in Center City; “I love coming here,” Cooper comments, “there’s always somebody behind the counter wearing a Clique shirt.” And indeed, we’re handed our pita sandwiches from somebody wearing a jet black LIZARED tee. We grab a table and proceed to discussing Cooper’s personal and creative journey – through drugs, depression, and breakdowns – to their new album Messy, released this week. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Shannen Moser at PhilaMOCA, Aldous Harding at Johnny Brenda’s

Shannen Moser | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN |
Shannen Moser | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN |

Since releasing the excellent Oh, My Heart record this winter, Philly’s Shannen Moser has been playing a lot of gigs regionally and nationally — including a tour with Sorority Noise — and filming a lot of videos. Rather than go the traditional music video promo route, Moser teamed up with Good Boy Audiovisual to shoot site-specific performances of several of the album’s songs all around Philly, from Penn’s Landing to Grey’s Philly, parks to post-industrial asphalt. Tonight, Moser can be found in the cozy enclosure of PhilaMOCA, opening the show for Clique and Peaer. Tickets for the all-ages show are available now, more information can be found at the show’s Facebook event page.
Continue reading →


The High Key Portrait Series: Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi

Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi | 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.

For the past few years, Zoe Reynolds has been diligently crafting her gorgeous, poetic reveries, framed by the tastefully reverberating rhythm of her electric guitar, all packaged under the Kississippi brand. Sometimes touring on her own, sometimes with more rounded-out crew of other musicians she’s met at shows, her recordings and performances are evenly thoughtful and intimate, and she delivers her rich vocals with just enough empty space between the notes.

Having already produced two EP’s and a live recording, Kississippi is putting final touches on a new full-length, which Reynolds is excited to share. A crowning achievement for an eventful Summer that included her first trip up to Canada to play a few dates, Reynolds will play in the company of her compatriot artists the first weekend of Fall at World Cafe Live, taking her place in a lineup comprised exclusively of local musicians in a few weeks for September’s Philly Music Fest, in what will be her first full-band show with the all-new Kississipi lineup. Get more information on that performance at the XPN Concert Calendar, and read our interview with Reynolds below. Continue reading →


Weller to set out on summer tour ending with a homecoming show at Everybody Hits

Weller | photo by Emily Dubin | courtesy of the artist

Philly basement rockers, Weller, are hittin’ the road this summer. The band just announced a tour along the East Coast starting in June, with support from Zanders for the first few stops, and ManDancing closing out the rest.

And of course, the band has kindly saved the best for last, as they’ll finish up the route with a hooplah of a homecoming show at Everybody Hits on July 1st. Along with ManDancing, the lineup also features the likes of Clique and Tombo Crush, so it’s sure to be a grand time. Continue reading →


Who is Harmony Woods? Getting to know the most exciting new artist in Philly DIY

Harmony Woods | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Harmony Woods | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

If you ask Sofia Verbilla, she’ll tell you she’s no good at onstage banter.

It gives her a not super comfortable feeling, a sentiment shared by just about any honest musician you’ll talk to. Her nerves are already frazzled enough getting up there with her guitar and performing; add in expectations for public speaking that’s witty, chill and conversational but also profesh enough to keep the show moving and remind you that, oh by the way, there’s merch in the back…it’s just daunting. Awkward. Verbilla is not the sort to toss around the word “hate,” so let’s just say the closest form of active dislike you can get.

I would argue that the frontwoman of Philadelphia basement scene favorites Harmony Woods is fantastic at banter, and here’s an illustration. It’s March, her band is playing Underground Arts for an International Women’s Day benefit; a tuning break is needed, and the slight silence that descended during the last song lingers. (Verbilla has that effect on crowds.) As bartenders dump ice buckets in the wings, she asks, “So, does anybody have any jokes?” A pause. “I know one. THE PATRIARCHY.” She blows a raspberry into the mic and gives a thumbs-down; the audience gathered round the stage laughs, and the band launches into another song.

Really, everything about it was perfect. The right thing to say for this crowd, at this event. (Or, let’s face it, in general.) The timing was spot-on. It was funny. And it got the gig from point A to point B. When it comes to banter, as with most things music-related, Verbilla is a natural. Continue reading →


Finding Philly in Austin: Catching up with nine local artists at SXSW

The Districts | Photo by Noah Silvestry for WXPN |

South by Southwest: the festival to end all festivals. That time of the year when the entire world takes over the city of Austin for a week of networking, tacos, and lanyard tans. But somewhere amidst the corporate clutter, in between the long lines outside sponsored showcases and under the litter of promotional flyers strewn across the main drag of Austin’s 6th street by week’s end, is that which makes SXSW so strange and wonderful: the thousands of independent artists who chose to play more sets in just a few days than certain artists play in a year, compensated by the choice between $250 and a wristband, and the vague promise of discovery.

This year, I decided that I, myself, would participate in the SXSW hustle, running around the streets of Austin to the sound of a hundred bands at once, camera and notebook in hand (which is nothing, really, compared to the gear most musicians were toting) to catch up with nine of Philadelphia’s own artists showcasing at this year’s festival. Below, read excerpts from our conversations, and see photos from their live sets. Continue reading →


Community and Eclecticism: Philly gig promoters All Mutable on making an inclusive, daring scene

Chicago-based footwork dance originator RP Boo plays an All Mutable show on March 4th | photo via

As improbable a feat as this may seem, the still wet from the womb music promotions collective All Mutable has burned itself into the psyche of the Philly music scene with their daring vision of community and eclecticism. Even more improbable, they’ve managed to become one of the few promoters who force me– your friendly, neighborhood musical curmudgeon– to instantly smash “going” on all of the squad’s Facebook solicits even when I’m wildly unfamiliar with the bands they’re offering. Theirs is the ability to cultivate a strange, impossible oasis of color and sound within a sometimes diversity-barren landscape of independent DIY music.

While the group were all friends and music collaborators in various bands first– Jazz Adam from New York City, Nicki Duval from Connecticut, and Robin Meeker-Cummings from West Philadelphia (born and raised, naturally)– it is together with All Mutable that their true talents have reach an apex. While their roots are in experimental and noise music (and that aesthetic still rings true even as they expand), they’ve hosted raging punk noise outfits like Pinkwash, edgy afro-accoustic post-punk like Daphne, and minimalist drum and noise outfits like NAH under their umbrella and miraculously they’ve avoided any cross-genre clashing, eschewing the 10th grade mix CD model and have taken an approach that speaks more to the deliberate nature of their intention: freeing up class modalities and pushing forward with a futurist vision that is inclusive and liberating.

We sat down with the All Mutable squad for insight into their process, the origins of their name, and the future of DIY indie music Philadelphia and beyond. Continue reading →


Pilam BBQ XXXIX will feature Sad13, Screaming Females, Laser Background and more

Sad13 | photo by shervin lainez | photo courtesy of the artist

West Philly punk rock frat Pilam’s annual BBQ is a day-long musical endurance test, and the stuff of legend.

This year’s installment — the 39th annual, or the XXXIXth in the parlance of the gig poster —  was just announced, and its stacked as ever. Screaming Females and Sad13 co-headline, appearances are made throughout by Laser Background, Clique, Ill Fated Natives, Curtis Cooper, and so many more.

22 bands, 12 hours, noon to midnight, food for carnivores and vegans alike — there’s a lot to love here. More information can be found here. Full lineup, music and more below. Continue reading →