Philadelphia’s The Ire is a more than a goth-punk band, they’re the embodiment of a city that feels immersive, both in the music and art scene as in daily life. Philly is a city filled with the dreamy chaos of refinery explosions and alternative pride marches, and somehow The Ire has managed to channel this kind of stuff into an EP and accompanying live performance truly representative of that lived-in, on-the-brink nervous energy. Continue reading →
Covered in debris from dust-strewn practice spaces, tucked into dank basements where the drum kit competes for space with old rusting washing machines the landlord refuses to repair or throw out, huddled together under bridges or in struggling speak-easys with one speaker sound systems — it’s Philadelphia punk rock, a movement informed not only by the DIY community at large — a sprawling network of zines (they still exist), record labels, show spaces, and resources that wild youth and curmudgeonly old crusties have tapped into for decades — but also by wack shit like the city’s raging stop-and-frisk laws, the constant assault of rapid gentrification that feels inevitable, and a tumultuous, strange push-pull that has existed within the context of the punk, hardcore and activist/art scenes in a city that still feels reverberations from the MOVE bombing. To say that Philly’s punk rock community has a tenuous relationship with the city is an overstatement.
But more and more, people who exist outside of the margins, not just because they wear all-black or have pink mohawks, but because of who they are, are finding the resources to get involved, and the cultural texture of the city is richer for it. We’re a city that has been home to Break Free Fest — a musical event highlighting bands who feature Black and Brown musicians screaming their brains out, an event that happens this Saturday and Sunday at The Rotunda. We’re a city that, before Break Free, was home to Rockers, a recurring event that for more than a decade sought to do the same. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
If there was any doubt that jazz was having a resurgence, the amazing volley of sounds emerging from Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and in particular, London clubs and performance halls it is at least apparent that a new generation of players and practitioners are breathing life into jazz’s post Marsalian-husk. What the new avant garde is doing, however, goes beyond the needlessly controversial fusion or electric/plugged-in phases the genre grappled with in the mid-70’s and into the ’80’s, where the old guard and its adherents set out to polish and refine jazz, separating it from its evolution into an experimental, Black artform in favor of crafting pieces suitable for Carnegie Hall or the Lincoln Center.
Fast forward to the present day — March 20th in Philadelphia to be precise, where The Comet is Coming, playing to a typically mixed Philly crowd that arguably knows an impressive thing or two about where jazz is heading themselves, in a more intimate wing of the Fillmore. From the band’s opening note it was clear that any fear or reverence to any old guard was going to be obliterated. Continue reading →
If you’ve seen the flier for Encounters at the Mothership pinned to a corkboard in your local coffee shop, you’ve probably stared in awe at the wildly ambitious line up of four nights of noise, jazz and experimental music assembled by klezmer and jazz trombonist and curator Dan Blacksberg. You’d also noticed something a little more alarming: the venue. Known as the Mothership, the venue resides in the same space that housed the former Eris Temple, and while being a staple of the Philadelphia underground music scene, it isn’t the most accessible. Known for raucous punk and experimental shows, Mothership has recently sought to expand the depths of its programming. Five minutes into Blackberg’s collaboration Out of Heaven on day one of Encounters, it became apparent that expansion would be the recurring theme of the four night affair.
Under the wintry backdrop of 52nd Street’s gated storefronts, Chinese takeout spots, and fading neon lights, musicians as eclectic as pedal steel artist Susan Alcorn and legendary Arkestra bandleader Marshall Allen descended the steps (and then ascended them again — Mothership is basically a magically converted row home with just, like, the weirdest set of rickety stairs to enter) to sonically entrance us. Continue reading →
“THERE’S ALWAYS MORE”– Hermit High Priestess on trauma, eclecticism, and the hope of being understood
The idea of “shattering the binary” is often a lofty one in music, especially in genres and scenes as insular as punk rock. On the one hand, punk has a reputation for being unabashedly free, artistically daring, its practitioners eschewing constraint and announcing themselves as “other.” Yet if you dig beneath the surface — past the bullet belts, gas station attendant jackets, and spiked hair — you’ll find a uniform orthodoxy that often holds the genre in stasis.
Hermit High Priestess are two wandering spirits informed by an idealistic re-imagining of punk rock, where magic and incantation are as much a part of the punk rock process as are cryptically scrawled black t-shirts. Dani and Anna play music that is heavy, yet still somehow heavenly, forgoing the three-chord stomp and bash of yet another Ramones or Discharge reincarnation. Instead their music, like on “The Rake’s Wave”, a standout track on their forthcoming EP, infuses warm strings, mischievous bass and xylophone lines, along with Anna’s determined, heartfelt vocals ruminating on the necromantic nature of systems that corrupt our dreams.
It’s almost as if the still-expanding underground music scene struggles to make room for HHP, yet still they persist, turning up on bills with aggressive punk bands, spoken word artists, R&B acts, metal bands — when you’re an ethereal, romantic, tribal folk band evoking Dead Can Dance, and Tori Amos as much as more obscure Crass Records bands like Tappi Tikarras, there’s a certain amount of work you’ve got to be prepared to do to find your tribe. Although they’ve yet to be embraced fully, HPP, with their latest work, are ready to start the ritual to affect the change they want to see in their world — non-binary, brilliant, and free of the trappings of genre.
We sat down and talked with them on the precipice of their latest release to find out what conversations they were having as a band that led them to create such rousing work. Continue reading →
In 2018, jazz is having a moment. No — jazz is having a total year. With records coming from acts as musically diverse as Mansur Brown, Sons of Kemet, and current indie-music crossover darling Kamasi Washington, it will be hard for critics to keep the current cadre of musicians, experimenters and exploratory craftsmen off of their year ends lists. That said, jazz, in all of its infinite expressions, is an often polarizing, fractious musical genre, experienced by many people in many different ways. Here in Philadelphia, that unspoken division can be seen in who partakes, experiences, and benefits from the music’s rich dichotomy. Summer days spent under shade in a park in West Philadelphia where stages are erected for neighborhood jazz concerts can attract hundreds of people of all backgrounds; in fact, Philly’s deep roots in Black jazz will be on full display at these shows that have the more familial feel of a cookout or block party than a seated, black tie affair. Still, there are oftentimes expensive concerts that feel only attainable by a few, oftentimes leaving a generation of latent Philly youth musicians on the outside.
It’s under these conditions that Ars Nova and Fringe Arts colluded to create The October Revolution, a forward-thinking music festival spanning four days with an emphasis on improvisational as well as composed works, delving into the experimental with a strong foothold in jazz. With 4-day passes ranging from $200, to some individual shows reaching up to $85 per day, the price tag could have been preventive in allowing for an audience more reflective of Philadelphia’s diverse jazz community. Fortunately, though, it was on the stage that that diversity really shone. Continue reading →
It was almost 7 years ago that Blood Orange played Johnny Brenda’s on a weekday to about 12 people, one of whom was a sweet townie who sat on a barstool two feet from the stage. That night, Dev Hynes, the eclectic singer-songerwriter of Guyanese descent, tore through an emotional, energy packed set for all 12 of us attendees with just his guitar and a laptop, bouncing from stage to crowd, owning the space, inviting us in to share that moment. Thursday’s show at The Fillmore to a packed, swaying, diverse crowd of orange haired punks, Hood By Air wearing queer goths of color, and Fishtown hipsters (amongst others), kept that same energy.
Opening the set with a dreamy rendition of “Charcoal Baby,” the standout track from Blood Orange’s latest album Negro Swan, Hynes and his crew of six backup musicians ignited the crowd and set the tone for the soulful, southern-black-church by way of 1980’s sun and pastel drenched neo-noir that would follow. It was evident, then, that Hynes had come a long way since his debut album Coastal Grooves, and even further from his days in screamo bands like Test Icicles; the stage was masterfully, purposefully filled with a rhythm section opposite a keyboardist and saxophonist on two (2!) high rises, and an angelic assembly of back-up vocalists. The mood of Negro Swan is airy and precise, allowing for a live translation bursting with nostalgic grooves and strange, spatial chord changes so subtle that they sound massive. Continue reading →
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 →