Fight Fire With Fire: Philly’s Luxe is a force of change for LGBT fans in hardcore punk

Luxe | photo by Andrew Restrepo | photo courtesy of the artist

Although the image of a winking anime character popping out of a turquoise background adorning their self-titled EP may indicate otherwise, Philly’s Luxe is a kinetic, highwire act of a punk band, all nasally irreverence and brash thrash.

The band dutifully marries an artistic elegance (their Bandcamp is found under “haus of luxe”, a shout to the LGBT vogue houses that undoubtedly inspire them) with the clandestine insurgency of a rogue cabal hopped up on Amebix bootlegs. Still, even with all of their poisonous barbs, coated in guitar shrapnel disguised as noise, poised to do open battle with society’s isms, there hangs above the quintet a veil of mystery.

After seeing them shred at the suddenly hip Danny’s bar in West Philadelphia, I knew I had to take a closer step towards unraveling their secrets. Of particular interest was drummer Joey Ross, who acts as the band’s catalyst, its center. Joey’s presence online and in the South Philadelphia streets the band calls home, articulates a passionate, deep-seeded longing for an equity not often found in hardcore punk. We sat down with the enigmatic percussionist as well as vocalist Justin Hyduk to talk punk, passion and the paranoia that comes with trusting your friends. Continue reading →


Navigating Sound: Kilamanzego on the journey from hardcore punk to experimental beatmaking

Kilamanzego | photo by Manny Arocho | courtesy of the artist
Kilamanzego | photo by Manny Arocho | courtesy of the artist

From the opening notes on “Picking My Kalimba from a Distance” with its bright, high-pitched samples and tribal stutter-step, the listener can tell that they’re not just in the presence of a beat-maker: they’re witnessing magic by Philly’s Kilamanzego.

Imagine a dusty warehouse in West Philadelphia, stocked to the brim with old, rusting pianos, pitbulls with mange and orange bandanas, and a whole lotta white people wearing black clothes and rocking dreadlocks. This was the scene when I first heard Kilamanzego cast auditory spells, lifting the crowd with euphoric organ swells only to pummel them with roaring bass drop after bass drop. That night, Kilamanzego — armed with Ableton Live triggered from a laptop and an infectious energy — wasn’t just playing a beat set; they were opening portals to realms from which I don’t think I’ve ever returned. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying: that sounds like a lot of music guy talk, and the big lofty words volleyed about to describe what’s being thrown down don’t impress you. The thing is, while that performance might have been a welcome surprise — that so much powerful, trance inducing sound could be conjured by a petit yet tough former hardcore punk, black girl in a west Philly punk rock basement — Kilamanzego’s next performance I witnessed? It was a revelation. There is no doubt that we are dealing with one of Philly’s most creative musical minds.

And for Kila, it’s a long time coming. Kilamanzego has created a tightly wound catalog of entrancing beats, mini-séances that invoke both their time spent toiling in Philly’s underground and their Ghanaian roots. At once tribal and atmospheric, Kilamanzego has etched new sounds on the beat-based landscape. With their series backyardbxss that they curate as part of the smth savant collective, they’ve helped cultivate a movement that bridges scenes and communities in the spirit of Hip Hop. For Kilamanzego though, that spirit doesn’t seem to want to be tamed. With a hypnotic new single called “Stay Floated In The Tribe” out this week and upcoming shows including Get Better Fest at the First Unitarian Church, we sat down with Kila to discuss beats, life, and sonic ritual texture. Continue reading →


Vega on Vega: Exploring profound truths in punk and rap with West Philly’s Ronnie Vega

Ronnie Vega | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Ronnie Vega | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A light in an otherwise bleak universe, the star set to go nova that is Ronnie Vega traipses up and down Lancaster Avenue in west Philadelphia, his trademark white t-shirt reflecting the dull light of passing cars down the cantankerous two-lane. Spotting him out of the 10 trolley window, one couldn’t simply assume what his daily exploits were aligned with, as his gait, temperament and “in-the-cut” persona barely shifts; Vega is an enigma, at least as much as an outwardly sincere and introspective artist can be.

When he’s fronting his self-titled band, his vocals easily moving through the dense, foggy backbeat the band provides, Vega is fully immersed in his element. Despite the band’s heavy, tumbling swaths of moody, cinematic noise — drenched in the residual riffs of Black Flag’s “My War” all tied together with the leylines of a lost early period Public Enemy record — Vega insists on regaling listeners with tales both west-Philly-centric and universal. Vega doesn’t mince words: dodging the po-po, hood drama, and dealing with depression are all themes that find a home on the band’s two albums (The Lost Vega. Vol 1 and Demos2015). As well, the topics and perspectives that Ronnie, a brotha raised in the Philly streets, brings to light rarely find a home at the typical, DIY punk shows that Ronnie Vega often blesses.

Despite his aggressive, sometimes polarizing lyrics, Vega is a real chill dude. His laidback aura allows him to be an observer in a hostile environment that demands he be more of a participant. For Vega, it’s about balance, choosing when to rage, when to tear at the machines. We sat down with the rapper and discussed channeling that rage, that confusion, in an increasingly politicized world. Continue reading →


If Something Is On Fire, Maybe It Needs To Be: Philly saxophonist Keir Neuringer on distilling a troubled world into turbulent jazz

Keir Neuringer
Keir Neuringer | photo by Peter Gannushkin | courtesy of the artist

The moment you hear Keir Neuringer‘s alto-saxophone vibrating through an art museum — the warm tones bouncing off of avant garde sculptures — and watch those tones solidify into zoetropic color and immerse themselves into Muhal Richard Abrams collages, the only thing that seems to make sense, in the moment, is that you’re watching a reinterpretation of jazz.

It’s with his decidedly experimental (and experiential) band Irreversible Entanglements (featuring Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, on poetic vocals) and his crashy, noise ‘n blues and equally experimental/experiential outfit Neuringer/Dulberger/Masri that Keir is able to accomplish this feat. With the release of Irreversible’s self titled debut on Don Giovanni Records, and the N/D/M trio’s Dromedaries on Already Dead Tapes, Keir has stepped into the same spaces where the conversation on jazz is being informed by artists like Matana Roberts, Tyshawn Sorey and, of course, Kamasi Washington. His rustic, granola-outdoorsmans meets suburban punk dad visage aside, Neuringer channels the spirit of this young jazz movement, often moving beyond the genres confines, yet remaining steadfastly reverential to its roots, expressions, and most importantly to him, the genre’s intrinsic radical politics.

The Key sat down with this eclectic, inspiring musician and discussed what it’s like to transmit waves of change in a world that doesn’t seem to want to. Continue reading →


Amps and Allyship: SRA Records’ BJ Howze on erasing boundaries in the punk scene

BJ Howze | photo courtesy of the artist
BJ Howze | photo courtesy of the artist

A quick visit to Philly based punk record label SRA Records‘ website reveals the quirky, jagged sense of humor that belies the countenance of label owner BJ Howze, a person whose personal growth has been as steady and pointed as his releases. If you were a fan of BJ’s noise-and-drums duo Hulk Smash and their in-your-face, “The Onion headline if written by Chomsky as heavy metal lyric” brand of punk, then you know what I’m talking about. But despite the adherence to punk’s need to shed light, tongue-in-cheek, on the troubling nuances of living in the world, it’s the evolutionary process — the growing up, the having kids, the accepting of your social position in the world and what kind of positive power that can yield — that has kept SRA continually challenging staid long-held punk notions of do-it-yourself, broadening the concept of punk community but retaining all of its power, humor and intelligence. From releases by agit-grunge outfit Psychic Teens, to the blistering wall of noise political chaos of Soul Glo, the label has stretched its sonic boundaries. By opening up his studio and label while providing support for bands that feature historically marginalized people, BJ has vowed to push social boundaries as well.

After seeing him around the punk scene for years, I finally officially met BJ after my band (Solarized, whose debut LP BJ also has agreed to release on SRA) played a show at a dive bar in South Philly and we’ve been making moves to work on projects together ever since. And while our prog-rock synthwave band might not ever see the light of day– and besides, BJ does duty with his wife and principle song-writer Helen in the band Dialer, holding it down in that admittedly slight genre already– it was an honor to work with him as he graciously lent his expertise to an event I put together, Electrifest (a queer/lgbt empowering event highlighting the avant-garde queer and POC led music scene on the east coast). We sat down with BJ to discuss the maturation process and what it’s like to help erase boundaries in the strange, often bewilderingly unforgiving world of punk rock. Continue reading →


The Power of the People: Kamasi Washington on artistic freedom and intellectual expansion

Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington | photo courtesy of the artist

If you listen to current jazz and its proponents, you’d think the landscape would be wrought with dark cynicism, mired in the sometimes tenuous relationship that jazz, in an attempt to stay in the millennial zeitgeist, has had to build with scenes like noise or experimental music. Scenes where a bleaker outlook is fostered at the expense of spiritual liberation.

Enter Kamasi Washington, a beacon in the modern iteration of jazz and avant garde music. He exists as a portal to another time where African dashikis and proud Nubian brothers holding spears atop wicker chairs, or black astral travelers conjuring up sounds rocking “spiritual tuning fork as headdress,” were the norm. With his band locked in with the force of a hadron collider and bursting with kaleidoscopic vision, the native Los Angeleno manages to bring together genres seamlessly with two highly acclaimed albums– 2015’s The Epic and this fall’s Harmony of Difference. While he has enough room in his heart for both Art Blakey and Grover Washington, both Wayne Shorter and George Benson, the key to this grand synthesis of sound, where orchestral moments like Epic‘s opening track “Change of the Guard” lift through the atmosphere only to descend gracefully, tapering out with an effortless cool that evokes a hungry Miles Davis, is simple: it’s in the power of the people. Continue reading →


Speaking the truth with Philly punk visionaries Soul Glo

Soul Glo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Soul Glo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

For many rockers of color, finding films like AFROPUNK — James Spooner’s groundbreaking documentary about minority involvement in punk and hardcore movements — was and is a critical milestone in their development. As a young black and queer punk rocker immersed in the community, watching this film’s scenes unfold, bearing witness to ideas, perspectives, and experiences expressed in the film that were so wildly different, I realized something: each one of those perspectives, from both the youthful, energetic dayglo punk who “didn’t want to be defined by their race” to the raging political hardcore kid using the genre towards black liberation, at some point I had felt similarly, at least in part, to all of the interviewees. The lived black punk rock experience was given a voice. In that documentary’s wake the legions of weird yet still culturally impactful black music has practically given birth to new ways of discovering music through blogs and social media. This wave has infiltrated community centers and Shriners’ hallls, as well as taken to the stages usually reserved for all white bands.

Philadelphia is a city ripe for a black and brown punk reclaiming. Entire movements have thrived for more than a decade dedicated to promoting art and music by marginalized people. Enter Soul Glo, a band etching dark, interpersonal screeds on ancient parchment cut from the skin of the rotting corpse of hardcore punk. Their music travels pedal-driven through lush, dense shoe-gaze forests, bursting out of the other side screaming. Lead singer Pierce Jordan’s voice is an unmatched wail that snakes through the band’s wiry punk orchestration as a truly exhaustive vessel for his trauma-informed lyrics. While their name — taken from a parody product from the cult 80’s Eddie Murphy comedy Coming To America, said to give black folk luscious, wavy jheri curled hair — may come across as comedic, it’s important to remember that the moniker choice is all a part of the intricate cultural interplay and relevancy that truly revolutionary, unbothered and alternative black acts have traditionally embraced. From Parliament’s colorful renditions of life on the mothership to Odd Future’s notorious hyper-cartoon troll Tyler the Creator’s transformation into a living meme, there’s certainly room for jest in this revolution. The sentiment is most aptly put by an interviewee in the AFROPUNK doc when she casually intones: “I don’t feel less black because I’m less normal”

We sat down with Soul Glo to discuss the contradictions, struggles and even empowerment of speaking the truth of the black lived experience to a punk power structure that often values the social capital of whiteness over others. Continue reading →


Seven bands from the Philly DIY underground you need to hear right now

Ursula | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Philly is one of those cities (the only city?!) that’s able to contain, harness, and release the unbridled energy of hardcore punk and strange outsider indie rock in the form of four impactful spring festivals and still have enough left to keep the summer righteously shredded.

We came together for Electrifest (queer POC experimental music fest centering LGBT health concerns), Get Better Fest (queerpunk fest put on by the folks at Get Better Records), Break Free Fest (an event centering black and brown hardcore acts) and of course, Philly Shreds (a showcase of punk bands from all over with a heavy Philly edge), but we are still rocking, still falling into our amps in damp, sweltering basements and rolling around in the free dumpstered bagel piles at our local community centers, screaming our hearts out, shouting down The Man.

This article seeks to chronicle the continued mayhem of the Philadelphia punk rock scene, seeking out both the upstart and lesser known bands and the tried and true favorites breathing new life into their sets, as well as highlighting how truly diverse our loud rock scene is. It is exhilarating to think that our community features women, queer / LGBT folks, and people of color playing prominent roles. Sit back and let the pretzel-flavored chaos reign. Continue reading →


Become The Gatekeeper: Ramona Córdova reflects on a decade of pushing boundaries and arriving at the new ON PAPER

Ramona Cordova | photo by Inma Varandela | courtesy of the artist
Ramona Córdova | photo by Inma Varandela | courtesy of the artist

Ramona Córdova‘s video for “Decision” opens with Angela Davis’s sultry, portentous voice lamenting the state of racial relations in 1960’s America, particularly police violence and housing discrimination against black people. Her words and Ramona’s use of them are portentous. As the video lurches through footage of hippies protesting it bleeds into stark bleached out film images of key moments in black history. “Decision” is a song about using your intuition to make loving choices– to stay, to go, and to live with these choices long after you’ve left the corporeal world. The songs contemplative nature is underscored by a marching, casio-fueled back beat that seems to hold together the wistful pop-folk. Despite a stark intrusion from a racist Willie Lynch quote, the video ends hopefully, awash in color, the people having made their choice to abandon the parts of them that are uninterested in liberation.

This kind of witchy imbalance and playful questioning has informed Ramona Córdova for the past decade they’ve been creating music. A multi-instrumentalist whose cultural background is a wonderful mosaic (Haitian, Filipino, Puerto Rican), Ramona embraces a nostalgiac sense of liberation through the dreaminess of the new album On Paper. The record is a buzzy, brilliant fever infecting listeners with its Flaming Lips-but-really good song writing. Ramona peeks through the lazy clouds of the act’s past efforts for a taste of modernity, albeit replete with a lo-fi orchestral scratch. A true angel with a voice to match, you can find Ramona Córdova on the one couch at your local community center, drifting through the dream state and the real world, at once absorbing the sight and sounds of west Philly’s queer bent indie scene and projecting an aura so vibrant genre can not contain.

We talked to Ramona about On Paper, the sometimes rough terrain of the larger indie landscape, and about the power in witchy energy. Join us! 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 →