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The Skeleton Key: From the first show back at The Khyber to one of the last shows at 1026, we’ve got you coming and going for the rest of this packed July

Soul Glo | photo by Yoni Kroll

Hello Philadelphia! By the time you read this I will most likely be back home but right now I’m in the back of a van hurtling between DIY venues across the Midwest. My band embarked on our first ever tour in the last week of June and I’ve never eaten more fast-food in my life.

Tour is funny because while you might play to literally only the other bands one night — including one group of guys who when they were also only performing in front of other musicians still made it a point to tell everyone there to “stick around for the other bands” — the next night you can play to a crowded room of moshing Midwestern teenagers. Oh, and I was interviewed by someone, which as a journalist is a completely bizarre experience. All in all, no complaints.

But you’re not here for the tour tips. You don’t care where to get a bite to eat before playing the Trumbullplex in Detroit, though if you did I’d recommend Pie Sci right down the street for those massive Detroit square pies that are almost as good as what you’d get at Pizza Gutt up in Fishtown. No, what you want is the Philadelphia calendar listings and some good DIY news and gossip. I got you. Let’s go! Continue reading →

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Olivia Neutron-John presents a weird summer playlist for late nights and long van rides

Olivia Neutron-John | photo by Jen Dessinger

West Philly-based musician Anna Nasty — AKA Olivia Neutron-John — has had a busy few months.

There was a tour to Texas and back in March for South by Southwest. A new album came out in May on Sister Polygon, their first recordings in five years. The record release show, a truly memorable night at PhilaMOCA with The Ire and Radiator Greys, was a couple weeks before they set off on their current tour with Memphis no-wavers NOTS that’s taking them from Cincinnati to Durham with a stop in Philadelphia tonight. There’s a West Coast jaunt starting later this month that includes a show in Tijuana and a bunch of dates with DC post-punk darlings Priests. Oh, and in September they’re opening up for a little band called Stereolab in Brooklyn, no big deal.

All that adds up to a lot of time spent in the van. For Anna Nasty, that means a lot of time digging deep into all manner of music. We asked for a recent playlist and the self-described “aggressive bedroom pop” performer, whose own songs occupy a space of sparse-but-purposeful electronic minimalism of keyboard, bass, and vocals, happily and excitedly obliged.

Olivia Neutron-John plays at Boot & Saddle tonight with NOTS and Deep Tissue; more information can be found here. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: From Harrisburg synth punk history to West Philly porch pics to jazz gigs and more, we’ve got you covered this June.

Clark Park Fest Flyer | art by Justin Duerr

Say what you will about the thrill of the hunt but the fact that I can listen to just about any music out there whenever I want is a great feeling. Case in point: the other day I was reading about an old Harrisburg punk who had recently passed away, Mike Rage from the band Late Teens, and went down the rabbit hole of early 80s central Pennsylvania punk and hardcore. What a treasure trove of bands! It’s truly remarkable stuff.

Of the bunch the one that really, really stood out was Billy Synth & The Turn Ups, a synth punk act that existed in various iterations from the late 70s to the mid-80s. I’m going to swing back around to talk about them but first you should put on the Billy Synth album Disorderly Conduct – originally released in 1983 on the band’s own Tragik Records and with some tracks appearing on a compilation called “We Have Got To Make It On Our Own” that Mind Cure put out a few years ago – that some nerd was kind enough to upload to YouTube. Continue reading →

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Arada shows how punk is still putting the counter in counterculture

Arada | still from video

It’s easy to think of punk as just a style of music and not much else, especially in 2019. After all, when Gucci is selling an almost $20,000 studded leather jacket – or if you want something a bit less pricey, you can get a Misfits or Ramones shirt at Walmart – and there’s nothing particularly outlandish about dressing in all black and having a lot of tattoos and listening to loud music, what exactly is putting the counter in counterculture?

That might be the case here in the United States for the last couple decades, at least in major metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, but just about everywhere else punk is still very much seen as a threat. This is especially true when it comes to places with more autocratic governments or overarching religious institutions.

Arada, the new film by Turkish director Mu Tunç, explores the scene in Istanbul in the 90s through the true story of his brother, Orkun, who played in a number of punk and metal bands at the time. Continue reading →

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From jazz to punk to traditional Middle Eastern / North African music, Nadah El Shazly showcases shape-shifting sounds at Vox tonight

Nadah El Shazly | courtesy of the artist

The bio for Egyptian musician Nadah El Shazly, playing tonight at Vox Populi, references American horror punk progenitors The Misfits, the traditional Arab melody sytem the maqam, African jazz, and Alan Bishop of the pioneering experimental rock band Sun City Girls. On paper that seems like an intriguing but possibly overwhelming mouthful, but when you listen to Ahwar, El Shazly’s debut album, it all very much falls into place. Continue reading →

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Richie Records has a cure for the common Monday with free punk series at Ortlieb’s in June

Writhing Squares | photo via facebook.com/thewrithingsquares

Mondays just got a lot more exciting. Starting tonight and going for the rest of the month, local independent label Richie Records is presenting a free series at Ortlieb’s of some of the most exciting and fun bands in Philadelphia. We sat down with head honcho Richie Charles to talk about the shows, what the label has been up to, and his undying love for industrial punk freaks Men’s Recovery Project and their co-founder Neil Burke, who will be playing the series as part of a duo with Bill Nace on the 17th. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: From Amanda X, Break Free Fest, and Eugene Chadbourne to Nina Simone, Sun Ra, The Trocadero, and Yarrow, we’ve got you covered this May

Break Free Fest | flyer by @goodestboylili

A friend of mine who has been playing in bands for more than two decades recently asked me, only half-joking, where I find the energy to go to as many shows as I do. While I wanted to protest or at the very least get humorously defensive — “I don’t go to that many shows! Whatever!” — I realized it was a good question because, well, I do end up at a lot of shows every month. I mean, duh, I was asked to do this column for a reason.

Truth be told, I didn’t have a great answer for her. I found a home in music when I was 18 and moved to Philadelphia after spending five long, boring, and lonely years in South Florida. My first proper show was a couple weeks after getting here in September of 1997 — Helmet, The Melvins, Today Is The Day, and Hovercraft at The Trocadero — and I haven’t looked back since. It’s just what I do, for better or worse.

But while I didn’t have a good or even clever response to her question, I did have the realization that part of the reason I spend so much time watching live music is because there’s so much going on. Jazz, punk, hip hop, klezmer, chamber music. Eastern European choral bands. Indian classical. Harsh noise, catchy indie rock, techno DJs spinning all night long. If you wanted to, you could see a different type of music just about every night in our city and I think that’s amazing. Continue reading →

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“A musical keg of West Philly weirdo dynamite”: Reflections on two decades of the genre-defying Northern Liberties

Northern Liberties, circa 2003 | photo by Debbie Travis | courtesy of the artist

West Philly post-punk three piece Northern Liberties has been a band for so long that when they played their first show in February of 2000 the neighborhood they borrowed their name from was still a mostly forgotten blip on the radar. Fast forward almost two decades and the band — Justin Duerr on vocals and percussion, his brother Marc on drums, and their lifelong friend Kevin Riley on bass — are set to release their seventh album Parallel Hell later this year.

To say that Northern Liberties sounds like anything else out there would be to do a disservice to what they’ve managed to create over the years. But also this is a band that has comically defied categorization: reviews have compared them to everything from Green Day to Joy Division to Nirvana, Lightning Bolt, Crass, and even Guided By Voices. Clearly something is going on here, even if the band members are usually quite baffled by the comparisons.

“I swear to fucking God this is true: none of us ever heard that God damn Lightning Bolt,” Justin Duerr told The Key. “They weren’t on my radar. I never listened to that much stuff that was noisy. … [but] for the first four years that we played, almost at every show somebody would be like, ‘I get it, you worship at the altar of the mighty Lightning Bolt.’”

Nothing against the Providence bass and drums duo but he’s right: just because Northern Liberties have a similar lack of guitar going on doesn’t automatically make them a noise rock band. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: April is for Balkan big bands, hanging guitars, cult movies, so much jazz, and Sheer Mag

Sheer Mag | photo by Yoni Kroll

Wake up, Philadelphia! I know last month was a long one but here we are in April and I have a full plate of shows for you. So full, in fact, that it’s rare there’s a day without two or three can’t miss events. How wild is that? Even if you never even wanted to leave the house once this month – I don’t know, maybe you just broke your leg or something terrible like that – there’s enough new music from Philly bands to keep you occupied for a long time. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that too. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: March into spring with gigs galore, from Tuvan throat singers to heavy metal headbangers

Jim Shomo exhibit flyer | courtesy of the artist

Major announcement time, Philadelphia: it’s finally springtime! Go out into that sunshine and enjoy yourself! Don’t give me that look; I know it doesn’t look like it. I know that technically speaking we have two more weeks until the official start of the season. But it doesn’t matter. I am ready for winter to be over and if you are too – not judging! I was grinning ear-to-ear while riding my bike through the snow just a couple days ago – I have a full calendar of things going on.

Get that started tonight with the sweet stylings of Merge Records rock n roll powerhouse Mike Krol (no relation) with TVO and Wildflowers of America at Boot & Saddle. If you haven’t listened to these bands, you owe it to yourself, even if you’re not able to get to the show. I’m bumping the new Mike Krol album while writing this and it’s putting me in the best mood. TVO is great and if you haven’t seen Perry Shall’s Wildflowers of America yet I really don’t know what your problem is.

That band just announced a show in West Philly in April with Big Eyes and Dark Thoughts and at some point in the near future they’ll finally put out their debut album. If it’s even half as fun and catchy as their live set it’s going to blow everyone’s mind. Continue reading →