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My Wave: Watch Soundgarden perform at Bethlehem’s Stabler Arena in June of 1994

Soundgarden at Stabler Arena | still from video

As with many artists whose roots lie in underground culture and grow to reach the masses, you can essentially divide Soundgarden‘s career into two halves: pre-“Black Hole Sun” and post.

That’s not to say that the Seattle rock icons didn’t have a robust discography and a dedicated fan base prior to the spring 1994 release of their fourth LP, Superunknown. They’d been a band for ten years; they’d been a major label band for half of that time, following the jump to A&M on 1989’s Louder than Love. They had passionate followers and a rep for a killer live show. What they didn’t have was a song, or songs, that cut through the frenzied noise of MTV and alternative radio.

Even though 1991’s Badmotorfinger boasted classics like “Outshined” (which peaked at 45 on the Billboard rock charts) and “Rusty Cage” (re-popularized in a Johnny Cash cover two years later), the album had the misfortune of being released on the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind and performing not exactly as well. It was embraced by critics, and the industry to a degree, but it didn’t have a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” propelling it, and nobody quite knew how to categorize these four hairy dudes from the Pacific Northwest; the following year at the Grammy awards, they were confusingly nominated for “Best Metal Performance.”

Three years later, Soundgarden finally did connect in that bigger way. MTV and alt-rock were bigger than ever, and the band’s flirtation with heavy psychedelia on Superunknown made their sound incredibly alluring, as well as a bit less intimidating. “Black Hole Sun” dropped as a single in May of that year, and was the third to get the push from the record that had been out since March. Thanks to a dreamy slide guitar lead by Kim Thayil, a hammering hook, and a super weird, apocalyptic music video that was equal parts funny and disturbing, the song was beloved in the alternative world, and pushed the band well beyond it as well, into the collective consciousness of casual listeners and heads alike. “Black Hole Sun” was Soundgarden’s first number one on the Billboard Rock Charts, but was a slow burn over the course of five months.

When Soundgarden played Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Stabler Arena on June 24th, 1994, their wave was just beginning to hit its crest. Continue reading →

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Listen to West Philly Porchfest performances via the 25 O’Clock podcast

Porchfest | photo by Dan Drago | via instagram.com/25OClockPod

The West Philly Porchfest took place this past Saturday, June 8th with a full turnout of both musicians and spectators. In case you aren’t familiar, Porchfest is an annual do-it-yourself music festival where musicians of all kinds play free shows on their porches in West Philadelphia. It was created by residents of the neighborhood four years ago to showcase the diverse music and culture within their community. It gives Philadelphians the unique opportunity to listen to live bluegrass, jazz, rap, indie, and everything in between — all within blocks of one another. Continue reading →

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Two to Tango: Mark Volman of The Turtles and Susan Cowsill of The Cowsills discuss the 10th Anniversary of the weird Happy Together tour

The Turtles (left) and The Cowsills | photo courtesy of the Happy Together tour

Despite each act’s sunshiny harmonies and quirkily humorous lyrical eclat, there’s definitely something wonderfully weird about The Turtles and The Cowsills, two of the groups on Flo & Eddie’s Happy Together tour of pop-psychedelic 60s acts, now celebrating its 10th anniversary at the Keswick on June 19.

While Flo & Eddie are renowned for time collaborating with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention during that mad ensemble’s most conceptual period (e.g. the “Billy the Mountain” song cycle), The Cowsills were the initial inspiration for ABC Television’s The Partridge Family, but were too odd a lot, gangly and pimply to be Hollywood stars.

Though any conversation with Mark Volman and Susan Cowsill, alone, could go a million different ways and tackle a million unique subjects, this Two to Tango interview focused on the relationship between The Turtles and The Cowsills, past and present, and in connection to the gathering of minds that is the decade-long Happy Together. Continue reading →

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Music Auxiliary Support: Listen to Kristen and Paige of Cherry-Veen Zine guest DJ on XPN Local

Paige Walter and Kristen Levine of Cherry-Veen Zine at WXPN | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A few years ago, Kristen Levine watched The Punk Singer, the 2013 documentary on Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna and the riot grrrl movement she helped propel from the Pacific Northwest scene to the national spotlight. It wasn’t just a movement about music, though. It was about art, it was about feminism, it was about independence and DIY — doing things by yourself, for yourself, and answering to no one.

Levine was inspired, and channeled that energy into Cherry-Veen Zine, a Philly music scene chapbook she began publishing in the spirit of the zine-makers she saw in The Punk Singer. Fleshed out with the work of graphic designer Laura Cherry, an initial run of six limited-edition issues popped up at places around Philly throughout 2016 — Milkcrate, Johnny Brenda’s, Steep & Grind, and Rocket Cat (RIP) — with lots of social media activity like gig photos and playlists filling the space between one print edition and the next.

But early 2017, however, the independent publishing grind had taken a toll on Levine, and she left Philly to spend a year in York, Pennsylvania. When she returned last year, she met Paige Walter — a Pittsburgh transplant with a background in education and journalism — and Cherry-Veen Zine was re-invigorated.

Last weekend, Issue 9 hit the streets, and on Tuesday night, Levine and Walter appeared on the WXPN Local show for a guest DJ set spotlighting their favorite Philadelphia artists — corey flood to Barney Cortez, Blushed to Pine Barons — and talk about their mission. Continue reading →

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Seven bands from the Philly DIY underground you need to hear right now (2019 edition!)

Pit Hair | photo by Gabe Coffey | courtesy of the artist

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 →

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Turn Up The Trans*mission: Tattooed Mom provides an open stage for trans and non-binary artists

deadboy | photo by Samantha Sayten | courtesy of the artist

It’s February. I’m sitting on a lawn chair in the graffitied back room of Tattooed Mom. The room is crowded, people intermingling on sagging couches and in the backseats of bumper cars. The drag queen known as Little Piece steals French fries from the basket in my lap, flipping the curls of their pink wig. There is no stage, no barrier between the performance and the audience. High-heeled queens strut a narrow walkway, lip-syncing and collecting dollar bills. In one burlesque number, a performer throws peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into the sea of outstretched hands. This is what performance art is, at its core—  unpredictable, unrestricted, and sometimes hilarious.

Turn Up the Trans*mission is unlike any performance art show in Philadelphia. Staged monthly at the long-established South Street punk hangout, it aims to combine trans* advocacy with live performance. The acts include burlesque, drag, singing, spoken word, and any other imaginable performance style. The show serves as a platform primarily for transgender and non-binary artists, and is inclusive of both new and veteran performers. I sat down with host and producer deadb0y IX, as well as a couple of the local performers, in the basement of a coffee shop in the Gayborhood to talk about the mission and future of the show.

deadboy started performing three years ago, and noticed pretty quickly that there were limited opportunities for trans or queer-specific artists. New performers find themselves jumping through hoops, barred from shows that require pre-requisites such as having several years of experience or the right network of connections. deadboy was given the opportunity to develop his own show through Philly LGBT Art Initiative, teaming up with co-host Vyvyan Sassafrass. “We wanted to put on a show that was advocacy and performance art, and to get rid of the gatekeeping rituals,” says deadboy. “I don’t really understand the whole, pay your dues and work for free until you get recognition thing.”

Continue reading →

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#XPN5050: 1998

For fifty weeks this year, we’re celebrating the music of a specific year every Saturday on WXPN. We’ll be choosing the years randomly; for this week’s #XPN5050, John Vettese is putting the musical spotlight on the year 1998.

An absolutely, utterly ridiculously number of now-classic albums first made their way into the world in 1998. Neutral Milk Hotel’s in The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Lauryn Hill’s Mis-Education. Tori Amos’ From The Choirgirl Hotel. Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue. Air’s Moon Safari. Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Madonna’s Ray of Light. Belle and Sebastian’s Boy With The Arab Strap. Jay-Z’s Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life. Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

That’s just a short list — I could go on and on, honestly — and outside the full album zone, think about the hits that year from Fatboy Slim, Pearl Jam, Semisonic, Fastball, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Merchant, Soul Coughing, New Radicals and so much more.

Suffice it to say, 1998 was a solid year for music through and through, and it was a thing of joy to celebrate it on the #XPN5050 this week.  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 Philly DJ Roundtable: Exploring the state of the art of party rocking in 2019

DJ Lean Wit It
DJ Lean Wit It | photo by Dvvinci | courtesy of the artist

From the reggae sound systems of Jamaica in the 70s, to England’s illegal pirate radio stations of the 1960s and beyond, the history of global DJ culture is impossibly rich and complex. In music circles around the world, Philadelphia is recognized as a breeding ground for some of the world’s best DJs. Having to bridge the gap between technical skill, taste and a deep knowledge of the music one plays, the art of being a (good) DJ in this city no simple task. Club culture in this city is built upon a foundation of decades of history and tradition.

In the wake of the cultural and economic boom of the disco-era (led by Philadelphia International Records), the essence of modern DJing as we know it began to take shape. Spurred on by a few key technical innovations — most notably, the creation of extended, “remixed” versions of popular R&B / soul cuts, the 12” vinyl single, and the practice of creating a seamless flow of music by mixing two records together on two turntables and a mixer — the disco-era initiated a gradual shift of focus away from bands and concerts, toward DJs and clubs, and effectively changed the way we experience music. Continue reading →