Make sure you check out the new issue of JUMP. There’s plenty of great articles about Philly musicians and the scene. I wrote a little blurb about Le Yikes Surf Club for The JUMP Off section, so let me know what you think. Special thanks go out to George W. Miller III and Beth Ann Downey. Enjoy some Le Yikes, and hit up The Pharmacy for plenty of great shows (including thecityandi‘s record release)!
So last week, Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh held hearings in regard to the state of the local music scene. Local musicians, venue-heads and label owners spoke up about how things are and where they’re going. Essentially, it all boils down to how to propagate the scene – encourage creativity and growth, and show the rest of the country – and the world – that Philadelphia is a unique artistic hub.
JUMP Philly‘s Editor-in-Chief, George W. Miller III, delivered a passionate speech concerning the city’s responsibility in the success of such a goal. I’ve known Geo since my time in Temple University’s journalism program, where he not only pushed aside his workload to shoot the shit with me about music, but really encouraged me to get out and spread the word. In the past, I had always found it funny that one of the biggest cities on the East Coast didn’t have a true music magazine. Sure, there were sections in the local papers, but nothing that approached the comprehensive, in-depth reporting on the burgeoning pastiche of musical movements flourishing and emerging under the radar that an obsessive fan would want. When JUMP took off, I was blown away – here it was, finally. The megaphone that could shout out to the masses, announcing so many incredible acts that may have remained unheard of otherwise. Talented musicians could get recognition without having to wait for a write-up in a Brooklyn indie-blog! Philly’s musical forces could hold their own!
When I was encouraged to do a write-up for Philly’s own The Underwater Sounds, I jumped at the chance – not only did it give me a chance to get back into journalism, but also to explore the intimacy of our local community. Just recently, I interviewed the guys of Le Yikes Surf Club, and I learned even more about our awesome little scene from their frontman Gary, who runs The Pharmacy (a great hub for local and national acts alike). I recall Gary remarking that a previous night’s performance – a local EDM act – may not have been his cup of tea, but he loved opening up the space for the city’s electronic fans to come out and have a great time. Working together to foster the success of local acts is just inherent to Philly artists. Support like this is what helps drive a scene, inform the fans, spread the word and keep it all going.
With that in mind, I encourage everyone to read the transcript of Geo’s speech. If you can help out, do it. Write letters to state and local government encouraging arts initiatives, tax breaks, etc. Check out local shows, support the groups, branch out from your usual scene. Write a blog, hand out flyers for bands, name-drop your favorite bands on social media, make some contributions! Together, this can become a stronghold for the East Coast music scene, and not just a blip on the artistic radar. Let’s do this.
Milwaukee-based rapper Rory Ferreira dropped a new track, “Zen Scientist ft Myka 9,” under his Milo moniker yesterday. The single, opening with a distracted musing of misconceptions, quickly jumps into Ferreira’s distinctly chill rap-speak flow, utilizing a precise lexicon over a dreamy back-beat. A soulful drop-in from Myka 9 adds to the mystic relaxation before Milo takes the reins for a tight verse, weaving into another surreal, well timed instrumental break. Ferreira’s pop-culture-checking wordplay comes to an end with him “decid[ing] in good faith to let [his] soul fly,” shouting out his brethren in the movement.
It’s an awesome introduction to Milo’s new full-length So the Flies Don’t Come, scheduled for release on September 25. Featuring guest spots from noted collaborators Hemlock Ernst, Elucid, Mike Eagle and Echo Tree, this is a bit of a return to origins for Ferreira; his first Milo album since 2013’s Cavalcade. Prior to that came 2012’s Milo Takes Baths and the incredible 2011 debut I Wish My Brother Rob Was Here. It seemed as if Scallops Hotel – 2013’s Poplar Grove (or How to Rap with a Hammer) and this past May’s Plain Speaking, both phenomenal projects in their own right – was Ferreira’s main focus for a stretch. Following that break, it will be pretty exciting to see what’s been up with Milo, and where he’s going with the auditory nom de plume.
Milwaukee’s Ruby Yacht will put out the “vainglorious! pink-on-pink-on-pink” cassette version of So the Flies Don’t Come. If previous Ferreira releases are any indication, the 300 limited copies will sell out quick, so get one soon. Look out for a full analysis from The Kinetic Pulse once the album officially drops in just a few (agonizing) weeks.
Coming upon the final stretch of the El Pintor American Tour, one could understand if indie icons Interpol would be worn out by a hectic schedule through a scorching summer. But their appearance at Penn’s Landing’s River Stage – a last-minute change due to “unexpected site maintenance at Festival Pier” (Ticketmaster) – proved the polar opposite. Highlights from El Pintor were sprinkled amongst landmark singles and fan favorites spanning their other four albums and nearly two-decade career, painting a gorgeous portrait of NYC rock with strokes of post-punk revival.
The wave of dark but invigorating tunes was perfectly complimented by breezy warm weather at the River Stage, providing a scintillating, personal engagement for the fans. While one may normally peg Interpol for grander outdoor stages or fashionable metropolitan clubs, the small stage harkened back to the days of Turn on the Bright Lights, calling upon the boundless energy of youth and working it into new hits like “Anywhere” and “All the Rage Back Home.” Jumping the expanse between their debut and latest release – which also happens to be the group’s first album sans bassist Carlos D. – illuminated the conceptual and aural bridge that was the original inspiration for the group’s self titled album.
The backdrop of lit-up industrial complexes across from the pulsations of the inky Delaware River framed the spectacle perfectly. Distinct warm-but-cool plucks of bass flowed through the gentle multi-hued stage fog only to be pierced by Daniel Kessler’s sizable Gibson, the striking notes captivating the crowd from opener “Say Hello to the Angels” to the encore ending with “Obstacle 1.” This vitality fueled the spacey guitars of cuts like “Everything Is Wrong” to evoke a heady awe. Even somber slow-builders like “Leif Erikson” and “Pioneer to the Falls” maintained the powerful undercurrent of the eve to great effect. One could taste the amplified elegance consistently, but it would truly come to a head during the stark end of “Pioneer.” Simplicity truly illustrated depth in moments like these.
Banks’s impassioned vocals projected a lush tone of carousing through velveteen nights. Touring member Brad Truax brought the pivotal thick and punchy bass, intertwining with Sam Fogarino’s perfectly calculated percussion, yet never falling to a passive back-beat. Weaving tight cracks on the snare and polished rhythm, Fogarino humbly held it all together. The forefront of Kessler’s vigorous outbursts of sharp riffs and Banks’s reserved yet lively tempo played out like inspiring conversation.
The thing about Interpol’s live show is that they have this flawlessness about them, a careful precision and perfection that one may not even notice directly. Yet this incredible tendency to absolutely nail every track never suggests a monotonous mixed playlist as projected through a PA system. Seemingly minuscule alterations, a stepped-up verse here, drawn out instrumental stretches there, subtle speed-ups; they all gently tweak the skeleton of the music, elevating standards like “Evil” and “Slow Hands” beyond the confines of simple recitation.
Saturday’s show could have just been a simple run-down, fulfilling the date in an adequate sense, and still have enthralled me with every moment. But this is Interpol, a band that does not just phone it in – they bring you into a microcosm of cosmopolitan cool, grasping you with every single note, filling your senses with liveliness and lust. Live Interpol is effortless, chic energy incarnate, and they brought that aura to Philadelphia tenfold, wrapping every listener in a soundscape of pain, romance, drama, wit and wonder.
Photos are courtesy of Krys Sansone and are used with permission
It’s rather easy to dismiss hardcore punk as repetitive. Even with – or in spite of – a relatively short history, it seems like many newer acts in the scene can be easily reduced to a simple reference point. Once you’ve gone through about twenty or thirty versions of Black Flag with a dash of Minor Threat and some Agnostic Front, you start to lose the formerly bold and adventurous taste of what those very bands embodied. While cutting your teeth on some Dead Kennedys is fine, a band has to branch out, try something new, in order to really make the music its own – otherwise it comes to a standstill reminiscent of a bored cover band.
And that’s what makes Portland, Oregon’s Squalor so intense, impassioned, and downright invigorating – they seem to bring draw more upon their own musical histories than that of the scene at large. Yeah, you can definitely pick up on some standards, but Squalor manages to bring it all together in a way that you cannot ignore. The feel of early 2000’s hardcore resurgence, the distinct west-coast punk vibe, and subtle nods to legends like Converge are present – but they refuse to limit themselves to these influences. One can actually sense that these guys grew up immersed in this sound, paying respect yet still harboring a need to push forward. There’s a rawness to “The Noel E.P.” (released January 2015) that highlights the explosive passion and energy the genre was built on, all the while distorting and amplifying it into something darker, angrier and more than willing to prove it.
As the thunderous intro to “Dry” quickly breaks into a hypertensive blast, you barely have time to catch your breath before this E.P. shreds your hardcore assumptions and eardrums to pieces. When the strained shouts throughout “No Sympathy” slows down to a throat-crippling exclamation of “I hate my job, I hate my friends, I’m so depressed, it never ends,” it sends shivers down the spine. By the time it wraps up with the chugging rhythm of “No You’re Not,” you get that drive to put the E.P. on repeat, get up and throw down. This is the way hardcore is meant to be – simple, brutal, honest, passionate, stirring.
Just this past Sunday, Squalor played a house show at The Darkplace. Even sans bassist, these guys charge through a bloodthirsty cavalcade of a set. Channeling the power present at good live hardcore punk shows, you feel the band’s energy feeding the crowd, and the reciprocal voltage that goes right back into the music. That vitality is beautifully augmented here, in a familiar yet distinct outcry that recharges your faith in fun, angry punk rock. So sit back and crank up this dynamic response to the monotony of loud music – you will feel it, right down to the bones.
Many thanks to Darkvids for putting up the audio as part of their “Live in the Ring” series.
Published: January 15, 2015 (Winter 2015 Issue)
The Underwater Sounds: Legendary Misfits of Sounds
As Sean Youngman drives along Grays Ferry Avenue toward Southwest Philadelphia, he notices a disheveled youth standing by the roadside, asking for change. He stops his car and roots around the back seat that is occupied by laundry baskets filled with freshly pressed albums and promotional posters. “I knew I had them in here,” he mumbles as he tosses items around. Youngman locates a box of granola bars, quickly rolls down the window and waves the beggar over. He hands the vagabond a bar with a smile, stating, “I like to keep them around and hand them out to people on the streets. I think it’s good karma.”
It seems that karma has really paid off for Youngman and his fellow musicians in The Underwater Sounds, a West Philly band on the brink of launching into exciting endeavors. The Sounds’ newest release, Visions of Love & Light, Part 1 – recorded at Fishtown’s East Room Recording – has just been pressed in time for a tour.
Youngman approaches the dead-end of Paschall Avenue and hops out of the car. His fellow band members – vocalist Sonni Schwartzbach, bassist Kenny Shumski and guitarist Billy Campion – come out to meet him.
Inside Campion’s home – an industrial building he converted into a living/practice space – the bandmates set down boxes of albums and posters, grab a few bottles of Goose Island beer and collapse on the couches in the practice area. The walls are covered with psychedelic tapestries, and the corners of the room are crowded with band merchandise, amplifiers and instruments. This is a rare opportunity for everyone to relax before launching into another busy stretch. But they’re accustomed to it, ever since forming in 2010.
“It was just me, Sonni and Sean at first, writing and playing [Sonni’s] tunes,” says Shumski. “But eventually, more members came aboard and everything kind of shifted in a different direction. We started exploring collaboration as a group.”
Campion’s addition brought a touch of jam to the unit. But that’s just one element of the package.
“Space roots, world-bop, psychedelic groove…” Schwartzbach lists as she tries to categorize the band.
“I like to say reggae soul,” chimes in Campion.
“Reggae is a cool box to be in but I don’t necessarily think we fit inside a box,” counters Schwartzbach. “We’re not going to be stuck in one scene. We’re misfits.”
Labeling aside, the band coalesced into a distinct sound over the years, with each member providing an element of his or her own.
“Sean and I come from more harder-rock backgrounds, Sonni always played in reggae bands and ska bands and Billy played all sorts of stuff,” says Shumski. “It’s not like we’re consciously trying to create a unique sound. It’s just happening.”
That is the mentality which makes The Sounds so accessible, even to those who normally won’t bother listening to reggae or jam music. Their live shows are legendary, with live art, stilt-walkers, hula-hoopers and fire-spinners complementing the trippy tunes.
“We have a lot of friends with really unique abilities that they’ll contribute to our shows,” says Youngman.
After years of handling live acts and two records on their own, the band has recently signed on to locally-based Rising Pulse Productions – home of Philly funk outfit Swift Technique – allowing them to concentrate strictly on the music.
Although The Sounds have invested plenty of time traveling, they still call Philadelphia – specifically West Philly – home.
“The music scene is accessible,” Schwartzbach remarks. “There’s a community here that’s not typical of East Coast cities to have this homey feel.”
“And nobody complains about the music!” notes Campion in regard to practices.
“It’s cool that we can park the band bus out here, too,” says Youngman with a laugh.
All told, the band’s core ethos is simply summed up in one line.
“It’s a party and we want everyone to have a fucking good time,” says Schwartzbach. “No matter who they are.”
And that’s a party you don’t want to miss.
Publication: Philadelphia Neighborhoods (Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab at Temple University)
Published: March 12, 2009
Nicetown-Tioga: Turning a New Page
By Brian Myszkowski (with contributions by Laura Yacoe and Lauren Pappas)
The bookstores of the Tioga and Nicetown community are much more than stacks of literature and textbooks. They serve as a forum for the community and an educational outlet for the people of the neighborhood.
When customers walk up to the poster-clad staircase of Black and Nobel Bookstore, the employees and owner Hakim Hopkins immediately welcome them with smiles and hearty handshakes. It seems as if Hopkins knows just about every customer on a personal basis.
Beats from a local rapper boom from the speakers and bounce off the book-lined walls as customers read urban literature and browse the collection of music. “We draw ‘em in by simply playing the music,” said Hopkins, “It may be something like just hearing one beat, if you get somebody to do that, the next thing you know they’re walking up the steps.”
But customers find much more than hip-hop beats and reggae tones. The constant excitement of the 1409 W. Erie Ave. business has grown into a Philadelphia hot spot. The bookstore regularly hosts signings and celebrity appearances to keep the customers coming. On most Fridays, the store offers free food to the customers.
The majority of customers are regulars, and they feel a strong connection to the store and its employees. “These people are like
family to me,” said Chantelle Clark, a frequent visitor. The constant crowds promise a successful future for the business.
Considering the humble beginnings of Black and Nobel, the origin of the store serves as inspiration for other budding businesses – businesses that could play a similar role in improving the neighborhood. The spacious second-floor bookstore first opened as a vendor’s table on the street six years ago, thanks to the help of the “New Choices, New Options” program that Hopkins attended at Temple University. It has since flourished in a growing company, including a wholesale distribution department, as well as a program to ship books
Bookstores are a rarity in the neighborhood, but the ones that exist are well aware of their importance and positive impact on the community. Al-Furqan Bookstore and Bazaar is another bookstore that has used its reputation to promote literacy combined with religion. Located at 4816 N. Broad St., Al-Furqan primarily focuses on Islamic and African-American literature as well as clothing, home decorations, and organic soaps and oils. Customers are warmly greeted with the traditional Muslim greeting assalamu alaikum and the smell of oils and colorful khimars draped on the walls.
“We provide a positive image in this environment,” said owner, Khalil Ghani. Ghani and his wife, Haji Khalil Ghani, opened in 1995 as a bookstore and have expanded into a clothing boutique since then.
Ghani attributes his success of his business to the upkeep of his store. By keeping the store in good shape, he believes, there will be a positive impact on the rest of the neighborhood. By improving the visual aspect of the community, there is an improvement in the quality of life for the residents. “I was the only one for awhile to go outside and sweep up the trash, but it’s important to keep doing that,” said Ghani.
Al-Furqan and Black and Nobel provide employment opportunities for people in the neighborhood – a welcoming prospect during these tough economic times.
Both bookstores regularly receive shipments of new books and other products, and Ghani hires on a need-basis to restock. “When you involve the people, they feel a greater association to the environment. They’ll look out for you, protect you,” said Ghani.
Both businesses have reached out to local youth to create a learning environment with their collections of children’s novels and music. Local elementary schools visit Al-Furqan for field trips. “Buses come in – just to shop – busloads of kids just to shop,” said Ghani.
The bookstores bring the community together and improve the safety and education of the neighborhood residents. Literature is in constant competition with the crime and drug problems. A few years ago, this particular area was rife with danger, including violence attributed to gang activity and drugs.
“Six years ago, people were openly selling drugs on the street, and you see a whole lot less of that now,” said Hopkins. Instead, more and more people are coming to these bookstores — positive environments that encourage education and unity, what Hopkins calls “a balance in life.”
Each store may appeal to a particular customer base, but both use their positive reputation as a way to reach out the community. Whether one is looking for a new urban fiction novel at Black and Nobel or a classic Muslim text at Al Furqan, a customer is bound to notice the beneficial impact of such establishments. By encouraging literacy, community and employment, both establishments are helping to improve the quality of life in the Allegheny, Tioga and Nicetown neighborhoods.
While one could attribute this movement to forward-thinking individuals like the Ghanis and Hopkins, it appears that the progress is a product of a joint effort.
“I can’t take all the credit, it’s thanks to the people,” said a modest Hopkins. With the Ghanis and Hopkins leading the way, the community has a lot to look forward to.
Publication: Philadelphia Weekly
Published: November 5, 2008
PW’s Picks For The Week
Toyland Closing Reception
Fri., Nov. 7, 6-9pm. Free. Nexus Foundation for Today’s Art, 1400 N. American St. 215.684.1946. http://www.nexusphiladelphia.org
The first time someone tries to photograph you with a Holga, you’ll be expecting a blast of water in your eye. That’s how silly it looks. But the Holga, along with a variety of other toy cameras, can create visually stunning photos through imperfection. Light leaks, color shifts and heavy vignettes that would take hours of tedium to replicate in Photoshop turn these everyday images into artwork. A collection of toy camera photographers–including Philly native Chris Macan–show off their beautifully flawed masterpieces at Toyland’s closing reception. Subjects and techniques include everything from Macan’s brilliantly colorful portraits to Rita Bernstein’s eerily nostalgic explorations of family life. Once you see the beauty of analog toy camera photography, you might not want go back to digital. It’ll seem awfully lame by comparison. (Brian Myszkowski)
What’s the most fun you can legally have with a knife? It’s Cubeecraft, a free online hobby site where you can download and construct your own paper figurines. Start with the simple Meatwad or Kirby toys and work your way up to a more complex craft like MC Chris. All you need is a hobby knife, a printer and a profound case of boredom. (B.M.)
Publication: Broad & Cecil (the news blog of The Temple News)
Published: September 28, 2008
“Choke” Movie Review
You know the stories – the guy in the emergency room with the hamster/light bulb/champagne bottle stuck in his rectum, the lady with the peanut butter and a hungry dog… But have you ever heard the one about the sex obsessed guy who may be the illegitimate offspring of Christ?
Sam Rockwell stars as med school dropout and sex addict Victor Mancini in actor Clark Gregg’s directorial debut Choke. Victor spends his days working at a colonial theme park, acting as a “historical interpreter” while he hits on the milk maids and wastes time with his chronically masturbating, scene stealing buddy Denny (the hilarious Brad William Henke).
Due to the expense of keeping his mother Ida (Anjelica Huston) in a pricy psychiatric hospital, Victor makes additional income by choking at restaurants, allowing himself to be saved by unwitting diners. As Victor explains it, these people feel indebted to him, sending cards and cash to help the poor bastard out.
Through flashbacks, we learn of Ida’s unorthodox method of child rearing, which consists of kidnapping young Victor from foster families in order to teach him such life-saving lessons as the hidden meanings of announcements at department stores.
When Ida’s condition takes a turn for the worse, she lets it slip that there’s a secret concerning Victor’s origin. Victor employs help from his mother’s new doctor – and his new sexual conquest – Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald) to find the truth about his origin. And that’s where the story goes off the deep end, incorporating the theft of a sacred artifact from the Vatican and a secret insemination program.
Rockwell’s portrayal of the dry witted dirt-bag is spot-on – despite his despicable nature, you still like the son of a bitch. Of course, he’s no stranger to the character type – see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind for proof.
Being that the source material for Choke is a story by cult novelist Chuck Palahniuk, viewers are bound to be obsessively critical. Fear not – the film follows the original story fairly well, although it’s naturally been boiled down to fit an hour and a half of screen time. While the story plays well overall within the confines of a relatively short run-time, the ending comes off as a bit rushed.
Several points are skimmed over passively to save time, leaving us with some unanswered questions and seemingly random jumps in plot.
Whereas David Fincher applied a highly stylish look to Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Clark Gregg had to make due on a paltry indie budget for Choke. While most directors would view this as a massive hurdle, Gregg plays it to his advantage, creating a sense of realism with average – if not seriously damaged – people in uncanny situations. The drab sets (the psychiatric hospital, community centers and Mancini’s run-down home) and down-to-earth characters make it work, grounding us in reality while the story travels well outside the realm.
Choke recently took the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, so it seems that Gregg beat the mountain of odds stack against him. It’s a fun, dark comedy that retains the ridiculous voice of Palahniuk throughout, resulting in a bizarre – but occasionally (and oddly) endearing – film that’s ripe with intriguingly hilarious twists and turns.
Published: November 15, 2007
All Of This Happened While You Were Sleeping
FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT PERKASIE AT THE FIRE LAST NIGHT
1. Country/folk outfit Perkasie might seem more at home performing in an old Texas saloon with a worn-out bar piano, but they manage to get folks at The Fire tapping their feet to a collection of catchy Southern-style tunes. Subject matter ranges from grillin’ and drinkin’ some beers to more subdued whistle-along ballads about small-town life. With alternative acts like Bright Eyes and Murder by Death making mid-career transitions into country territory, it’s refreshing to see a band like Perkasie born straight into the genre.
2. Toward the end of the set, the band makes sure to squeeze in their fan favorite, “Ginger Sobs,” complete with a dedication sent out to all the red-heads in attendance — there aren’t many, but it’s the thought that counts.
3. Lead vocalists Kate Foust and Alex Wash harmonize and trade off lyrics with an enjoyable mix of Southern energy and soulful blues on tracks like “Honey Bee” and “The Fighting Thirteenth.” Wash manages to tickle the ivories at the same time, and for a song or two makes efficient use of the mandolin for a high energy hoedown – in Philadelphia, of all places.
4. Ben Roth’s down-home acoustic twang sounds over the smooth bass lines of Danny Sadler, while Dom Billett keeps the percussion rolling along nicely (the man also drums for the Southern/metal/hardcore band Judi Rose, of which Roth is also a part). And, of course, we can’t forget Matt Kelly, who accents the performance with an additional bass drum for that extra rhythmic punch.
5. And what does the band think of itself? “If Perkasie was a woman, I’d take her out, ’cause she’s the kind of girl you can take out to dinner and then have wild sex with. You know you’re gonna have a good time,” says Foust. Do they have your attention now?
TEXT AND PHOTO BY BRIAN MYSZKOWSKI