Break Free Fest Spotlight: S-21 - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
S-21 | photo by Ben Trogdon | | via

“For years punk and hardcore have been deemed white genres of music,” write the organizers of Philly’s Break Free Fest, “pushing aside and ignoring people of color who have been shaping it for years.” The festival, which takes place on Saturday, May 27th at The Rotunda in West Philadelphia, seeks to bring those marginalized artists together and to the front. All week long leading up to the event, we’re highlighting some of the performers on the bill.

S-21 / Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1. Who is in the band, how long have you been around for, and how would you describe what you’re doing to someone who might not be familiar?

S-21 is Cella, Brian, Nneka, Tiff and Cassidy and we’ve been around since September 2015.  S-21’s name comes from the notorious prison that the Khmer Rouge used to commit atrocities on Cambodians in the 1970’s and is particularly personal to Cella, S-21’s vocalist, who is the daughter of a Cambodian refugee and who lost family members due to the Cambodian genocide.  Heavily influenced by Japanese punk metal and mid 80’s US/NYHC, S-21 beats down on white supremacy, genocide, toxic masculinity, erasure, objectification and police brutality.

2. What are you most excited about when it comes to Break Free Fest?

We are most excited about sharing a space with other people who have lived through the experience of being black and brown in this world. It’s significant for us to create our spaces and platforms and to not always feel like guests being invited to spaces that are created on the terms and conditions of white musicians, which is more often than not the default dynamic. For us to acknowledge the identity of being a person of color in music is to be real about our shared experiences. Sharing a stage with others who have been able to harness a sense of agency through music and against the standard hierarchy of music is a form of empowerment, and we are excited to have this experience for one day.

3. Talk to me about your local scene, some bands you want to rep, and some cool shit that’s happening either in your community or with your band or whatever.

As far as future plans, S-21 is recording a new 7″ next month but will be taking a little break from shows as we concentrate on other musical projects we’re involved in. Haldol (Tiff) and Blank Spell (Cassidy) will be touring across the US together in July/August and Blackout (Brian) and Fugitive Family (Brian & Cella) have a few shows lined up.

Shoutout to DJ Haram, Moor Mother, Smarthearts, Wild at Heart, Penetrode, The Guests, Complex, Devil Master, Slugsalt, World Gone Mad and to everyone involved in the Philly punk scene who continue to make this city so special (We’re looking at you Chuck Meehan).

Break Free Fest takes plays Saturday, May 27th at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street, from 2 to 11 p.m.; tickets and more information are available here.

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