Two-Piece Fest | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN
The Skeleton Key: Support your DIY scene with helpful picks, useful tips, Turkish tunes, our Two Piece Fest roundup, and jazz, punk, and noise gigs galore
I’m no historian, but if someone asked me where DIY originated as a concept and really as an attitude, I’d tell them to look no further than Philadelphia. Punk might have started in England – though the New York City and Los Angeles scenes were important – but also DIY didn’t start with punk. No, DIY was first and foremost a jazz thing. And you would be hard-pressed to find someone more endemic to that culture than Sun Ra and his Arkestra.
I mean, check it out: in the late 60s when the band got priced out of NYC, where they were already living communally, they moved to Germantown, held concerts in the park, started their own scene – paging Sounds of Liberation! – sold vinyl bootlegs of their own shows, and basically did everything themselves because nobody else would give a damn for decades.
I recognize I’m engaging in at least a little bit of hyperbole but I’m also not making anything up. Hell, as far as jazz goes, way back in 1952 Charles Mingus, his then wife Celia Mingus Zaentz, and Max Roach founded a label, Debut Records, because they weren’t happy with how the major labels at the time were treating black musicians. Sun Ra and his business manager Alton Abraham did the same thing in 1957 with El Saturn Records, which put out a ton of releases over the ensuing years. You can’t get much more DIY than that.
Fast forward to the early 70s and you have Pure Hell starting as a rock n’ roll band in West Philly and after grinding it out and literally creating their own sound and aesthetic they ended up first in NYC in the burgeoning punk scene there and then in London. Because Philadelphia was oftentimes forgotten by the rest of the country that allowed people the freedom to do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, regardless of whatever “rules” existed governing what music should sound like. So maybe we didn’t invent DIY, but we’ve certainly perfected it.
Why am I bringing any of this up? It’s not like the Arkestra are playing a show in the next couple weeks. You’re going to have to wait a whole month until 95 year old Marshall Allen and his band play in Philly again, though if you happen to be in NYC they’ll be sharing a bill at The Town Hall with William Parker tonight.
No, the reason I’m even going down this path in the first place is because I was thinking about Wire, the British punk outfit that’s been around since 1976 (with a couple hiatuses here and there), put out 17 albums – including this year’s Mind Hive, which is fantastic – and are appearing on the 10th at Underground Arts.
Not only have they managed to stay musically relevant and interesting but unlike just about every other band from that era, Wire has long eschewed nostalgia and focused instead on the present. This even included them hiring a cover band, the Ex-Lion Tamers, to open for them on tour in 1987 and play the songs from Pink Flag, the first album, even though that’s the stuff that to this day is going to get people the most hype.
A friend of mine went to go see them on that tour at Revival, thought he got there late and missed the opener, rocked out to all the hits, and left, only to be admonished by the door guy about skipping the headliner. That’s when he realized there were some shenanigans going on. How great is that?! You can read more about that tour in the most recent issue of Jay Hinman’s Dynamite Hemorrhage, a great fanzine out of California that incidentally has long championed Philly bands.
But wait, did I just jump ahead in the calendar by almost a week? Let’s backtrack a little!
Keeping on theme: tomorrow night at the Drexel URBN Annex go see Laura Ballance from Merge Records and Superchunk in conversation with Joe Steinhardt from Don Giovanni Records, who is also a professor in the Music Industry program at the university. I’m not totally sure what they’ll be talking about – check out this preview we published a couple weeks ago for more information! – but if you show up and are all, “This total blowhard journalist claims that DIY originated in the jazz scene,” I’m sure they’ll have a lot to say about that.
Friday there are five really cool events happening, including a beach-themed fundraiser at Vox and a Pogues night at City Winery with Spider Stacy and Cait O’Riordan from the band. I saw The Pogues in Atlantic City about 15 years ago and it was absolutely incredible. Say what you will about Shane MacGowan – and there’s a lot to say – but he and the rest of the group wrote a ton of perfect songs. Over at Union Transfer it’s Of Montreal with Lily’s Band and Godcaster, who just dropped a single from their upcoming Ramp Local debut.
Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, the Arab cultural organization based in West Philly, is hosting a night of Turkish and Arab music. This isn’t even the only concert of its kind in the neighborhood that weekend, which is really quite awesome. Saturday at Calvary Church you can see vocalist Ayça Yeşim and her band play a selection of classic Turkish songs “from Istanbul and beyond” at a show that’s being presented by Crossroads Music.
What I’m most excited about for Friday is the PhilaMOCA benefit at the Church with Thin Lips, Kississippi, and Yowler. I’m sure you all know the story about PhilaMOCA being shut down for the past few months so I’m not going to repeat all that (if you don’t know, you can read our interview with Eric Bresler about it here). But seriously, if you can’t come to this show please consider making a donation to the venue’s fundraiser. They’re an integral part of Philadelphia – more than just music, they’re one of the only spots to see independent film in the city – and the sooner they’re back in operation the better.
Saturday the place to be is Night of 1,000 Kates, the Kate Bush tribute extravaganza which this year is happening at Underground Arts. This will be the sixth annual music and dance event which is described by the organizers as an evening “of performances of other-world-making and future-imagining using Kate Bush’s craft as the source material.” Run up that hill, Philadelphia.
If Kate Bush isn’t your thing – don’t worry, your secret is safe with me – check out some of the other things happening around town. At Jerry’s on Front it’s a night of noisy avant stuff with Cienfuegos, Valise, Hatchers, and Fratesi. Out west the Monthly Fund is hosting their first show of the year with Kyle Press, Madam Data, The Key’s Alex Smith, and Martronimous. That’s benefiting the Shut Down Berks Coalition.
The final event on my calendar that night is Porest aka Mark Gergis at Pageant:Soloveev. The London-based experimental musician has been at it for decades, creating what his Bandcamp calls “a trail of confounding agitprop sound art, post-globalized hate-pop, diabolical radio dramas and carefully rearranged realities.” Also appearing at that Fire Museum Presents gig are Lime Rickey International, who I first caught at the YallaPunk festival, and “tropical noise duo” Las Sucias.
Jonathan Richman and Bonnie “Prince” Billy are playing a sold out show together Sunday night at Union Transfer but they aren’t the only brilliant songwriters performing in Philly that day. If you have any interest in pop music you should go see Mikey Erg – The Ergs, Worriers, and a million other bands – at a matinee that afternoon with Code of the Jaguar and Flatwaves at the Black Cat Tavern on 12th and Oregon.
First thing on the list for next week is that Camp Candle, Emily Drinker, Fawziyya Heart, and Jennifer Hall mixed bill at Kung Fu Necktie Monday night. I was introduced to Camp Candle at last year’s Two Piece Fest and they are a complete gem of a band. I was glad to see them on that totally stacked LAVA Space benefit last weekend!
The 2020 Two Piece Fest, the 13th annual celebration of musical duos, was also this past weekend. I got to perform at this one in a duo with Brian Morsberger, one half of Drums Like Machine Guns. It was honestly amazing to be part of something that I’ve been a big fan of for so long and I was completely delighted to be there. I also took a ton of pictures. You can see some of them below.
One of the standout bands at this year’s event was Venus Twins out of Brooklyn. The bass and drums combo played fast and noisy punk that ran that gamut between intricate melodies and bash-you-over-the-head riffs. They’re coming back to town on the 10th on a bill at Century.
Of course, that’s the same night as Wire, which we’ve already talked about, and that sold out Jeff Parker & The New Breed show that Ars Nova is doing at Johnny Brenda’s. Decisions, decisions!
Two days later Ars Nova is back at JB’s for the Sun of Goldfinger show. If you don’t know, that’s the absolutely wild jazz trio of David Torn on guitar, Tim Berne on sax, and percussionist Ches Smith that our own Shaun Brady referred to as “caustically adventurous” in his column. It’s going to be a good one. Sidenote: if you’re not reading Shaun’s Philly Jazz Guide every month you are really screwing up!
Also that night at Vox one of my local favorites Magnetic Bells – Jordan Burgis from Magnetic Dog/Honey Radar along with the Alison Stout and Darian Scatton analog synth two piece Hallowed Bells – is playing with the psych trance John Krausbauer/Lary 7 duo and electronic musician Kaori Suzuki. There will be drone, noise, flashing lights, and if it’s anything like the video I found of Suzuki and Krausbauer performing together a couple years back it’s all going to be damn pretty.
If you’re really not feeling any of that and just want some good ol’ rock n’ roll, I got you: over at Jerry’s check out the classic stylings of garage group Miranda & The Beat with 1910 Chainsaw Co. and The Out-Sect.
Just like the previous Friday, the 13th has a ton of rad shows happening. At Fireball Printing it’s an absolutely bonkers noise show with Crazy Doberman, Limbs Bin, Negligee, and the Lorenz York Duo. Baltimore’s avant droners Horse Lords are at Vox with Philly’s avant punkers Ooloi. Pedal steel wizard Susan Alcorn – who else can claim to have played with Jandek, Pauline Oliveros, and Eugene Chadbourne?! – is at Brickbat Books with guitarist Emily Robb, who you might know as a member of Louie Louie, Storks, and Astute Palate. And at Kung Fu Necktie super catchy rock n’ roll three piece Poppy are playing a record release show for their new one Snakes of New Jersey. Also appearing on that bill are Foxy Contin and DJ Major Luke spinning punk and roots reggae.
Boogie Down Production’s KRS-One is performing Saturday night out at the Ardmore Music Hall with Reef The Lost Cauze. Serving as host is Lady B, who we just profiled along with a number of other female Philly MCs a few days ago.
I rarely buy advanced tickets – it’s not that I’m particularly forgetful, there’s just so much going on – but the second the Ted Leo-fronted Dexys Midnight Runners cover band Too-Rye-Ay announced their Philly debut I made sure to go online and guarantee my admission to the Johnny Brenda’s show that evening.
You might only know the radio hits, or at least the ones that were also huge in the States, but the Dexys were a machine, churning out song-after-song of soul-tinged political pop that is as wonderful as it is perfect. Add in Ted Leo – he of the Pharmacists, in case you didn’t know – and you have yourself what is stacking up to be an absolutely incredible night of music.
The final entry on my calendar for the first half of the month is that absolute doozy jazz show on Sunday the 15that Vox with the always-entertaining CP Unit – that’s saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos and his band – playing a record release for their new album One Foot On The Ground Smoking Mirror Shakedow on Ramp Local. Opening up will be noise freaks Dog Hospice and Sirius JuJu, which includes members of the Arkestra.
Alright! There you have it: a full list of just about every type of DIY gig under the sun, all happening in Philadelphia in the next two weeks. So while we might not be able to claim that the idea was invented here, it’s quite clear that we perfected it. See you in the basement!
As always you can send all hot tips and hot takes to me via Twitter: @talkofthetizzy.