The Skeleton Key: Philly music keeps on with livestreams from The Roots, new stuff from 700 Bliss, Ghösh, and The Writhing Squares, and so much more
I want to start off this edition of The Skeleton Key with a track by Gil Scott-Heron. I know this isn’t like a podcast or a radio show or anything like that — I miss having a radio show so much, but hopefully WKDU will be back soon enough! — but humor me just this once and hit play on this song. Not only is it extremely relevant but it starts off with him totally talking trash on Frank Rizzo and who can’t appreciate that?
Maybe I should have included that video in my previous column, since that was the one where I was talking about what should replace the statue – I’m still partial to Soul Glo’s suggestion of Jill Scott – but let’s be honest: this is content we’re going to be mining for years to come. Proving my point, hardcore trailblazers YDI just resurrected a Rizzo-themed track from their 1983 demo, switched the lyrics around a bit, and are getting it ready for whenever it is we can finally have shows again. You can see a video of them practicing the song over here.
Welcome to the second half of June, Philadelphia! I’ve got a ton of stuff to get to including a bunch of new music, a slew of concerts, some podcasts to listen to, and more.
One of the releases I’m most excited about right now is the new 19 Notes On A Broken System compilation that came out a week ago. Not only does it include tracks from Philly favorites including The Ire, Solarized, Dark Thoughts, The Brood, Nightfall, and The Dead Milkmen but more importantly the money raised from physical and digital sales is benefiting the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and the Amistad Law Project. Read a more in-depth piece about the comp here. The tapes are already sold out but I’m hoping they do another run cause they look so cool!
Speaking of the Milkmen, I’ve been so taken by the recent portraiture series guitarist Joe Jack Talcum has been posting to his Instagram. Called “People Who Should Still Be Alive” and focused on victims of police violence, the pictures are absolutely beautiful and so, so sad.
Today there’s a whole lot of stuff happening for Juneteenth, the holiday – now official in the City of Philadelphia! – that celebrates the end of slavery in this country. Bandcamp is donating its cut of the proceeds that day to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund so be sure to pick up some new music that day. Look at both my last column and this piece from my colleague John Vettese if you need any recommendations.
On WXPN that day there’s going to be a rebroadcast of the wonderful Raphael Saadiq Free at Noon performance from 2009 that you definitely don’t want to miss. There will also be two radio docs played over the airwaves that day: The Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul at 7pm and Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio at 10pm. The latter, which goes deep into the history and impact of WDAS, is hosted by Kenny Gamble.
There will also be a special livestream co-host by XPN and REC Philly, Black Joy Matters: A Juneteenth Celebration of Black History and Music, with performances from Visionary, Aijee Cello, historian Dyana Williams, and more. You can RSVP for that here.
For more information please check out this awesome article from The Key’s John Morrison. While I’m already here saying nice things about John: if you don’t already subscribe to his podcast Serious Rap Sh*tyou definitely need to. Between new episodes of that and Dan Blacksberg’s Radiant Others podcast and a steady stream of fresh content from the Freedom Has No Bounds blog – including an amazing Eddie Hacksaw radio show taped off XPN in 1982! – I’ve been feeling quite blessed recently as a Philadelphia music fan.
Before I jump back into the calendar I want to mention a few other recent releases as well as an addendum to my list of Philly protest tunes from the previous Skeleton Key. Let’s do this in list form cause who doesn’t like a good list?
Writhing Squares – Despite being one of my favorite bands in the city, Writhing Squares haven’t put out anything new since January of 2019. That’s messed up! The two brilliant songs on this EP almost make up for that. “Sonic Control” sounds like a long lost Hawkwind-meets-MC5 protopunk track and “Bulk Modulus” gets even wilder with a blaring saxophone and some sort of rambling speech – I think it’s someone reading the obituary of philosopher Ivan Illich, at least in part? – providing both “lyrics” and a steady, noisy backbone. Be sure to pick up a copy of the album as its a benefit for Black Lives Matter Philadelphia.
700 Bliss – Alert! New 700 Bliss! Stop what you’re doing and turn this on! The duo of Moor Mother and DJ Haram has contributed a track to an Adult Swim-curated mixtape Hyperdub put up on their Bandcamp and it’s a total dance floor banger. Check it out and also give a listen to the other songs on the mix, especially the ones from Lawrence Lek and Lady Lykez. This is all great.
Dixy Blood – A quick history lesson: one of Philly’s wildest rock n’ roll bands, the Sic Kidz, got together way back in 1977. They put out a slew of releases, opened for Gang of Four, Iggy Pop, and The Cramps – Lux Interior and Poison Ivy were huge fans and even produced one of their albums – and really just got to be a bunch of punk rock misfits. You can read a bit more about that in this piece written by Ben Vaughn, one time drummer for the band, on Bruce Warren’s blog.
Fast forward to the present and Sic Kidz have morphed into Dixy Blood with a bit more twang but no less gruff and bluster. They play out often enough and just released a new album, which is exciting. “Do Hillbilly Sheep Dreem Of Dixy Blood” is 19 tracks of countrified rock ‘n roll and would be perfect to blast while sitting on your porch and having a socially distanced beer with friends. You know, if you need any hosting ideas since this is apparently a lifestyle column now.
Ghösh – Ghösh was actually one of the bands that a reader mentioned to me as deserving to be on my list of Philly protest music. I looked on their Bandcamp and saw that they put out a new two song EP just a couple days ago. Described on there as a “nü jungle, digital hardcore, US grime band” – think Atari Teenage Riot but much more catchy – these songs are actually amazing and if I don’t hear them blaring from a boombox at a protest at some point this summer I’m going to be really disappointed.
Other suggestions I got were for S-21 and Loose Nukes. If you’ve never listened to S-21 you are MISSING OUT. The punk group managed to cram more incredible music into the barely two years they were around than some bands do in decades. It’s honestly remarkable and anyone who got to see them will be talking about those performances forever.
Loose Nukes might be a Pittsburgh/Philly hybrid but they still count. Check out “Rizzo’s Dead” from their recent 7” Behind the Screen:
The next thing on my calendar is Revival!, a series of audio and visual DJ sets presented by the BlackStar Film Festival that are “an attempt to reimagine and practice what collective joy and resilience looks like in times of crisis.” The next of these is this Sunday on Twitch with Lil’ Dave and the one after that is on the 28th with Oluwafemi. You can find out more on their website.
Last night I swung by the Suzuki Piano Academy during the monthly Warp Factor 9 performance to take in some jazz from the sidewalk outside. Though the series shifted to a livestream immediately when quarantine was announced, this month concert organizer Erica Corbo did set a few chairs up at a distance from each other in case anyone wanted to watch Joel Fass and The Rhythm and Resistance Collective through the open windows and doors.
While I’ve always been a big fan of Warp Factor 9, I’ve been extra impressed by how Corbo has been able to keep it going throughout the past few months. It would be great if once things return to normal – or “normal” or whatever but please keep wearing masks, washing your hands, and yelling at anyone who refuses to do the same – that shows like this continue to be simulcast online.
Although I don’t think all performances lend themselves to watching from home, it definitely should be an option for more sit-down shows. Another good, recent, and local example of this is “We Shall Not Be Moved,” an opera about the 1985 MOVE bombing that’s being broadcast via YouTube on the Opera Philadelphia channel now through August. I wrote about the production this week in reference to a special event set up by the Esperanza Arts Center for a community viewing in the wake of the anti-police brutality demonstrations sweeping the country.
I was hoping to be able to give a date for the next Clarion Call protest at the Art Museum – that’s trombonist Jeff Bradshaw’s cacophony “against racism and police brutality” – but it has yet to be announced. I wasn’t able to make it to the last one but I’ll definitely be there for the next demonstration, maybe even with my saxophone in tow. Take a look at this video and revel in that beautiful noise:
There are a bunch of ongoing fundraisers for Morris Home, the West Philly sober living and recovery program facility which is the only one of its kind in the country to work specifically with the transgender community. On the 25th DJs Baby Berlin, Mike Shaffer, and Dana K (WPRB) will be spinning “a mix of queer party and liberation anthems from across decades and genres” to raise some funds so be sure to tune into that stream.
Two days later I will be making my triumphant return to the airwaves – also online, but whatever – on the Johnny Brenda’s Twitch with the aforementioned Dana K. WKDU vs. WPRB! It’s a classic and ongoing war. You can find that on the Johnny Brenda’s Facebook.
The final event on my calendar is the Roots Picnic, which despite having been moved online is no less a brilliant lineup than usual. Obviously it won’t be the same but as far as these things go I’m certainly not going to scoff at getting to watch the likes of Kirk Franklin, Janelle Monae, Musiq Souldchild, and of course The Roots themselves. I’m sure the festival will be back next year but if this is what we have to deal with in the interim, I’m here for it.
Alright! That is it for June. I will see all of you in a couple weeks. As always, hit me up on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy with any hot tips!