As part of our partnership with Philly Beer Scene magazine, we’re documenting Philly’s relationships between music and beer. For the most recent issue of Philly Beer Scene, G.W. Miller III caught up with Mike Thatcher, the production manager at Underground Arts.
Mike Thatcher weaves through the crowd at Underground Arts, the basement venue on Callowhill Street in Philadelphia’s Loft District, and navigates the dark labyrinth with an expertise few people share.
“This place was absolutely scary the first year,” Thatcher says.
Located on the bottom floor of the Wolf Building, the 12,000 square foot space had been used primarily for storage for many years. But the building’s owner, Gary Reuben, began allowing arts groups to hold rehearsals and then performances in the vast space. By 2010, bathrooms were installed, a seating area was established and theater groups held regular events in the rooms.
In 2011, Reuben called Thatcher and said, “I’m getting a liquor license. This would make a cool venue.”
Thatcher and others cleared out the debris, installed the sound system, built a bar and kitchen and began being officially a part of the burgeoning local music scene.
“I dig it because it’s got that dirty, CBGB’s kind of vibe,” says Thatcher, who is now the club’s production manager. “It has that real magic, in a space that kinda seems illegal.”
The décor is simple – a few concrete pillars in the otherwise wide-open room, with exposed pipes and conduits along the dark ceiling. The two performance areas – a 650-person main room and the 250-person area called The Black Box – create an intimate experience with the performers while being spacious enough to dance and move around.
“I really wanted to give it the basics of good sound, a good stage,” says Thatcher, “and make it a place where local artists can get their act together.”
Three years ago, Bonfire/Electric Factory began booking shows at the club, bringing the talent to a whole new level.
The father of four girls ranging from 4 months to 18 years old, Thatcher, 47, allows a handful of local acts – like Tutlie, The Districts, City Rain, and Vita and the Woolf – to use the venue for rehearsals. A guitarist who has performed in numerous bands over the years, Thatcher previously owned Sonic Studios. The studios, located on Delaware Avenue near Frankford, were the home of Sonic Sessions performances and recordings, which aired on WDRE and then Y100.
“I’ve always tried to help bands,” he says. “That’s been my thing for more than 20 years.”
The dedicated crew at Underground Arts continues to support the local arts scene, having been the home of the Fringe Festival’s Late Nite Cabaret, and they’ve hosted numerous Philly Beer Week events.
“The craft beer scene is just insane,” says Thatcher, who likes to chill with a Philadelphia Brewing Company Walt Wit in his down time. “It’s similar to the way the club scene has exploded. Back in the 1980s, there were a handful of great music venues. Now there are dozens. Back then, what did you drink? Now we have so many great options.”
Text by Chip Frenette. Image courtesy by Jen Dobrydnia.
With the PopePocalypse closing in on The City of Brotherly Love, many people are planning on getting out of town to avoid the traffic boxes and extreme security measures put in place to protect his holiness. If you are one of those who have decided to or are still on the fence, Bombadillo just might be a good option for electronic music aficionados. Bombadillo is being produced by the granddaddy of the mid-Atlantic region’s electronic music scene, Ultraworld.
Bombadillo which is an all day event, takes place in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park on Saturday, September 26 and will feature a few acts from Philadelphia. You can get out of town but still sample some electronic music samplings from our home scene.
DJ, producer and label owner Dev79 will perform at the festival. Dev79, aka Gair Marking, is one of the minds behind the labels Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey Recordings. With a genre-bending street-bass style of production and mixing that crosses reggae, grime, dubstep, UK garage and hip-hop, Dev79 produces a sound quite unlike the everyday.
“I was honored and excited when Lonnie (Fisher), the Ultraworld godfather, reached out to me,” he said, noting that he’s had many memorable experiences at the Ultraworld. “It’s really dope to bring things full circle with my early rave memories.”
Dev79 will be joined by duo tag team Wolf Dem, who play a style that is driven by dancehall reggae and beats that can be described as haunting and deep. DJ Everyday is also playing, bringing his tech-house, big room sound to the event.
Bombadillo will also feature Big Freedia, Kevin Saunderson, Charles Feelgood and Lower Density.
Text and images by Teresa McCullough.
Last Wednesday, officials broke ground on the Divine Lorraine redevelopment project. And for a small span of four hours, people were invited to tour the main lobby and take a look around.
The 1894 building represents a time when North Broad Street was one of the country’s grand avenues, featuring two opera halls, several elite, private clubs and the homes of wealthy industrialists like Henry Disston, P.A.B. Widener and William Elkins. The building became one of the first integrated, high-end hotels in the country. For around 50 years, the building served as the home of Father Divine’s Divine Peace Mission Movement. After the Peace Mission sold the building in 1999, the dilapidated structure became a destination for street artists and urban adventurers.
The Wednesday event featured a pop up gift shop with Philly’s own Divine Lorraine Hotel Collection line. The collection includes apparel and housewares created in collaboration with The Decades Hat Co., Converse, Levi’s and others. With each purchase, a donation was made to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Each purchaser received a free hotel keychain.
The event page had more than 7,000 RSVPs but only a select few were able to enter the historic building. Cheers if you were one.
We’re working with the folks at one of our favorite joints, Underground Arts, and we’ll be giving away a ton of tickets to their shows in the coming weeks.
If you want to play it safe and get your own tickets, find details for the show here.
Text and images by Brianna Spause.
The charm of Fairmount Park was hard at work last Tuesday night as the first hints of fall began to creep in.
The sweet sounds of Oh Land’s Nanna Øland Fabricius rolled off the hill at the Mann Center, luring in last minute concertgoers as far as the free parking on Belmont Avenue. After a tremendous swell of sound, Oh Land’s tunes cut out at exactly 7:30 p.m. A faint hint of applause could be heard behind the trees.
A quick trip up the hill found a mass of people sprawled out on the grassy knoll for the Skyline Stage’s last show of the summer season.
Of Monsters and Men then hit the stage as the first stars became visible in the clear night sky. The Icelandic pop-stars sauntered on stage through a thick fog that hung around through songs like “Thousand Eyes” and “Crystals” and then some.
Fronted by the smooth vocals of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar þórhallsson, the five-piece had a few extra hands on stage. Most notable was the addition of Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, who brought their signature sound of the horns to life on stage.
On tour in support of the June release of their latest album, Beneath The Skin, Of Monsters And Men showed some love to Philadelphia with an electrifying performance and a shout out.
“We love playing in Philly,” Hilmarsdóttir said. “You were one of the first places that played our music on the radio. That’s why we love coming back.”
Text and images by Mina Lee.
On a rainy Saturday night, Philly natives CRUISR headlined the Theatre of Living Arts and filled the club with catchy, indie-pop tunes, accompanied by infectious dancing.
South Street was uncharacteristically empty that night. The TLA was jam-packed though. It seemed as though all of the city had found its way inside the venue to celebrate a line up of mostly local talent. Cheerleader and Cold Fronts opened, along with New York songstress Vérité.
CRUISR performed fan favorites such as “Throw Shade” and “Kidnap Me” as the crowds’ energy built up to a fever pitch, their bodies moving without inhibition as they sang along with shallow breaths. Initially chilled by the air conditioning inside, people left the TLA sweaty and happy, stopping to chat with the band members, who had invited their crowd to “come hang out” on their way out.
City Councilman David Oh held hearings on the state of the music scene in the city and JUMP publisher George Miller was among those asked to testify.
Among the others who spoke passionately about the scene and what we need to maintain this high-level of energy were artist Bria Marie, producer Carvin Haggins, Milkboy The Studio co-owner Tommy Joyner, producer Ryan Schwabe (pictured above) from Drexel and Rare MP3s, Brian McTear from Weathervane Music and Miner Street Recordings and Mark Schulz from the local chapter of The Recording Academy.
Everyone had wonderful things to say and very interesting suggestions. Not sure what happens next with this – if anything at all – but here is what our publisher presented.
My name is George Miller. I am an associate professor of journalism at Temple University, where I am also the assistant chair of the department. On the side, I publish an independent music magazine called JUMP.
JUMP is a magazine that covers all genres and aspects of music in the city of Philadelphia, including music and education and music and politics. What makes us different from most regional magazines is that we specifically only cover people, places, events and ideas that are rooted within city limits.
There is a purpose for this. We are a mission driven project. We exist not to say, “Listen to this new album,” or, “Check out this new venue.” We exist solely to shine a spotlight on the amazing wealth of talent that exists here in the city.
We do that because, historically, many talented people have used Philadelphia as a stepping stone or launching pad. They reach a certain level of success while here and then they go to New York or LA or London.
With the way the music industry is these days, you can create amazing music from anywhere and be based almost anywhere. We believe that talent should reside here.
We are at a special moment in the city’s music history. There is something magical happening in the city in regards to the music here. The scene is blowing up on many levels – local artists are touring nationally and internationally more than ever; more venues exist than ever before; major artists continue to come here to record and employ our talent as set musicians; and so many talented, creative people are moving here.
There are numerous communities of musicians in the city, thanks to things like the Drexel University Music Industry Program, promoters like R5 Productions and Veteran Freshman, studios like Milkboy and Miner Street, and the venue Johnny Brenda’s, which is like the clubhouse for musicians of all sorts.
I don’t remember there being this level of energy in the music scene during my 22 years of living and working as a journalist here (or during the previous 22 years of living just outside the city, in the suburbs).
Think about how we arrived at this point. I think it stems to the early 1990s and the creation of the Avenue of the Arts. That brought people to the city, as did the First Fridays in Old City that began to be popular around that same time. These movements used the arts as a catalyst for revitalization. More artists arrived and more people flocked to see those artists.
The artists and creative types were eventually displaced, moving to Northern Liberties and then Fishtown and now East Kensington and South Philadelphia.
That is the nature of a city – constant evolution.
But stop for a moment and think about what’s happening in Philadelphia now.
We are no longer the Workshop of the World. We no longer employ thousands upon thousands of people in factories. Frankly, we don’t create much here anymore.
But what we have become is a hotbed for creative types. The city is a wonderful place for musicians to base themselves, to find like-minded folks to create and experiment with and to develop their own brands and identities.
Those creative people, especially the musicians, are among the amenities that draw people to live here or to spend money here. These talented people are needed to ensure that the city continues to maintain this idea of vibrancy.
Do not take the artists for granted. Without them, people would not come here. That’s not an exaggeration.
You could argue that there is a vibrant food scene – and even a beer scene – that draws crowds. That’s true. But music is connected to everything. So many bars and restaurants also do shows now. So many of our musicians staff those bars and restaurants. So many bars and restaurants serve as first stops before going to shows.
Music is an integral part of this city’s life. We need to ensure that the artists can continue to reside here.
For the magazine, I have interviewed numerous council members, Mayor Nutter, former Governor Rendell and many other elected officials who serve our city. I have come up with a few ideas that I think could help sustain this magical creative period:
- Create more arts corridors, the way that the Avenue of the Arts was established. Make Frankford Avenue in Fishtown/East Kensington an arts corridor, with special taxation for arts organizations and money spent for signage, events and promotion. Same with East Passyunk and other burgeoning arts areas.
- The city and state give tax breaks to major corporations that bring jobs to or keep jobs in the city. We should have tax breaks – or establish a different tax bracket – for those who identify as artists and create here. We should recognize that their existence here has a domino effect, albeit less obviously than a major corporation. Recognizing the importance of artists by giving them even a modicum of a break would speak volumes to other artists and they would flock here.
- The city needs to harness this energy and promote the hell out of it. Music is a very personal thing – we all have different tastes. But showing off the huge diversity of talent and sounds that we have would attract people to visit and eventually move here. Start by promoting regionally in order to change the conversation about the city (from violent and corrupt to creative and lively). Then invite the world to come and listen to our musicians.
The rest of the world is already starting to take notice. Numerous publications have written about our wealth of talent. Our bands and artists are staples at music festivals around the world. Local artists now tour with some of the industry’s biggest stars.
If we make a concerted effort, we could establish a longstanding reputation like Nashville or Los Angeles.
If we do not make a concerted effort, the scene will continue to evolve and we may be only a short-term movement, like Minneapolis in the 80s or Seattle in the early 90s. Or like Philadelphia in the 70s.
When we started JUMP in 2011, I used to tell people that my goal was to make our talented musicians as popular in Philadelphia as our athletes. The Orchestra’s concertmaster, David Kim, is a superstar and should be appreciated as such. Frances Quinlan from the band Hop Along has the most amazing voice in music today. She should be mobbed by adoring fans as she walks the streets of Fishtown. When Twist Feighan from OCD: Moosh and Twist walks through Center City, I want to see fans asking for autographs the way they would if they saw Sam Bradford out and about.
Every day, it seems, I hear from another Philadelphia artist who is considering a move to California, New York or somewhere else they might find inspiration and appreciation. That breaks my heart.
Without showing an appreciation for what we have, we may lose it.