Next month, they’ll set out for a tour with Izzy Heltai that will take them through the Midwest and down South.
We caught up with Brian to talk about the video, his music and life in a social media world.
Dude. What’s up with the video? It’s is dark.
The video is intentionally dark. It is the last of the three videos I wanted to do for Solace and with Bob Sweeney so I guess I wanted to go out with a bang.
Solace is a record about hope. I wrote it from a perspective of my own personal experiences with finding peace. The video is a social commentary and criticism on new age McCarthyism. Joseph McCarthy’s practices were to judge people as communists with whatever biased information we have. McCarthyism itself is about making accusations and judgement about people with minimal evidence or understanding.
Today, we judge people based on comments on the Internet, which may or may not be real, lacks substance and are used as a forms of witch-hunting isolation and denial. Instead of calling in to problems on a face-to-face basis to resolve issues in our community, people have resorted to calling out and and isolating problems, which I think is toxic and enabling to perpetrators of various incidents.
As a member of a music community and a human, I feel that we have lost the amount of empathy, discernment and open mindedness to make decisions. I wanted to create this scene to demonstrate events that people in my life have gone through based on poor discussion the internet and current events.
Is this based upon a true story?
The video is not based on a true story, but more of a scenario of experiences I have witnessed/observed.
I think if I were to make this video based on real life, the video maybe would have been darker.
I wanted the video to be a metaphor for biased behavior. Think about it, people won’t order food unless they read yelp reviews. People might not go to a neighborhood because of crimemapping.com. Fear is established based on biases and alternative facts written on the internet. That bias turns to discrimination and whether we like it or not we all become bigots of our own technological devices.
I have had family members suffer through this bias to the point it almost lead them to being shot to death. My 17-year old cousin was shot 25 times last year because of a misinterpreted tweet. Events like this are why I am so against call out witch hunt culture, I think its time we really start to call in and discuss things in person instead of pointing the finger and isolating. It could cost someones life and it almost cost my cousins life. I wanted to address that point in the video.
The video is not just about my cousin but more of a culmination of experiences where people give each other the short hand of the stick because of a lack of clear communication on the Internet.
The big message is I think we need to really determine our judgement of people with real life experiences and instead of holding our problems in and writing them on the Internet. Why don’t we confront the people we have problems with in person? Why don’t we bring back community by talking to people when something bad is done or said? Why can’t we show accountability for our problems instead of hiding behind a screen and asking for strangers support only to harm someone we don’t really know?
I hope more artists write songs about the problems they post, retweet and share on the Internet and call in to the problems instead of isolating and enabling those problems by calling them out and abandoning them only so that the problems continue to exist.
You’re an emotional guy, right? And you are pretty revealing on social media. Is that a form of therapy for you? Finding other lost souls and whatnot? Making connections virtually?
Yes, I am an emotional guy but I still think there is a lot I hold back and do not say on the Internet mostly because I am either afraid or feel that it is not time for me to write or share about.
I am vocal on the Internet because I think we should be as social as we would be in person, if that makes sense? Our Internet selves and our personal selves should be transparent. I don’t think they should play two different characters.
Granted, I can not afford therapy (despite Obamacare). I don’t consider what I share on the Internet as a form of therapy. I think it’s me telling the story of who I am as a musician.
I never wanted A Day Without Love to be about finding lost souls, but more about sharing my experiences of struggle, hope and strength and my depressive episodes are apart of it. One day I hope to stop A Day Without Love (we are still many albums far from that) but for the sake of being comfortable and happy with myself.
The connections I make virtually are usually transactional (shows, press,booking) and then lead to a face-to-face conversation, which then leads to a more personal experience which of course varies person to person.
Does it backfire sometimes?
Oh, yes. I definitely think I have had experienced backfire in the past. Sometimes I even think people don’t believe I am depressed or let alone have problems.
The reality is I have many problems, and I am not as vocal as one may think on the Internet about those problems. So, I share the problems through my music. I am 98 percent jokes on twitter and people have tweeted back that I am judgmental or really have no right to an opinion. Sometimes people get racy or try to dismiss my experiences on other platforms, but I ignore them.
I don’t intend to create controversy. I only intend to share it.
I think many artists are scared to write about their own controversy musically but I think it’s a dissservice to your music. Music is a reflection of reality and to write only about one topic (unless the project is themed around one topic) kinda dismisses the point of who you are as a person.
I know I can’t please everyone and I know there are people who don’t like me. But guess what? I don’t like them either and no one said that I had to be everyone’s best friend, especially if the people critiquing me are in fact bigots or people with their own problems.
Are you excited for the tour?
I am more excited for this tour than any other tour I have done. Izzy Heltai is my label mate and I am excited to have a tour manager.
Izzy is a super talented dude from Massachusetts who I think really will sooth and touch a lot of people. Many of my other tours have either been alone or with people I barely know. Others have been with great friends for short periods of time.
I think this will be the first tour where I don’t feel like an outsider and the people I am with will be on the same page.
Also, I am stoked to try different foods in America and share my story with other people with different backgrounds.
What’s up next for you and the band?
I am currently writing a lofi record that breaks all rules of recording. I am not using a metronome, the mixing is minimal and I am going ot master the record myself.
I know it is risky, but it is on purpose.
The record is called Diary. I wanted to use the elements of bedroom pop but write the record as an extension to Solace and create a commentary/critique on myself and things I experience in my life. I also wanted to write about the good in my life, because diaries are a reflection of good and bad experiences. The record has spoken word, audio samples from my experiences in Philadelphia, unused samples from my grandpa and delves further into discrimination in America.
I also recently got a manager named Josh Wolfberg who has been really cool and he’s been helping me get goals accomplished. I am also working on losing a lot of weight. I lost about 50 pounds so far and I want to lose another 40 and write a record about body positivity. I want to make a mixtape with various producers (big and small depending on my budget) from Philly. One day I hope to tour more often too, and it seems I am on that path.
To say the least, I am staying productive and I could not be more happier with or without roadblocks.
Ever had one of those days when you felt like exploring, maybe roaming through the woods or walking around town? If you need a soundtrack for your excursion, we have the music for you.
In February, Good Old War’s Dan Schwartz released his solo, instrumental guitar-only debut album, Adventure Soundtrack, under the moniker of Danny Black. The music has the poignancy of Good Old War’s sound without the harmonies that gets crowds singing along.
He’ll take the stage at Bourbon & Branch next week, on Wednesday, May 3, so we spoke with the artist about his latest project.
The lyrics, vocals and harmonies of Good Old War are so amazing. Why go full instrumental in this new project?
I really appreciate that! It’s something we work really hard on in the band.
I think the main reason was to find a way to find my voice without having to be compared to the band in any way. I also felt like I had something to say in the instrumental realm. I really enjoy listening to film scores and I wanted to make my own version of that.
Plus, I truly love guitar and guitar music and I wanted a space to stretch out in a way that isn’t possible in the normal song format.
How has the reception been at shows? Do people scream out for “Coney Island” or other Good Old War songs?
Not at all. In fact the reception has been overwhelmingly positive so far. I don’t feel like people are leaving dissatisfied.
I’m working as hard as I can to give the audience a well rounded experience that fully stimulates their senses where they can let go of the idea that I’m in another band. That said, I’m proud of what Good Old War has accomplished – and continues to accomplish, so I’m not worried about people saying they want to hear other songs I wrote with my best friends. I won’t be playing them though.
How do you like being alone on stage?
I’m beginning to come around to it. It’s brand new to me. I’ve been in bands my entire life.
The show includes some multimedia to take a little bit of the focus off of me but it’s the music that’s filling the room. With music like this, it’s about sound and texture and not my stage presence per se, although I have been known to crack a joke or two.
What’s going on with Good Old War these days?
We just finished recording some of the best music we’ve ever made and that will be coming out this year. Tim is back in the band fully now. We’re playing at the NFL draft and we’ll be touring a lot in upcoming months.
What else are you working on these days? A follow up Danny Black project?
Getting ready for this tour has truly taken over my life, but adding Good Old War recording an album and rehearsals for shows with them has gotten me incredibly busy.
I was able to write and record a song with one of my favorite musicians, Eric Bazilian, which we gave out for free on Record Store Day, and I’ve got a couple of other little projects in the works.
Definitely hoping to put together another Danny Black album as soon as possible though!
The bluegrass crew from Man About a Horse took a non-traditional route to financing their debut album: they asked people to pre-order the album via Bandcamp.
It seems to have worked. The album drops on Friday. The bandmates will celebrate with a performance that night at Milkboy.
We spoke with guitarist Matt Royles about the band, their music and their ambitions.
Who are you guys and where did you come from?
Circa 2013, Matt Thomas and I were neighbors near 3rd and Fairmount, but it took a mutual friend setting us up on a man date to get us really talking about music.
We were pretty shocked to discover we both had a dream of playing in a bluegrass brand.
We met Dan (Whitener) at one of our shows at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn after he responded to our banjo ad on Craigslist. I saw Liz (Carlson) shred fiddle with the Wallace Brothers Band at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and we met Nate (Lanzino) at a jam circle in Baltimore.
In a lot of ways, these chance encounters really typify the bluegrass world. It’s a big community of people who just love this kind of music. We’re lucky to have found some of the best out there to be in this band.
Bluegrass? In Philadelphia? What’s up with that?
But I think a lot of folks might be surprised to learn just how much bluegrass there is in Philadelphia. For starters, there are a bunch of long-running monthly and weekly jams in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. Fiume in West Philly has been doing Thursday bluegrass nights forever, and the Sunday bluegrass brunch at Heritage in Northern Liberties has been getting pretty popular more recently.
And Philly’s got so many great music venues that we tend to see a lot of excellent touring acts in the bluegrass and related genres coming through town. I keep a calendar of shows on a site called Philly Bluegrass (fitting, I know.) I’m usually amazed at just how much high-quality music there is to list.
You “grassed up” Hall & Oates on the new album. Wait, does that mean there was a subtle bluegrass legacy here already?
We’ve played Daryl Hall’s music club up in the Hudson Valley a few times. For a Philly band, I think having a Hall & Oates cover in your set is pretty much mandatory if you’re going to play at Daryl’s House.
We really liked the sound of acoustic instruments on “Lady Rain,” which is a deep cut from Abandoned Luncheonette. Now, if you go back a bit farther than the 1970s – I’m talking more like the 1770s – Philadelphia played a huge role in the history of bluegrass music. This city was the main arrival point for Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 18th century, and the trailhead for something called the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road that took those immigrants down through Appalachia, where bluegrass was born.
There is actually a movement toward this country-style music in Philly. Is that a reflection of the direction of the country? Or do you just dig banjos and stuff?
Great question. I think when you see things like Sturgill Simpson winning major awards, Rolling Stone opening a Nashville office, and banjo and pedal steel guitar popping up on what seems like every other popular music song, you start to think there might be a trend.
I suspect that what’s happening in Philadelphia is a microcosm of a larger trend nationally towards American roots music.
Whatever’s causing it, I think we’re benefitting here in Philly. We’ve got a bunch of bands that could hold their own with any Nashville players.
But to answer your question more directly, yeah, we dig banjos.
What are the ambitions of band making “newgrass Americana” up north? What would be a success for you all?
In the very short term, we want to get this record on some national airplay and sales charts. I’d say we’re pretty close to making the Billboard chart, based on pre-sales as of this moment. Hopefully that will make a few folks in Nashville say, ‘Who the heck are these guys?’
Longer term, we think if we keep writing great songs, delivering a mind-blowingly fun live show experience, and maybe catch a few breaks along the way. Then the sky’s the limit for this band.
Text and images by Brendan Menapace.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who hits a guitar as hard as Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil. He really hammers it. It’s always the same motion: his knees bend and he slams his fist into his strings with the full-body follow-through of someone looking to win a fight and win it quickly. It’s that stadium-ready presence and power that the Scottish three-piece has mastered throughout their career, which includes continually packing stadiums and festival grounds all over Europe (including Wembley Stadium, and the Reading and Leeds festivals) on a regular basis.
But last week, on a Friday in Philadelphia, they played to a few hundred people at the TLA on South Street. A lot of fans in the U.K. would pay a lot to see that.
Just because the venue was smaller didn’t mean the band was abandoning any of its pageantry. Sure, there were no pyrotechnics or any of that but they still provided a bit of pageantry. They started the show (after a set from Atlanta’s O’Bother) by staring emotionless at the crowd under stroble lights and an overture—shirtless, of course, as is their tradition—until suddenly breaking into “Wolves of Winter,” the first track off their seventh and latest album, Ellipsis.
The differences between their usual stadium sets and a venue that doesn’t even fit 1,000 people are obvious. The mix is a little different (but they still played louder than most bands I’ve seen there), and they can’t play as many songs as they might overseas.
That said, their set list spanned most of their career, dating back to 2007’s Puzzle, which they say started their more stadium-ready era. They didn’t play anything from the first trilogy of albums, which was a bit more out-there, with wackier riffs and more confusing time signatures but we can hopefully chalk that up to time constraints and the need to market the new material stateside.
One of the most critically successful songs in the band’s history, “Many of Horror” from 2009’s Only Revolutions, was pretty much a guarantee for the evening. You expect Bruce to play “Born to Run,” after all. But some Biffy purists will say it’s when the band “sold out.” It didn’t help that a contestant on “The X Factor” in the U.K. performed the song and released it as a single.
Once Neil hinted at the first few notes of “Many of Horror,” one brave voice piped up from the middle of the crowd: “Worst Biffy song!”
Neil, by this point covered in sweat with his long hair dangling in his face, stopped playing.
Biffy Clyro cut their teeth in Glasgow, and have since played all over the world. They’ve heard much worse, for sure. But, as a band full of guys who cut their teeth in Glasgow, you can’t expect them to always just let it slide when some dickhead who’s had a few too many Yuenglings wants to assert his musical snobbiness. So they didn’t.
“What’s that?” Neil says. “You wanna fuckin’ come up here and say that big man?”
He wasn’t actually trying to start a fight, but he made it very obvious that this was his show. The “big” man, obviously, did not go up and say anything. Instead, like all trolls on the Internet or in person, hid in the comfort of semi-anonymity. So Neil advises him to “let everyone else fuckin’ enjoy the song.”
Once the huge, sing-along chorus hit, Neil shouted, “Everybody sing at that fuckin’ guy!” and wandered to the front of the stage, where he did just that, fixing his gaze to where the man was standing. He did this for every chorus, with a few hundred others helping him out.
The set ended, the crowd chanted “Mon the Biff,” as they do all over the world to cheer and encourage an encore, and the band came back on, finishing with “Stingin’ Belle,” a pounding song where Neil once again gets to wreak havoc on his strings and wear the finish off of one of his Fender Strats.
As the band shouted their thank-yous and goodbyes, Neil once again drew attention to his new enemy in the audience.
“Thank you so much, Philadelphia [pronounced Phil-eh-dayl-phieh in his thick Scottish accent], every single one of you. Except that fuckin’ guy.”
And then, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, he said they’ll be back in September. For a band whose U.S. appearances are few and far between, that’s an interesting note. Later, on the band’s Instagram, they posted a picture of the crowd, as they did every night this tour. But what they didn’t do for every other city was say, “We’ll be back,” much less give a date for it that hasn’t been formally announced yet.
Did we just get the first hint at the Made In America lineup? That’s where my money is, at least.
BalletX co-founder and choreographer Matthew Neenan has revived his 2010 work, “The Last Glass” and is bringing the new version to the Wilma Theater next week as part of the company’s annual Spring Series performances which begin next week.
Although the original piece has toured the country, this is the first time Neenan’s ten dancers have switched roles to bring a new fresh energy to the work. During a recent rehearsal, “The Last Glass” unraveled through mystery, connection and spontaneity in a series of solos and duets that investigated a spectrum of emotions.
Our Meghan McFerran spoke with Neenan and some of the performers about the production.
What influenced you to bring back “The Last Glass?”
Originally, this was not supposed to be on this program. I had been thinking for the past year that a lot of them have been doing the same role for years now. Chloe (Felesina) was doing the last girl who is left. She originated that role, so she had been doing it for seven years. We had always talked about (changing roles) but you need time to do that, and luckily we had the time.
The dancers had been watching it so much that I don’t think it was that hard for them to swap roles. They could help each other. And they’re all so talented, I know they’re not capable of just doing one role. Some of them have done a couple roles already.
I want to keep it fresh and let people discover something else in the piece rather than what they have already been doing all these years.
What new layers/qualities of the work do you hope to bring out the second time around?
Neenan: I had seen the piece done in Boston in the fall and I hadn’t been working on it. It had lost some of it’s spontaneity. It can’t look too choreographed, especially all the duets because it’s all about a conversation with each other.
I have been telling them to just have a conversation and make sure it doesn’t look like you’re just doing what the choreography is. It should be like you just made it up on the spot.
With a lot of my work, it always looks better with that intent. Spontaneity is really important in this piece. In the finale I told them, “If your arms are a little different, it’s okay because it’s more about the exuberance and staying together. But we don’t all have to be the same.”
All of their characters are really individualized and I think the swapping has helped for sure.
What do you value most throughout your creative process?
Neenan: I think having that candid conversation with the dancer is really important. These dancers work with so many choreographers, so I think it’s already instilled in them to be open. It’s about trust. I work with many different companies, but it’s always so great coming back to them because the trust is already there. We can build something that might be a little risky or strange or whatever, but we can always take it a step further because of this trust.
What does “The Last Glass” mean to you? How does it make you feel?
Richard Villaverde, dancer (4.5 years): It’s such a special piece to me because it helped me learn how to portray a character and an emotion.
It helped me figure out how to translate messages of a certain tone in dance. I think that’s hard to relate to someone with not only movement but with your emotion… pouring your real-life emotions into a piece is really hard, finding when I have actually been truly angry and expressing that, or when I have been sad and expressing that.
I think that’s the hardest part with dance. You can kick your leg up and point your foot but what’s the intention behind all of those things? This piece helped me to become a better artist and fine tune all of the little details.
Can you explain Neenan’s creative process, especially resetting the piece as opposed to creating it for the first time?
Villaverde: Working with Matt is always such a pleasure because he knows how to express an emotion through his body and with his face, and he shows you that through his gestures. He is so expressive so it’s really nice to then take on what he just gave you and make it your own because you see it right in front of you.
He also goes with what you’re feeling and he is so easily expressive. He says, “I want more ‘ahhh,’” (opens his arms slowly, like a yawn) and he shows you.
A lot of choreographers tell you to do things but they don’t show you and then its more up to you to figure it out, and then you have self-doubt, so it’s really nice to have someone explain exactly what they want and make it so clear. It’s a pleasure.
What does “The Last Glass” mean to you?
Gary Jeter II, dancer (3 years): “The Last Glass” means something different than it used to because I’m doing a different part. As a new character, I get to play something that I don’t usually get to play, which is yearning for the girl and obsessed with the girl but she does not really want me in the same respect. So, I have to figure out to interact with her when she brushes me off or how I should keep pursing her.
This happy gaze is a good new challenge.
How do you continue to make the movement new and fresh?
Jeter: I think you have to be willing to make a change in terms of trying new things even if it’s not what the choreography is. There’s really only so much you can do until you start to change what the movement was before.
You have to embrace the fact that there’s going to be a good criticism point where we’ll have a coaching session and say, “Well, maybe you can do this here. Maybe we can do that there.”
But the fact that you are thinking about it and not just going on autopilot is a good thing.
I’ve been playing the guitar since I first heard AC/DC’s Back in Black when I was 10. My brother was the first one to play the album for me, and after that first and singular time hearing “Hell’s Bells,” I was doomed to an entire lifetime of rock ‘n’ roll. I was instantly running around in my parent’s basement dressed like Angus Young, perfecting his duck walk and flipping through guitar catalog’s, plotting how I could somehow afford a Gibson SG.
There wasn’t a single AC/DC song you could mention to my 10-year old self that would have been unknown to me nor unable to be played on the guitar. I was on a mission to do literally everything I could to be a part of this music that completely changed the way I saw the world.
Those days turned into months, and then eventually turned into years. I never stopped playing but over time, the idea of being in a band seemed less realistic and ultimately disheartening when I found myself scrambling to figure out what to do with my life as I entered college.
I actually became dreadfully close to hanging up the whole guitar playing thing but by chance, I was hired at a Guitar Center in the spring of 2010. I was skeptical of this new job I had, especially considering the company’s reputation and the fact that the hiring manager didn’t even look at me during the entire interview. But I was cool with jumping in and seeing what happens. I’d been playing long enough to know the ins and outs of the gear.
I learned to love working in a guitar shop but it was also the first experience I had with this whole concept of pre-judgement that I would later get to know very well in my life.
Right away, I found that a lot of old dudes who came in were perfectly okay with either pretending I wasn’t there or straight up telling me that I’m not capable of offering insight to their incredibly complex and calculated purchase of a pack of Ernie Ball strings. I rolled my eyes more than I ever got legitimately pissed off in these situations but after a while, it made me wonder if this was real life and if some dudes actually thought this way?
Immediately after I started, Guitar Center hired another girl named Gina, a chick who could shred the guitar to absolute pieces and played in this all girl Metallica tribute called Misstallica. Every single person that saw her play – customer, employee, or whoever – instantly dropped whatever expectations they had. It was glorious and inspiring to me, changing every standard I had set for myself as a guitar player.
We immediately became best friends and she invited me to join the almighty Misstallica, a band that gave me a few of the best years of my life. The girls blessed me with the art of shredding and taught me how to remain fearless on stage, regardless of how many people expected us to fail just because of our gender.
Even more than that, I was having real, genuine and wholehearted fun for the first in my life. Seeing the transition of folded and stagnant arms to head banging and flailing in the crowds became merely the icing on the cake.
Misstallica ended after I was only in the band for a few brief but awesome years. We chose to explore different careers and see what else this life had to bring us besides shredding Metallica tunes.
I spent another brief period of time playing guitar with Gina in Las Vegas but hastily moved back to Philly during the spring of 2015 feeling the strongest sense of home and belonging here. Another entire year passed that I spent tinkering with the ideas of starting something new, joining something, but leaning toward just not playing at all. I felt I had lost something unique and special that couldn’t be reconstructed
But then I was like, “Who am I kidding? I’m starting a new fucking band.”
It was easy to round up a couple of punk badasses. Matt Bradley and Phil Bookbinder both came into the picture, two seemingly polite and quiet gentlemen who can instantaneously turn into salivating man-beasts behind a drum set and bass guitar. I also invited my longtime friend from art school, Emily Youcis, to sing. I thought it would be cool to pick back up on a semi-comic band (Emily Pukis and the Vagrants) that we had started years and years ago together, before I had decided I was going to take a music career seriously. Emily and I had always shared similar ideas and bonded over art, rock ‘n’ roll and old fashioned girl power. The music we made together completely revolved around those ideas, and for a minute it seemed like we were going to have something good going again.
But what happened next was like a Hiroshima-level blast to our band. Last summer, Emily outed herself as a white supremacist and alt-right enthusiast.
Stories about her and her new political views spread quickly through every media outlet in Philly and around the world because of the Internet.
I saw the videos and articles at the same time as the rest of Philly. I was appalled and found myself cursing at this stranger whom I thought I had known. Without hesitation, I left the band, essentially dismantling it.
I felt overwhelmingly ashamed and embarrassed for a person I tried to share an opportunity with. I was now associated with an ignorance that didn’t represent myself and I hated it to no end.
Again, I began teetering back and forth about the idea of whether or not to continue performing at all.
But then I was like, “Who am I kidding? I’m starting a new fucking band.”
SPRINTER was born in 2016 but I like to think that 2017 is the official beginning. I pulled Matt and Phil back into the project with me. They’re more than cool dudes. They’re like brothers to me. They do the dirty work of giving unorganized and sloppy riffs an actual backbone.
SPRINTER also features Lauren Tsipori, another former Misstallica guitar shredder who has remained on the scene for years. Lauren’s awesome to me for a lot of reasons but particularly because she brings me back to why I play music in the first place – it’s fun and its ours.
It’s going to look like whatever we want it to look like, regardless of the past, where we came from or whatever baggage we’re helping each other shake. We have this relationship where, as songwriters and as people, we are pushing each other to reach outside our comfort zones. It hasn’t left a lot of room for things to get boring. In fact, as a musician, I think I’ve been moving from being a thrash guitar player to more of a songwriter.
I’m not really sure if this is because maybe I have new perspective. Maybe it’s because 2016 left some turds in my brain. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe it’s all of the above.
Regardless, I’m just a 25-year-old chick running around with an SG. I’m exactly the person I dreamed I’d be when I was 10.
Things will be difficult with the political climate and the emotions that it will evoke. But 2017 will be the year of SPRINTER. And we’re looking forward to sharing it with all of you.
The walls crawl with mold. Shoddy paint jobs peel like cracked skin, revealing the pink, fibrous flesh of insulation. Nails protrude the wrong way on the floor boards. And I’m surrounded by sound.
After I make my way down the steps, into the dense thicket of bodies pressed up towards a band, I sidle against the side wall and feel the thick, cool concrete slab through my sweater. The band is called Disappearances and, full disclosure, they’re shredding the place up. Their intricate guitar lines slither in and out of existence – noise for noise’s sake, crashing down like lightning as it cuts through the thick, plodding angular basslines.
The singer growls into the mic, a throaty rush of words and distorted phrases that nobody can really make out. But everyone nods along, strangers mostly, connected through the bashing, all of us souls riding on the vibrations of the crash symbol.
It’s nights like this, in junk basements in some stranded part of post-Temple North Philadelphia, that the world feels like it’s going to erupt into a thousand rainbows casting prismatic light onto vast lush fields or turn to a dusty barren wasteland, where we are all living out of hollowed out Corollas, all of us left to fight over scraps and cans of beans.
On these nights music grabs hold and either strangles or gives life.
After the band’s set, I make my way up the steps, an even more treacherous journey than the descent. The door is locked. It’s pitch black and, as I’m the guy in front of the restless line, I’m fidgeting with the knob. I don’t live here (does anyone?) and I don’t know how to get this thing unlatched.
“You’ve got to jiggle it,” someone on the bottom step implores. “I know, it’s difficult.”
“There it is,” I say.
The door creaks open and I’m washed in the incandescent light of someone’s living-slash-merch and amplifier-storage room. It is a familiar scene. As I tuck myself into my jacket and make my way to mill about outside, a sudden wave of danger flits over me like a spectre. I look up into the trees, smell the night air, watch the moon, glance at the other bands loading in equipment.
I should be freaking out. I should be thinking claustrophobic thoughts of nightmarish fire hazzards. All I can do is nod at the guitarist pushing an amp up the sidewalk and say, “Watch those steps.”
Once, in my home state of North Carolina, I went to see Rage Against the Machine, Atari Teenage Riot and Wu-Tang Clan. Yes, they played the same show.
We were ushered into a giant field, a parking lot with the scenic grandeur of a mass grave. We shuffled over the rocks and mud and walked through the gate. Shirtless white youths sprawled for what seemed like miles.
ATR was playing their caustic mix of hardcore, ultra-digitized techno-inspired electronica and shouted political missives. They were just, like, three crust-punks on a stage about the length of a full city block, and they did all the best they could, pogo’ing like mad to try to induce the crowd.
I thought then, “Man, this would probably be sick in my friend’s living room.”
It was a thought that seemed preferable when a 6-foot-5 redneck rocking a bandana and jean shorts walked by yelling “Wu Tang! Wu Tang! Wu Tang!” while he waved his shirt around him.
Eventually, he’d get his wish. The Wu took the stage and managed to, as they said in the parlance of the day, wreck shop despite the suspicious absence of Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Mosh pits erupted all over the lawn, down the small hills and across the coliseum floor, just shy of the barricade.
As a sea of young people who looked like they’d just as soon drag me behind their Jeeps in the eastern Carolina mud bashed each other’s heads in to 36 Chambers, I started to feel strangely claustrophobic. I felt like I ultimately didn’t belong there.
The surrealism reached its peak when friends of mine from a band called Rent America took the stage before Rage. They were three humble, sweet young dudes in a thrashy, emo-y hardcore band from a tiny town and they were invited on stage to talk about something I’d heard them talk about before their sets at various teen centers, skate parks and dive bars – the war for oil in Nigeria, about Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9, African freedom fighters who were murdered by their state for standing up to Shell Oil’s exploitation of the area.
When Rage finally raged, urging the crowd to “take the power back” and admonishing governments for “killing in the name of,” the Marines went ape in ecstatic delight. A ghost-like sense of ennui settled over me as I stared blankly into the dawn.
I‘d seen Rent America in a barn and they did in fact talk about the Ogoni 9. Present at that show were future members of the Ku Klux Klan wearing the teenage disguise of punk rock – the tattered clothes, the spikey hair, the Screeching Weasel patches. Those kids would grow up to hate.
Rent America blazed through 15 minutes of music so intense it was as if I could visibly see every discordant note lift out of their amps. And while a few of those drunk punks would never make it out of the trailer park mentality, plenty of the kids there, exposed to ideas and sounds and movements by this wild band, exposed to a new vision for how to live a life in a disturbingly commodified world, did escape.
Lives were changed that day.
We call them safe spaces. They are refurbished warehouses, re-configured teen centers, re-structured barns. They’re somebody’s basement or living room. They’re cramped practice spaces spilling over capacity. They may not be “safe” in a baseless, orthodox sense, but the feeling and dreaming, the movements, that are born in these spaces give rise to any and everything imagined.
Everything that finally makes it to MTV, that lands, somehow, on Paris runways, concepts that find their way into government, medicine and social services – all of these things started in the intimacy of creative spaces re-imagined from the dirt.
I know that we are supposed to fear the coming state of things. I know that this new regime has empowered the so-called alt-right to invade our safe spaces. I know that in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire in California and the Pulse shooting in Orlando, that we are supposed to be cautious, to tread into these places with fear and lightness of step.
I also know that whatever “they” give us – either a Gattaca-esque false utopia or a Mad Maxian hellscape – we will need safe spaces, autonomous zones and artist hovels even more fervently than we do now.
We will need to continue to dance, to uplift, to wheat-paste, to raise voices and fists, to jury-rig those symbol stands with duct tape for microphones, to cobble together a sound system, to be vigilante, to spend those nights with ink stained fingertips Xeroxing a new world, dreaming it up.