Text and images by Patrick Clark.
Alex G and Porches headlined a sold out concert at Union Transfer last Thursday. The show came on the tail end of a nationwide tour with Kansas’ Your Friend. All three acts toured in support of albums released in the past year.
Porches brought out introspective dance tunes from their February release, Pool, which treads upon new territory for Aaron Maine’s genre-bending project.
Following Porches, Alex Giannascoli made his return to Philadelphia for the first time since playing Everybody hits during the Kat Kat Phest in December. He had an energetic set that concluded with an encore in which friends of the band danced on stage and Giannascoli played “Change,” a fan favorite.
Text and images by Tyler Horst.
The intimate space of Underground Arts became a maelstrom of chaos Wednesday night when a sold-out crowd threw down to two legends of the underground—Napalm Death and The Melvins—on their Savage Imperial March Tour along with Japanese noise-rockers Melt-Banana.
It was an eclectic mix that made perfect sense.
Before the first set, curious onlookers came to the front of the stage to gaze at the dense array of effect pedals laid out on the floor for Melt-Banana guitarist Ichirou Agata and snap some photos for further study. When the band took the stage, the purpose of the complex arrangement of gadgetry became clear to those unfamiliar with the band as Agata started into a layered crescendo of squawks, beeps, crunches and other tones not typically heard from a guitar.
The band then launched into a furious set of songs that combined elements of chiptune, grindcore, noise and even some pop, that threw the crowd into an immediate gleeful frenzy. Vocalist Yasuko Onuki led the charge with a brightly lit remote that controlled the electronica elements and programmed drums, yipping and howling along to the impossibly fast songs.
It’s not every day that you’d consider the sludgy, grunge-metal sounds of The Melvins to be a moment to breathe, but on this night they were.
The majestically coiffed King Buzzo walked on stage in a dress covered with sewn-on eyes. Bandmates Dale Crover and Steven McDonald wore simple black shirts emblazoned with sequins that spelled out Drums and Bass, respectively. The odd costuming is just part of the band’s goofy sense of humor.
“It’s great to be back in the City of Brotherly Shove,” said Crover to roars from the audience.
The Melvins played selections from their decades-long catalog, including tracks from their soon-to-be-released album Basses Loaded. The heavy, rolling riffs, thick bass and full-body drumming pummeled an excited, moshing crowd.
Rounding out the night were English grindcore pioneers Napalm Death.
Comedian Jim Carrey once joked about the guttural growls of vocalist Barney Greenway during an interview on the “Arsenio Hall Show,” saying, “You know, one day this guy is going to want to slow down and do some duets.”
But Greenway, now in his late 40s, showed no signs of “slowing down” in his 20-plus years in the band, flailing around the stage and barking into the mic like a wild man. He hasn’t abandoned his punk-rock attitude either.
“We have saying in England which is, ‘Know your place,’” Greenway told the pumped-up crowd. “I say bollocks to that. Your place is wherever you feel it fucking should be.”
It turned out that night that the crowd decided to be all over the place. It was impossible to stay in once place as mosh pits spread out, beers sprayed crazily through the air and many people repeatedly leapt on stage to dive back into the crowd.
Matthew Kerr is promoting an idea that pushes back against the crushing momentum of modern education policy. That in a time when music and the arts are often the first budget line items on the chopping block for school districts, particularly in Philadelphia, they are in fact one of the most effective tools to keeping youth out of trouble.
“Why music? Because many students in Philadelphia have been exposed to a large amount of trauma in their lives,” explains Kerr, 23. “These students have the same emotions as anyone else… and without arts and music, they’re often denied healthy means to express their experience in a society that continually tells them they’re nothing.”
Through his nascent nonprofit, Beyond the Bars, Kerr is directly encouraging some of the city’s most at-risk youth to express themselves productively. Founded in the fall of 2015, Kerr and the organization’s volunteers head twice a week into the Philadelphia Industrial Corrections Center (PICC) in Northeast Philadelphia to teach music to juvenile inmates between the ages of 14 and 17.
Toting along instruments like guitars, bass, drums and keys, Kerr and other instructors work with anywhere from several to a dozen students at a time. They teach them whatever they want to learn and pack in as much jam time in as possible. Kerr, a 2014 graduate of Temple University’s education program, says he has learned from working with traditional students in schools around Philadelphia that having a chance to play as a group can actually be more important than the learning component.
“A lot of students quit if they don’t get something right away,” Kerr says. “But when they play together, they get instant gratification. And I want my students to feel like musicians.”
Kerr says the program has been a success so far. Many of the students keep showing up and the classes have an influential, inside supporter in Karen Bryant, deputy commissioner of Operations & Emergency Services with the Philadelphia Prisons System.
Bryant’s daughter was one of Kerr’s students when he worked as a music program coordinator at the Charter High School for Architecture and Design, and sung the graces of his teaching style to her mother.
“The youth who participate in Beyond the Bars consider it a lifeline,” Karen Bryant says. “Jail is day after day of the same thing. So, for those who participate, they cannot wait for the two days of the week to get together with someone outside who shows that they care and gives them such a great tool.”
But the program’s success has led to new problems. Some students turn 18 and transfer to adult corrections, and still more finish their time and leave the facility. Kerr says the latter route is a dangerous prospect, adding that 70 percent of kids who leave juvenile facilities are back within a year.
“I had a student that was like, ‘I love this but I’m getting out in two weeks and I don’t have an instrument,’” Kerr says. “And I’m like, ‘Aw shit. I’m just a Band-Aid right now.’ I’m just helping kill time.”
Finding a dearth of music nonprofits that help youth navigate the transition out of juvenile prison, Kerr has established a relationship between Beyond the Bars and The Center for Returning Citizens (TCRC), an organization that provides a variety of services to people leaving correctional facilities. Starting this spring, Kerr says Beyond the Bars will be using space in a TCRC building at Seventh Street and Girard Avenue to continue educating students who left PICC.
But more than just keep teaching music, it’s Kerr’s hope that students will begin utilizing the center’s other services, such as job training, legal aid and counseling, to their advantage.
“Our end game is a very holistic experience,” Kerr says. “We want to hook them (with the music) and then we want to help them get access to careers.”
Jondhi Harrell, founder and executive director of TCRC, says programs like Beyond the Bars are essential in helping to make prison more than just a repressive and punitive place for inmates.
“What Matthew and his staff [are] doing is dynamic, needed and should be part of the model of rehabilitation and restorative justice,” Harrell says. “Prison should be a place of transformation and change. Learning a new skill that can further your ability to move forward in life is critical. Mastering music is a way to give confidence to young people and show them that many things are possible.”
And Kerr himself has completed a personal transformation. The education major and former member of Philadelphia rock outfit Family Vacation has chosen to live the nonprofit life. Last fall, he mostly left the formal world of education behind and took a job with the nonprofit Community Integrated Services. The 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours afford him afternoon daylight to meet with stakeholders for Beyond the Bars and free up his evenings for classes at PICC and TCRC.
He’s brought on a handful of other executives to run the business side of the organization and now enlists the services of about a dozen instructors. At the moment, all are working for free as donations and other financial support goes to purchasing and maintaining equipment.
Kerr is looking for support from all levels of the city’s music scene. He hopes to grow a more diverse roster of teaching volunteers – as most of the current volunteers are white – and also seeks donations of cash and gear. He encourages bands to throw benefit shows of any size.
“Even if it’s just a basement show with $50 … hey cheers, that’s great,” Kerr says.
He hopes to soon get his volunteers some pay and has stepped up his fundraising efforts. The Districts will be headlining a benefit show on April 17 at World Cafe Live and Kerr expects it to be a major boon to Beyond the Bars’ coffers. Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin, a growing philanthropist of the arts and disadvantaged populations, along with Eagles lineman Jason Kelce, have thrown their weight behind Kerr’s effort.
“I’m excited to get to meet them and try to hug them but my hands probably aren’t going to reach around them,” Kerr says, laughing. “And I’ll also thank Barwin for sacking Tom Brady.”
After a day that could not figure out whether it was winter or spring, the Electric Factory opened its doors to fans of all ages for a Saturday to remember.
The stage was set and a wide-breadth of DJs and performers with varying influences were scheduled to hit the stage. The show welcomed those of all ages and backgrounds to dance the night away. As the fans packed into the venue, Wax Future hit the stage to showcase their take on electronic funk music.
Philly’s own Wax Future performed as a two-piece band. The crowd roared as the two men took hold of their respective instruments and began their sound check. Using only a DJ board and live guitar, Wax Future showed Philly their own brand of new age funk music. As their set began, the crowd put away their cell phones and erupted with admiration and danced energetically. Masterfully executed crescendos created a tension and release where the crowd would have moments of relaxation followed by sounds that gave birth to more dancing. The two musicians embodied their music, the guitarists had an infectious energy as he moved with the music while his partner displayed intense focus on the boards.
As Wax Future’s set came to a close, the fans packed in closer and closer to the stage. Next, Wisconsin’s Melvv took the stage.
Melvv, the 19-year-old DJ, introduced his set with an ethereal track that incorporated an EDM beat with filtered synths and minimal drums. As the song came to a close, the DJ pulled his flat brim hat down toward his eyes, gave a smirk and the rest of the set was filled with trap influences and catchy melodies. The crowd was a sea of hands, swaying to the beats, reacting to the few and far between comments from Melvv with intense uproars of admiration.
As Melvv took his final bow, many began to anticipate the arrival of Louis the Child, the production duo from Chicago.
Louis the Child is heavily known for their hit song, “It’s Strange.” The duo has garnered critical acclaim within the pop EDM genre, air time on radio stations like the BBC and KCRW, and they also have been placed on Snapchat’s 2016 “EDM Artists to Watch.” One thing is for sure, they did not leave the crowd disappointed.
The duo played an assortment of music, mostly EDM. Some notable songs were “It’s Strange, Ridin’ Around” by Oshi and “Down for Whatever” by Imad Royal. The upbeat tunes, dirty drops and memorable melodies infected the crowd at every transition. Whenever a new song began, the crowd would erupt with screams and applause. The two DJs were enjoying their moment in the limelight as well, their energy seldom ceased as they would jump up and off of their DJ table throughout the set.
By the time Louis the Child’s set was finished, the Electric Factory was at capacity. The smokey stage was illuminated with blue light as Big Gigantic’s crew prepped the stage for the two artists. As the members emerged from the blue smoke, the crowd erupted and it began.
The artists came out of the gate at full speed, playing a remix of Major Lazer’s 2015 single “Wave (feat. Kalis Uchis).” The two performers burst with energy. The drummer encouraged the audience to clap along while playing upright. Directly to his left, the saxophonist controlled the DJ board while playing beautiful, modern sax chords. The two were completely in their element, smiling throughout the set, always making sure to communicate with the crowd. The duo had the crowd in the palm of their hand, playing nostalgic songs like “Teach Me How to Dougie” and “I Gotta Go.” It was evident in their control of the crowd that this Colorado crew was born to perform.
The only upset in Big Gigantic’s set was the appearance of recorded drums throughout their set. Little to no audio was audible from the drummer’s performance as you moved toward the back of the venue. The drummer would incorporate intricate fills into the arrangement but the only audible drums sounded electronic and pre recorded. The live drums were not completely inaudible, there were moments of snare hits and crashes. However, the majority of what the audience heard did not match up with what was being performed.
Big Gigantic will return to Philadelphia for Camp Bisco in mid July with various other artists.
The night was a simple, intimate affair. Each artist walked to the stage, picked up their acoustic guitar and performed sets that were as much conversations with the crowd as performances.
Nathan Hussey, the lead singer of All Get Out, was the first to play, starting with “Being Cold.”
Hussey’s performance dripped with snark and wit. After “Being Cold,” he said, “This next song is called squirrel. If you don’t want to buy an album about squirrels, that’s fine with me. It’s already made millions.”
The song was less about squirrels and more about life and Hussey’s analysis of his navigation through it.
At the end of Hussey’s set, he wanted the crowd to know two things: “One, this is the most applause I’ve ever gotten and two, thank you to Andy and Casey for taking me out on this tour.”
The crowd was as much a part of the show as the performers. A fan who may or may not have been drunk shouted, “Turn up!”
Hussey retorted, “Shut up, you can hear it better.”
The response was greeted with laughter and applause. It was all in good fun as Hussey qualified his quip with a lighthearted, “Or you can do what you want.”
Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter kept up the humor and intimacy that permeated the night. He reminisced on stage about how he and Hull met back in 2010.
“The first thing we did, having never met each other, was wrestle in front of our bands,” said Crescenzo. “It wasn’t aggressive or erotic. We just saw each other and knew we had to do this incredibly stupid thing and we’ve been best friends ever since.”
Crescenzo’s lyrics and vocals were just as passionate and personal as his conversations with the crowd between songs. Applause exploded when Crescenzo used a guttural croon to sing the lyrics “I can’t see the light house” from “Waves.” The mere mention of The Dear Hunter, their album The Color Spectrum or Manchester Orchestra ignited a round of applause. Crescenzo thanked Hull for being there during one of the roughest points in his life and being the catalyst for Crescenzo continuing The Dear Hunter.
When Hull finally graced the stage, Underground Arts was packed from the stage to the entrance. Hull’s first words when he stepped to the microphone were, “Casey, what a dick. I’m so sorry you had to suffer through 30 minutes of that beautiful voice. We’re still not quite sure what to think of that wrestling match.”
The crowd listened with a quiet reverence. During a few songs, like “Tony the Tiger” and “Deer,” a low chorus from the crowd could be heard underneath Hull’s voice.
Before his last song and encore (any fan can guess what song this was), Hull thanked the crowd.
“I’m always amazed that people give a shit,” he said, referring to the adulation his music receives.
Then he serenaded the crowd off into the cold Philly air with “Sleeper 1972,” giving fans one more reason in a long list to give a shit.
Their loud, brash music was part of the British garage rock revival, which included acts like Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines and Kaiser Chiefs, among many others. The genre may have lost its luster but the acts, including The Subways, have become staples of summer festivals, especially around Europe.
The Subways haven’t played in the United States for a long time, even though they’ve released four well-received studio albums, including a self-titled album in 2015. They have finally returned, with a brief North America tour that has them performing at Milkboy on Wednesday. It should be an amazing show given the energy of the band and the size of the intimate room.
Our G.W. Miller III spoke with the band’s bass player/vocalist, Charlotte Cooper, about life in music and the inspirations for the band that hails from Welwyn Garden City, a lovely, suburban oasis due north of London.
You guys haven’t toured the States for about 8 years.
Yeah, it’s been far, far too long. I’m so happy that we’ve managed to get some things sorted so we can come back. We had tried a few times but nothing quite worked out. I’m really glad we could make this happen.
What didn’t work out in the past?
We’ve been touring a lot across Europe, particularly in England and Germany. Our summers are always booked with the festivals. Getting blocks of time to go to the States hasn’t quite worked. It’s quite difficult to fund that. It’s quite an expensive process. We’ve been working out a way to do it and we’re really glad that we’ve found a way to make it happen.
You spend so much time in Germany! Why do you all speak German so well?
I speak a little bit of German because I learned it at school. That was a very long time ago now. I tend to get more confident after a couple glasses of wine.
I’ve seen you guys do full interviews in German. It’s really impressive.
Billy (lead singer Billy Lunn) likes to learn a little bit of the language everywhere we go. He always sings the chorus to “Rock & Roll Queen” in the language of wherever we are.
How did The Subways first form?
We were just three, really young, bored, suburban kids. Billy and Josh (drummer Josh Morgan) are brothers. They kind of introduced me to rock music, like Nirvana and Oasis. They were already playing together. We thought it’d be really cool to form a band and they asked me if I wanted to learn. Billy taught me how to play.
We started playing local venues and we found out there was a music competition happening, so we entered that. We made a few demos and played, literally, wherever anyone would have us.
A subway in America is different from a subway in the UK. Are the subways in the UK places where kids hang out?
They are mainly in newly built towns, mainly, like, underneath roundabouts or big roads. It’s a tunnel underneath the road. Sometimes they make them quite nice, with green areas within them. The one we used to hang out at? I haven’t been there in years, actually. I assume people still hang out there because people skate there and things like that. It was a cool place for kids to hang out.
Your music is loud and fun and a little rebellious. But you guys grew up in a fairly nice, bucolic neighborhood in the suburbs.
I grew up in a really small village. There was nothing going on. By the time I met Billy and Josh, they weren’t living in a town. It was really a small collection of houses. That drives a level of boredom. It makes you want to look outside of where you are, start listening to music, start playing music. I think that’s where the inspiration comes from.
And you’ve parlayed that into touring the world.
We feel so, so lucky to have traveled to all the places we’ve been to. The thing I’m most proud of is all the places we’ve been to. I feel lucky every day. I made a big map that’s in my living room with little pins for all the places I’ve been. I feel so lucky when I’m looking at that. Wow. I’ve been to all those places! There are still a lot of places to go though.
What are you excited about on this tour to the States?
It’s just everything for me. I can’t wait to explore and see the places I love. And I’m excited to play over there again. It’s been 8 years since we played the States. It’s a big celebration for us, finally being able to come back over there. It’ll be a huge adventure for the four weeks that we’re there.
Your husband has filled in for Josh on drums and you guys have toured in the past with your husband and his band. You were engaged to Billy for a while. Josh is Billy’s brother. You have an interesting dynamic to the band.
On paper, our band situation sounds like a nightmare. But somehow we kind of make it work.
Billy and I have always been really, really good friends. I think the music has always been the thing that drew us together. I’m lucky to have a husband that does the same thing. Sometimes we may not see each other all that much because he’s touring or we’re touring. I think he’s going to make it to some of the tour but he’s really busy at the moment with his own band.
Does he do the triathlon training with you?
He does a little bit. He likes cycling. He’s a good training partner.
When you tour, are you able to run and bicycle?
When we tour around Europe, normally I do take my bike. Our trip to the States is only four weeks and the space in the van is not that big, so if I brought a bike, I think I’d be quite unpopular. I’m just going to run. For me, it’s always a fun way to see new places. I can always nip out for a 30 minute run.
Do you know much about Philadelphia?
I need to know more. We’ve really been in-and-out every time we’ve played there. I’m really looking forward to exploring and seeing more of the city.
After a heavy pause from DJ-hosted performers, Union Transfer opened its doors last week for Philadelphia native/trap superstar Baauer and his “First Foot Tour.”
The Philly-flavored show, which welcomed hipsters, ravers and an all-ages crowd, started off the night with local DJ DAYO. DAYO is known for the fusion of Nu-Disco, Hip-Hop and some pop favorites. Vanessa Carlton’s “1,000 miles ” was a notable WTF moment that brought pure nostalgia to fans as they slowed down from electronic beats and sang along to classics.
Most electronic fans will tell you that all genres of music are welcomed and appreciated in a scene that represents peace, love, unity and respect. These elements bring together a unique crowd like no other, and with this amalgam came an easy transition into Tunji Ige, a 20-year old West Chester University student who caught the attention of electronic crunk musician ILoveMakonnen. The “Dark Liquor” and “On My Grind” lyricist hyped up the crowd with some beloved hip-hop beats, and then followed into his own tracks from the 2014 mixtape “The Love Project.” The North Philadelphian artist proved that he could be the next best thing in progressive rap (catch him at the JUMP-curated Red Bull Sound Select show at Underground Arts on 4/21 with Moosh & Twist).
At 10:15, Mr. “One Touch” himself took to the stage to live up to the name he’s made for himself in the world of electronic dance music. With his long-awaited debut album Aa (4 years in the making), Harry “Baauer” Rodrigues made sure to do some serious switch hitting on decks. Dropping trap essentials like Flume’s remix of “Hyper Paradise” by Hermitude and Flosstradamus’ “Rollup,” to bass-filled remixes of Rihanna and Missy Elliot, Baauer made sure everyone was getting a rightful taste of what he is known for- a little bit of everything.
As soon as GTA’s “Booty Bounce” was dropped, the crowd was going hard in full force. The crowd moved infectiously to the snare-heavy track “GoGo!” the lead single off Aa that had every raver’s hands in the air. The crowd got rowdier and sweatier as RL Grime & What So Not’s anthem “Tell Me” (Baauer edit) pulsated throughout the room. Any trap music enthusiast will tell you “the harder the better,” as made evident by the mosh pit that nearly scuffed every 18 year olds new Vans.
This show didn’t have the glitzy LED backdrops or pyrotechnics of today’s mainstream dance music shows. It provided us with a producer, his tools and a strobe light. This made the whole experience feel more underground. Think back to the days when Baauer dubbed himself Captain Harry and spun at the Medusa Lounge in Rittenhouse. Nothing has changed except his stage name – that’s for damn sure. Baauer’s energy, spark and love for music is like no other, and he certainly shows it on stage as he parties with his fans. He continues to remind us why he is a festival staple and fan favorite.
Note: “Harlem Shake” was dropped two times…and we were shaking