Philadelphia’s musical roots
Towards the more eccentric end of the spectrum, there is PhilaMOCA, once a showroom for mausoleums and tombstones, now an art gallery, performance space and concert venue. Philly has a dark history and curator Hamza Khan said as far as musical acts go “the stranger the better”. Recently, the space held a harpist, hurdy gurdy player, flamed hula hoopers and a folk-punk variety show called Folktopia. Local indie rock favourites Hop Along also played the creepy chic room, which used to be home to Philly boy turned global superstar DJ Diplo’s Mausoleum dance raves. PhilaMOCA took over the space from Diplo in September 2010 and switched gears with its offerings of mostly indie music, chiptunes (synth music played through old Gameboys/Ataris) and alternative folk acts.
When Diplo returned to Philly for a gig in early January 2012, he took the stage at Union Transfer a new, bi-level venue with a state-of-the-art sound system and standing-room-only capacity for 1,200. With high ceilings, clear sightlines, multi-level balconies and three bars, Union Transfer is attracting top national and international talent in genres as varied as rock, funk, rap and hip hop. Recent shows include SEE I (Feat. Members of Thievery Corp), UK band Friendly Fires, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah and Brooklyn rapper Theopholis London, and with Fountains of Wayne, The Joy Formidable and Henry Rollins on the horizon, this four-month old concert hall is fast becoming one of the hottest venues for live music on the US east coast.
For a bit of retro action, two clubs will get you going with their nods to mod and disco. The Barbary (a rock music fixture since 1969) features the “Bouffant Bangout” dance party on the first Saturday of each month, where the DJs spin 1950s and ‘60s tracks for a crowd young enough to remember CDs, not vinyl. At The Trestle Inn Whiskey and Go Go, local DJs play disco, funk and doses of French pop for club goers while Go Go dancers on raised platforms (both the stage and the shoes) keep the crowds totally ramped.
There is a small, hidden gem inside Philly’s musical soul where you can take in emerging local artists like The Lawsuits, The Spinning Leaves and spoken word artist MsWise in the most intimate of spaces -- someone’s living room. Brought to you by Sofar Sounds (which started in London), this international small space, concert movement unites music lovers in secret living room locations. Always on the cutting edge of something new, Philadelphia is one of just 15 cities participating, and you can sign up through the Sofar Sounds website.
“For years I was able to have people come to Philadelphia. There were The Roots [Philly’s hometown hip hop heroes] and great musicians in town that enticed people to come to the city,” said legendary Grammy Award winning arranger, producer and cellist, Larry Gold, who recently sold The Studio, his state-of-the-art recording complex catering to platinum and gold selling artists, to Milkboy Recording. The sale and renaming of the space to “Milkboy the Studio” is generating some great buzz for Milkboy Philly nightclub. The two level venue features every genre, from jazz to singer/songwriters to hip hop, in a 200-person, standing-room space. Like most Philadelphia venues, Milkboy Philly has an energetic scene, but lacks pretension.
“It’s not if you look a certain way. It’s if you play a certain way,” said producer Khari Mateen. “ We’re not super sexy like NY or LA, but we’ve got soul.”