Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Making the Scene

Sonny Sixkiller
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artists: Ashtabula; Asteroid #4; Atom and His Package; Brother JT3; The Delta 72; Fingernail; Franklin; The Friggs; Jugden Mash; The Marinernine; The Lucys; Nerve Generator; Matt Pond PA; Sonny Sixkiller; Stinking Lizaveta; King Britt Presents Sylk 130; Vibrolux
Albums: River of Many Dead Fish (Ashtabula); Introducing…(A#4); A Society of People Named Elihu (A&HP); Way to Go (BJT3); The Soul of a New Machine (D72); So Backwards (Fingernail); Franklin (s/t); Rock Candy (Friggs); Snake Oil & Sippin’ Whiskey (JM); A Little Something from the Weatherman’s Perspective (M9); Anselmo (Lucys); This is 4-Track! (NG); Measure (MPPA); I’m in the Band (S6K); Slaughterhouse (SL); When the Funk Hits the Fan (KBPS130); Doomsday Rock (Vibrolux)
Source: Promos

On average, living in New York is better than living in Philadelphia. Sure, I miss shopping in the Italian Market, and Friday happy hour at Dirty Frank’s was a reliable pleasure. And don’t get me started on the space-to-rent ratio. But it was also sometimes stultifyingly small – the opportunities were limited, the ceiling on achievement seemingly low, and there was no way to avoid the person you wanted to duck for a few weeks.

There was one thing, however, that Philly beats NYC on hands down: the music scene. As in, there actually is one. A reasonably sized coterie of musicians and bands with modest aspirations and a chummy (though sometime also clubby) demeanor. In New York, the bands in “the scene” are chasing major-label contracts (this is where the major labels are, punk) and the sort of national/international exposure that is synonymous with local press here. Before I lived here, I used to complain how New Yorkers acted like their city was the center of the world; now I understand that this damn well is the center of the world, and people need to get over it.

But I digress. I liked the Philly scene. I knew the bands, could catch their action at the Khyber or Nick’s pretty regularly, and there were some bands with members who I was, if not friends with, certainly friendly. It was fun to shoot the shit with Art from The Photon Band, or joke about high school with Jay from Lenola. Then they’d put down their beers, take the stage and rock me just the way I liked it.

Which brings me to the reason behind the very large number of CDs in this entry. All of these were promos by local Philly bands. I got them because, as a Philadelphia Music Writer, one of the tasks at hand was to cover the scene. And it wasn’t usually a chore; it was often a pleasure. Some of the bands (not covered here) were so good that they became part of The Beast’s core – the aforementioned Photon Band & Lenola, plus Caterpillar, Strapping Fieldhands and others. It was fun to not only write about this music, but to know it, know how it fit into a larger picture, even if that larger picture wasn’t all that large in the end.

So I didn’t pay for any of these, and they were part of a glut of discs I felt obliged towards, if not always positively. Many of them are quite good: Ashtabula (a Strapping Fieldhands side project) is weirdly wonderful; Nerve Generator is tightly-wound pop that comes off like a new wave dBs; and anything the Original Sins’ Brother JT put his mind to (here, Way to Go and the Vibrolux disc) is always a loose-limbed lysergic treat.

Then there’s the stuff I have a sort of sentimental attachment to: the guys in the always-rockin’ Franklin were super-nice to me, and knowing them led to the cool coincidence of introducing Lee to their singer, Ralph, only to find out they’d been good buddies in high school; and Matt Pond was always fun to talk to at the bar during a show, the kind of guy who always had something to talk about, but was never a blatherer or a know-it-all (though reviews I’ve read all suggest Measure isn’t one of the top efforts of a guy with some excellent records).

Some of the memories are just weird: I got assigned to interview Adam DiAngelo, the guy behind Fingernail’s proto-IDM electronics, and it was the most depressing experience ever – he’d been kicked out of his mom’s house, then had been screwed over by a friend and had landed in this kind of flophouse apartment/hotel place that was kind of a halfway house for the thoroughly fucked. And Jesse Jameson, lead singer for The Lucys, flipped out and nearly shot himself to death just a few hours after I’d been hanging out with him at the Troc.

There’s also a lot of stuff here I never listen to. Atom & His Package is a single good-natured joke (tinny sequencer and squeaky vocals played as Ween-ish joke punk) that was funny right after college, but not so much anymore; Stinking Lizaveta is doomy prog-metal that would probably be popular now, but was way outside even the underground’s main seam then; The Marinernine is overly general drone that mostly gets by on the fact that M9 mainman Brian McTear is a solid part of the scene (and remains so to this day, as both producer and Bitter Bitter Weeks); and it’s very possible that I haven’t listened to the lame Palace rip-off of Jugden Mash since I reviewed it in 1997.

To the best of my knowledge, very few of these bands are part of the Philly scene anymore. Though I guess I really don’t know: I’ve now lived in NYC longer than I lived in Philadelphia, and it sure felt like I lived there a long time. But I’m out of touch with the place, and what would be the point, anyway? If you can’t hit a small local club and hang with the guys who are there to both see, be seen and be part of the scene, then you’re missing what’s good about having a local scene in the first place.

SISOSIG? I think there’s a bunch to cut here. Atom isn’t something I would want to spend my time listening to (even his synth & giggles cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”), I've got two box sets of Nuggets that make The Friggs irrelevant, I’m never eager to hear Jugden Mash, Marinernine hurts my brain (and ears) when I put it on, Sonny Sixkiller is good pop-rock that isn’t quite as good as most of the other pop-rock I have (but dig that cover art!), and Lizaveta wasn’t something I really liked all that much in the first place.

The rest, though, ranges from solid to good to flat-out excellent. The Beast is stronger for having them, and they’re good reminders of a scene for which I was, to whatever extent, present.


  • Kepp a few, at least one or two,as they make up part of that old you.

    By Anonymous Gil Hodges, at 4:36 PM  

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