The do-it-yourself music scene in Philadelphia is rapidly turning into the hope-someone-else-does-it scene. Aspiring young bands from all over the region that want to play Philly are finding it difficult to organize a show in an intimate all-ages setting. Sure, there is the monolithic R5 Productions, but if Pitchfork Magazine hasn’t reviewed your band, the promotions agency won’t review you, either.
So, for bands with smaller followings, basements and other DIY spaces are often the only option. The problem with these spaces is finding a balance between good relations with the neighbors and putting on a fun show.
Philadelphia is a city that any touring band would be foolish to skip. The people engaged in its music scene are as passionate, blunt and wild as the fans of its sports teams. No basement show is complete without countless 40-ounce bottles and crumpled beer cans littering the floor. Moshing and dancing are expected and encouraged.
For many, packing into a sweaty West Philly basement is a more enjoyable time than spending the night standing still at the First Unitarian Church. Not to mention, most DIY shows only cost $5, and if you just spent $2 of your $5 on a forty of Hurricane, most places will let you slide with $3.
Unfortunately, the city isn’t populated entirely by 20-something punks just looking to get loose with a band and a few beers. Neighbors are usually not bothered by the music itself; most successful show spaces make a point to end the music by 11 p.m. Punk-rock time (most punk shows start an hour or two after the announced time) is generally not encouraged, though in some places it still occurs. What bother neighbors most are the reckless and disrespectful actions of many show-goers.
The day a basement punk show is not full of rabble-rousing youths soused on beer is the day hell freezes over. Many neighbors are understandably intolerant of droves of young people stumbling around their neighborhoods, tossing bottles and urinating on walls, to name a few offenses.
“You’ve got kids spilling out of the house, puking on the corners. It’s not even the weekend. People have to get up early for work,” said Jim Ackley, who witnessed the overflow of a punk show into a house on his Fishtown block last year.
The most successful house venues in Philly have been the ones that maintain a positive relationship with the neighborhood, or at least enforce rules that contain the chaos within their space. At this point, the most active DIY venue is South Philly’s Disgraceland. The organization’s promoters do a great job of putting on incredible shows (their next show includes a punk band from Belgium), while also managing to keep neighbors and cops at bay by encouraging show-goers to avoid drinking outside and by not publicly announcing their location.
This last tactic is unique to Disgraceland, as other DIY spaces in the city display their addresses on all fliers and online bulletins. Presumably, this is to prevent the attendance of violent traveling punks, who are notorious for having little regard for the space’s well-being, the crowd or the community. By not publicly displaying the address, it’s necessary to ask a friend or e-mail the promoter to find out where to go.
According to one person involved with Disgraceland, “this space is for the people involved with the scene. I don’t want to exclude newcomers at all, but this space exists because of the 40 or so regular people who help keep the space alive. Also, what we do [charging money for a house show] is illegal.”
He added that newcomers to the scene expect that it will always be there. “What we have now is a generation that doesn’t know what it means to work to keep a scene or space alive,” he said. “Running this space is like a full time job. Kids don’t realize I’m trying to pay the mortgage on the place by charging at the door.”
Consistent show spaces are hard to come by in Philly these days. While Disgraceland contributes immensely to the Philly DIY music scene, it usually only features punk and metal shows. Though there are some spaces that occasionally open their doors to other types of music, there is no music scene in Philadelphia as intimate, connected and vibrant as the punk/metal scene.
West Philly Halfway House, located on 42nd and Chestnut streets, is a common starting point for many young punks, but most folks old enough to legally drink tend to avoid it, as it is frequented mostly by suburban high school kids and washed-up punk bands with members old enough to father the show-goers. Though they occasionally host shows worthy of attending, this place is probably only fun for the kids who haven’t yet discovered the lower-profile venues and bands.
Planet Mollie, after hosting many great shows under that banner as well as The Veggieplex, is rumored to be ending its show-hosting days. Promoters of Planet Mollie shows weren’t able to be reached to substantiate these claims.
There are various other houses around West and South Philly that host shows every now and again (check Phillyshreds.com to find out), but there is an unfortunate lack of consistent spaces. The guys doing it now won’t be doing it forever.
It’s time for young Philadelphians interested in their music scene to stop complaining about boring Friday nights and start putting on shows.
Julian Root can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.