Whalen: Splitting the DIY benefits

Artists collaborate on splits for more reasons than the obvious.

JaredWhalenPhiladelphia is praised for its musical sense of community. The thing is, though, it’s not just here. Sure, we may do it the best, but something that is special to the punk and hardcore music scene is the community. One common outpouring of this comes in the form of shared releases.

Splits and compilations are staples of the local music community. There is a type of joy when you realize two bands you love team up for a release. It’s also a great way to discover music.

For example, Philadelphia’s Kat Kat Records recently released a four-way split between Philadelphia-based bands Girl Scouts and Secret Plot to Destroy the Entire Universe nicely paired with southerners Loud? and Kilgore Trout, both bands I’ve never heard before. It’s a give and take – our scene, their scene.

This relationship is both personal and business. Justin Lutz of Lancaster, Pa., emo band Reservoir has been part of more than a half-dozen splits and compilations.

“In the punk/hardcore community, split records make a lot of sense for a few reasons,” Lutz said. “It can introduce the bands to new people from the other band’s fan base, especially if the bands are in different genres.”

It also makes sense economically.

“From a purely financial, economic standpoint, splits carry a lot less risk because there are two bands paying for the release,” Lutz said. “The physical copies are also split between more parties and are distributed further and more quickly.”

The decision-making behind pairing certain bands together comes from multiple sources.

Sometimes it’s a record company pairing two label-mates. Other times, it’s friends coming up with the idea over drinks after a show.

In the Philly scene, while some splits may be tactically orchestrated to reach the largest fan base, most come from an honest mutual enjoyment of each other’s work.

“[Reservoir] tend to grow closer to bands we’ve done splits with by virtue of a) having to talk out all the details involved in releasing it and b) sharing the struggle, so to speak,” Lutz said.

Sometimes, the pairing of bands is rarely symmetrical. While genres may play a role, it’s not in the way one may expect.

Take a look back at the Kat Kat Records split I mentioned. Listen to all four bands and you’ll find variations of punk, emo and hardcore with varying degrees of heaviness.

Take it step further. One of my favorite splits is “Never Come Undone” by La Dispute and Koji. Who would have thought mixing post-hardcore and acoustic folk would go so well together? That’s what makes it great.

Substance over style. In the same way that musicians from various genres can come together at a show for a single purpose, they can come together to make a cohesive release.

“I like to collaborate on splits with bands that don’t share our immediate genre,” Lutz said. “It makes the release more interesting and helps expose each of our bands to people that might not have heard them otherwise.”

It’s also about exposure.

Now, I don’t mean exposure in the capitalist mindset of promoting a band to the largest number of people for the lowest price. Rather, exposure as in sharing the art that musicians pour their being into to people who otherwise would never hear it. I’m talking about reaching the largest audience of listeners possible while forming lasting connections along the way.

Connections among bands. Connections among scenes. Even connections among different parts of the world. This growing community is something shining bright in the local music scene. And fortunately, Philly is front and center.

Jared Whalen can be reached at jared.whalen@temple.edu.

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