Why Philly Is America’s New Indie Rock Hotbed
Words by Dom O’Connor
For the past 10 years, Philadelphia has felt like a hotbed of American guitar music – from the frontier folk-stonerisms of Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs to the earnest, heart-on-sleeve pop punk of Modern Baseball and Beach Slang.
Philadelphia is by no means a small town. But it truly feels like it’s punching above its weight in terms of constantly producing quality indie bands. So why is that? Local radio host and blogger John Vettese puts it down to three things: Affordability, location and a determined independent spirit.
Vettese – editor of The Key, a music blog based at public radio station WXPN, where he is also an on-air host – says Philly’s low cost of living and relative proximity to New York and DC has been particularly appealing to acts such as Waxahatchee and Screaming Females.
“Artists at a certain level can record and tour and live comfortably on that; just-starting-out artists can augment their creative income with some sort of flexible part time job.”
He says the ability for the city to make stuff happen is another huge selling point. The lack of under-21 venues has created a rich tradition of all-ages events in DIY spaces such as basements, warehouses, art galleries – even churches. “I mean, shit, we’ve got an indoor batting cage off of Girard Avenue that hosts DIY gigs at night. It’s ridiculous and awesome,” he says.
When Melbourne’s Camp Cope had a couple days off and no shows booked on a brief stopover in Philly earlier this year, the community rallied and two pop-up gigs were locked in: a solo show for singer Georgia Maq in a West Philly basement and a full band show at downtown venue The Trocadero Balcony.
“I caught the latter gig, which packed the room with literally less than 24 hours’ notice,” John says. “If something isn’t happening, we find ways to make it happen, and the latter happened because the show’s promoters got their start in the Philly DIY network.”
It’s also a large enough city to not be tied to one genre or “sound”. Sheer Mag’s good time riff-rock feels a long way away from (Sandy) Alex G’s genre-hopping experiments in songwriting, for example, and that variety contributes to its growing reputation.
Here’s a brief snapshot of what this indie city on the rise has to offer.