One of the greatest joys of living in Philadelphia is seeing America’s most loved musicians command a crowd at Union Transfer, Electric Factory, Mann Center…or any of the countless music venues throughout the city. But, the best performances aren’t always happening at sold-out concert halls – sometimes, the shows that invigorate your passion for music take place in a stranger’s small basement, amplified by beat-up equipment from a used music store.
I moved to Philadelphia last year from Boca Raton, Florida, a suburb filled with retired grandparents – in other words, its music scene isn’t particularly booming. Though I’ll always have a soft spot for South Florida bands, I was thrilled to finally check out what’s supposed to be one of the best music scenes in the country. But when you move to a new city and don’t know anyone, it’s hard to figure out how to find out about shows, where to go to see music, who the best bands are, and what the music scene is even like.
As I settled into the city, I made new friends, talked to different people, and eventually found myself a little less clueless about the music around me. I started going to these “house shows” that I heard so much about. I imagined suburban Florida living rooms, only to find row house basements. I joined Facebook groups with show listings. I met people who knew people who knew other people who knew someone’s second cousin who was in a cool band. Over time, I was introduced to a wide array of talented musicians who were right under my nose all along.
We’re here to make it a bit easier to venture into the lesser-known corners of Philly music!
What does D.I.Y. even mean? How do I tell if music is D.I.Y. or not?
D.I.Y. stands for “do-it-yourself,” which means that a band writes, produces, and records their own music – everything from booking to designing merch to Tweeting is the band’s responsibility. D.I.Y. is more related to how an album is produced than how an album sounds – if Sony Music puts out a record that sounds like it was recorded on GarageBand, then it’s not D.I.Y. – but many D.I.Y. bands fall into the lo-fi and bedroom-pop spectra, since they may not have access to high quality equipment. The definition of D.I.Y. is fluid, though. Think about the genre “indie” for example. Some people would call Mumford & Sons “indie” despite being signed to a major label because of what they sound like, while others say that only a band signed to an independent label can be indie. D.I.Y. is the same way – plenty of people will dispute the “true meaning” of D.I.Y., but it really doesn’t matter too much. Usually, if a band describes themselves as D.I.Y. (or any other genre for that matter), then they are a D.I.Y. band. Don’t be that person who argues over whether a band is indie or D.I.Y. or punk or grunge or what not.
What are some examples of D.I.Y. bands?
The D.I.Y. scene is always evolving as new bands pop up, old bands expand, and new people and venues drift in and out of Philly – some Philly favorites like The Districts, Hop Along, Creepoid, and Waxahatchee started out playing D.I.Y. shows, and later scored record deals and national tours. Right now, some great D.I.Y. bands in Philly are Radiator Hospital, Girlpool, Alex G, Cyberbully Mom Club, Bone Bats, Shannen Moser, and Amanda X, and I’m sure that if I’m asked the same question a year from now, my answer will change. This feature from Impose lists even more bands recommended by prominent people in Philly music.
Where can I find out what shows are coming up?
A reliable resource is DIY PHL, where users submit shows to be featured on a comprehensive web calendar, which isn’t just limited to music – it also includes art gallery openings, movie screenings, discussions, and more. There are also Facebook groups like the Philadelphia DIY Collaborative, where people post about upcoming shows, among other things, and there’s even a long list of D.I.Y. spaces divided by region. If you like a band, check out who they’re playing with – odds are, you’ll enjoy the band’s support, too. If you have the time, show up early at shows – the opening act that you’ve never heard of just might become your prized discovery. Above all, the best way to learn about new music is through word of mouth. Ask people what they’re listening to!
So, is Philly D.I.Y. just about playing music? Or is there more?
Luckily, the Philly D.I.Y. community tries to use its powers for good. This year, OK Fest donated proceeds to The Attic Youth Center, providing support to LGBTQ youth, and Girls Rock Philly seeks to mentor pre-teen and teenage girls and empower them through music. It’s also easier than ever to host your own house shows, since DIY PHL provides a PA Share program, which lets artists borrow gear for performances. Better yet, the PA Share was funded by First Time’s The Charm, which promoted inclusivity in the scene by helping people who had never performed before form bands. Certain venues even have rules about treating fellow show attendees with respect – LAVA Space advertises itself as a center to organize for social change, and Pilam, a space that has been hosting the Human Barbecue Festival for thirty-seven years, hangs signs around their house declaring that all people are to be respected, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ability, and so on.
So, go forth and spread the knowledge of Philly D.I.Y.! Who are your favorites? Tell us in the comments below!