Featured Image Courtesy of Patrick Clark
If you’re in the Philadelphia area, chances are you’ve heard of PhilaMOCA. You’ve probably even been there a few times. Thanks to Eric Bresler, the venue has made a name for itself as an incredibly diverse room, hosting everything from comedy shows, to concerts. PhilaMOCA used to exist as a show room for mausoleums, but was purchased by Diplo in the early 2000s and used as the headquarters for his label. PhilaMOCA as we know it really started in 2010 when it was rented out, and in 2012 Eric Bresler took over as director/curator and started giving us the events that we all love. From the yearly Cinadelphia Film Festival , to great music shows, PhilaMOCA has made a name for itself in the Philly art scene, and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon. Eric graciously took the time to talk with us and tell us a little bit more about one of Philly’s favorite venues.
ROP: How do you think the unique Philadelphia environment has shaped PhilaMOCA? Would you see it being quite a different venue if it was transplanted to another city like New York?
EB: Well, the thing that makes PhilaMOCA unique is our willingness and ability to host all artistic disciplines, we host everything from film screenings to live music to poetry slams, all kinds of things. So we pull and interact with all corners of Philly’s art world, preferably with the stranger and darker corners of that world, but it’s really difficult to characterize our programming, it’s all over the map, but all DIY-related in some manner. I’m always pulling from Philadelphia film and music history for event ideas, the first installment of the Cinedelphia Film Festival in 2013 was a full month of Philly-related film screenings, really the only benefit I can think of from being located in New York is that there is more history then Philadelphia from as far as my interests go, more potential guests and performers, I often feel like I’ve stretched Philly’s punk/alternative/film history thin at this point.
ROP: How do you set up PhilaMOCA’s calendar? Do you try to keep a strict balance between cinematic work, visual art, and concerts, or does it kind of ebb and flow depending on the month?
EB: It ebbs and flows, but balances out really nicely be year’s end. There’s no formula to it, but I do make a conscious effort to keep the programming diverse. Philly is primarily a music town so the show requests are never-ending, which is why we’ve pretty much delegated music-related stuff to R5 plus occasionally a couple other promoters we trust and once in a while I’ll book something that’s music-related if it’s something that I or one of our volunteers is personally interested in.
ROP: Do you think PhilaMOCA today represents the vision you had in mind when you first stepped in as director/curator? If not, how has it changed, and why?
EB: Somewhat, my initial vision was for a multidisciplinary space that had crossover in attendance with different disciplines that don’t usually cross over supporting each other. I wanted the people that attend the film screenings to attend the live music, and vice versa. I didn’t want a music show to just be another show, I wanted them to incorporate comedy and dance and visuals. Our strongest and most memorable events have always been the ones that succeeded by combining disciplines, like our Eraserhood Forevers, Mausoleum Parties, and the Cinedelphia Film Festival. As far as attendance goes, after a year or two I learned that people around here tend to stick to their primary interest, the music people stick with music, film with film. I’m speaking generally, of course, but it’s definitely true that some attendees only know us as a music venue while others know us as a comedy venue or whatever. And that’s fine, I’ve never gone to great lengths to define what we do or what we are, but I do think that it’s a shame when people don’t venture out of their comfort zone to experience something new and unfamiliar.
ROP: I would imagine that running such a diverse room comes with a ton of challenges that a traditional music venue wouldn’t have to deal with. Can you talk about some of those challenges?
EB: Well the way that we’re structured is very unique. Most people assume we are a nonprofit, but we’re not, I feel like that structure just doesn’t work well with what we do. We don’t apply for grants, there are no membership fees. So all income comes strictly from events, be they outside rentals or percentages of doors, and attendees know that our admission prices are more than reasonable. Our staff is completely volunteer-based, and the place really wouldn’t exist without them, especially at the high volume that we function. I think we only have two nights off this month, some days we have three events back-to-back, there’s no way I could run that many events on my own.
I came out of West Philly’s punk scene in the late 1990s so I already knew the basics of setting up shows and things like that. PhilaMOCA is really just an extension of that, it’s a basement venue above ground that hosts lots of different kinds of things. Any challenges are really just those common to running this type of business, with the added problems that come with a 150+ year-old-building, Diplo is always quick with repairs though, which we appreciate.
ROP: What do you think is PhilaMOCA’s responsibility to the Philadelphia community? Do you think that the community has a responsibility to PhilaMOCA?
EB: We’re here to serve the community, but I don’t think there are any responsibilities involved, other than those that are self-imposed. I won’t host politically-motivated events as I want all attendees to feel welcome and I don’t want PhilaMOCA to be associated with an agenda of any sort. I love hosting events that benefit causes that I feel are important, things like the March to End Rape Culture or The Attic Youth Center, the space wouldn’t feel as fulfilling if it didn’t benefit others from time to time. But I’ve never asked Philadelphia for anything, I just want to entertain and provide a temporary escape from a world that feels more doomed with each passing day.
ROP:I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the highlights at PhilaMOCA over the past couple of years. What have been some of your favorite shows?
EB: This past April we hosted a live taping of an episode of the long-running Chicago-based public access dance party Chic-A-Go-Go. I flew in the host and creator and The Dead Milkmen and Bunny Sigler performed live for a sold out crowd of adults and kids, it was the perfect event. DJ Douggpound performed that same month, he was great. Last year’s installment of our annual David Lynch-themed Eraserhood Forever celebration was headlined by the actress who played the Lady in the Radiator in ERASERHEAD singing “In Heaven” live with the Divine Hand Ensemble backing her, that was quite an achievement. Other performers that I’ve really been happy to host in recent years include Thor, Royal Headache, and Radioactivity. And there are groups that come in every year, like Wham City Comedy and Everything Is Terrible!, who really embody the spirit of PhilaMOCA. I consider The Monochrome Set to be the greatest band that’s ever played PhilaMOCA and it was such an honor to host them, and Sparks are my dream band to play at PhilaMOCA, those are the answers to two questions that I’m often asked.
ROP: Lastly, what are some exciting things coming up at PhilaMOCA that you think we should know about?
EB: Our August art show is a photo show of movie theaters in Southeast Asia, I’m really looking forward to that. We have Advance Base, the new name for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, coming in on August 31. Both installments of this year’s Eraserhood Forever event are already sold out, Xiu Xiu are headlining it on October 1 and performing their interpretation of the soundtrack to Twin Peaks, that should be a memorable one. On October 2 we’re hosting weirdo comedy legend Emo Philips, that will be a real treat. On November 12 we’re hosting Gemma Ray, which I’m excited about as she’s collaborated with Sparks in the past. You’ll find that a lot of our in-house programming is reflective of my personal interests, often with no regard to things like turning a profit. This job would just get boring otherwise.