Embrace the Strange: Philly’s Thriving Music Scene and Insular Mentality

Philadelphia has increasingly become recognized as a hotbed for art and music. Most recently, the New Yorker, Stereogum, and NPR have given Philly’s bands and culture some love. However, Philadelphians do often get a bad rap for being “rude” when they are really just trying to focus on finding and doing their own thing. This insular mentality is often apparent in the music scene, and it seems like most people, myself included, are in their own music bubble and can find it difficult to branch out from their scene of choice. There are cramped punk basement shows, swing & jazz dance venues, and bopping hip hop parties throughout the city.The comparably low cost of living and gritty surroundings have made for a plethora of honest and engaging music that comes across in a wide spectrum of sounds. However, it seems to be the norm that members of niche genre groups do not actively seek out artists that create other styles of music.

An eclectic bill put together by Broad Street Music Group

An eclectic bill put together by Broad Street Music Group

The labels we put on music have made it harder for people to hear about or recognize talented artists. In a recent interview with The Key, Sean Agnew (R5 Productions) said, “We could add hip hop bands to indie rock shows or have folk acts play with grindcore bands back in the mid-90s. That was awesome and it made shows interesting. Now, no one does it. A lot of these touring packages of bands have become pretty boring.” Shows where at least two of the bands sound a little too similar have become too commonplace. In the past month, I saw two great punk bands, FIDLAR and METZ, play the same bill, and I can say I was not nearly as into the latter’s set as if I would have been if I watched a less similar opener.

This idea is applicable to Philadelphia’s music scene in general. Our cliques and niches often grow exponentially within themselves, but it is not too often you see a jazz band rocking a basement. Is it because they don’t get invited, don’t feel welcome, or because they don’t want to play in that environment? In any of these scenarios, the essence of the problem stems from treating those who love another genre like an outsider, or being the one treated like an outsider. We often forget we can all be weird together. To help the scene reach its fullest potential, we need to open our tastes to new types of music and let these sub-scenes overlap more than they currently are. Multi-genre shows force people to hear and analyze new sounds, and in Philadelphia’s current state it makes sense that they would only fuel the flame under the melting pot of eclectic, high quality music.

One example where I was totally impressed with a band that I would normally be predisposed to writing off is OhBree. If you had showed me some of their tracks before I saw them live, I probably would’ve thought something like, “oh that’s nice, jazz-inspired pop rock, whatever.” But when I had no preconceived notions of the band, and saw them in the intimate Fennario Coffee Shop, I had a blast listening to them party on stage. In typical Philadelphia-area fashion, their live show was more fun, raw, and energetic than their recordings. In short, shows where you don’t know all, or any, of the bands are the best opportunities to find new music. Smaller festivals, like the one at which I saw OhBree perform, attempt to bring together D.I.Y. musicians from different genres, and are too often met with lackluster attendance. OhBree is a band that has been welcomed into the house show scene more easily than some of their counterparts, and they are more than happy to cramp their countless members into your basement.

OhBree | via Facebook

OhBree | via Facebook

When it comes down to it, a majority of the bands in Philly appear to be making music and playing shows for the right reasons. In OhBree’s case and many others, it is to have fun and hopefully make a living doing something they enjoy. This is where the insularity is good. These musicians are making music because that is what they want to do, and it comes out authentic to who they are. The result is impressive shows and festivals that focus on specific genres, like the chiptune 8Static Festival or the punk-centered OK Fest. However, in a city that prides itself on loving D.I.Y. music, it is strange to see how often listeners write off bands or people because of their different viewpoints or musical tastes. Of course, music is subjective and we are all entitled to our opinions, but if we let someone else pick a more varied soundtrack to our evenings once in awhile, we might find we are pleasantly surprised.

Some interesting lineups are on the horizon. For instance, screamo group Old Gray and rapper Milo are coming through town with support from Philly’s Clique and Thin Lips at PhilaMOCA this Thursday, June 25th (tickets). Now, where is that bill with Hop Along, Chill Moody, Chelsea Reed & the Fair Weather Five, & Mumblr I have been looking for?

Tell us- what is YOUR take on Philly’s insular mentality? Do you tend to write off bands simply at face value?  Let us know in the comments below!

Featured Image via Pixabay


  1. Lauren Silvestri

    June 24, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    You make such a great point here. We owe it to our music community to be more open-minded and reach out to bands not necessarily in our favorite genre.

  2. Léa v.

    June 26, 2015 at 10:46 am

    PREACH. Would it make you happy to hear that Mumblr is playing a burlesque and comedy show alongside Kate Nyx, and Old Best Friend from NYC? The weird lineups are out there my friend, high-five from a like-minded friend.

  3. Paul Galdi

    March 1, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Any suggestions on where in Philly to try and bring something like this? http://www.reverbnation.com/rantantoon

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