Underground venue impacts Philly music scene

Monday, April 11, 2016

By Melissa Simpson

Special to The Communitarian

An Untitled avant-garde music showcase took place in an undisclosed West Philly warehouse at 8 p.m. on March 19. The event was organized by an individual who wished to be identified only as “Le.”

Le decided to create the event in response to the lack of diversity in the Philly Punk scene. “As a cis[gender] white woman, it is my responsibility to make sure that all people are represented in the scene,” Le said.

The evening was highlighted by a performance by the dance/music collective SWARM. Out of the six members who attended, only the bass player had a static role. Everyone else rotated between instrumentation, vocalization, and interpretive dance.

The audience crowded into a dusty basement to witness the rest of the sets, arranged by producer Kilamanzengo and pop punk pair King Azaz.

Beaumont Warehouse is a barn-like building nestled between 50th and 51st Street, where the block comes to a dead end.

The block was quiet and unassuming. That is, until one took notice of the bright colored fixed gear bikes and the aesthetically eccentric individuals parked outside the venue. The booming sounds escaping the venue were also a dead giveaway.

Upon entering the space, there was a sensory overload. The high ceilings were accented by a cardboard arch-like structure that depicted demons, thunderbolts, and mountains. This object spanned the entire width of the warehouse and separated the stage from the viewing area.

At the start of the event, local sci-fi writer/Afrofuturist writer and DJ Alex Smith spun experimental club and house jams. Meanwhile, punks, femmes, queers, gender non-conforming individuals, and general alt-culture folks trickled in.

At around 9 p.m. the performances kicked off with a politically charged performance by SWARM. The piece blended live beats, drumming, and bass guitar with interpretive dance.

The collective’s fifth song, in a set of seven, referenced Igbo Landing through the use of water and glass bottles that created an eerie echo sound.

According to Althea Baird, a SWARM musician/dancer/vocalist, Igbo Landing is an area off the coast of Georgia, where slaves willingly walked into the ocean to their death. To them, it was more important to sacrifice their mortality in exchange for their freedom.

“They said our ancestors live at the bottom of the ocean,” chanted the members of SWARM. “Ancestors died in the backseat of a car.”

During the SWARM performance, Kilamanzengo was preparing for their beat set in the basement of Beaumont

Warehouse. After SWARM wrapped up, attendees filtered into the dank cellar. Their colorful Ableton Push buttons illuminated the workstation that was obscured by darkness.

In between playing purposefully distorted and glitchy 808 heavy beats, Kilamanzengo playfully bopped around the crowd, draped in a full size Ghaneian Flag.

“It is so weird how when I am just talking with people I am all up in your face, but when I am up here I am not shy,” said Kilamanzengo, referring to her stage presence.

After Kilamanzengo wrapped up, the audience traveled upstairs to hear more tunes spun by DJ Alex. About 20 minutes later, the punk two piece, King Azaz, began their set in basement.

Although small in numbers, the band played hard, fast and noisy. The audience did not seem to be phased by the high decibels and bobbed along as if the music was being played at a lower volume.

According to Le, these types of underground events occur in the West Philly area at least two or three times a month.

“They plan to continue organizing events like this that highlight all underrepresented peoples,” Le said.

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