New York's gone totally yuppie and Los Angeles was never that hip anyway, so what's the independent music scene to do? Move to Philadelphia, apparently. If you think that nothing's come out of Philly since the Roots or the Tweeter Center, think again.
As opposed to 10 years ago, when shows were sparsely attended and local music was dominated by cover bands, today's scene has witnessed a substantial rise in both local support and overall music originality, partly thanks to the recent boom in new venues. Do-it-yourself production companies have gotten creative with gigs and have brought top indie bands to play in some unusual spaces. Sean Agnew's R5 Productions, for example, operates mostly out of the basement of the First Unitarian Church at 22nd and Chestnut Streets. It might look bleak and smell funky, but when legends like the Arcade Fire or Ted Leo and the Pharmacists play 10 feet away at all-age shows, the hipsters tend not to complain. The Church, which has hosted bands since 1996, offers cheap shows almost every night, catering to all musical interests. Noise, hip-hop, pop and avant-garde bands have all shared the venue and have kept the music scene alive and thriving.
In the early '90s, when Kurt Cobain was king and flannel ruled our wardrobes, the grunge garage band sound dominated Philadelphia's scene, producing bands like Dysrhythmia and Freaking Dogs. The city has since cleaned up substantially, and so has its music. Trash no longer carpets the sidewalks of Broad Street, Tool has (thankfully) been rendered obsolete, and pretty, melodic pop has taken over as the Philly sound. One of the most famous indie bands to call our city home is the Snow Fairies, a blissfully charming five-piece outfit that recently released its third album, Get Married. The band's songs, which are reminiscent of the twee-sound of Belle & Sebastian and the catchy hooks of the Beatles, have re-popularized groovy dance concerts and have influenced other local pop bands like the US Funk Team and the rising Spinto Band. International critical success of other Philly bands, like the folk group Bardo Pond and the experimental Make a Rising, has accelerated the city's reputation as a breeding ground for diverse and inventive independent bands.
Not to say that Philly's indie music doesn't have its problems. Bands are often quick to relocate to cities like New York once they become nationally recognized, and there is not a lot of public awareness or encouragement for local groups. They complain about the lack of gigs and audiences' aversion to supporting innovation. Some venues have been forced to close due to a lack of public support, and many hipsters bemoan the infestation of myopic posers at shows. Larger places, like the Electric Factory and The Khyber, host shows that tend to be overcrowded, impersonal and exclusively 21 and up.
For all its faults, however, Philadelphia is still home to one of the best scenes for independent music in the country. It's earning a permanent spot next to Brooklyn, Chicago and Pittsburgh on bands' touring circuits, and for good reason. As the city continues to evolve and a newer, younger demographic moves in, the original music emanating from it will continue to have more national credibility, and the scene will continue to explode both locally and internationally. With an unaffected freshness and novelty at its Quaker core, we can all wait for Philly's music scene to thrive and grow.