Philly has a chip on its shoulder. That’s what frontman Dan Cousart of local rock band RFA said when asked to describe the DIY scene of this city. You can hear it in Hop Along’s scratchy vocals or in the meandering twang of Kurt Vile or in the adolescent anxiety of Modern Baseball. Maybe it’s got something to do with an inferiority complex from being so close to New York, but the heart of Philadelphia rock is undeniably punk.
Of course local radio stations, including the Penn–affiliated WXPN, celebrated punk at its initial mainstream rise in the '80s, but for the past decade, Philadelphia has again become a haven for the scrappy fight–the–power sound. Just like Wawa, the Rocky Steps, and a lack of brotherly love for non–Philly sports fans, vibrant underground punk is essential to Philadelphia’s lifeblood.
The history of the punk scene here is long and convoluted, but music fans that ignore it in favor of insanely priced stadium shows would be committing a grave injustice to both themselves and our fearless founder Ben Franklin (what’s more punk than a mulleted, electricity–experimenting dude that played guitar who wanted a turkey for our national bird?). Here is a crash course of the best punk places and people in Philly to keep an eye on when you don’t have time to spend hours combing through Bandcamp.
There is a huge DIY punk scene in Philly. With easy access to recording and production software through laptops, the amount of people making music on their own has blown up in recent years. Artists almost always post this music online somewhere, but the next best place to find it? College campus basements! This tradition isn’t so common at Penn (yet), but Drexel and Temple students host them on a regular basis. The events are relatively easy to find on Facebook (like or , but often the best way to find them is through mutual friends at Drexel or Temple. The music and acoustics can be pretty hit or miss, but you’re guaranteed cheap beer and a crowd of hipsters smoking in the backyard.
If a grimy basement isn’t your vibe, there are plenty of small venues around the city that get the job done with a little more organization. Some of the best include (a North Philly batting cage by day, DIY scene by night), , , and , to name a few. And at some of the larger small venues, including my personal favorite the , you will often catch a couple of small local bands as the openers for a bigger act. The best way to find exciting new bands is to see them live, so keeping up with the schedules for these venues is a great way to start immersing yourself in Philly underground punk.
But the broke college student is a stereotype for a reason, and live music is rarely the priority of a growing expense list. So if you can’t make it out to a show for whatever reason, here’s a few great Philly punk bands that will help dilute the angst provoked by the most unwieldy MATH114 problem set:
- Thin Lips: They released the new album Chosen Family this summer, and its 21st century version of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper cover is a perfect reflection of the random and diverse human connections that make up our families. Songs to check out: “Gaslight Anthem (The Song Not the Band)” and “A Song for Those Who Miss You All the Time.”
- Cold Fronts: Not as punk as the rest of this list, but definitely rooted in Philly DIY. Their live shows are not to be missed! Songs to check out: “This Always Happens” and “Buschleague.”
- Swearin’: Allison Crutchfield (sister of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield) leads the crunchy drive of the rhythms behind her in a softly soaring voice. And they’ve got a new album coming out at the beginning of October. Songs to check out: “Grow into a Ghost” and “Untitled (LA).”
- LVL UP: The fuzzy rock of this band make them sound just like Neutral Milk Hotel’s EP Everything Is, so it’s a major modern tragedy that they recently announced their breakup and farewell tour. Songs to check out: “Hidden Driver” and “She Sustains Us.”
- Beach Slang: A more full–bodied and polished version of The Replacements’ style. Songs to check out: “Throwaways” and “Punks in a Disco Bar.”
- Cayetena: This lo–fi all–female punk trio is the definition of girl power. Songs to check out: “Hot Dad Calendar” and “Bus Ticket.”
And that’s the end of the brief punk history behind Philadelphia. So what are you waiting for? Get out there, get listening, or better yet, grab a guitar and join the rank and file!
Check out our Philly punk intro playlist here: