The night was Oct. 21, and Ortlieb’s throbbed with punk rock. The feeling of a Friday night hung in the air of the narrow barroom preceding the shows. Members of the acts Sloptart, Friend, Shid and Larlene mingled together and with friends at the bar before the first band went on. People drank, reminisced, planned and laughed. The circuit of social connection surged with musical current.
All I had to do to get to Ortlieb’s was take the Market-Frankford line to Spring Garden St. and walk five minutes north until I saw the great big “O” on the face of the building. I was surprised that such a cool venue was just a short trip away.
The performances took place in a room in the back that was about the size of a two-car garage. Dozens of us looked over each other’s heads to the stage in front. Cotton candy clouds and sky provided a welcoming frame to the green acid rain tinsel on the wall behind the band. I felt as if I had one foot in the back room of Ortlieb’s and the other in Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge.
I spoke with Dev, the lead singer and sole guitarist of Sloptart, and asked how they would describe the band. They confidently responded “brat punk!” with a proud smile. I could not have described Dev’s squealing vocals better myself. In addition to Dev’s vocals, crunchy power chords, thick basslines and abused cymbals punched into the crowd.
Dev shared their history with music: “My dad’s a punk rocker; I grew up around music. I played jazz saxophone for eight years.”
Dev shares their love of music by running the Pouch (@thepouchphl), a West Philadelphia house venue right outside of Clark Park. “There’s seven of us; we all throw our own kind of shows. Everyone’s into a different thing so it works well.”
I also got a chance to talk with Friend, the second band of the night. They were easy to approach because the bassist of Friend, Matt, is also the drummer in Sloptart. I caught up with the double-dipping drummer-bassist after their set and was introduced to Josh and Aubrey, the guitarist and drummer respectively.
Josh, who studied at University of the Arts, was the catalyst for Matt and Aubrey moving from their hometown in Virginia up to Philly. The three-hour travel sessions to play shows every weekend started to take their toll on Matt and Aubrey, so they decided to pick up and move to the city, where “you can throw a stone and hit a super talented band.”
“Why Philly?” I asked, unaware that I had just asked exactly the right question. Josh spun me a tale.
“There’s something really special happening in the city right now that isn’t happening in other places. We’ve been traveling for the past year; we’ve gone to New York, Richmond, Harrisonburg, Atlanta, Asheville, Boston. Every city has been cool in its own way, but there’s something so special and unique about this moment right now that’s happening in Philly. … there’s such a strong community; everyone knows each other and is so nice and kind and supportive and trying to take care of each other. Every given Friday and Saturday there’s like fifteen shows happening where every band is fantastic. It’s insane. It’s all college kids who are doing it themselves out of basements, skateparks, tunnels. It’s totally throwing away the idea that you need a label and you need LiveNation and corporations. You don’t need any of that to have a music scene. We’re all supporting each other.”
I followed up with a question that I myself wanted the answer to: if you could give advice to someone who wants to participate in the local music scene, what would it be?
“Go to shows. Go to a show and just talk to someone. You’ll meet cool people, you’ll meet really kind people who just want to collaborate and make music together. Even if you don’t want to participate in the scene as a musician or artist, the scene needs people who enjoy and appreciate the music.”
I left Ortlieb’s feeling like my presence at the show made a difference; it has been too long since I’ve been to a venue where it was so easy to share eye contact with the musicians. The intimate venue lent itself to Dev and Josh’s commitment to using music to connect people. I encourage everyone to follow Josh’s sage advice and go to a show to experience the sense of community the local Philly music scene seems to be known for.