By Mitchell Layton
Philadelphia, Pa-It’s no secret that cities like Nashville and Los Angeles have been pumping out solid gold albums since the 1980s, granting them nicknames like “The City of Stars” and even “Music City.” However, the music industry has changed a great deal over the last few decades, and for musicians, moving to a large city with an established music scene isn’t necessarily the benefit that it used to be.
While Nashville and Los Angeles are still staples of the music industry in the U.S, they’re oversaturated with starry-eyed artists that have dreams in their hearts and next-to-nothing in their bank accounts. Since pursuing dreams in cities that leave you overlooked and burnt out can be draining, many musicians have embraced their home cities as their platform for creating a fanbase.
Major music hubs are hardly the only players in the game, as there are famous artists from every state in the country. However, amongst musicians, there are definitely cities that gain a reputation for making or breaking artists. With new cities gaining infrastructure and growing music scenes, the game has changed. New York, Austin, Chicago, and Philadelphia have all stepped up to the plate and started churning out artists at an alarming rate. Specifically, the latter has taken the world by storm and become known for producing some of the best emo/alternative acts of modern music.
Believe it or not, Philadelphia has contributed more to the world than cheesesteaks and the Rocky franchise. There are tons of amazing artists that got their start in Philly throughout the years like Boyz II Men, Hall and Oates, The Roots, The Dead Milkmen, and more. However, it’s not just legacy acts that call Philly their home. The popularity of indie/alternative music started a movement in Philly that hasn’t slowed down since.
Bands like mewithoutyou, Circa Survive, and The War On Drugs started putting Philly on the map in the early 2000s. Back when the scene was still budding, these bands were putting in the work, touring around the U.S, and making great records that started getting people’s attention. With the advent of modern pop-punk and emo, bands like The Wonder Years and Modern Baseball gained more recognition, and people started viewing Philadelphia as a household name.
Part of what gave these bands such a productive start was the variety of “venues” in the city and the constant influx of young adults attending school in Philly. College kids at Temple and Drexel would start bands for fun, then play shows for their friends in basements, backyards, and bars. That sounds simple enough, but in doing so, they created a scene all their own that flew under the radar of the cover band scene and gatekeepers of “legitimate” venues.
It wasn’t long before music veterans started to realize that these college kids were making good music and bringing out more fans to shows than a lot of the bands playing larger rooms. Their DIY grassroots promotion was getting better results than the music marketing of yesteryear.
Basements started getting more crowded, VFW halls would sell out of tickets, and larger venues started opening their arms to the runts of the litter. Underground music like indie-rock, pop-punk, emo, and hardcore had a new home in Philly, with more and more people seeing the value in their scene.
As with all rising trends, they never start with record deals or major label cash grabs. They start with friends making music they love and building a community together. That community has outlasted many of the bands that started it and grown to spawn new bands that carry the torch.
This community has created so many new bands that industry leaders around the U.S now view Philly as one of the best places to be for emerging indie/punk bands. Even Vice wrote an article about Philly punk. That specific sub-genre has created a scene that simply doesn’t exist in the same capacity anywhere else in the country. The creativity present in all these emerging bands is contagious, and more and more artists have been taking their underground Philly spirit into the mainstream.
Bands like The Menzingers, Nothing, SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, Hop Along, and Alex G have taken the scene to new heights, diversifying the sub-genres and reaching new fans nationwide. More people have been looking to Philly to produce the next great wave of punk bands, and they’re right to do so. Almost any night of the week, you can stop into clubs and basements across the city to see packed rooms of teenage punks moshing to their favorite bands. This local scene is far from dead, as it continues to churn out bands that go on to do great things.
When bands are ready to move to the next level, it’s not hard to route a tour to nearby cities. With its close proximity to New York City, Baltimore, and D.C, Philly is a must-have stop on national tours for both local and professional bands. With the huge variety of venues in Philly, from smaller clubs like Philamoca, The Voltage Lounge, and Johnny Brenda’s, to larger venues like Franklin Music Hall (formerly known as The Electric Factory), Union Transfer, The Fillmore, The TLA, and more, there’s a home for almost any size band that rolls through town.
The music scene in Philly isn’t just limited to punk and indie bands, though. Made In America Festival has made Philly an iconic destination for Hip Hop and Pop music. With so many artists gathering in one space, it’s now common to see mixed-genre shows, combining indie bands, rappers, pop artists, and more under one roof. The creative possibilities are endless.
Though the music industry is a fickle mistress, chewing up and spitting out artists with dreams on the daily, Philly continues to surprise the masses. With consistently good bands emerging every day, one thing is for sure: Philly shows no signs of slowing down.