A big occasion is happening on the 28th of February. It is the one year anniversary of Philadelphia’s rock n roll scene, Guitar Army.
For those who need to catch up with the report on Guitar Army, find The Dead Notes article on them here. For directions, click here. For those who want to visit from New York City, here are $15 deals (or less) on megabus.com.
The Dead Notes is pleased to present to you:
The interview with the mastermind behind Guitar Army. The Rock n Roll Kingpin of Philadelphia himself: Edward B. Gieda III.
Trip: A lot of people who start out in promoting nightlife events get very discouraged in the first few months. The draw is always close to nobody. They get a thousand rejections after all the invitations they give out. Whether it's online invites or cold invites at the streets with flyers, the first seven months is usually a terrible draw. And that's IF the venue you promote for is nice enough to take a chance on you for seven months. In LA, a Hollywood venue stops working with you if you fail to draw within the first month. Let alone seven. And this is the case with the Top 40/Hip Hop/Electronica promoters. Let alone rock n roll promoters. Rock n roll is a very tough sell these days as a nightlife operation.
My first Guitar Army was around summertime of 2012. And it was already prosperous. In my mind I thought Guitar Army was in business for years. I had no idea that it was recently conceived.
In most of the cities I've been to, the rock n roll promoters mostly draw people above the age of 40 since the music is predominantly from the 60's/70's/80's. In LA the only way to get youths is to play heavy rotations of Screamo in the DJ sets. And the youths that show up there are too green to be "scholars" or music buffs about anything. Yet in the Guitar Army events, the draw is youthful, with a balance of beautiful women to men, and with a very cultured, literate and scholarly crowd about the music library and history of rock n roll. I really enjoy being around the people there.
To achieve that is a great triumph. To achieve that in LESS THAN A YEAR is inconceivable. I'm sure most of the aspiring promoters and rock & roll music activists are dying to know how you did this. They're all going through the hustle of invites and rejections and poor draws consistently and their morale is close to dead. Tell us about your success story.
Edward: Those are all very kind and flattering compliments, Trip. Thank you, man. That said, there is no magical equation that can be applied toward facilitating a proper event/soiree/party on a consistent basis. Every city's nightlife culture is different, every promoter has a different approach and every club has a different expectation as to what they perceive as a proper draw or register ring at the end of the night.
The basic constructs of Guitar Army - in terms of promotion and cultivation - are rooted in over a decade of promoting "mod" and "soul" parties throughout the Philadelphia region. There aren't too many music genres that are a harder sell to college-aged kids than 60's and 70's soul music. In '99 or '00 there was basically zero relation or compatibility between the proto-"hipster" (for a lack of better description - but we'll use that term as young(ish) people attracted to certain clubs, music, food, clothing, etc.) and soul music. Promoting parties was like a baptism by fire. My co-DJ's and I literally had to create our own scene, and nurture that scene by promoting QUALITY events with meticulous attention paid to aesthetics and overall experience. We were very fortunate that there were at least 2-3 clubs here in Philadelphia through the 00's that were happy to host us. Without the support of places like the old Silk City Lounge on 5th and Spring Garden, the M-Room about a decade back and eventually (and pretty much permanently) The Barbary, none of these events could have garnered much support.
I suppose the very rudiments of creating a successful party lay in the wholesale support of the CLUBS. If you don't have a club with management who empathizes with your vision and is willing to take chances, you just won't prosper. From working, promoting and DJ'ing at The Barbary, I see this first hand all the time. If you give people a platform that enables them to carry out their vision from start to finish, you will churn up a lot of quality stuff. If you nitpick the shit out of your DJ's about ridiculous minutia, hassle them about money, over-negotiate every aspect of what they're doing, you're going to strangulate the creative process.
So effectually, I landed myself in a very comfortable space where I was given a lot of liberties to experiment and see what I could do. I had at least a decade of DJ experience behind me, promoting impossible-to-promote sort of soul rarities on vinyl, and I knew that although the genres of glam/punk and soul music were pretty distant cousins musically, they were from the same branch of the same family tree.
I have always abided by the principle that you need to make what you are doing not only relevant and relatable to the people who you want at your event, but you need to have your friends and fellow party-goers take ownership over that event. It really requires relinquishing all ego involved with that party and taking it on the labor for altruistic and very pure intentions. People are smart, especially people who are REALLY into music - and really into rock and roll and soul music and all of those genre's musical spin-offs, they can smell inauthentic bullshit from a mile away. If someone starts a party with a bunch of YouTube-to-Mp3 files, charges a $5 or $7 cover, and just expects the red carpet to be rolled out for them because they made a couple Facebook event invites, they're bound to fail. What has to happen to make this shit work is community building and scene building. The foundation has to be amongst a vanguard of rock and roll maniacs who are together by choice and are -- as simplistic and old fashioned as it sounds -- FRIENDS.
Trip: Ok there are a lot of points I wanna follow up on. The aesthetics (so branding?). Is your current draw an accumulation of friends from previous nightlife operations? The timeliness of why people resonate with our activism now versus the early 00's (the sociological reading on that?)
Let's start with the first follow up. What's the "branding" choices that you put behind Guitar Army? What is the experience? Decadence? Glamor? Cultural appreciation? Social & political conscious? Besides the obvious answer of "great music", what is the deeper experience you're turning them on to? How are you branding the event of Guitar Army? Explain the big picture with examples of the thought behind smaller details as well (like designing flyers and the American flag behind your DJ booth, your choice of photographer/ videographer for instance)
Edward: The deeper experience is multi-tiered.
Firstly, community building. Every cultural movement, every "sound" harnessed in a geographic section of the world, every wave of fashion, etc. occur with a few crucial and supportive pillars from which a "scene", and later a movement blossoms. From the beginning of modern pop-music the underground newspaper, activist storefront, communal houses/squats, coffee shops, boutiques, record stores, and carefully managed venues all helped exacerbate scenes and movements. I envision the height of GxA's purpose is to cultivate a fertile social network in the city of Philadelphia for bands to congregate, rocker-types to socialize in a physical setting (ie: not computers, not cell phones, not televisions, etc.) for people to find romance, exchange ideas, forge camaraderie, etc.
Secondly, utilizing the platform of Guitar Army to illustrate the deep correlation between all incendiary, rebellious, gritty acts from the 50's onward to 2013. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes the paths that a music-obsessivist sees between Little Richard, James Chance, Slade and contemporary acts like The Biters or The Black Keys aren't as well-paved in the minds of fellow music lovers as people like myself THINK they are. In other words, the parental musical aggregations that newer bands make their musical references towards aren’t as easy for people to decipher. The relations between relevant music become clearer the more you investigate, the deeper you dig and the more you communicate with good sources (people who live on the road, own record stores, collect records, etc)... I find that musicians and bands of a seriously righteous pedigree can envision in a geometric, tactile manner the relation between (for a lack of better description) "the good stuff". I like to impart through the Guitar Army experience a carefully woven set that paints a broader picture. There IS a reason you should dig 50's roots rock 'n roll, post-skinhead/boot boy glam and pub rock, post-punk and no-wave, classic-era '77 UK punk and early 80's California HxC/Punk - they are all related by one common rhythm of dissidence and sexuality.
The branding of Guitar Army is based on utter simplicity. Pedestrian, proletarian aesthetic methods with a hugely prolific street-presence in Philadelphia. This is coupled with a very steady bi-weekly event that provides the visceral stimulation necessary to get you out of your bedroom, off the laptop and come out to the bar to imbibe, move and socialize.
I find that the visuals behind an event like this need to be as distilled and recognizable as possible. They need to be as bold, brazen and bombast as the sounds the party purports. The American Flag draped behind the turntables, the stripped down and utilitarian party posters, the promotional videos by Steven Perrong and photography by Kristin Guessford all create an entity which is ultra-accessible and people-powered!
Trip: So street, balls and the people. I gotchya. The second follow up. Did your previous nightlife operations help you go in to the Barbary with an established friend base or did you have to cultivate a draw all over again from scratch?
Edward: I think by nature of nightlife culture, there is such a constant cycle of regeneration that you're seeing new faces every couple of months... So it was a combination of the two, really. It definitely helps to have experience, but it's not a serious prerequisite, y'know?
Trip: In the 00's only old timers would resonate with the music we're pushing. Why do you think youthful people are resonating to this now?
Edward: I think that pop music has reached a high-water mark years back and has rescinded quite a bit since the 60's and 70's. I'm not dismissing every band playing today - there are still plenty of challenging bands that push the envelope today. The difference is the amount of bands creating a challenging, cohesive sonic expression versus bands merely trudging down the same mundane and neutered path hoping to capitalize on a tired B-list internet-hype sub-genre is HIGHLY disproportionate. The prolific years for pop music from the explosion of rock & roll in the 50's to the psychedelic era, to the year punk broke had a much larger vanguard of musical geniuses pushing for new sounds, new ideas, confrontational and subversive performances.
When you consider the musical anemia the industry is stricken with AND the fact that music is more available today to anyone with internet access, you can see why it's feasible to DJ a night of relatively rare glam stuff and non-FM radio punk "hits". If people are hungry for it, they can find it now!
Trip: You touched a little on why you do this but I wanted to talk a little more about that. The reason I'm doing this is because I wanna sustain the future of rock n roll by building a market for the best bands in the underground. And how I do that is by building appreciation for the influences of said bands.
For instance, when I was in LA there was a contemporary youthful glitter band by the name of Hammered Satin, if I ever had a chance to DJ a party I would play Slade, Sweet, Catapult, Supernaut ... etc. If people are sold on these glitter bands from the 70’s then they will understand and be sold on Hammered Satin. If I play The Flaming Groovies, The Hollywood Brats and The Kinks then they will understand and be sold on The Nasty Souls. The same methodology applies for all the other bands in that band community.
So really, I'm doing this to turn people on and build a market for the bands of the future that I'm curating. For instance, when you play heavy rotations of The Clash and Cock Sparrer are you building a market for The High Five, one of your own curations?
Edward: In short, yes. To create a space in time where people consume music on a meaningful level in a public place, and do it TOGETHER is a truly powerful platform. Being able to push unsung bands from as diverse musical spheres like Cock Sparrer to Catapult is paramount in creating a well-rounded palate. It's like I said previously - if those neural pathways are established through a DJ night where a group of a couple hundred kids understand the intrinsic relationship between a wide range of rock music, you'll eventually help support a more fertile scene for young people to pick up guitars, start fucking around and launch their own aural assault.
A DJ night - specifically one that plays rock or soul music - in it's absolute value is a lonely endeavor and really doesn't amount to much unless it is critically linked to a music scene and musicians. Those entities should establish a symbiotic relationship where they both benefit hugely...
However, as a side note, I don't necessarily think that new and exciting, robust musical energy and performance NEEDS to be strictly adherent to a blues/rock sort of template. My heroes in terms of curators/DJs/tastemakers are concerned are people like John Peel or Tony Wilson. Brothers that were all over the map and understood that profane music is profane music, whether it's Marc Bolan strumming an acoustic guitar out of his mind on LSD singing "Hare Krishna", Bill Steer from Carcass writing Reek of Putrefaction, Sun Ra singin' "Space Is the Place" or Lightning Bolt reducing a warehouse party of 4,000 to total rubble.
The scene I came up in with my own band, An Albatross, toured and played extensively with bands like Lightning Bolt, Blue Cheer, DMBQ, Daughters, AIDS Wolf, Monotonix, Dark Meat, Melt Banana, Dillinger Escape Plan, Don Caballero etc. Those bands didn't really adhere to a nostalgic sort of take on rock music, instead they pulled from an insane variety of musical spheres - whether it be John Zorn, Ornette Coleman, Velvet Underground, MC5, Carcass, James Chance & The Contortions, The Fall, Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV, Hawkwind, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, etc. Not to sound like a sentimental old fart, but some of those shows that I've witnessed in warehouse spaces, clubs, fields, squats, basements around the globe were literally as balls-to-the-wall rock and roll as they come. No, there weren't too many Ziggy Stardust or Marc Bolan lookalikes fronting those bands, but there was certainly an unparalleled level of spirit, rebellion, psychedelic debauchery and madness to that scene from around '99-'09. I feel that scene in it's unpretentious, altruistic, heavy, loud, artistic approach had more in common with the roots of "the good stuff” more so than virtually any scene coming up before it in the past 20 years.
Trip: See that's my point. I know I'm using weird capitalist terms like "branding" and "building a market" but it feels like there were many waves of music that started and disappeared without the same success as Grunge or Heavy Metal before them. There was the brief stoner rock scene in the mid 90's for instance and that just died out without breaking. That's what's scaring me. I really want this to eventually be a mania in magazine covers and banners and I want our bands to pack amphitheaters and stadiums.
I think the difference is that an underground like Dubstep for instance didn't disappear. They were ignored for more than 15 years and they refused to disappear. They also didn't stick to one locale. They spread out internationally and built a touring circuit and, for lack of a better term, built a market for themselves.
The other thing about us is that we're still in the phase of copying our idols, or like you put it, nostalgic. Which is great, everybody starts out copying their idols. But I feel that our product is not ready for "debut" to the jury unless our collective artistic energy reaches terra incognita and creates an unprecedented sound and image for rock n roll. So I still think we're in a very developmental phase.
I'm not worried whether or not it's true or pretentious. Well I am, of course I want it to be true. It's just that I want it to break out. That's where the challenge comes in. Do you share the feeling?
Edward: For sure. Let's not forget that there was a huge wave of "rock" music (The Strokes, White Stripes, Star Spangles, etc) that took over the spotlight in the early millennial years and really reestablished an appreciation for the classic garage stuff like Nuggets-esque types of bands. Honestly, with the internet being the main source of music consumption in the world today, the boundaries are limitless - theoretically, it should usher in a tidal wave of new and challenging bands, songs, musicians, concepts. Right now society is still playing catch-up with the technological advances in communication, so the time to strike could be now???
If there is to be some sort of guitar-revolution/renaissance sweeping through pop music, it's still in it's embryonic form. That said, for us pioneers, we'll still have a fuck ton of fun embracing it for all it's worth while it's here, y'dig?!
Trip: Do you think an arbitrary "new thing" is what's gonna sweep the nation? Because a lot of people experimented with new sounds and none of them really blew up.
Or do you think it's a really a STATEMENT and a BACKLASH that's gonna resonate with the majority of the youth?
I think the youth is divided between those who lived through stagnation and are fed up and those who are born into it.
I'm pretty sure the people who were born into 1990 didn't mind the hair metal. It was the people who lived through it who were the ones that were fed up with it. The latter were the resonating crowds that hailed Nirvana as their savior. The people who were born into it didn't care if Nirvana is the big thing just like they didn't care that hair metal is the big thing either.
What I'm getting at is that we lived through the stagnation of Indie Rock and the stagnation of the gloomy hot topic genres like Screamo / NuMetal ... etc.
The starvation in 1992 was was a starvation for normalcy. They were fed up with embarrassing gimmicks and silliness. Right now, however, I think people are fed up with normalcy. They’re fed up with blandness. I also think they’re fed up with gloom. I think the new starvation is for glamor, sex, madness and excitement. I think that's the reason Ga Ga Mania resonated with the culture very successfully. And she pulled that off with mediocre songs. Now if we can only champion and campaign and curate glamorous, larger than life bands with musical merit .. ?
Edward: Bravo! Yes - I concur completely. If you ever get a chance, watch the film "24 Hour Party People". In it, Steve Coogan, who plays one of my heroes - Tony Wilson, explains the "double helix" theory of pop music and how modern music's propulsion is fueled by action/reaction and attraction/repulsion. He was using that example talking about how Joy Division birthed Happy Mondays birthed the rave scene of the late 80's/early 90's. Fascinating stuff.
It's good, it's healthy - it keeps things dynamic. The brink is close. Change is gonna come, cultivating a vanguard of rock 'n roll crazies should be high on the agenda, homes!
Trip: How are the conditions in Philadelphia for scouting and curating those bands?
Those sorts of elements are also vital in terms of facilitating a real scene. People paying $2,500 for a studio apartment are obviously allocating their resources towards specifically keeping a lavishly located roof over their head. That's not really conducive to being able to take time, cultivate a band that absolutely slays and just start touring non-stop... That is, unless you're inherently wealthy! Philadelphia, on the other hand is dangerous, gritty, dirty, corrupt and freezing cold and boiling hot - perfect for a rock 'n roll band!
Trip: That's interesting. I know people here in New York that moved there then moved back but it was before your activism there. I'm sure if they catch wind that there's a market and there's interest for their bands in Philadelphia they would definitely consider moving there.
After I saw how ripe it is in just the few visits I've been there I wanted to move myself just to cultivate my own band. Hopefully after my documentary is taken care of in the next few years I will.
But there's another thing, say for instance that the shtick that my band is doing is hard rock, or proto-metal ala Uriah Heep, Cactus, Leaf Hound, Angel or UFO. I noticed that the genres you quoted are: "50's roots rock 'n roll, post-skinhead/boot boy glam and pub rock, post-punk and no-wave, classic-era '77 UK punk and early 80's California HxC/Punk". I'm curious as to why hard rock is excluded.
I understand that a long 8 minute Angel song could kill the momentum of the playlist and the momentum of the night if it isn't cut short. I also realize that most of those bands have imagery of elves and wizards and a lot of their sounds are sometimes too sinister or ominous or evil sounding. The case of which doesn't suit an atmosphere of a party. I really feel, however, that the best genre to inspire riff-making, virtuoso and the discipline of the guitar solo is the genre of hard rock.
For someone like me who has a band that does that, I would really like DJs and impresarios to generate interest and appreciation for that so that people would be interested in my shtick. So what if you play the hard rock and proto-metal songs that does suit an environment of a party? Like Never Say Die by Sabbath? Or All Night Long by Rainbow for instance?
Edward: Good question! There has been an event here in Philadelphia run by some of the guys that do Making Time. It's called Rock Tits & it's one of the longest-running parties going here (probably 11 or 12 years?). They cover that genre immaculately and I have even guest DJ'ed their events before - spinning Dust, Atomic Rooster, Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore, Captain Beyond, Budgie, Hawkwind, etc. I feel that music is just as important, exciting, and captivating as any of the other genres I love, it's just difficult to place it in a danceable/discotheque context. There are hard rock tracks that make regular appearances on the GxA setlist that are from the first Seger System LP, early Grand Funk, Death, Thin Lizzy, Rod Evans' Deep Purple, Paul Di'Anno's Iron Maiden. It all has it's place, for sure... I keep the Sabbath vibe alive by spinning The Dickies doing "Paranoid" frequently, which I think it is a proper twist on the (great but overplayed) original!
Trip: Are you generating appeal for these unknown gems of rock n roll with gradualism and strategy according to the demand and knowledge level of your crowd? Or do they trust your taste enough to let you play anything you want by now?
Edward: That's another good question! Honestly, that is DJ'ing in a nutshell - at least in terms of playing music that isn't "club" music (ie: recent hip hop hits or house music). A good DJ hinges on delivering the goods to people and acquainting some new tastes for them as well. If you tilt it too far in either direction, you get "hit fatigue" (every song is too obvious of a choice and wears the party down week after week or month after month) or you get boredom (people in the club aren't as jazzed on your $500 pressing of a post-13th Floor Elevators Roky Ericson project acetate as you were in your bedroom the night before).
First and foremost, a good DJ stands behind the music he or she plays and has a grand appreciation for it's history, production and how they acquired it. They employ the DJ booth as a pulpit to share the gems they feel to be the golden path to party freedom... They also should have a deep level of empathy with their constituents in terms of precisely WHAT they want to hear. Playing music that people can sing along to while swilling down beers with friends is what it's all about... Sporadically whipping out your phone to Shazam or Soundhound a track's name/info should be the mission. Good familiar stuff sandwiched with lesser known gems. That is how you can excite a young group of Americans in Philadelphia to music that was created in the UK 20 years before they were born. There is an unsaid nuance or art about it. I'd like to say with the moderate success of Guitar Army over the year that my friends that come out to party every other Thursday trust that I'm not going to throw some jive into the mix or push their endurance too far.
Trip: Do you have plans to expand your activism beyond DJing and promoting? Like blogging? Or booking bands? Or reporting about bands? Or reviews? ... etc.
Edward: I'd really love to incorporate more guests to come out and DJ at Guitar Army that are relevant to the cause. I'd also love to curate a night featuring 2 or 3 live acts on at least a seasonal basis, as well as a blog allowing me an outlet to churn out more findings, news, rants 'n raves & such --- unfortunately there is only so much time I'm able to devote to it!
I've been kicking around the idea of creating an actual old-school photocopied fanzine to give out free at the party... Record and show reviews, blurbs about bands and records I love and excerpts from cool books like "Do It" or "Guitar Army", y'know?
Right now, though - my main focus and contribution is to make this party as solid as it can be. With the one-year anniversary coming up on February 28th, I'm a little overwhelmed with the amount of planning going into it, that night should certainly go down in infamy!
Trip: Well, you're doing a kick ass job. And once you get around to do your other plans I'm sure it'll be great too. I actually can't wait to read your articles and see who you curate. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who's extremely excited about that either.
As we close the interview, I'd like you to give us a few ceremonious words on the first year anniversary of Guitar Army.
Edward: Music is “god” to me, it nestles in my life very comfortably where most people store their religious philosophies. Music is medicinal for the human soul and has the power to define a generation and to shift the political paradigm. I've always believed that music is the great uniter. Guitar Army's mission isn't quite as grandiose, but in a small way it's serves to bring friends together - away from the 21st century digital clutter and lit boxes in which we sit in front of incessantly. It is a way for people to partake in an ancient rite of contorting the body to rhythm and melody in a communal sense. Conviviality! Kineticism! One congealed mass!
I started Guitar Army days after the death of Michael Davis from the MC5. Having been an obsessive fan of that band for virtually my entire adult life, I knew it was time to start building a structured outlet to foster appreciation for the bands that put their lives on the line for rock & roll music. I saw that light starting to fade rapidly - Arthur Killer Kane of New York Dolls, Ron Asheton of The Stooges, Syd Barret, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, Arthur Lee of Love, Michael Davis of the MC5, Dickie Peterson of Blue Cheer, Sky Saxon of The Seeds, Ari Up of The Slits, Bo Diddley, Don Van Vliet / Captain Beefheart, Alex Chilton of Big Star, Malcolm McLauren, Joe Strummer, Joey & Dee Dee Ramone, we watched these people expire in such a short amount of time, it's mortifying.
In the wake of the baby boomer generation and the glitter and punk generation to follow, it is up to the intellectually astute, slightly mad, provocative and savvy younger (youngish?) people living their lives in 2013 to carry the torch and move forward, celebrating this legacy in order to forge our own!
Guitar Army is a glamorous call to arms - one year strong!
After we finished the interview I sent Eddie a text. I told him that my own activism started right after the death of Ronnie James Dio. Deep Purple is my favorite band. And Deep Purple's family tree, with emphasis on Rainbow, is a big part of what shaped me. I told him that it was crazy that the death of Dio, Rainbow's best frontman, and the sentiment that the legends are running out, is exactly the same reason why I'm doing all of this too.
|Little Steve's Festival|
He texted back: "It has to be that way .. Energy transcends".
He followed it up with another text: "I saw Little Steve's festival about ten years back ... A staggering amount of those guys that played are gone now. It's insane".
I texted back: "Huge responsibility on us. I'm glad I'm not alone in this. Really glad I met ya Eddie".
He replied: "The feeling is wholly mutual brother".
COMING SOON ON THE DEAD NOTES!!
**A REPORT & REVIEW ON PHILADELPHIA BAND: THE HIGH FIVE
**A REPORT ON THE ROCK N ROLL SCENE IN BALTIMORE
**A COMPREHENSIVE REPORT ON THE LA SCENE
**A COMPREHENSIVE REPORT ON THE NEW YORK SCENE
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