Spend 15 years in Philadelphia and you’ll figure out that things in MAGNET’s native city aren’t always sunny or bursting with brotherly love. But underneath the tough exterior are some pretty sweet sounds. In honor of our anniversary, we pay tribute to our hometown scene.
The Psychedelphia era lasted roughly from 1995—when the Azusa Plane and the Asteroid #4 (pictured) began issuing seven-inch singles and Bardo Pond released its first album—to 2001, the year the Strokes played a Philly residency that effectively marked the ascendancy of the New York-centered post-punk era.
1999’s Sounds From Psychedelphia, issued on Asteroid #4’s Lounge label, is the definitive document of the scene. The compilation includes tracks from the Photon Band, A#4, Lenola and other bands influenced, in varying proportions, by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, 13th Floor Elevators and other Nuggets, as well as shoegazers My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. In 1998, MAGNET’s fifth-anniversary concert reflected the local movement, featuring a lineup of A#4, the Azusa Plane, Bardo Pond, Lenola and psych-folk godfather Tom Rapp.
“Everyone propelled one another,” says Asteroid #4 singer/guitarist Scott Vitt. “Everyone was really watching one another. We may not have wanted to admit it at the time, acting like cool indie rockers, but I can look back on it now and pinpoint little moments when you could tell someone was listening to you and you were listening to them. And everybody was pushing the live show; everybody was experimenting with lights and things like that. There was a community on a city scale.”
“It was nothing more than a bunch of really creative people taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,” says Mazarin frontman Quentin Stoltzfus. “I never saw it as only a Philadelphia movement, but more as a global freeform experimental psychedelic awakening. All of this was coalescing at the first Terrastock (festival in Providence, R.I., in 1997).”
Perhaps because no act broke out nationally or because of Philly’s “short attention span,” as Vitt puts it, the scene dissipated. The Azusa Plane’s Jason DiEmilio was lost to suicide in 2006, but many of the key players are still active. The Asteroid #4 recently issued Stones/shoegaze gem These Flowers Of Ours, and the Photon Band, the Three 4 Tens and Bardo Pond still record and perform. Current members of Espers, Man Man and Blood Feathers can be found on the Psychedelphia comp.
Even with all the evidence of a musical movement, Psychedelphia’s participants tend to downplay the scene.
“Most of us were just playing music for the fun of it, and to meet girls and get fucked up,” says Stoltzfus. “Though there weren’t many girls interested in experimental music and art films at the time, so we mostly just got fucked up.”
The Asteroid #4’s “Tricks Of The Trade” from Sounds From Psychedelphia: