Where We Belong: PhilaMOCA

With our Isolation Drills series, MAGNET has been checking in with Philadelphia-area musicians to see how and what they’re doing during the pandemic. Now, we’re also shining a light on our beloved local venues, hoping their stages will be saved. Photos by Chris Sikich.

MAGNET: How is PhilaMOCA holding up?
Eric Bresler (director/curator):
The last year has been tough for PhilaMOCA, having been closed by the city back in September 2019. I had to update the building’s zoning, and I’m working on getting the CO that goes with that zoning right now. Preparing for that part required a lot of upgrades and construction to the interior. I thought we’d be closed for a couple of months, but we’re now in month 14. So I’ve been very dependent on fundraising to get by, both through the public and through personal means, and both have gone well, but things are getting tight now. Two helpful things that came out of the pandemic were the EIDL loan and Vans’ Foot The Bill program through which we were able to design our own pair of sneakers and were given a portion of the profits. Local performer Tierra Whack kindly referred us to that program. Supportive locals have also set up benefit shows, offered their creative talents for merchandise, and promoters like R5 Productions and bands like Body/Head have steered a lot of traffic toward the online fundraiser. I’m hopeful that everything will work out and we’ll be back open. It’s been tough keeping that hope alive, especially with the additional stresses of the pandemic.

What was the last show you had at PhilaMOCA?
We were hosting a sold-out metal show the night that L&I shut us down: Eternal Champion and Crypt Sermon. It was set up by an outside promoter. I ended up having to move over three months’ worth of events to other venues throughout the city, which, as you can imagine, required a lot of work.

What does the future look like for you?
I recently had a hearing with the board of building standards. I’d been waiting all summer for that to happen. It concerned code issues that apply to the building now that it is zoned as a dance hall rather than an art gallery. It went well, and at this point I’m just waiting on some paperwork that will enable me to get the final two inspections to reopen. So barring any unexpected fire safety-related issues, and there better not be after having put tens of thousands of dollars into the building over the past year, it’s possible that I’ll be able to reopen in the new year. And when I’m able to open back up, then I’m up for crafting a full-time schedule, even with a 25-person capacity, though I worry that people won’t be ready to venture out for events until late next year. Luckily, PhilaMOCA is small enough that I can run everything onsite alone, which is a luxury that a lot of bar/venues don’t have, especially those with large capacities. I really hope that Philly doesn’t lose any independent venues during this. It turned my stomach when I saw Live Nation announce the opening of a new venue a couple months back while the indie rooms are struggling to survive. (R.I.P. Boot & Saddle.)

How can the public support PhilaMOCA right now?
I’m still flattered by the support we’ve received thus far, from the online fundraiser to the in-person support at our zoning hearing back in January. Monetary support is what we need right now. We’re having another shut down, and the winter months will likely be bleak. Our online fundraiser remains active. The pandemic on top of the L&I closure is really a one-two punch, but I’ve gotten this far and won’t be giving up anytime soon.

Rodney Anonymous (Dead Milkmen) on PhilaMOCA
Who couldn’t love a venue that used to serve as a mausoleum showroom? For a couple of decades, I would pass by that place and wonder what it was like inside, never once guessing that I would get to see My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult or The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari shown with live musical accompaniment or a documentary about the Night Flight series within its walls. Hell, the place served as the launching board for Li’l Sean’s Undercover Cops 2: Anonymous Cop!

MAGNET’s Chris Sikich on his favorite PhilaMOCA show
A stunning night that hangs high in the pantheon of PhilaMOCA experiences occurred on a cold January 17 in 2017. Steve Gunn, Lee Ranaldo, Meg Baird, Mary Lattimore and Georgia Hubley filled the stage in multiple iterations during the show. Philly’s own Gunn, Baird and Lattimore were brilliant in their return to the city proper, and to hear the sonic explorations of Ranaldo is always a stunning diversion from the chaos of the world. Hubley on drums was the alt-rock cherry on top. May the top-line pairing seen here and on many other occasions (Sad 13 with Sammus and Cherry Glazerr with Mannequin Pussy are two others that come to mind) be replicated on the other end of the pandemic in this one-of-a-kind room.