Bam Rogers: Leading up to her next big fight, Philly’s youngest female boxing promoter gets personal

Brittany Ann Michelle Rogers, known in the Philly boxing scene simply as Bam Rogers, became the youngest woman in the nation to become a licensed boxing promoter at the ripe age of 22 in 2011. But Bam’s life had revolved around the sport for quite some time prior to that. Before getting into fight promotion, She hung up her gloves in 2011 at her “home”, Front Street Gym in Kensington, where she had trained with household name, Sonny McCord.

Bam stands ringside /Megan Matuzak

But to be precise, Bam’s obsession with boxing began much earlier.

“One night, I was complaining because the Flyers were in the playoffs but there was a big fight on that night and my dad was out of town,” Bam recalled. “My mom was like, we have to watch the fight for Daddy, I have to call him with the results. It was a Mike Tyson fight. He ended up knocking down his opponent, surprise, surprise.”

From that moment on, Bam was hooked. “I wanted to know everything,” she said.

Her roots in boxing stem from her father, Michael Rogers, though, she didn’t discover his history with the sport until she was in her late teens. Michael, an amateur boxer, almost went pro at one point. He first started fighting when he was nine, but retired after he turned 18 to concentrate on being a father. This was around 1983.

Bam was born in 1988. When her persistent interest in boxing was a household topic of discussion, her father brought home books and many, many old copies of The Ring, a boxing magazine which has been in print since 1922. “He would bring me home stuff on Joe Frazier, or Sugar Ray Leonard or Ray Robinson,” Bam explained. “I always knew he was a fighter because we had a heavy bag in the basement, but he never talked about it. Eventually I pulled it out of ‘em that he almost turned pro at one point.”

It was around this time that Bam, who was splitting time between her parent’s home in Wissinoming and her grandmother’s in Mayfair, decided to attend Bucks County Community College. In the process she fell in with a rough crowd in the Frankford area. Most of her time was spent between two jobs and school, but the rest of her time, and money, went towards a group of friends who saw an opportunity to take advantage of Bam. As a 19 year old, her parents noticed.

She was swiftly put on lockdown — no phone, no car. After a few months passed, Bam managed to turn her life around. “[My father] was like look, I’m going to take you somewhere and I just want to see how you react to it,” Bam said. “He took me to the Front Street Gym, which was the same gym he was in for his whole boxing career.”

“We started going three or four times a week,” Bam said. “When he saw that I loved it and I wanted to go there all the time and was spending all of my time there — I was training there at the time — he started telling me, ‘Okay, you can go.’”

After about two years at Bucks County Community College, Bam transferred to Temple University to pursue a degree in Sports and Recreation. The major requires a large amount of volunteer hours. Bam decided to put her hours in at The Blue Horizon, a historic fighting venue directly to the south of Temple at Broad and Master Streets.

She began helping out there her junior year and did whatever needed to get done — whether that was setting up chairs, filing paperwork or laying table cloths. According to Bam, Don Elbam, the match-maker at Blue Horizon, quickly took her under his wing. “It kind of just evolved from there,” Bam said. “I’ve been addicted to it ever since.”

For her senior internship, Bam landed a spot at Peltz Boxing. Russell Peltz, the owner of the fight promotion company, is now in his 47th year of promoting boxing. He’s promoted in the ballpark of 600 to 700 fights. Peltz sees a little bit of himself in Bam.

“She wound up promoting her first show on the very same date as my first show,” Peltz recalled. “Her show was on September 30th, 2011. My first was September 30th, 1969. And that’s kinda cool.”

Temple University is another place where Peltz and Bam intersect, being their mutual alma mater. However, they first crossed paths on a popular online boxing forum called Bam, a very active user on the site, grabbed Peltz’s attention on a frequent, if not overbearing, basis. Her confidence may explain Bam’s level of comfort when they actually met at the Veterans Clubhouse in 2010.

When Peltz met Bam in person at the clubhouse, he had some choice words. He joked, “So it was you writing all those nasty things about me!”

Within her time at Peltz Boxing so far, Bam has put on two promotions independently as BAM! Boxing Promotions and has consulted on boxing events nationwide. One notable fight she consulted on was the Sergey Kovalev/Andre Ward fight in Las Vegas that was broadcast on HBO Pay-per-view this past November.

“She’s going to have a huge future in boxing,” Peltz said. “Everyone loves her, she puts on a good appearance, she’s very enthusiastic… very smart… I know she’s had offers from other people — even ones she doesn’t know that I know of.”

After her internship with Peltz, Bam was quickly elevated to office manager, handling the bookkeeping, scheduling and day-to-day minutiae. It went from Bam asking to telling. It shifted to a more concrete partnership. “It’s gotten to the point where I lean on her too,” Peltz explained. “More so now than ever before.”

In many ways, Bam views Peltz as a valuable mentor. “The way I look at it, this man [Peltz] has been in the business for 47 years,” Bam explained. “He’s had world champions, he’s had tough fighters, he’s had it all. He’s interacted with the best promoters on a regular basis and has good relationships with them. Why am I going to go out and try to build something brand new on my own when instead, I can stay partnered with him and soak up as much as I can?”

Bam’s last fight, which she co-promoted with Peltz Boxing, DiBella Entertainment and Joe Hand Promotions was at the 2300 Arena in South Philly in December 2, 2016. Featherweights Tevin “American Idol” Farmer (Philadelphia, 24 wins and 4 losses) and Dardan Zanunaj (Kosovo, 13 wins and 3 losses) headlined the ticket, but Bam was keeping a close eye on Isaiah Wise, one of the most recent fighters to come under the Peltz Boxing fold.

Isaiah Wise and Bam Rogers at Strength Academy /Megan Matuzak

Wise was 3-0 with 2 KO’s leading into the December fight. Bam speaks highly of him. Wise is a new contender in the super-welterweight class and is the ideal client. But when you meet Wise in person, he exudes one of the most humble personalities you could possibly find in boxing. He is a single parent and a trainer at Strength Gym at Schmidts Commons in Northern Liberties. Wise manages to juggle all of this in addition to his own fighting career. Bam didn’t overlook Wise, and he’s not shy to show his appreciation for her work.

“Even after my last fight which I suffered my first lost, she was the first person I saw. She came over to me and told me not to worry about it and took care of everything,” Wise told Spirit News. “In this kind of environment, you don’t have those kinds of heartwarming experiences. You are expecting cold shoulders, you know?”

Promoters all connect with their clients in unique ways. In this regard, Bam handles her client’s in a very hands-on and compassionate manner. “First it was, “wow oh wow, she’s a woman!” Which is awesome, you don’t see so many faces like that,” Wise said.

“Man or woman, I think [Bam] is perfect for it,” he added. “I think people should look at boxing the way she does.”

Bam has, in many ways, opened Peltz’s eyes to the possibilities of women becoming more involved in boxing. “I told her, ‘If you were a man when I first met you, I wouldn’t have looked twice,’” Peltz said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I believe if I had the choice between hiring a man or a woman, I would hire a woman every time. They are more enthusiastic than the guys are.”

It might be surprising to some for a woman to commit to a traditionally male-oriented field. The card girls between rounds is an ever present reminder of what has until recently been women’s only place in the professional fighting world.

The boxing community is about respect. This is even more apparent in the City of Brotherly Love. Bam admits that she has been unprepared for the challenges of earning that respect as a woman in boxing. For her, it’s been a teeter totter between her age and her gender when it has come to people not giving her the respect she has earned.

“There are definitely times that I’m in a situation and people really believe that I don’t know what I’m talking about,” Bam said. “They’re finally not using my age. I’m 27 now and I bet that makes me whatever, a chore, but people are finally not looking at me as a kid.”

As each fight comes together, Bam works alongside Peltz on the matchmaking and business side of things. She is also on call for tickets and posters for the fighters. At most fights, Bam is constantly running from the stage to the box office, the green room and back again. If she’s lucky, she see’s a few minutes of each fight. It’s exhausting work in and outside of the arena, but Bam never gives away any hint that she’s feeling it.

“You see the old school style in the ways she makes matches and in the way she gets the fighters together,” Wise said. “She looks for honesty and those who can commit to their word. But she’s new school because she posts on Instagram and Facebook religiously. Most people have someone on the outside doing it, but she does it herself.”

After all the hard work and backing from Wise, Joe Hand and Peltz, situations that could be much simpler can still be affected by her gender.

“I know people that tell me ‘Ah, I wouldn’t have done business with you if you were a man’ and other people, ‘You know I didn’t want to do business with you off the bat because you’re a woman,’” Bam recalled. “That means if you wouldn’t have done this with me if I was a man, that means you were only doing business with me for the wrong agenda in the first place.”

Despite all of the factors that align with the inherent sexism of the boxing world, not a single person has a bad thing to say about her, according to Bam, Peltz and Wise. To put it simply, Bam is good at what she does.


The Real John Redden: An Inside Look at the Life and Mind of the Man Who Made the Barbary

There’s a saying by Roman philosopher Seneca that goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” These wise words spoken long ago destroyed the notion of luck and happenstance. From an outsider’s perspective, luck is all that John Redden, owner of The Barbary and Danger Salon, has had in business. But even with lady luck on his side, Redden — a leather-clad, ‘75 Norton Commando-riding punk rocker with a gut-wrenching grip on intuition — is closing the most successful dance club Fishtown never saw coming.

 Lots of things can be (and have been) said about The Barbary. Yelp reviews of the nightclub, which Redden claims he never reads, range from benevolent (“Absolutely no frills about this bar, just a big, sweaty, beautiful dance party”) to very critical (“‘hell is real and I am in it’ — my first night in the barbary”), to just downright weird (“I love a place where both me and my parents can dance”). But if you are looking for a review that really sums up The Barbary, here it is: “If you don’t mind smelling like a mixture of piss, PBR, and sweat than this is the place for you.” 

 As an alternative dance club, The Barbary hosts regular “parties”, each with its own theme. Things can get pretty hot in here — between the booze, party drugs, and constant friction between its perspiring millennial clientele, The Barbary has obtained a reputation for debauchery and wasted youth. That reputation will soon become the stuff of legend, though — on March 9, 2016 Redden announced that he plans on closing and selling the Barbary.

 It’s March 2016 and we’re at the first Barbary staff meeting since Redden announced his plans for the club. It’s time to take shots and the staff seems more concerned about whether their whiskey or tequila order was heard than the fact that their favorite hangout has been set for closure. It’s not just Barbary employees here — there are hair stylists, record label owners, motorcycle shop mechanics and artists — and none seemed phased by the club’s closing, which, by many standards, is surprising.

Group shot of John Redden and The Barbary family./Megan Matuzak

 “Everyone be quiet!” Redden shouts as he raises his shot glass. He looks around the room and takes a mental picture of the moment where he was not only surrounded by his friends and employees, but the people who The Barbary will always be part of.

 “(The Barbary) provides me with the liberty to not only be myself, but pursue endeavors in life like performing with touring bands, running marathons & DJing,” Edward Gieda said. Gieda, an employee of The Barbary, has known Redden for 15 years. “Most importantly, the people who are my coworkers are by brothers and sisters. They’re family to me. I love them.”

 Some employees are more defensive of Redden, like Chris Doyle, a bartender at The Barbary for 9 years. 

 “As a boss, (Redden) has a design,” Doyle said. “It makes me laugh when people short change him on his actual handling of business. I don’t have time for any of those people.”


 A conversation with John Redden, at least from an outsider’s perspective, is a lot like a game of cat and mouse… or rather cat and cat: One always guesses where the other is leading and pounces with a quick answer. There are also many distractions, like the almost constant ringing of the Facebook Messenger notification tone from his cell phone. But hey, he’s a busy guy. He also has an image to maintain.

/Megan Matuzak

 “I doubt if anyone really knows me,” Redden, 38, who has his DJ stage name “JHN RDN” tattooed across his knuckles, speculates from across the table in the Fishtown home he bought in 2004. A house, to be specific, with a front door serving as a testament to intricate woodworking magic and a late 70s Porsche, with the license plate “DNGR”, parked outside on Dauphin Street — There’s no doubt Redden’s house matches a lavish state of mind. According to past roommates and house guests, the Redden abode has gone from a “Trainspotting” squatter spot to a domesticated punk palace over the years. Both descriptions easily fit into the Redden persona.

 Redden moved around a bit as a child, but spent a considerable amount of time in Havertown, Pa., just west of Philadelphia. According to his twin sister, Danielle, John loved to spend time outdoors as a kid.

 “We had a strict upbringing and did not really start going out until we moved out of our mom’s house, even though we grew up a mile from the city,” Danielle said.

 The twins were close and not just because they share the same birthday. They attended Villanova University (where their mother worked as a secretary) together and Danielle recalls their college years as a collection of dancing in clubs and DJing together. 

 After freshmen year ended, John moved to a house at Columbia and Girard Avenues at the ripe age of 19. 

 “I convinced all of my friends to move out here,” Redden said. “All of my neighbors were telling me that I should buy a house because it was cheaper than rent[ing]. Back then they would give a mortgage to, like, anybody.” 

 A few years later, with only one class left to go at ‘Nova before graduating, he ditched his pursuit of a marketing degree because companies were already chomping at the bit to hire Redden. His psychology minor at school and intuitive business tactics were attractive to potential employers. Shortly after buying a house on Sepviva Street, he was working for a then-unknown company, Vitaminwater, promoting their brand.


 As part of his job, Redden had to have 20 palettes of Vitaminwater around him at all times. To store his stockpile of sports drinks, he confidently purchased the warehouse on Frankford Avenue that is now houses Liberty Works, a shop that sells Triumph and Norton motorcycles. Brad Carney, a local artist and teacher who lived with Redden on Sepviva until 2011, felt like Redden struck the gold mine with his Vitaminwater gig.

 “If I could tell every artist that I know anything, I would tell them to find all of the marketing people they can and live with them,” Carney said, laughing. “[If you were living with Redden] in your 20s, you have access to promotional items, coffee, beer, cigarettes… I think someone even got a link to Aunt Annie’s Bunny Macaroni. As an artist not making a lot of money at 23, I had everything covered [via Redden and the other marketing roommates].

 Redden, Carney, bands Sideshow Prophets and The Old Souls, and the rest of the Sepviva Street dwellers used to hop on their motorcycles on Sundays to ride to Silk City for drinks. This was before Mark Bee owned the bar and David Cassidy (aka DJ DeeJay) threw knockout parties there. On one occasion, the gang discussed hosting a weekly party of their own at Silk City.

 About a month later, Redden, in what really kicked off his now-infamous party throwing career, announced he would be putting on a weekly party on Sunday nights called “Socket” with his sister. It was an instant success.

 This was also around the same time that Redden started to throw “Hands and Knees”, a new dance party at The M Room on Friday nights. According to Redden, these parties, which went on to become one of the most popular monthly events at The Barbary, were the only reason people went to the The M Room. 

 With the success of “Socket” and “Hands and Knees”, Redden began looking for a proper venue to bring both events — and all of their sweaty, lustful patrons — under one roof. The Barbary, which Redden stressed “No-o-o-o one went to” at the time, was up for sale


  Purchased by Redden in 2007 for $750,000, The Barbary was once a bar in need of a Kardasian-level face lift. Before Redden came into the picture, the venue hosted a few crusty punk shows here and there, but that was about it. By all accounts, the place was a dump, so when Redden told his roommates, friends and DJ cohorts about his purchase, they were shocked. He suddenly quit his job at Vitaminwater and threw all his time and effort into this new venture.

 “I was one of the first marketing people [Vitaminwater] hired,” Redden said. “I did that for a while, it was a really, really great job. They were being bought out by Coca Cola, which was going to change everything and I decided I wanted to do something different.”

/Megan Matuzak

 Ian Saint Laurent, a 14-year friend of Redden’s and DJ, remembers when Redden broke the news to him. “He had called me one day shortly after leaving his marketing job at Vitaminwater out of the blue,” Saint Laurent said, “and told me, ‘I know what I’m gonna do — I’m gonna buy a club.’” 

 “The word rippled through the DJ scene, especially to us who were promoting parties that were displaced [following the closure of the old Silk City],” Edward Gieda said. “I was DJing and promoting a mod/60s event called “Immediate” at The M-Room [at the time], but we quickly moved shop over to The Barbary.”

 Redden, with a tireless urge to challenge himself, locked down the spot on Frankford Avenue under United Pirates, LLC. Within half a year of purchase, Redden opened his new alternative music dance club in Fishtown. The venue burst into a neighborhood that was, at the time, the textbook definition of “off the beaten path.” 

 This was before the SugarHouse redeveloped the Delaware waterfront and well before the Fillmore opened. There was no Frankford Hall, Barcade or food trucks at the nearby intersection of Frankford and Girard — Johnny Brenda’s was just about the only neighborhood destination at the time. “I like for people to have to work to get there, not be convenient,” Redden said with a chuckle.

 But Redden made The Barbary a destination and soon the club’s roster of DJs, events and misfit party-goers began to grow. Gieda’s party, “Immediate”, merged with “The Turnaround” to create one large 60s/mod party called “Turnaround vs. The Media.” “White Tee’s White Belts,” a classic Hip-Hop warehouse party ran by Emil Nassar and Bo Blizzard came on as “The Bounce.” Redden then asked his friends Hollie Sue and Jonas Oesterle to bring their obscure 50s/60s house dance party, “Bouffant Bangout,” to The Barbary. 

 Redden was building a calendar that simply couldn’t fail due to the fact that it was so diverse. And the parties were legendary — two floors packed to the brim with rad kids dancing to cool music. Whether you are diving into nostalgia with 90s throwback party, “Space Jams”, feeding your emo appetite with “Through Being Cool” or just want to let loose on a Monday with “Tigerbeats”, there were plenty of avenues for party goers to have a night you could never forget (not completely anyway).  

 But just as Rome fell and as the late, great Prince sang so elegantly in “Sometimes It Snows In April”: “…all good things, they say, will never last…”


  Back at the March staff party, after the shot glasses are collected it’s time for a group picture — a feat accomplished before, but a feat nonetheless. Redden organizes the large group, moving people around and giving orders. 

 After a few pictures are taken (and some encouragement) Redden rips his shirt off. It’s one of his trademark moves. Between a few quick snaps, Redden’s dynamic takes form. “Shirts are off!” a few say through laughs. A few others join him while everyone else screams and throws their arms up into the air.

“Shirts are off!”/Megan Matuzak

 If you ever have a chance to talk business with Rdden and  chat specifically about The Barbary, the “off the beaten path” mantra will undoubtedly get massaged into the conversation. It’s not only the selling point and the brand of The Barbary, but the reliable indicator of Redden’s character. 

 “I always just trust my instincts, I just go for it immediately… like immediately,” Redden said.

 Judging from the overwhelming success The Barbary has had, it’s no surprise that “the bug” bit him again, as Redden puts it, as he dove deeper into entrepreneurship. In 2014, Redden signed an agreement to rent 108 E. Girard Ave. Today, this storefront is home to Danger Salon — a unisex hair salon that harnesses “a decadent aesthetic referencing classic punk & rock enterprises.” Again, Redden was intentionally throwing himself head first into a venture he knew next to nothing about. This, yet again, surprised no one.

 Danger Salon’s specialty is hair color, which is a lazy generalization if you follow their Instagram account. Apart from the rainbow headed clients who leave the establishment, there is also no boundaries to the nail work that happens there. The stylist are unassumingly eccentric and “cool” and the decor is effortlessly gothic, topped with a floor-to-ceiling collage of 70s superstars like Bowie and The Ramones. It’s Redden’s second successful destination point and is affectionately nicknamed “The Barbary Salon.”

Redden sits in one of the salon chairs at Danger Salon./Megan Matuzak

 “The thing that is very similar between Barbary and Danger is that we are all kind of his misfits,” Sonja Century, Danger stylist, manager and Redden’s fiancee, said. “Everyone who works at The Barbary is insanely amazing, [and] have their own side projects. Here we are the misfits of the hair industry.” 

 Much like the Barbary, Danger brings artists of all walks of life together and Redden’s encouragement has helped the employees of the salon reach their artistic goals, especially Century. “I look up to him like he’s my senpai,” she laughs from the counter in the mixing station she’s perched on.

 Everyone who works there is part of a team and uses it as a means to accomplish their artistic goals,” Redden said “All said and done, if anybody asks if the salon was a success, it is, but the main reason would be because I met [Sonja].”

  Just as Redden created opportunities for local stylists at Danger Salon, he has also continued to help cultivate a new generation of DJs at The Barbary. While many of Redden’s classic parties, like “Hands and Knees”, have graced The Barbary from the beginning, the last big, new party to come out of the club is “Space James”, a 90s dance party fronted by Chris Coulton and Craig Almquist. 90s parties are typically a bro magnet, but surprisingly it has still held footing with the alternative crowdsince the party kicked off in 2014.

  “The idea of Space Jams was pitched as an ‘experience,’” Coulton said. “John is a marketer, just like I am. So we both understand each other when we talk about branding of parties and treat nightlife events like a business. (The Barbary is) dark enough to feel gritty… visuals on the screen two fog machines, large disco ball. It’s the place you went for that flavor, and you always knew you were getting something special.”

  Bananas and basketballs hang from the ceiling and inflatable palm trees accent the DJ booth. Nelly, LL Cool J, TLC and R. Kelly boom out of the system and the patrons are dressed like 1996 or 1999 came back with a vengeance. You can hit up the photobooth or go upstairs for a change in scenery DJ-wise. Additionally “Space Jams Overtime”, a smaller version of the party, takes over the upstairs during Hands & Knees.

  “If it’s going to be a genre that is more accessible, as long as you make it something ridiculous and unique, I am all for it. That is pretty much the angle [Coulton and Almquist] went for,” Redden says. “It was something that they wanted to do that wasn’t being done in Philadelphia the way they were doing it. That’s really all it takes. There are very, very, very few promoters, DJs, whatever, that do it in that way and take things that seriously.”


 Even as both of his businesses boom, Redden has faced his share of hurdles as well. Starting in October 2014, a series of blows were handed down to The Barbary from License and Inspections (L&I). The club’s second floor, called The Barbarella, had to close as a result of it. Due to the amount of people who could (and did) occupy that space, the fire codes just weren’t up to snuff. For all intents and purposes, it was very dangerous.

  But on August 3, 2015, all of the red tape and uncertainty was put away and the second floor was reopened. “We never gave up, we never lost hope. We refused to let anyone else dictate how The Barbary story will unfold,” Redden wrote in a Facebook post accompanied by a wide grinning picture of himself holding up Barbary’s forms and “in tears”, he adds.

 The Barbary is also an infamously selective place to party and dance until you black out. For example, if DJs spot less-than-alternative folks trying to dominate the dance floor, they will spin music that they know mainstreamers (bros, squares, etc.) won’t like. 

 “That’s one of those things: For venues in an area that isn’t quite ‘the spot’, once it becomes a real hot spot, it’s just inevitable that venues have to get all their cobwebs sorted, so to speak,” Redden admits.

 Upon the announcement that The Barbary was closing there was a bit of a panic among party goers. The L&I incident, although Redden would never admit it, was the tip of the iceberg for closing. But the reality of the situation is that Fishtown is changing again and Redden’s “off the beaten path” brand can not survive that change. Call it “broverflow”, or call it how it is — Fishtown just isn’t as cool or edgy as it used to.

 “I know that in Philadelphia… there aren’t any [venues, parties, or events] that I know of that truly ended while they were on top. That was always really, really important for me. And it’s important for The Barbary and what it is,” Redden said. “I want people to remember it as something that was really important to them and it’s very tricky where if you hold on for too long, you can really dilute that.”

 As of the time that this article went to print, Redden says there are about 6 months left to party before The Barbary’s doors close for good. But what of Redden — What’s next for Fishtown’s favorite bad-boy entrepreneur? In classic fashion, Redden has left things open-ended to an extent. “The next thing is right around the corner,” Redden hinted with a smile.

 As that March meeting officially concluded, a few Barbary employees lit their cigarettes as they buddied up to head over to North Bowl for a staff party Redden was throwing for them. While some walked toward Richmond Street to “cut through”, others headed to their bikes. Redden was the last to leave. He hopped on his bike, revved the engine and looked back to wave. And then he was gone.

[WXPN THE KEY] UNLOCKED: An afternoon in South Philly with Lushlife

All week long we’ve been putting the UNLOCKED spotlight on the new release by Lushlife and CSLSX, Ritualize. Tomorrow night’s record release party at Johnny Brenda’s is expected to be epic. Lushlife will be performing with CSLSX, and he promises some special guests.

jinx outside.jpg

Fresh off a 72 hour media marathon in NYC, Lushlife, aka Raj Haldar, is a little hazy. Slouched deep in his blue upholstered couch with his Harmony electric across his lap, it’s the first weekend he’s had in awhile. Before New York he was in Austin at his label’s, Western Vinyl, HQ and the next weekend he would be flying out to the midwest to film with Nik+Lamar, who filmed the award winning “Magnolia” for Plateau Vision

Saying Haldar is a busy guy is quite the understatement.

“Instead of the studio, we are going to do what I usually would do on a Sunday,” Haldar insists.

For the past three years, Haldar, along with Philly’s CSLSX, has been recording what he identifies as a paradigm shift in his maturation as an artist: their new collaboration, Ritualize. The realness of mortality, as in his first single “Body Double”, and of socio economic strife, felt in “Strawberry Mansion” featuring Freeway, are evidence of a heavier shift in Lushlife’s focus. But on that particular Sunday, walking up Mifflin Street near his South Philly home, he appears elated to just have a few destinations to hit at his own leisure. First stop: Jinxed on Passyunk Ave.

“I’ve been on a real Pinterest, interior decorating kick lately,” Haldar laughs sheepishly.

It’s during a stop at Chhaya Cafe before leafing through used vinyl at Beautiful World Syndicate, that Haldar happily talks shop under the warm glow of hanging artisan light bulbs over the center island. What’s most striking about Ritualize, other than another testament to Haldar’s genre-bending powers, is the calculated approach to it’s release. Down to the very last detail, Haldar has been slowly piecing together the story of his very personal turning point.

The Key: Ok, “This Ecstatic Cult”. That was the first track you released right?

Lushlife: That was the first one this year. We took a little bit longer than one that generally takes with album rollout with this one because I have just been off the grid essentially working on the album for three years. In internet time that’s for fucking ever. I’ve seen like entire sub genres and micro genres have a whole ebb and flow then go away in the time I’ve been working on this album. Having said that, I wanted to make sure I could spend a little bit of time ramping up the album and get reengaged with the audience. So when we announced the album, we released a song called “Body Double”, that was the first single. We did a UK only single called “The Waking World”, which is the second track on the album. The top of this year, which is really when the campaign hit in earnest, we released “This Ecstatic Cult” with Killer Mike.

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The Key: Word, it’s a great track. Why did you release a UK only single?

Lushlife: I’ve a fairly international fan base. I just think it’s important, number one i think certain tracks work better in certain markets. Our UK radio team was really excited about “The Waking World” for Europe. It got played on BBC One radio and shit. There was a fair bit of really high level traction there. So, I have a history in the UK as well. Obviously on the internet everyone can access just about anything, but just making sure that we have the sort of presence in Europe, we are mindful of the presence in Europe as well as in the US cause eventually we are going to be touring.

The Key: Let’s talk a little bit about the recruiting process. So there is Killer Mike, Freeway and Ariel Pink. Can you talk about if these were your ideas or if they were floated your way or what not and talk about that recruiting process?

Lushlife: Yeah, I’ve heard a couple times as we started rolling this album out that Lushlife albums are known for their sort of wide, diverse, featured artists. The one thing that binds the philosophy all together, it’s always just about being in service of the music. So the Ariel Pink track, when we have the track and I started writing it was like, I heard his voice on chorus. Reaching out to him was sort of direct, but on the other hand getting Killer Mike, the CSLSX dudes had sort of spoke to him that one of them works for MTV and they had sort of crossed paths there. Other folks on the album, RJD2, Nightlands, those were personal connections. It’s just about everybody, every little piece, coming together to make this overall idea come to life.

The Key: Speaking of which, “Hong Kong (Lady of Love)” is a very interesting track. There’s the sax and the very substantial bass line that is very consistent with the genre, then there’s you over top. It just seems like a real genre warp.

Lushlife: It was that juno synth bassline that’s really sort of pulsating…overall it just immediately screamed early 80s blade runner.

The Key: Like King Fury?

Lushlife: Yeah (laughs) that’s it right there. On the flight I started writing and I immediately started writing in this kind of, very dystopian kind of, future asian city kind of framework. When It was weird bc it was the first time I had met him. So I was just like “from here forward, you have to be this 40 year old asian woman who maybe once was very attached to asian youth culture but now has a very straight laced job but longs for excitement.” He totally just took all that in and then paced around the studio for like 45 minutes and just knocked out the chorus and did some guitar stuff. You know, I saw somebody on Facebook or something the other day that they are like between Ariel Pink, the kind of Giorgio Moroder film soundtrack, 80s soundtrack, backing track and you are sort of classic 90s east coast flow. These are all sort of disparate thing that I love, thrown together and it somehow works. Seeing that comment just made me feel like “the job is done”.

v day.jpg

The Key: What about music videos?

Lushlife: Music videos have historically been very important to what I do. The videos from the last release, Platow Vision, you know. They were like SXSW jury picks for music video and one got some awards, vimeo staff pick. Each one was an artistic statement of it’s own and beyond that i think last time around was when I realized important music videos as a vehicle which extends your audience. The video for Magnolia for instance there are as many…I mean, tons of people who found out about my work through that video and otherwise wouldn’t have because they may not listen to indie music or hip hop music like that. That video had a life of it’s own.

The Key: When I was reading through your process, you know releasing the singles, doing an intense press junket…everything seems really calculated. Can you talk about your approach to this release?

Lushlife: Definitely. Number one, I like…making a record is only one part of what I love about being a musician. Even the records that I loved growing up in the 90s and early 00s, I was as much sort of interested in how they were released as well as the music itself on a CD or whatever. That’s like, everything from artwork for the record to, you know, how you sort of position yourself in press photos. After you spend three years working, toiling over a record, you should think of the best fucking way to put it out in the world. We have spreadsheets when we first started thinking about how we were going to roll out the album with month by month, what we wanted to come out when and what other sort of ancillary sort of press opportunities we might have and what we wanted to do videos for and how we can make that happen. It’s a huge undertaking but luckily I also have a lot of people around me that are on the same page and help execute that stuff in the way I wanted to.

The Key: Yeah totally. Can you kind of talk about the overall story arc that you’ve built with the singles and the art, leading up to the release. Can you talk about that story that you are trying to create?

Lushlife: Ultimately, with everything that we are doing and every piece of media, music that gets out there, I really want to this time around…the record is so much more personal. Lyrically and I think also the music, the whole thing together with CSLSX’s production and how this whole thing came together it’s such a unique 50 minutes of music that we really wanted every single and everything that we did, every interview to kind really help tell the broader story of how much this record kind of….I feel like, is sort of like a paradigm shift in my career. IT was important through ever track review and every piece of artwork and every on camera interview and everything i’ve done up until this point to really communicate that this is a very unique and very personal piece of work. That’s what I want to do even when the record is out, with the live show, I’m really super siked. It’s the first time I am joining forces with CSLSX. We have a full band live set…I’ve always had a one man show and I’ve done a lot of building the track live with samplers and drum machines and keyboards and stuff. There is just something about having a group of people interacting on stage that it’s sort of like, it takes things to the next level. I think this record more than anyone in the past, is unlike anything else that is out there. I don’t think there is even “Body Double” and “Hong Kong (Lady of Love)”, are both four on the floor. There’s filmic, Michael Mann, Miami Vice rap joints. I literally don’t think existing that sound like that. We have a very unique expression of Hip Hop with this album.

[SPIRIT NEWSPAPER] Getting the Axe: Man Behind Faces of Kensington Instagram Account Tells All

As far as the founders of Faces of Kensington knew, the dust had settled around their infamous Instagram account. But — in light of a recent post and string of comments on Kensington Pride, a closed Facebook group — the morality of a social media account that documents (or in the minds of some, exploits) those pitted in a battle with addiction has once again come into question. 

“[It] Doesn’t matter where they are from, the struggles of another human being shouldn’t be put out on display for entertainment. They are someone’s daughters and sons,” Facebook user Ronnie K. posted in the thread on Kensington Pride.

Jamie H., another Facebook user, commented, “Whoever runs this account is an immature coward. Posting a picture of a child with their strung out parents? I don’t even have the words, please shut this down.”

So what do the “cowards” behind the account have to say?

To catch you up, Faces of Kensington was an Instagram account that centered around sharing images of those gripped by drug addiction at their lowest points. Posts to the Instagram account would depict people using drugs, neglecting their children and “nodding off,” among other things. Most of the photos posted by the account were taken in Kensington.

Faces of Kensington was a hit according to “J.”, 26, one of two Instagrammers behind the account. Both founders, who wished to remain anonymous, were 24 when they created the account. J. corresponded with Spirit News via Instagram direct messages.

I remember my buddy asked me, ‘How did we get 500 followers?,’” J. said. “I corrected him and said, ‘How did we get 545 followers?’ I then checked the page and realized we had gotten little over 500 new followers in a single night. From there it kind of blew up. We were nearly 10,000 strong when Instagram gave us the axe.”

espite their strong following, the curators of Faces of Kensington did not go unscathed. The Instagram account received its share of criticism, coming to a head some eight or nine months ago when Instagram gave the account “the axe” by removing it from the Internet after roughly two years of activity. The ban was completely unannounced; J. only found out when he tried to login to post more photos and was slapped with a notification that their page had been removed. 

“We aren’t banging down [addict’s] doors and watching them get high, waiting for them to do something stupid,” J. said. “Drive around in Kensington or any of the other ‘river towns’ and you won’t have to look at our page. The drug problem is real and it’s not hiding.

Despite the controversy, the founders were very aware of the vast following Faces of Kensington had amassed. “One thing I realized is that we had followers from damn near every demographic,” J. said. “Sort of like when Howard Stern started a lot of folks hated his guts, but generally those people were the ones who followed him most religiously.”

But as the account’s popularity soared, Faces of Kensington also unintentionally became a lost and found of sorts. People who had lost touch with friends or family members battling addiction would sometimes see posts featuring the likeness of someone they knew. The page’s curators would receive emails from people asking when and where the photo of their loved one was taken. While this wasn’t the account’s original intent, those running the page would always responding kindly to these emails and helped out as best they could.

“It was only after trying to help those people seeking a family reunion and seeing some positive comments people leave, that I realized it could be something more…,” J. said. “I’d like to think they found who they were looking for. I understand why they wouldn’t be in much of a hurry to tell me if they did. I’m just some asshole making fun of their loved ones.”

Bianca D. is a long-time Philadelphia resident who is currently in her mid-20s. Her family has been devastated by the heroin and opiate addiction of their eldest child. Her family also has firsthand experience with Faces of Kensington. 

In April 2015, Bianca’s sister Lesley sent her a text message. In it was a picture of their older sister, Lauren, who seemed dazed and caught off guard by a dumpster. Lauren was 31 at the time and was out of prison due to overcrowding.

Bianca quickly took to social media and shared the photo of her sister onto her own timeline. 

Faces of Kensington shows the ugly truth, it shows what people turn cheek to in this society,” Bianca said. “Because there isn’t enough effort in this city, or anywhere, being put into fighting this heroin and opiate epidemic. People don’t like seeing the truth.”

Bianca believes that the government is at fault for the opiate crisis in Kensington and elsewhere. “I posted [the photo of my sister] on my Facebook because I want people to see how the system allows addicts to get high for free,” she said. “I post it because I feel our government isn’t addressing the issue this society has with opiates.”

The reasons why Faces of Kensington was removed from Instagram were never made clear, but signs point to the account violating the social media platform’s terms of service — the founders believe it was due to “bullying.” The photos, when paired with witty (and sometimes brutal) comments, made the subjects of their posts the butt of a joke — or “a joke that thousands of people are in on,” as J. put it.

The guys behind Faces of Kensington have made a new account since the original was banned from Instagram. Now, facesofkensingtonpa has 1395 followers, 23 posts (at the time this article was written) and an inbox “full of winners,” according to J. 

“I guess in the new age of ‘organized internet,’ where everything comes with a username and password, the ability to say whatever the hell you want is going to become more and more difficult,” J. said. “Voice and opinion, one way or another… all they have to do is click a button and your account is no more. Social media is a business. We have the freedom to express ourselves, but not unless they give us permission.”

[SPIRIT NEWSPAPER] Letting the Laughs Out at Bardot’s Monthly Comedy Meetup

FEBRUARY 18, 2016

Looking to laugh a little bit in Northern Liberties? Northern Comedies is just what the doctor ordered.

The monthly comedy show at Bardot Cafe (447 Poplar St.) is a round robin of comedic styles. Each comedian gets about ten minutes against a crushed red velvet curtain and under a piercing spot light — true Seinfeld style. In the age of hour-long Kevin Hart and Amy Schumer specials, it’s a dynamic presentation of what Philly and New York has got: comedians who can make a tight set and work a crowd.

Micehlle Biloon hosts Northern Comedies, a monthly stand up comedy show at Bardot Cafe.

“[Bardot] knew I did stand up and they knew that I wasn’t a[n average] shmo doing stand up,” Michelle Biloon, the host of Northern Comedies, said. “At one point I was like, ‘oh, do you do shows there?’ They came back and said, ‘oh, we want you to do a comedy show here.” Biloon, who lives across the street from Bardot, has plenty of experience in comedy, having worked for Comedy Central, The Late Late Show and Chelsea Lately.  

Every first Wednesday of the month, Biloon curates and opens for a group of comedians — many of which she has known for many years — to perform in front of bar patrons and each other. Along with her showrunner, Matt Wertz of Bardot Cafe, Biloon’s most recent Northern Comedies show featured Eddie Finn, Dan Vetrano, Lump Hamilton, Matthew Tsang, James Hesky and David James. Each comic performed in front of packed house.

“[Biloon] is already established in LA and been around,” said David James, who’s been doing comedy for a decade. “So she was already really funny and really cool. She’s a friend of mine we always see each other at the clubs or doing comedy shows.”

David James

David James

“I love it that people come here and enjoy it,” Biloon says. “I’m not booking famous people, theses are local people I just met in the past couple years. There are plenty of funny people on tv and deserve to be there, but just bc someone is on TV that doesn’t mean they are all the cream that rose to the top. There are plenty of people out there, that are here in your city.”

Eddie Flynn

Eddie Flynn

Lump Hamilton

Lump Hamilton

Mike Tsang

Mike Tsang

James Hesky

James Hesky


Northern Comedies occurs on the first Wednesday of each month at Bardot Cafe (447 Poplar St.).


[SPIRIT NEWSPAPER] Women’s Community Revitalization Project Breaks Ground on Grace Townhouses in Port Richmond


Last week, on a sweltering Friday evening in Port Richmond, the congregation of Firm Hope Baptist Church, the Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP) and three elected officials processed in song from Firm Hope on Auburn and Tulip streets to an adjacent football field-sized lot. There, they cut the ribbon on a new affordable housing project called Grace Townhouses, which will bring 36 homes to the neighborhood.

During the ceremony, Nathaniel Brooks, a member of the church, held a poster-sized 1988 newspaper clip that featured activist Dorothy Johnson and Marie Patterson standing in the future home of the Grace Townhouses. In 1988, Johnson and Patterson successfully organized to get an abandoned rug factory that used to occupy the lot torn down. The factory was known for debilitating drug and crime activity. This burden on the neighborhood continued after the demolition and the lot left behind became a dumping ground.

Richard Harris, Firm Hope’s pastor, conveyed his optimism to the crowd about the homes. 

“We deserve this,” he said. “Grace means a gift and that is what these homes will be.”

After five years of diligent planning, successful zoning and funding hearings and securing a community lands trust, 36 additional homes will fall into the fold of WCRP’s existing 250 units by fall of 2016.

“The top of the scale is $40,000 for a family of four but the bottom of the scale is that people have some income. That income can be public benefits like SSI, it can be a minimum wage job,” Nora Lichtash, Executive Director of WCRP, said. “People are not turned away because of their income.”

The two to four bedroom houses will be rent-to-purchase properties between $450-$650 per month. The houses will include amenities like central air and washer/dryer units. Credit and criminal checks are required and the exclusions are few: the tenant must be clean for at least a year, not be harmful to themselves or others or have serious past rent delinquencies. 

“I think we really get to know our applicants. We select the applicants who need it the most and are really be able to use it, ” Lichtash, who has many tenants of her own through WCRP, said.

State Representative Mike O’Brien and City Councilmen Mark Squilla were in attendance at the ribbon cutting and subsequent rally in the lot next to Firm Hope. Both appeared to relish in the community’s hope and promised a certain level of follow through, which is vital for a catalytic project like this.

“As the progress goes on we ask them for updates, we will then give that to our office and disseminate it through the [Registered Community Organization] and the neighbors. At the end of the day we will have a full house of people, new residents living at the Grace Townhouses,” Squilla said.

Squilla also has his eyes on the playground across the street from the Grace Townhouses plot and the future of rebuilding the neighborhood, saying that “If we need to do some more subsidies or infrastructure help to entice private development, we will do that.”

It is fitting that an organization focused on women and displacement would take on a project like this. Port Richmond has the city’s third largest poverty rate at almost 50 percent, according to Shared Prosperity Philadelphia in 2013. Additionally, 28 out of every 100 Philadelphians live below the poverty line and 11 of those are children.

“I think when you serve women you serve everyone,” Lichtash said. “It’s often a woman’s responsibility to take care of us as children and then we take care of our kids. We want it to be open to anyone but we really understand the nature of being poor which often overlaps with being women and women of color and women with kids.”

Lichtash continued, “The buildings are a drop in the bucket compared to the need. We need to build our voices, our power to speak out, power to fight for things we know as women, especially those of us who need affordable housing.”


[SPIRIT NEWSPAPER] Females, Felonies and Food Stamps: How House Bill 222 Could Affect Women in the Riverwards.

A special thanks to Jack Grauer for writing this with me

The age-old debate between deserving and undeserving, having and having-not, has re-entered the limelight. Those caught in the local crosshairs: single mothers in the Riverwards — an area due south of one of the biggest east coast drug markets and large city-wide count of public assistance recipients.

Pennsylvania House Bill 222 would ban individuals with drug felony charges from receiving public assistance. Introduced this January with Pennsylvania state Rep. Michael Regan as a main sponsor, the first version of the bill banned all Pennsylvania residents with drug felony convictions from public assistance without exception.

Amendments restricted the ban to people who’ve done prison time for drug felonies. Per the May amendments, children of parents with drug felony charges would remain eligible for public assistance. The Pennsylvania House Health Committee supported the bill in its amended version with an 18-9 vote.

Researcher Bob Orth with the Pennsylvania Commission on Delinquency & Sentencing said figuring out who HB 222 might affect would mean matching data between several state departments. “I just don’t believe there is a Commonwealth IT system in place capable of capturing all that data in a single snapshot,” he said.

This is a well-known issue, which US Department of Agriculture research director Michael Kerlin called “the kind of problem we face everyday.”  Kerlin’s work mainly focuses on food stamps.


Let’s assume this bill actually has teeth and gets enacted. What would that look like? Who would be affected? More specifically, how would the bill disproportionately affect single mothers with drug felony convictions?

What we do know is this: Women are about twice as likely to receive food stamps than men nationwide, according to a 2013 Pew study. Statewide, about 150,00 households receive public assistance, according to Census data from the same year.


Rochelle Jackson is a policy advocate with Pittsburgh-based Just Harvest, a nonprofit that deals with hunger issues. She has watched for years as the Pennsylvania legislature has repeatedly proposed laws intended to further criminalize low-income citizens.

“First it was photos on the EBT cards, then drug testing,” she said.

Jackson explained HB 222 as “part of a larger welfare reform packet that surfaces during every legislative session and is a distraction from real progress on other policy measures that would actually reduce poverty and boost self-sufficiency.”

She added that people targeted by this type of legislation are often


… trying to put their lives together. They’re already banned from other areas of society. There are so many systems these people are already knocked out of, the last thing we’d like to see is that people who are trying to become productive citizens are prevented from getting food and a roof over their heads.

Frequently, pressures that lead women to drug use and incarceration often begin at home, in childhood, and follow them throughout their lives. The Pennsylvania Department of Health substantiated 654 reports of child abuse in Philadelphia during 2013.

Attorney Amy Hirsch published a 1999 article that features a series of interviews with 26 Philadelphia women, all of whom were involved with the criminal justice system in some way: incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, awaiting sentencing, etc.


These laws don’t operate in a vacuum. They influence institutions that can hinder women, creating cyclical patterns where survival takes precedence over their own best interests. This ultimately translates to drug use and subsequent jail time.

Several women Hirsch interviewed said they developed substance abuse problems to cope with chronic post-traumatic stress. Sex work, they said, then became a means for drug access and survival.

Female interviewees “experienced pervasive violence and responded to battering and rape with drug usage as self-medication,” she writes.


Trying to manage both behavioral health and substance abuse problems can be difficult for some women behind bars who, according to Hirsch, must forego psychotropic drugs in order to receive alcohol and drug rehabilitation. Additionally, “Several women reported that they had agreed to a plea bargain in order to get treatment… [T]wo women said they asked the judge for longer sentences so that they could get more treatment.”

Exposure to drug abuse and prostitution are often seen as the results of larger systemic issues, like access to education. While it’s difficult to correlate drop out rates with criminal behavior, highschool dropouts “are exposed to many of the same socioeconomic forces that are often gateways to crime,” according to a 2012Frontline article.

7 percent of girls grades 7-12 dropped out of school in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Researchers at Northeastern University found that dropouts aged 18-24 are more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty. Furthermore, incarceration rates were 63 times higher than college graduates between the ages of 16 and 24.

Limited education, domestic abuse and the causal relationship between these and  other problems that occur — prostitution and drug abuse — make it difficult for women to find successful employment. Affordable housing is an additional hurdle. Drug felony charges or not, public housing is hard to secure. In 2015, there were 18,000 people on the Section 8 waitlist in Philadelphia.


Assistance that mothers receive for their children isn’t enough to support a household. The Census suggests almost 28 percent of female heads of households in the Riverwards qualified as either “poor” or “struggling” in 2013.

And yet, affordable housing for women, those with or without children, reduces the chances of drug relapse and abuse. It affords independence from much of the socioeconomic pressure that can often lead women to prostitution and selling drugs.

Resources for women in Philadelphia are limited. In 2013, Women Against Abuse reported that it had to turn almost 9,000 people away from their services including consultation and education, safe havens, legal counsel and housing assistance.

HB 222 is unlikely to address the problems its sponsors claim it will. Rather, it would perpetuate them. Those affected, especially single moms with drug convictions, would find themselves with fewer options at their disposal than ever.

Single mothers and low-income women who may be affected, fall into cycles of co-dependence and are forced into the tiny, marginalized boxes that legislation has largely determined for them.

HB 222’s supporters tend not to see these people as victims of the unforgiving and frequently misogynistic system and seem instead to believe that the biggest Band-Aid wins.


[SPIRIT NEWSPAPER] Trash Pickers in Fishtown: Where There Is a Will, There Is a Way

“Sometimes it hurts me because I can’t have a normal job, dress nice and go somewhere nice for work. It hurts me sometimes because I can’t,” Jose Rosario, a trash picker, said.


Thursday night in Fishtown. Often late at night, the rattling of cans and bustle of shopping carts can be heard outside. A quick peek out of the window exposes someone, or a few people emptying the recycling bin for cans or other metals onto the sidewalk. After the gut reaction subsides, one is left to wonder: Who are these people?

In May 2012, ABCLocal produced a story titled “Truth Behind Trash Pickers,” which drew the connection between trash pickers and litter. At the time that story ran, trash pickers were “a growing nuisance.” Three years later, the same sentiment and stigma remains.

“Sometimes it’s embarrassing, sometime[s] it sad. But I have to find my way to live, to find money to eat,” Rosario, 45, said outside Penn Treaty Scrap Yard on Frankford Avenue.

Rosario and his stepson, Emmanuel Manduzio Jr., 24, have been picking together for 20 years, and frequent Penn Treaty Scrap yard Friday mornings, earning around 10 cents per pound for cans and air conditioners, between 14 and 18 cents for other recyclables, and hopefully $10 if they can make the weight requirement for steel. Together, they make $40-$50 a day.

“The job I can find is a place where they don’t pay the minimum wage. They pay five dollar,” Rosario said. “For me, to get five dollar for minimum wage, I get the aluminum or copper and I can make more money than the minimum wage can pay me. That is the way I do my living each day and in life.”

Solid, well-paying work is hard for the pair, especially Rosario, who has a criminal record. It’s not the focus or the mindset either prescribe to—in many ways they are just happy to survive.

“It’s an honest way to make money, staying out of trouble. You are actually helping the community by getting the excess metal and trash and whatever people leave on the ground or throw on the street,” Manduzio said.

Rosario adds, “Whatever we get, we split the money, we share the money, we buy food, we eat pizza, we go to the movies sometime.”

From Camden, NJ to San Francisco, cities are taking a stand against trash pickers—In fact, in those two places, it’s illegal. In Fishtown, trash picking is common and even expected by long time residents of the neighborhood. But with the increasing amount of people trash picking and fluctuating prices for aluminum and other metals, trash pickers have to work harder to supplement their incomes.

Jerry Powell, 61, and Tony Gillardo**, 49, make anywhere from $50-$60 a day on average. “$20 is a bad day,” Powell said.

It’s roughly 10PM, the lights are humming under The El by the York-Daulphn station, Powell and Gillardo are beginning their night. On the walk to their starting point, they have already obtained two trash bags filled an eighth of the way with cans, and Gillardo has hidden a barbeque under a safety cone to come back to.

“It’s brand new and in the box…it’s crazy,” he said as he removed one of his gloves, a rare commodity in the trash picking world, to wipe his upper lip.

Gillardo, 49 and Powell, 61, started picking trash about six months ago. “Seeing other people doing, and seeing that they were making money, we started doing it,” Gillardo added. “We can make anywhere from $20 to $200, you know? Any day we go out, we do it, we make money.”

Powell chimed in, “Yeah, we got a load like that today walking back from the junkyard, we see a house. First they said no, then they said ‘Yo come on back! We have something for ya.’ We ended up getting…what did we get? $10?”

“11 dollars” Gillardo answered.

“Yeah $11 in 5 minutes,” Powell beamed.

Trash picking and odd jobs have become a way of life for Gillardo and Powell, who both have criminal and blue collar backgrounds. Both are full of stories like that—stories that fall upon happenstance. For example, an attorney from New Jersey, son and grandson in tow, hit a pothole on the Girard I-95 exit and got a flat. Gillardo approached and offered to help, and although hesitant at first, the distressed man accepted the help.

“He said, ‘How much are you going to charge me for changing a tire?’ And I said, ‘Whatever you feel is appropriate.’ He gave me $20 and the rim that just came off his car,” Gillardo said. “Because it was aluminum and it was busted. You can’t fix aluminum rims. So it was junk. I asked him for the rim and he gave me the twenty and the rim.”

Powell and Gillardo are proud of, and even amused by the total $34 they made in less than 2 hours that day. The pair frequents Philadelphia Metal and  Resource Recovery on Somerset Street, where the prices fluctuate daily, according to David Feinberg, manager of the yard.

“We seem to know most of them guys over there, kind of like family after a while,” Powell joked.

He added:

“My brother Ralph raised five kids on scrap metal.”

It’s a challenge to really quantify or measure the effect trash pickers have on the Fishtown or Northern Liberties, be it in a positive or negative way. Visible litter still exists, and noise complaints to the neighborhood associations still occur.

Citywide, the ordinance relating to trash picking is §10-400:  Noise and Excessive Vibration, which relates to the regulation of noise. In this case for trash pickers, this involves loud speech, any sound 3 decibels above background sound or generally creating a nuisance.  Police can issue a Civil Violation Notice to trash pickers for violating these stipulations of the ordinance.

Separate from the issue of noise, is the issue of a “mess” left behind. However, in front of or around a residential property is the responsibility of the residing individuals which is confirmed by the Philadelphia’s Property Maintenance Code. Only with sufficient evidence can a CVN can be issued in this case, and would be relatable to a litter charge.

In concerns to police calls relating to trash picking, Sgt. John Massi of the 26th District says that those kinds of calls are slim to none.

“I can’t think of any complaints since I’ve been at the 26th, in about two years about trash picking,” Sgt. Massi said. “We get a lot of calls about illegal scrapping, stealing metals.”

He did note however, that the calls that do come in are theft related when it comes to trash pickers:

“If they are out there all night long and there is a car unlocked, there is a potential to make that a theft and everything, take that stolen property and put it in the shopping cart with the cans and everything and conceal it.”

PPD’s efforts in the 26th District have been proactive regarding shopping carts in the sense that they work with grocery stores and other consumer stores, like Home Depot, to prevent theft. Police target individuals pushing a cart that is recognizably from an organization. This effort however depends on patterns and overall police resources. Statewide, Rep. John Taylor would like to create a scrap metal database, to cut down even further.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a low priority, but we prioritize it based on manpower and current patterns. We have officers devoted to certain things. I have two bike cops that do Girard Ave from east girard to 8th and Girard and they are strictly proactive handling the shopping carts and the public intoxication, under the influence, things like that,” Sgt. Massi said.

Overall, these calls come in four or five times a week, according to Sgt. Massi. To curb these calls, efforts have been made to make and Receiving Stolen Property (RSV) a predominant charge. This charge echoes back to the limited resources the police in the 26th District have because an RSV can quickly turns into a two hour investigation, including booking and later returning the shopping carts.

On the other hand, a citation would only take a 20 minute investigation, freeing up that officer. This citation, specifically, is City Ordinance § 10-812.  Removal and Abandonment of Shopping Carts. 194, which questions ownership of the cart.

“If they are taking trash from vacant lots and streets, that’s a positive. If they are taking it from someone’s waste, the city is going to recycle that. I don’t know if that impacts the city and what they are gaining,” Sgt Massi said.

Not a significant amount of time and resources of the 26th District are being spent on the individuals digging through your trash, which translates to less tax dollars for the residents. However, an argument could be made for the effects on recycling revenue made by the city.

According to June S. Cantor, Public Relations Specialist for the Streets Department, all revenue generated from recycling goes into the general fund. The two biggest benefactors of this fund—and there are several—are the police and city employee benefits.

If trash pickers are rerouting recyclables and the scrap yards aren’t directly recycling with the city, the fund money is lost. Crucial revenue allocated to new police vests or uniforms, or certain insurances for city employees essentially go in the pockets of the pickers. The Philadelphia Revenue department were unable to confirm or deny these impacts.

“They can get it easy and go recycle it at one of the scrap yards, I’m all for it. It’s an age-old industry, an age-old cottage industry,” Lara Kelly, the trash and recycling coordinator for the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, said.

Kelly’s view on trash pickers mirrors a reasonable concern: As long as they don’t leave a mess, it’s fine. Kelly, whose responsibilities bleed into Fishtown and other parts of the city,  also recognizes the stigma placed on trash pickers from her experience:

“Part of the conversation becomes—at least one person will say—something about a trash picker and that they were the problem.”

The Fishtown Neighborhood Association takes a relaxed stance. “[Trash picking]…isn’t a subject that is brought to our attention very often by the community,” Vice President, Shaun Christopher, said via email.

Jordan Rush Esq., FNA’s legal council, did mention complaints about slow moving trucks, as well as a neighborhood desire to see, “their items reused, or given to people less fortunate.” In some aspects, their recycling, or portions of it, are going to those who need help make bills—or even enjoy a fresh pack of cigarettes, or a night at the movies, as Rosario had mentioned.

Trash pickers—blue collar workers trying to make ends meet, former criminals or individuals supplementing their Welfare, Social Security or Disability—are becoming more common in Fishtown. They live by the unspoken moral code: Don’t steal, use common courtesy with other pickers, and don’t leave a mess.

When stepping back, this seems to be the only time “business as usual” fits the bill.

“It’s your pride. We go out and pick and earn our money. We don’t beg for it,” Gillardo said.



[TRI STATE INDIE] Montage of Heck

SPOILER ALERT: I saw this at the Roxy Theater last night, if you haven’t seen Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, now’s the time to hit Command W…and fast.

Kurt Cobain would have hated every second. Every single second. It’s no secret that Kurt was less than cooperative with being interviewed, pulling stunts like putting his head on the table seemingly exhausted by the interviewers latest shallow question. But unveiling fragments of a person’s being, through home videos and snapshots of his journals in Montage of Heck, would cause the stomach to lurch, but that can be said about anyone.

The portrait painted in Montage of Heck is a sympathetic one; portraying Kurt as a highly sensitive, playful musician plagued by his fear of abandonment, ridicule and, of course, his coping methods, set to the Nirvana discography.  The film also seems to slip into a sardonic satire of itself as the unfortunate fortune of Kurt’s life and subsequent untouchable legacy.

“Once he got three million, he would be a junkie,” Courtney Love recalled Kurt saying between drags of her cigarette at one point in the film.

Everyone laughed when they were supposed to at Kurt’s playful and sarcastic remarks (“They Don’t?!” in shock when Love told him girls don’t masturbate to the teen superstars on TV).  All of the home videos, both from his childhood and marriage to Courtney Love, successfully allows the viewers to pull back the curtain they’ve been anxiously hovering around still a little over 20 years later. This goes specifically for the crowd that packed the PFS curated event at Roxy Theater last night.

The scenes of his marriage reveal the true infatuation he had for Love and Love in return for him. They feed into each others childish renderings of life, shining a jovial and blissful light on the pair. They were truly in love, sharing the same ball and chain to addiction in equal measures. Additionally so in their love for their daughter, Frances Cobain.

A heart breaking scene arrives during Frances’ first haircut.  Kurt struggles to stay awake while he holds his daughter and Love cuts, but fails, and nods off a new times.  His weight loss is clearly visible, and the boils on his face and arms are hard to look at. Montage of Heck, more visually than stated, captured the grips of Kurt’s addiction to heroin in an intimate and rare way. It was the only clip where he didn’t seem oddly aware that these videos would end up somewhere eventually by frequently retreating to humor and imitations to save face.

Courtesy of Yahoo

To fill in moments that they didn’t have footage for, cartoons, often cheesy at times, reimagined Kurt’s teenage years, for example, and it’s dark, tortured stories. Being passed around by family, unrequited sexual desires and ridicule from his peers looked like it was ripped from a comic book (fittingly with Kurt’s art in mind). On the other hand however, the animation of certain drawings in his journals were personified and undoubtedly haunting, acting as conduits for the continuous drive to understand Kurt more.

The ending of the movie was very anticlimactic, as you probably could have guessed. The film ends abruptly with plain text, stating that a month after his London overdose, which was brought on, according to Love, by Kurt “sensing” that Love was going to cheat on him, he took his own life. After a short pause the dramatic blow comes, “He was 27.”

As much as you do feel closer to Kurt, you don’t.  It’s a kind of emptiness that makes you feel hopelessly oblivious and you don’t know why.  Montage of Heck leaves you with more questions than you started with, enabling several imaginable answers to each one of them. It forces you to come to your own conclusions, which is the real take-home of this worth-seeing film.


[TRI STATE INDIE] Gang of Four Take On the TLA

It’s a new day for Gang of Four.  Since Jon King’s exit in 2012, not too long after the release of Contentthe band has transformed, rather metamorphosed, as a band. Through their metamorphosis from one monstrous Kafka-esque insect to a whole other creature entirely, they are reforming and redesigning what punk means today.  On Wednesday night, to a fairish and dedicated crowd, Gang of Four took the stage at the Theater of the Living Arts.

The band is touring in support of their fifth full length release, What Happens Next (watch “Broken Talk” featuring Alison Mosshart of The Kills), an album name that resonates in several capacities both for the band as a whole as well as their acute palette for conversational lyricism.  Their sound has also taken a sharper, more electronic-like sound (see “Isle of Dogs”, which Gang of Four performed live), without losing the wailing and verbose guitar musings of Andy Gill, the only remaining original member. A good measure of the new feel to Gang of Four’s music can be attributed to the recruitment of vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry and the tone he sets both in performance and through his voice.

Gang of Four’s set at the TLA mostly focused on the back catalog, however, the band make a point of playing “Where the Nightingale Sings” off What Happens Next, the first track off the new album, a haunting song about the rush of societal perspectives cloaked by the darkness of night.

Sterry hopped between the three microphones on stage, strutting his fresh, off the cuff attitude. Gill also took to the microphone in several instances including the spoken word portion of “Anthrax” off 1979’s Entertainment!.  Quite serendipitously, to those not privy to the setlist, “Damaged Goods”  followed shortly after.

The energy between the foursome and the crowd were matched and was nothing short of electric. Even bassist Thomas McNeice retired is stoney scowl to rambunctiously stomp around the stage. “He’s A Tourist at Home” and “What We All Want”, via 2005’s Return the Gift, are the go to example for their TLA performance this past Wednesday. “To Hell With Poverty!” itself warranted the aggressive fist pumping and yelling it received.

Backstage the band, especially Andy Gill, are a lively and friendly group.  Between discussing finer French wines to playful jabs at each other, they prove to be stand up guys off stage.

Overall, despite some technical issues Gang of Four faced during their performance at the TLA, they proved that they still got “it” and will continue to do the thing they love: perform.


[GRID] Fixing for a Change

That formerly dependable but now inoperable vacuum cleaner doesn’t have to go to the landfill, and neither does that broken necklace or anything else you have that doesn’t quite work. In Kensington, a determined pair is working to repair those items, and to teach others to do the same. 

Philly Fixers Guild founder Ben Davis and co-founder Holly Logan met in 2012 while on the steering committee for Sustainable 19125 & 19134, a nonprofit in the Fishtown, Port Richmond and East Kensington neighborhoods that aims to create the greenest zip codes in the city. 

After Davis, a commercial airline pilot, read a 2013 article in Wired about repair cafes on the West Coast, he started fixing broken items in his neighborhood, and Logan joined shortly thereafter. With some financial and moral support from Sustainable 19125 & 19134, and another local nonprofit, New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), Philly Fixers Guild was established in November 2013.

“I just thought, ‘why don’t we have one in Philly?’ So, we made it ourselves.” Davis says. Logan, a Kensington Community Food Co-op board member and volunteer, adds: “Ben and I looked more into reducing the waste that was happening in the first place, like the mantra that we all grow up with: reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Around the same time PFG got started, a Repair Cafe in Northwest Philadelphia was happening, although Davis says he had no idea there were other people trying to host repair events. But for Davis and Logan, the more the merrier—they both say they would like to see Repair Fairs and Repair Cafes pop up all over the city, and have a broader goal for the group.

“We want to turn PFG into multiple opportunities to engage with the community, whether that is through Repair Fairs or potentially through workshops,” Logan says.

Serving neighbors in the area who have limited options for broken items is another goal, according to Davis. “I think in our community, our version of a repair organization in [the] Fishtown/Kensington area, is going to be more like something that somebody just can’t afford to buy a new fan.”

The Philly Fixers Guild does not have brick-and-mortar home base, but wants to host several Repair Fairs a year around the neighborhood, where volunteers evaluate and try to fix broken items.  This past September, 12 fixers, a Guild volunteer, and Logan and Davis greeted 45 guests at the Sculpture Gym in Fishtown. The PFG Repair Fairs will be hosted throughout Kensington and Fishtown. Out of 35 items brought in, including a 1940s record player, a leaf blower and clothing that needed stitching, 18 items were fixed—a good first run according to Davis and Logan.

Nick Stellato, a volunteer electronic fixer was surprised that people didn’t just want their items fixed—they wanted to learn how things worked, too. “It was really cool to see so many people interested in the mechanical wonders that they had, rather than, ‘just make it go,’” Stellato says.

For their second Repair Fair in late November, PFG’s numbers increased and kids ages 10 to 12 got involved as “apprentices” coming with wires, sockets plugs and test bulbs. Approximately 85 people from the Philadelphia area, including Deptford Township in New Jersey, came through the door, to find 16 fixers waiting. Out the approximately 50 items brought in, 30 of them were fixed, including eight dining room chairs a family couldn’t afford to fix before Thanksgiving.

Both Davis and Logan agree that the most instrumental function of the Repair Fairs is the interaction between fixer and guest. The guests and the fixers sit elbow to elbow as the broken item is evaluated. With each step, guests learn how the item works and how to repair it.

“If we can teach them those sort of basics, maybe they’ll start to be able to repair their own things on their own and eventually not even need us,” Davis says. “That would be the ultimate success.”