Music scenes play a special role in the cultural qualities of a place and locality. Small- to mid-sized venues, where the bartenders and bouncers know your name, the fragrance of beer fills the air, and local bands are championed over arena packing artists, act as sanctuary-lite spaces. Local music scenes carry a special tradition of sound that is specific to place, and even though the internet makes the world feel small and generic, there’s an authenticity that can only be experienced by being in a place. Philadelphia, in particular, known for its stylistically varying music scene, is home to a number of bands and local acts that speak to the city’s rich cultural connection with music.
Philadelphia-based collective, Killiam Shakespeare has been a staple of the Philadelphia music scene and cultural fabric for the past several years. Led by producers Corey Bernhard (keyboards) and Steve McKie (drums), Killiam Shakespeare became widely known throughout the city for hosting their monthly jam sessions, Beat Street Jam. Having worked with a number of artists ranging from Bilal and Jill Scott, to Estelle and Sy Smith, the jam sessions were known for surprise appearances, and bringing the larger music community together.
With the release of their second full length album, A Town Called Elsewhere, Killiam Shakespeare shows off their instrumental chops, as well as their distinctive ear for production, skillfully blending Trap, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul, and Rock. In late November, Killiam Shakespeare, played a sold out show at Philadelphia’s Johnny Brenda’s. After the concert, I chopped it up with Jode, aka Girlfriend of the blog, aka The Duppy Conquerer about the show, experiencing the Philly Music scene, and more! Here’s our conversation:
Stanley: This was your first time at a Killiam Shakespeare show. What’s your initial response to the concert?
Jode: First, I really enjoyed the venue – it was intimate, and I could tell that everyone there were real fans of Killiam Shakespeare. Their visuals behind the performance were super cool! Also, they picked the right opening act, Kiefer and having Bilal join them, was the perfect recipe for a great overall show! You gotta have the right line-up. Miniscule, but having the right DJ in between sets, is also important. Going from opening act to DJ to Killiam Shakespeare and Bilal, it was seamless! I usually leave right after a concert, but the DJ had me dancing after. A huge shout out to Philly – I always enjoy every concert I attend in here. The fans in Philly, are true music lovers. The vibe is always awesome!
Stanley: Kiefer! Yes, let’s talk about Kiefer! This was my first time seeing him, but I love his sound, he barely talked and there was no singing. Peak excitement. How did you feel about Kiefer‘s set?
Jode: Yeah, you sent me Kiefer's album some time ago, so I was super excited about his set. And, Smile/Petty is one of my favorite songs on Oxnard, which Kiefer produced. The production on that song is so smooth. I really love his style of music composition. I love the piano (My grandmother was a pianist, my mom is a pianist, and I have dibbled and dabbled with the piano). Kiefer didn't disappoint! I'm very happy to see pianists on a bigger level become stand-alone artists in their own right - I know it’s been done before, but I’m glad to see instrumentalist be at the center of music. I think Kiefer has an awesome journey ahead of him. I love the way he creates music. He barely talked in between songs, but every time he did, it was short, as you can tell his mission was to play and bring the focus to that. I'm a fan!
Stanley: Bilal’s been a staple of the underground R&B music scene for a while now, and has amassed a loyal, cult-lite following. I talk about Bilal all the time to you. He did Climbing, which Corey Bernhard and Steve McKie produced for Bilal, and The Circle. What did you think about Bilal’s performance?
Jode: I’ve known about Bilal for a little while, but you really made me a fan of him. Yes, you talk about him all the time and slip a Bilal song in every valentine's day playlist you make for me. So, it was fitting we saw Bilal together. He's so smooth. His voice has kept up with time, with so many artists losing their vocal abilities, it was good to see him able to still 'saaaang!' His vocal abilities are so effortless, as you can tell with his performance (he had a drink in his hand the entire time). I would have loved to see him really get down on stage, but he knew his purpose, to give the people what they want, but pass the torch to another Philly performer, Killiam Shakespeare. He did his job!
Stanley: You’re really into design, stage sets, and the like, so I’m curious to know what you thought about their stage design? The two screens in the background, lights, elevated stage, etc.
Jode: Yeah, it’s funny you asked, because I've been thinking about how design is an element in music artistry and performance. Stage design has taken its own form in music production. It adds to the experience. I wasn't expecting a Travis Scott or a Beyoncé level stage design, but I do appreciate that they did what they can to give us as an audience, a cohesive experience. Whoever compiled the video for Killiam Shakespeare's performance did an awesome job! At this level, they got the design element right (Their logo is so dope!), so I can only imagine with bigger venues and a bigger budget what they will bring in the future.