Story by Franceska Rouzard | Photos by Saeed Briscoe
The weather is warming up and that means Festival season is upon us. Last week marks the end of South By South West. In Philadelphia, some enjoyed Texas’ biggest festival/conference through social media. Others, like Brandon Potter, of What Scene?and local band, ill Fated Natives, made the pilgrimage to participate in person. I had a conversation with both on the night of their return home. They shared their plans for April, their favorite memories from their trip, and useful information for “indie-prenuers” and indie musicians who’d like to attend the festival in the future.
I’d never met Brandon Potter before that evening at The Fire, a bar in Northern Liberties cleverly named due to its proximity to a firehouse. It was the night of an Open Mic/ Welcome Home/ pop up performance for ill Fated Natives. The bar was a mix of avid supporters and friendly strangers. Potter, along with his partners of What Scene and in collaboration with RECPhilly, another local event planning company, organized an all Philadelphian artist show for SxSW. Even under the dark red lighting of The Fire, he seemed rested and pleased.
FR: What is What Scene? ?
Brandon Potter: It’s still forming but, right now we focus on events. I started it as a blog in 2010. Then, in 2013 me and some friends, my friend Chance, who rocked with me all the time, and my friend Kurt started the Foxtail Fest. And since then we’ve been doing shows.
FR: Interesting! What made you do SxSW?
Brandon Potter: I’ve always dreamed of going there. I know so many new artists drop new stuff then. They broke in my playing that festival. You know, get signed. It felt like it was necessary that Philly have a presence out there. Us being up and coming in the music, SxSW was just the right fit to make good connections.
FR: How did the show come together?
Brandon Potter: I’ve worked with Dave and Broad Street Music Group years ago on the first Foxtail Festival. They had a stage. We both knew each other was working hard on the scene.. When he reached out to me about a stage at SxSW, I said we have to make this happen.
As far as event planning, each is planned separately. Except for the yearly events. Basically, my friends and I do everything from top to bottom. We book the artists and come up with the concepts everything. Its really hard work.
FR: You’ve worked with well known artists like SZA and A$AP Mob? How did Ill Fated Natives end up on the SxSW bill?
Brandon Potter: Yeah, we worked with A$AP Mob for Foxtail. We were planning on booking A$AP Yams to DJ for SxSW before he passed away. It was crazy. So we regrouped and decided to go with an all Philly line up with Freeway, OCD, and Ground Up.
I’m a huge fan of Ill Fated Natives. I’ve listened to their music and I love their new project but I didn’t personally book them. Our partners RECPhilly booked them for SxSW along with other artists like Voss and Chill Moody.
FR: What was that experience like?
Brandon Potter: It was really packed. It was right on 6th street which is the main street. It was about 300 when it was all said and done. Crazy atmosphere.
FR: What’s next?
Brandon Potter: We have a series of 4/20 friendly series of events coming.
FR: ….What kind?
Brandon Potter: 4/20 friendly. [Chuckles.] Last year we did this festival called Hamsterdam: 4/20 Circus. We had acrobats, DJ Diamond Kutz. We transformed this warehouse into a circus. This year we’re doing a series of smaller events, four days in a row, April 17-20th. Hopefully, a show in New York.
After talking with Potter, I snuck upstairs to the greenroom (cleverly disguised as an apartment), in hopes of interviewing Ill Fated Natives before their performance. I feared they would be too tired from the festival, five days on the road with several other shows. To my surprise, they were more energetic then I’d ever seen them. Joey Stix, the band’s drummer and Bets Charmelus, the bassist, recounted their very different versions of a story from the road in which Stix asked for breakfast and was attacked by gnats. I was sure the laughter from the reenactments could be heard on the first floor. It’s hard to believe they’d only officially been a band for 2 years. They behave like a family, like brothers. I talked with both and guitarist, Otheni Thompson, about the road, their experience at SxSW, and what’s to come in the spring.
FR: How did you travel? Who went with you?
Joey Stix: It was crazy. Sleep was a get in where you fit in situation in the van. At one point someone was sleeping in the aisle. We went with our friends Ian, Malc, the videographer, Zak Cedarholm, who is awesome.
Bets Charmelus: He’s been responsible for the last couple promotional videos for us. Before that, they were shot by Saeed Jones and edited by our friend Jessica Arce, who both super talented.
FR: So you were on the road for five days? What cities did you visit other than Austin?
Joey Stix: We went to DC and Atlanta to perform. We stopped in Virginia for Waffle House on the way back.
FR: Which city was your favorite? Did I hear you mention metal heads in Atlanta?
Joey Stix: They weren’t metal. They just had a metal vibe. But they sounded like folk. Lots of alternative rock undertones.
Otheni Thompson: They called themselves punk.
FR: I heard a rumor that you raised the money to attend SxSW yourself. Is that true?
Bets Charmelus: It all came from The Fire Ceremony when we released our first project.
FR: For those who are thinking about doing something similar next year, how much was it?
Bets Charmelus: [Chuckles] Enough.
Otheni Thompson: How it came together is that we were at Parkhouse Studios when Dave, from RECPhilly, approached us about SxSW. That propelled everything forward. We had to get out music out. We had to raise money for SxSW. We had to have a crazy release show.
Bets Charmelus: You can’t go to a festival like SxSW empty handed. Everyone became really productive. Normally, we struggle with getting everyone on the same page. Like if O and Joey are motivated, then I’m slacking or vice versa. This time the team was focused and the tribe came around us. Next thing we know we had a site! We had business cards! We had a show popping! Everyone just came around us and felt like we have to do this. We have to make this happen.
Joey Stix: Yeah, we found out about the opportunity like a month before we went. A solid month. It didn’t kick in until about a week before.
FR: How was the reception? Did you feel welcomed?
Otheni Thompson: Oh yeah, for sure.
Joey Stix: We got there at a weird time. We arrived an hour before we were supposed to perform. We rolled out of a 15 passenger van and had to do soundcheck. Just trying to stretch and shit. It was kind of packed when we started. But once we were in the groove, people really started coming around.
Bets Charmelus: There was just so much music happening. Everywhere. If you leaned one way you could hear rap. Lean another way and hear something hardcore. I was like, “What the f- is happening?” It was beautiful.
FR: What was the craziest thing you saw? What stood out to you the most?
Otheni Thompson: We had a near spiritual experience.
Bets Charmelus: Completely spiritual experience.
Otheni Thompson: It was at the OK Africa show.We got there early to lock the front down. The openers were really cool. Everything that happened after that was incredible. Ibeyi was having a lot of technical difficulties so they just rocked out with keys and a beatbox. Ian and Malc met them the night before and had a quick but beautiful exchange. That trickled into the next day and the band recognized them at the show.
Bets Charmelus: Yeah, they were on stage talking to them during the performance.
Otheni Thompson: Then Hiatus Kayote came out and just smashed it. They’re definitely master musicians. All of them. Messing with time and making you move in different ways. That was followed by BadBadNotGood. The entire time, we’re in this corner next to the stage dancing like no one else is there. Thrashing. Then, they brought Jus Blaze and Freeway out.
Bets Charmelus: Us being from Philly, I almost popped a blood vessel. Everyone was like, “Oh wow! This is cool.” We were f-ing wilding out. Joey had one foot on the stage. I’m standing on the chair, screaming. A stage manager comes over and tells me to get down. Immediately, someone else gets up there.
Joey Stix: I was looking at every drummer on stage so intensely. “You need some help? I got you! I. GOT. YOU.”
Bets Charmelus: I really think that experience translated into what happened just now downstairs. I found myself playing things that I normally don’t. Thinking to myself, BadBadNotGood would do something like this. It changed my perspective of everything.
FR: So what’s next?
Joey Stix: We have a ton of shows in April. We have like six. My homie, Mars Parker, has a release party on April 4th. DG Philly is having an event at Pub Webb on April 10th.
Bets Charmelus: There is a band called Galvanize who throw an event called Get Lucid, they’re having a release party on the 17th. We’re opening for them. On the 18th, there is the Marijuana Marathon by What Scene? Then, we’re performing for iNERD on the 23rd.
Other Thompson: And we’re looking to release our first video after that. We recorded that all throughout the trip. Zak had been recording it since The Fire Ceremony.
Story by Franceska Rouzard | @frenchthegypsy
Photos by Saeed Briscoe