By Nikki Volpicelli
Photos by Chris Stach
George Morgan is on his third year of following local artists with cameras and lights. On screen is over seventy-five (mostly) local bands including McRad, New Liberty and tonight’s acts, the Parachuting Apostles, Keystoned, Downtown Harvest and Don McCloskey.
“This is us doing a little extra for the local scene,” he says, “because it’s sometimes better than the national thing.”
Morgan is head of GGM Productions, a Philly-based production company specializing in music and the arts. GGM’s newest project is a documentary focusing on the local music scene and all of its players. It’s called “Best of Philly Music: Frame by Frame” and it includes interviews with artists, producers and bookers as well as live concert footage.
The point of Morgan’s documentary isn’t necessarily to highlight our great city and the great talent in it, although the film does just that. Morgan uses Philly as a paragon for local music scenes the world over.
“A lot of these people come and play for no money but for the love of it,” he says. “There’s tons of these weekend warriors. The idea is you do what you have to so you can keep playing music.”
Take tonight for example. We’re at a strip club. Amps, lighting kits, cameras, microphones and wires are strewn across the reflective room and everyone is busy putting them in place. Band merchandise is laid out on tables that are used to holding champagne glasses and stripper heels. Morgan’s reserved the Upstairs at Club Risque for a different type of performance. Four bands are scheduled to take the stage and the GGM crew will film the show for “Frame by Frame.”
Val Zanolle, manager of the Parachuting Apostles, is running around taking care of odds and ends. He’s announcing the completion of the PA’s new music video for “Let’s do it Right.” He’s opening up his netbook to give me a sneak peek. Pete Olieman, the video animator, stands back. He’s given the video a retro, comic book feel. In it, a giant squid that looks like a phallic ice cream cone fights a Neanderthal with lobster claws. The Neanderthal wins. The video is cool. The animator is cute. Back to the show.
Keystoned plays first to a crowd of five, crew not included. People shuffle in slowly. There are plenty of high heels and blonde heads in the audience, and lots of bedazzled Ed Hardy gear. Cameras float past the stage via tall, manual cranes. I feel like I’m sitting in on an episode of Rock of Love. I wait for Riki Rachtman to come up the stairs.
“I didn’t know people still make this kind of music,” says the guy beside me. I’m thinking the same thing. When the band is finished and the PA system plays the Black Keys in intermission I can’t say I’m not relieved.
The Parachuting Apostles come next with a few covers and original songs. They make an announcement about the new video before performing “Let’s do it Right.” The crowd grows a bit and most look like they’ve come from the other side of the Susquehanna. Dom takes a break from singing to explain the camera crew to the audience. He urges bodies to move closer to the stage and they oblige. He’s playing to the audience but he’s playing it up for the cameras, as well. Zanolle looks on like a proud parent. He’s added a maroon sports coat to his managerial uniform.
“You can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen,” he tells me while the band sets up, “you will never get results.”
“Frame by Frame” documents the struggle of the local music scene, from the lead singer to the publicist to the friend who spends hours packing press kits and creating Facebook events. The point is that a lot of work goes into creating one musical act. The other point is that despite talent (or lack thereof), an audience (or lack thereof), hard work and determination, many local artists never get what’s coming to them. Some make it and some don’t. Some deserve to make it and still don’t. Success is often just thinly-veiled luck.
The mics are in place. The wires, the amps, the lights and cameras are ready. A few men with extraordinary muscles ascent the stairs in tight, ribbed tank tops and Old Navy flip flops. They carry duffel bags on their big shoulders and disappear into a back room. A girl with massive breasts and makeup walks across the room in heels that make her stride funny. Female bartenders smile and laugh at men that order drinks but when I ask for a Yuengling I annoy them.
You can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen. That’s what this night is all about. That’s what this documentary is all about. Sometimes you have to work your ass off doing things you don’t want to do. Sometimes you have to play for an audience of five before you play for five hundred. Sometimes you have to carry a duffel bag full of stripper clothes before you can carry a briefcase. Sometimes you have to watch a dude stare at your tits before you meet a dude who won’t. You sit around and wait for things to happen, you never get results.