June 22, 2015
Philadelphia is a city bursting with music history, and DJs are an important part of our story. The list of world-renowned DJs who claim Philadelphia as home spans a multitude of decades and covers nearly every genre of music – from hip-hop to electronic, underground to mainstream. Jazzy Jeff, Josh Wink, King Britt, Questlove, Cash Money, Rich Medina, Cosmo Baker, RJD2, the late DJ AM, even Diplo (though he long ago gave up his Eraserhood roots) are just a few of the big-name DJs who have exported the Philly brand-name worldwide.
Not everyone can be a household name though, and there are quite a few Philly DJs who are quietly making power moves in their respective music circles. From house to techno, rap to disco, ambient and beyond, this list forecasts the up-and-coming DJs you need to keep an eye out for – those who are releasing music, running their own labels, rocking the best parties, and continuing the rich history of Philly DJs who are soon to welcome a Mural Arts sanctioned DJ mural by Shepard Fairey. You may be only vaguely familiar with some of the names on this list now, but definitely stay tuned as each of these artists continue to make moves both on and off the dance floor.
Here are my top 14 Philly DJs to watch for:
You might know of Michael Fichman as DJ Apt One, the mustachioed cool guy who helped kick-start moobahton and remixed the likes of house legend Todd Edwards and black-and-yellow MC Wiz Khalifa (Apt One is originally from Pittsburgh – we’ll let that one slide though). Under his Michael The Lion moniker, Fichman turns his focus to classic disco sounds, using old editing techniques, and even playing some instruments himself to create vintage-sounding modern disco gems. With releases on highly acclaimed labels such as Soul Clap Records and Brooklyn’s vinyl-only Razor-N-Tape, Michael The Lion looks to be an artist to bring Philly’s rich disco history well into the future.
M//R is the techno alias of Billy Werner, a Philadelphia by-way-of-Queens DJ/producer who has donned an impressive variety of musical hats over the years: serving as the lead singer of 2000s post-hardcore band Hot Cross, one-half of the party-throwing DJ duo Robotique, and producer of groovy-adult-rocking records as Werner Williams, amongst other projects. While all of Billy’s musical endeavors run deep with talent and musical knowledge, it’s the work under his M//R (Magnetic Resonance) moniker that has been picking up attention from some of the biggest players in the world techno community. With an excellent release on Philly-based label Great Circles and a forthcoming release scheduled on world-renowned New York-based label L.I.E.S., it’s fair to say that M//R will be a name buzzing in the techno underground.
Over the past two years, Alex Burkat has accumulated releases on premier house labels such as Brooklyn’s Mister Saturday Night Records, LA’s 100% Silk, and Munich’s Permanent Vacation. In addition to making music of his own, Burkat and Chicago dance-master Chrissy Murderbot run The Nite Owl Diner, an after-hours house label “devoted to their mutual love of the greasy 24-hour diners that keep them full of pancakes after a long night of dancing.” With his most recent release “Pay The Rent” getting charted by some of the world’s biggest DJs, some might say that Burkat is Philly’s best-kept underground secret.
Earning a deal on Diplo’s Mad Decent label before he was even legally allowed to get into clubs, Swizzymack, AKA Jordan Safford, proudly represents the faster tempos that comprise the ‘rambunctious’ sound of Philly club music. Safford’s highly acclaimed DJ sets have been known to make many-a-young-female twerk it, something the young producer seems quite proud of, judging by his Instagram. With a co-sign from leaders in club music such as Philly kingpin Dirty South Joe and a new monthly party at SoundGarden Hall entitled “Booty Pop” that recently featured Jersey club don DJ Sliink, the future looks bright for the youngest producer on this list.
Matpat has been DJ-ing since the age of 13 and has a deep knowledge of electronic music. Using the rich history of Chicago house and Detroit techno as influences, he’s created a distinct sound of his own that has caught the ears of elite labels such as Berlin powerhouse Exploited, Derrick Carter’s Persnickety imprint and West coast labels Body High and Play It Down. With a recent feature on XLR8R and plenty of chart love for his most recent track “Only You,” the young house producer is building a buzz for himself well beyond the city limits of Philly.
Between making, playing, releasing, and writing about records, it’s fair to say that Shawn has got the DJ approach covered from a few different angles. Shawn is half of the funky production group Superprince, one-third of DJ group/label Universal Cave, and a main contributor to Dollar Bin Jams, a popular blog devoted to obscure vinyl records. With releases on Universal Cave topping the UK vinyl charts, and edits from Superprince racking up thousands of Soundcloud plays, Shawn is a becoming a trusted go-to name for disco and rare-groove vinyl knowledge and production.
A veteran to the Philly scene, Julian has a list of accomplishments as diverse as his musical output. Between founding the genre-defying pyschedelic-meets-electronic band Pink Skull, DJ-ing for more than 15 years (most recently in Berlin), and accumulating over 40 releases, including tracks on acclaimed New York labels Throne of Blood and RVNG Intl, Grefe has quietly held down Philadelphia while establishing a presence for himself in dance capitals New York and Berlin. When not making or playing music, Julian also releases music through his vinyl-only label Infinite Juju and takes on unique projects, such as sound-tracking Klip Collective’s immersive Nightscape project at Longwood Gardens, which opens July 1.
Not a whole lot is known about this disco-leaning house DJ and producer, and Elvin is probably OK with that, noting that “the dance floor is bigger than the DJ” in his Soundcloud profile. Already tipped as one to watch by Brooklyn’s excellent Let’s Play House label, Tibideaux has a buzz going amongst some of the best in the business. Catch him DJ-ing at The Trestle Inn from time to time.
Coolout has been DJi-ng and making music for years, exploring everything from hip-hop, to house, to latin and ambient sounds. With his latest Disgo project, Coolout combines all those styles together for a blend that is “faster than hip hop, slower than house, still 4-on-the floor”. His tantalizing Soundcloud contains over twenty remixes from the last year alone, most available free download, including takes on everything from Janet Jackson to Meek Mill. With a stated goal to "spread the gospel" of his genre-bounding music and original tracks and live shows lined up, Coolout is on the move.
Sharing a love of dancehall, weird techno, and experimental electronic music, Elena Nestico and Lars Kallich have been DJ-ing together as Wolf Dem since 2010, adding live performances to their repertoire in 2012. The duo have some impressive accomplishments together, playing gigs at the lauded Rizumu and Inciting events, releasing on the cassette-only label Vague Audio Tapes, and having their track “Queen of the Pack” included in Celestial Trax’s acclaimed 2014 FACT mix. Individually, Nestico and Kallich are both active members of Philly’s vibrant underground techno community, with Nestico DJ-ing as Lady Prowl and holding a radio show on underground station RWD.FM, and Kallich making music as ultraesthetic and DJing as Lara. Looking ahead, the duo have some tracks slated for release on gritty Philly-based label Great Circles, as well as a slot at Baltimore’s Bombadillo Festival.
Jason Termini, AKA Telequanta, has been producing psychedelic electronic music since 2012, and is a member of the Data Garden, a label and collective as much focused on sustainability as it is beautiful and lush electronic music. Telequanta’s music has been featured on fashion runways, and his mostly self-released works sit comfortably in between headphone listening and club sound systems. He and the Data Garden crew recently started a new monthly party at The Dolphin called High Vibes.
Meeting while students at Temple University, Lucas Hough and Jansen Scott became fast friends through their shared love of melodic UK and Chicago house music, and began producing infectious dance music together as P.S. 118. The duo have played gigs in support of artists such as Huxley, Nadastrom, and Kidnap Kid and just premiered their self-released “Vol. 1” on The Key XPN. The buzz from their first release has earned the guys some increasingly high profile gigs, and with the promise of more new material on the horizon, it looks like that upward trajectory will only continue for P.S. 118.