‘Loud! Fast! Philly!’ unearths the city’s long ago punk scene
As a founding member of genre film screening collective Exhumed Films and co-owner of specialty retailer Diabolik DVD, Joseph A. Gervasi’s longtime horror fandom is already well-known. But it was through his early love for horror that Gervasi discovered his other, even more enduring passion: punk rock. Through Fangoria magazine, he’d come into contact with an older pen pal who sent him a tape of the Sex Pistols’ music.
“I knew that he listened to this weird, crazy music called punk that I hadn’t heard,” Gervasi recalls. “I was an angsty teenager looking for something that was more of a reflection of what I was thinking and feeling than I would hear in popular music. I couldn’t relate to the rock bands that were focused on chicks and drinking and cars because it just seemed stupid and juvenile. But the Sex Pistols was a big revelation, because here was this snarling, furious music, but with an intelligence and point of view behind it as well.”
Gervasi quickly became involved in the Philly punk scene, promoting shows as co-founder of the Cabbage Collective and editing NO LONGER A FANzine. Now, he’s revisiting that scene through the stories of those who lived it via “Loud! Fast! Philly!,” an aural history of the local punk scene archived online. On Friday, he’ll present the final installment of the project’s video component, a compilation of rarely-seen vintage live footage. Tonight’s show will feature the premiere of songs from the August reunion of ‘80s Buddhist punk band Ruin.
The story as presented by “Loud! Fast! Philly!” stretches from the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s through to the present day, touching on police corruption, mafia-owned nightclubs, and the impact of the AIDS crisis among other broader issues. Together, those stories paint a picture of a strong, diverse culture. “The key idea is that there has never been a ‘Philly sound’ of punk,” Gervasi says. “Since Philly never had an identifiable sound, these bands had to be judged on their individual merits.”
The presentation was initially conceived for this year’s inaugural Cinedelphia Film Festival and has since screened in Portland, Oregon and San Francisco. Knowing that several films about aspects of the Philly punk scene were in the works, Gervasi wanted to offer an unedited, first-person account. “I was afraid that those documentaries would miss out on the strong DIY ethic of Philly and the really creative people who were or are involved in that scene,” he explains. “They might focus on violence and stupid haircuts and lose track of the ideals behind it. I thought that if I could present people telling their own personal stories, that together these voices would form a mosaic of the underground music scene in Philadelphia.”
Where to start:
With 48 hours (and counting) of interviews now available at the “Loud! Fast! Philly!” website, it can be daunting to dive into the archives. Joseph Gervasi offers a few ideal starting points:
Elizabeth and Allen Fiend: The couple, married since the 1970s, founded More Fiends, “absolutely one of the weirdest and most creative bands to come out of that scene,” Gervasi explains. “They’re both artists and activists now and they’re really compelling, interesting and funny people. They’re really warm and engaging and their interviews are filled with great stories.”
Chuck Meehan: A DIY presenter who hosted hardcore shows at Abe’s Steaks, Meehan was “someone I looked up to as a young person,” Gervasi says. “He came from a working class background and hearing his story very much gives the idea that you don’t need to be an anointed one, you don’t have to have money or some sort of certificate that says you can go do and do this thing. You just need a desire to do it.”
If you go:
‘Loud! Fast! Philly!’
Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m.
531 N. 12th St.