Street talks to Brendan Bercik, head of Yarga Productions, about what goes into filling Pilam's concert calendar
Street: How was your show on Friday?
Brendan Bercik: The headliner was called Norwegian Arms and they co-headlined with a band called Laser Background. The other two bands were DRGN KING and Ladies Auxiliary. Norwegian Arms and Laser Background have been doing this thing [for the past month] that they call Philadelphia DIY space tour. So every weekend, what they go into a DIY house for a night or two beforehand, and they crash there and hang out and get to meet the people who live in the house.
Street: What’s your biggest event of the year?
BB: Human BBQ is our biggest show. It’s always the first Saturday in April. We like to it be the weekend before Fling. It’s rumored that they created Spring Fling in response to BBQ because it used to be a very big event out on Hill Field. We don’t try to compete or anything; It’s just timing. That’s usually like 15-20 bands and it’s all day. With price of admission you get barbecue.
Street: How do you usually book bands?
BB: More often than not, bands will email us. The house isn’t actually a venue. It’s not a registered commercial space. It’s a house for a fraternity, which is a nonprofit organization. And that’s really the nature of DIY’s anyway. They are not for-profit shows. Tickets are usually $5 but a lot of the bands are open to doing donation up to $5. It incentivizes people to come more. It might be $5 if we have touring bands because the price of gas is just what they need to cover anyway and just keep going after that night. But when the bands are from Philly, they just want to do it for fun. They have jobs. They have lives. It’s not terribly profitable anyway.
Street: How many people do you get at most shows?
BB: This show was really big. It was probably our biggest show yet. It hovered around 100 most of the time. It could be a little less it could be a little more at times but there’s always a reasonable amount of room to breathe. It’s never like a lot of parties you go to where you’re squeezed up against people, sliding through sweaty bodies to get to the bathroom or whatever. 100 is pretty big. It’s pretty comparable [to other DIY spaces].
Street: How do most people find out about your DIY shows?
BB: You get a lot of non-students who come through because they find out about the show on the internet. Our biggest resource at the moment is a thing called DIYPHL.com. It’s a really good community where people who are interested in largely free or cheap shows with bands that are their friends. We put all our shows on there because that’s where our community is based. And when it’s registered we try to get it out to Penn students through posters and handing out flyers.
Street: When’s your next event?
BB: The next show we are trying to register is Wednesday October 24. The main band is Ringo Deathstarr, who just got off a world tour with Smashing Pumpkins. The other band that’s headlining is Ra Ra Rasputin. They are a dance punk band from D.C.
Street: Even though you have a wide variety of bands playing at Pilam, would you say the music genre is mostly punk?
BB: Punk is definitely a good core word to use for it. The sound of a band splinters off in all sorts of directions. But also punk represents that attitude – that Do-it-Yourself, just get out there. Who cares about the money? No holds, just barge and put your heart into it. Thrash out, you know? That’s definitely a word we enjoy being associated with. It makes a lot of sense and it’s really easy.
Street: What are some of the best bands you’ve had in the past?
BB: It’s kind of crazy because the shows started in the 80s or early 90s. We’ve had a lot of legendary names come through the house long before I was ever a part of it. Mostly bands that played in the 90s like Fugazi of Montreal and Man or Astroman. More recently, some of the bigger names we’ve had are the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. At Human BBQ we had A Place to Bury Strangers. They’re really loud, really crazy and brutal. One last band you might want to check out is Store Cats. They’re almost what you would call post-rock. It’s similar to Explosions in the Sky. They take that really ambient – instrumental introductions that hook you into these rifts that repeat and repeat and are polyrhythmic and it builds and then eventually usually in their songs they hit you with a big wall of distortion at some point. And then it just kicks off and skyrockets into this really loud really awesome rock song. They’ve played in our house maybe like 3 times in the past six months. We’re trying to get them a show upstairs – a big headlining show in November. That’s still very much so in the works.
Street: Do bands typically bring out merch and records?
BB: We always set up merch tables. They put up their t-shirts and vinyls. The 7-inch vinyl has made such a comeback. It has totally killed the CD. Especially with most of these bands that come out with EP records – maybe 4 or 6 tracks – vinyls are the most commonly sold form of music at these types of shows. Ladies Auxiliary had hand-stitched backpacks this past Friday. Bands will do all sorts of clever things. They’ll give away posters and stickers. Cassette tapes, just like vinyl’s, are coming back too.
Street: Does it become an issue following alcohol policies for registered events?
BB: We have alcohol monitors who come and make sure that people aren’t drinking or bringing their own or causing a raucous. It’s really not. By and large, it’s a real chill kind of thing. Especially with the pop punk kind of scene, a lot of people aren’t even into that. They don’t need to be wasted drunk because it’s such a high energy, really cool, youthful kind of music. I noticed on Friday the music was so heartfelt and real that it brings you back to something in your core, in your heart that you really can’t help but be totally elated and overjoyed. You wouldn’t need any of these other distractors or modifiers. Of course, we do like to party. We are a fraternity. We’re not some dry house or do an anti-alcohol policy. But for the sake of having the events, we have to. It doesn’t detract from enjoying the event in any way.
Street: Are you looking into expanding and getting involved with other groups at Penn?
BB: We’re open to doing poetry or art. It doesn’t have to be electronic music. They’re a lot of rhythmic groups at Penn who do drum circle things. We would just love for the house to be a space where groups who want to rally and create a show and create an event can do it. We want to eliminate as many barriers as possible.
The email we use to book our shows in reference to bands is email@example.com. A lot of times students know bands or have bands they are friends with and they’ll email us. It’s just really easy. Check out Pilam’s tumblr, http://yarga.tumblr.com for pictures of shows and updates on upcoming events.