By Abby King
We continue our two part series on what drives those that make DIY shows happen. Part two is with Nicki Duval, a contributor with the booking collective All Mutable, along with Jazz Adam and Robin Meeker-Cumming. Be sure to check out Part 1 where we spoke to Richard Smith from Baird Atrium Mansion. This month the focus switches from running a physical space to operating outside the basement booking lineups.
Abby: Your website describes you as a booking collective based in Philadelphia, what does that mean? Can you describe what goes into running All Mutable?
Nicki: We are a collective in the sense that we try and all be on the same page about what we put forward - and that’s mostly the case. The discrepancies are taste-related. For example, I book some techno shows that only I out of us might be interested in, but the group support for those shows is still there.
It has been an intense process for the past year and a half. We are not all in the same place pretty much ever so it’s a lot of online and phone communication. We compile our show calendar based on a split between (mostly) shows that we reach out to performers about and (very occasionally, especially now) shows that people ask us about. At this point, we need a break to plan for the future and that’s what we’re going to do. Robin is also spending some time away at school in Boston. We’re taking stock of where we are in a big way.
A: How did All Mutable come to be? What motivates you to book and organize shows?
N: Jazz and I and Robin and I had been talking about booking shows together for a little bit beforehand but neither of those collaborations happened until all three of us were doing it together. We basically just book the kinds of shows that we want to see. We also aim for heavy POC/LGBTQ/femme representation on our lineups.
A: In last month’s VG issue, Richard Smith credits All Mutable as a driving force behind Baird Mansion Atrium’s diverse crowd. Can you talk about how you pick the bands you book and the people you choose to work with? How do you cultivate an audience that is inclusive?
N: I seek out acts that make the most exciting music. It can be exciting for any number of reasons - I’m into music that innovates sonically but I also appreciate performers that are saying something meaningful with their music probably even more. This typically doesn’t include traditional rock bands but it can - well, as much as a band like Palm (probably the best example of an act we all like) can be considered a “traditional rock band.”
A: What are some of the best things about the DIY scene in Philly? What are some of the worst?
N: I’ve met a lot of people who I really admire through music here - really wonderful people who care a lot and who inspire me with their insight. There’s a healthy amount of cross-scene interaction which is nice but there could ALWAYS be more. But there are a lot of negatives. Many people don’t feel comfortable within DIY and it’s easy to see why - straight, white, and cis-people (mostly men) take up a whole lot of space, people still play shows even after they’ve been reprimanded for abusive and unsafe behavior, and a lot of people are really in DIY only for their own personal gain and can’t see other perspectives which at this point doesn’t really cut it.
A: How do you choose the spaces you work with? Are you interested in traditional venues along with DIY spaces? How does a space impact a show?
N: We’re fine with “traditional” venues if they’re down to work with us on our terms, but sadly that’s not that many - I honestly can’t really think of venues I’m super excited about off the top of my head. Everybody Hits is a really good spot, though maybe not a traditional venue, with a resourceful owner (Dave) who is always down to help and is committed to making a variety of shows happen. I’ve been lucky to have a nice working relationship with R5 who work with more legit spaces but it’s only because they have a good mentality about it and have several employees who’ve been booking DIY shows for a long time.
A space impacts the audience’s interaction / level of comfort with a show. Inaccessible spaces (in the many ways that word can be defined - physically, atmospherically, monetarily, typical-audience-composition-wise etc.) hurt shows and I try not to work with those - I end up doing so at times but I want to stop completely (I think the break will help me consider that more).
A: With closures and rapid changes happening in house shows and venues around the city, what do you see for the future of DIY music in Philly?
N: I think there need to be more legit DIY spaces. We can’t go on like this, struggling to find a venue every time we want to book a show that needs more advanced audio or production values. I see that as All Mutable’s plan going forward - to provide a reliable space for that kind of art and performance that we want to program. Ideally all of the shows we put on at this space would be free or very inexpensive and the space would be open to other events besides just shows (drawing inspiration from Black Quantum Futurism’s Community Futures Lab). We’d be extremely critical about the kind of platform we wanted to provide - that would probably mean a smaller number of thoughtfully-curated things instead of a full calendar of shows that included ones we weren’t into.
A: What are some of your all time favorite shows or moments at All Mutable shows?
N: I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything we’ve we’ve put together, but a lot of the best shows and moments happened in the past few months. I’ll give you a top 5 overall:
The B L A C K I E and NAH 2pm matinee show at Girard Hall last October came together basically at the last minute but went down beautifully.
B L A C K I E’s passion and artistry is spectacular, especially live. Glad we could get him back after a couple years ago when the PA broke while he was playing. He played a saxophone and vocalized backed up by his huge arsenal of speakers. Then NAH finished off with a set that only he can play - he’s a local treasure (or semi-local given his time spent in Belgium) and is rightfully beloved around here for how he throws himself into his sets. Moor Mother did a guest performance on what would become NAH’s track “May 7th.” Truly a wonderful show.
Foodman in June was one of the most fulfilling, given the great turnout for weirdo music. His set was extraordinary, 45 perfectly paced minutes that oscillated between abstraction and a thumping dance beat. I had to pick him up from Newark Airport and it was a huge production but in the end it was so worth it.
RP Boo at Berks in March was so much fun. He DJed for like 3 hours and got everyone to dance. Some people did some sick footwork moves. RP's a legend for a reason. Shoutout to our frequent co-promoter/now-NYC-based label Embalming Lately (run by the incredible Cameron and Virginia) who we were able to work with on this show (plus bunch of other great events).
TRNSGNDR/VHS’ performance at First Unitarian in April really made me re-evaluate DIY on the whole and my position within it in particular. This was a set that questioned everything about the show - the bill, the space, the audience, the way it felt to be a noise performer of color. This was more of a lecture than a traditional “set” (music was only played quietly in the background) but it was fucking amazing. They separated the crowd into white people and people of color, and had members of the white audience speak on what contributions they made to DIY. This set went on for almost an hour and was only restricted by the curfew of the venue. My friend called this “the harshest noise set” they’d ever seen and I agree wholeheartedly. Alexandra forces the audience to think and to actively participate. They cut through the bullshit and speak to issues that very few are willing to address at this point - how art spaces that don’t consider their surrounding physical communities (ones they are likely gentrifying) are toxic, how varied representation on bills only does so much, how racism, classism, homophobia, and sexism as well as individualist/capitalist logic pervade “progressive” spaces. Their current set is one of the only performances I would classify as a must-see for ANYONE regardless of whether you like “experimental” music. B L A C K I E as described above is another.
And Dreamcrusher is also one of those must-sees. They’ve played 2 or 3 of our shows and I want them to play so many more. The one opening for Pharmakon at PhilaMOCA in May felt like the most vital - the audience was torn between exhilaration and disbelief. Again, this isn’t music that allows for a passive experience in any way. From the strobe and the fog machine to Luwayne’s physicality to the absolute wallop of the music itself - it’s all incredible and overpowering.