From the Outside: Losing My Disco Biscuits Virginity
From the Outside is a recurring column by Elyse Hauser recounting her firsthand experiences exploring the electronic music scene in Philadelphia as a 25-year-old grad student from the Seattle area.
I first heard of The Disco Biscuits less than a week before I saw them. The name started to pop up on my social media sites as people counted down the days until they got to Philly, and I vaguely registered it as something I might check out eventually. But on Wednesday night I got a message that said, “I’ve got tickets to see The Disco Biscuits at the Electric Factory on Thursday. Want to go?”
This also happened to be during a week from hell at school—I’m a full-time graduate student, and somehow every homework assignment had become due all at once. But I’m also something of an experience junkie. After all, you can’t write if you never do anything that’s worth writing about. So I did what any sensible girl would do and said yes.
I figured I should know what I was getting myself into, so I pulled up some Disco Biscuits songs on YouTube as I was flinging clothes around my room in the process of getting ready. I expected to hear some good, but typical, EDM beats. But wait—what was this? Some kind of…hippie disco electronic jam band? Suddenly, I was really glad I had accepted the offer.
Confession: I love hippie jam bands. I love Phish, which I got side-eye for even at my notoriously hippie undergraduate college. But it’s true. There’s something primal and fun about long-ass, unexpected, guitar-driven songs that you can dance to the whole way through. This show, I thought, is going to be great.
So I headed out to the show, ready for anything. I’d never been to the Electric Factory before, though it seems to be one of Philly’s favorite venues, and I walked almost all the way around the enormous warehouse building before I found the entrance. I was meeting up with another writer who I’d never met and wouldn’t know anyone else there, but I’ve gone to shows alone plenty of times before. Still, while I stood outside and waited, I couldn’t help but start to feel self-conscious. I was used to the Seattle rave scene, but this was something different. Where were all the wacky costumes? I was wearing a crop top and combat boots, while everyone else seemed to be in hoodies and sneakers. And everyone was so—young. At 25, was I really a little old for this scene? It didn’t seem possible.
I met up with the other Sensible Reason writer Kyle, who seemed to know the venue like the back of his hand. Thankfully, he wasn’t about to ditch me, even though he clearly knew plenty of people there. I coat-checked my winter layers and started to follow him around like a puppy, full of questions: “Where’s the bar? What exactly do these press passes do? Where’s backstage? How do you know all these people?” He didn’t seem to mind, fortunately, and he had an answer for everything. We headed upstairs to hang out on the balcony and people-watch before the show began.
There wasn’t all that much to see at that point. The opening DJ was talented, but the dance floor was nearly empty. Everyone was hanging out and chatting with their friends like they might have done at any house party. It seemed fun, but not too special, and I was all too aware of not knowing anyone. Everyone else seemed to have a crowd of friends with them. Is this what these kinds of shows are really like on the east coast? I wondered. My show-going experience since I moved to Philly has mostly been in completely different genres—my only electronic shows thus far, aside from the occasional small, local, underground performance in a bar, had been on the west coast. I went to get a drink and I must have looked nervous, because a curly-haired young guy came up and assured me, “You’re going to have a great time.”
And then, just like that, the band came on and the vibe started to change. Once everyone starts dancing, it’s impossible to feel like a misfit. I’m one of those people who has to fully feel out the vibe before I can really get into it, though, so me and my fellow writer—now my new friend—headed backstage to chill for a bit. On the way, I noticed a gray-haired woman in sunglasses dancing with more intensity than anyone else around her. Okay, so 25 wasn’t too old for this kind of thing after all.
I have to confess that I’ve never really been backstage anywhere, except at the tiny venues where my friends’ bands play. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was surprised by how chill it was. There was free beer and vinyl couches to relax on. Don’t get me wrong, I was still conscious of looking out of place in my all-black outfit and bright lipstick—but I was starting to think that maybe it didn’t matter so much.
After a few songs, Kyle and I decided to see what was up on the dance floor. We went around the side and got right up to the front in seconds. I swear I’ve never seen a more polite main floor: no one gave us dirty looks for going to the front, and instead of the usually crush of people right in front of the stage, everyone had plenty of room to dance. The elaborate light show was mesmerizing, and I took pictures of everything I could. They wrapped up the set at around midnight. Alright, I thought, that was pretty cool. It took me a few minutes to realize there was going to be another set!
Backstage again while waiting for the second set, the whole experience was starting to feel less like a typical show and more like a long, drawn-out party. No wonder people talked up this band so much. A few people came over and introduced themselves, wondering how I had ended up there without knowing anyone. I explained my project to them—exploring a new scene and sharing my experience through writing. “I can tell you’re not in this scene by looking at you,” some of them said—but it didn’t sound like an insult. I was starting to be kind of proud of looking different. After all, who says you have to dress a certain way to be part of any scene? It’s all about the human connection and the experience, when you get down to it.
The second set started and I could hear all the way from backstage that the band was outdoing their first set. My partner in writing, Kyle, was a little tired, so I headed out to the dance floor on my own. As self-conscious as I can be in new situations, the one place I always feel comfortable by myself is the dance floor. There’s something about mutual motion that makes you feel connected to everyone around you. I made my way to the front again and found myself in the midst of a group from Detroit who had a great vibe. “Look up,” one of them said to me, pointing out the way the lights made patterns high up on the walls. I never would have noticed it on my own.
I’m going to go ahead and say this now: all the positive vibes I was feeling were not drug-induced. I had a whiskey and coke and a couple of beers before I hit that dance floor, but that was it. I’m not saying experiences involving drugs are invalid, just that the outside perception of this sort of scene is often that all the connectedness and great feelings are artificially created. Hey, you don’t need drugs to have fun, man.
By this point, I was so into the music and could have cared less about what I looked like or who I knew. Electronic beats, funky rhythms, and amazing guitar work somehow blended together perfectly: electronica/trance-fusion was a genre I never knew I was missing! The people-watching on the floor was great, too—watching other people have fun can be so entertaining as long as you’re having fun too. I was sweaty, elated, and exhausted by the time they wrapped up the set. And my night wasn’t even over yet.
I’d been warned that it was going to be a late night by now, and I was ready for it. Backstage again, another talented DJ started playing, with a completely different but great sound. I danced with a girl I didn’t know, drank a couple more beers, and met far too many new people to keep all their names straight. I couldn’t thank the people who took it upon themselves to talk to me, make me feel welcome, and introduce me to their friends enough. It seemed like everyone backstage knew each other already, but it didn’t matter anymore. When the on-site afterparty started to wrap up, I left with a few people who weren’t ready for the party to end either. My night ended well into the morning, playing ping-pong in somebody’s basement, surrounded by new friends.
This night was much more than just a fun party, though. The whole experience is a testament to the fact that you really can go to a show, even if it’s a band you’ve never heard before, even if you know absolutely no one there, and even if it’s not your scene, and still have a great time. If you’re new to all of this too—or even if you’re not—I challenge you to try this next time there’s a show you’re curious about and you have no one to go with. If you go with an open mind and an adventurous spirit, you’re not going to feel alone for very long.