It's midsummer, and that means the Mad Decent Block Party Tour is marauding through North America once again, leaving an entire generation of bass heads with ears full of hundred hertz frequencies. Since the block party began in Philadelphia six years ago, the event has exploded into an international festival circuit of its own, with thirteen stops in under three months on this year's tour.
The first Block Party was just that—a block party. I spent about half the time playing basketball in the 95 degree heat, and the other half having water gun fights and drinking keg beer. Neighbors played cards, kids bullshitted with a guy in an Elmo costume.
Philly gives out over 7,000 block party permits a year. By the numbers, it's the block party capital of the country (LA only gives out 250). The summer events are institutions that can only be understood through experience. For an idea of their tenor, check photojournalist Neal Santos' party crashing tour of Philly block parties.
The only difference between the Mad Decent Block Party and any of the dozens I had been to that summer was that instead of a program administered by your average (read: incredibly talented) Philly neighborhood DJ, the music was provided by an eclectic crew of Philly, Jersey and Baltimore DJs—the original cadre of Mad Decent godfathers and signees. Much of the music was idiosyncratic Philly block party fare—DJ Sega bringing the "party music" (Philly/Baltimore/Jersey Club) for the kids to dance the Wu-Tang, dancehall from Kenny Meez, Brendan Bring'em rocking Frankie Beverly, Tuff Crew and Freeway. But it was all presented with a style that hinted at something just over the horizon, something that probably only a few could see.
This year, the Block Party started charging admission, a fair move for such an expensive and professional event. The change caught some people flatfooted. My friend Sara O'Boyle, who undertook an odyssey to find tickets to the sold out event, told me "I'm not happy about being charged this year, but it was bound to happen… Mad Decent is only getting bigger."
One thing has remained constant as the ground has moved: DJ Sega. Sega's Block Party performances define the event in that they provide an unbroken link to the city that it came from and the original event that spawned it. I asked Sega about his recollections of the first Block Parties and his feelings about Mad Decent's new, global direction.
THUMP: How many Mad Decent block parties have you played, going back to 2008?
DJ Sega: I've played each and every one of them. I even helped kick-start the one in New York's South Street Seaport in 2010, when the block party first started touring. So counting the ones in Philly and the one in New York, that's a total of six so far, not counting this year.
How have they changed over the years?
In 2008, it started as a traditional block party with us Mad Decent artists performing. In 2009, the crowd started to get a little bit bigger and more interactive in the festivities. By 2010, we had a full-on festival going. This was the best year in my opinion. The crowd was so big that we had to move it from the block the following year. I remember how epic my set was and that it was right before the premiere of Nadastrom's "Moombahton." In 2011, we moved into the Piazza [an open-air shopping plaza] and had a blast. Then we went even bigger and took over Philadelphia's landmark, Penn's Landing, in 2012.
Dancers during Rye Rye's performance, 2008. Video by Ellen Lovelidge.
How did the Block Party concept relate to Philly block parties when it started?
At the beginning, our block parties were more traditional. We had to collect signatures from everybody in the neighborhood. We barbecued, played some fun games, and played various block party [styles of] music. I'm talking hot dogs, burgers, '90s hip hop, double dutch, a dunk tanks—just everybody having a blast. We all felt like family during the block parties, especially the first one.
Mad Decent headquarters are in LA, and this year they are charging money for tickets in Philly. What do you think about that change?
Mad Decent's been doing quite a bit every year for these block parties. We've put on so many free shows for the people that we're to a point where the experience alone is worth the price of admission. Yes, I think other cities should be able to experience it. And yes, I think we'll get an even better experience out of everybody who's willing to pay to have the kind of fun we offer. I think the change can bring on bigger things… like maybe me playing every city next year. [Laughs]
What's Mad Decent's presence or relationship to Philly in 2013?
Speaking as a Mad Decent alumni, whenever I'm home in Philly, Mad Decent is home. We still have Mad Decent events, and straight-up events with Mad Decent artist headlining in Philly. We are very much still here. I am very much still home. You want Mad Decent? We have Mad Decent Mondays every week here in Philly. You want me? I'm VERY easy to find.
Michael Fichman is a DJ, record producer and writer living in Philadelphia. Follow him on twitter at @djaptone.