The best thing about Friends and Fam, a party thrown by DJ Matthew Law, is that the music is consistently A1. Because of this, people really dance in the unvarnished rooms of Kung Fu Necktie — where the party takes place each month — and Friends and Fam embodies a type of cool that doesn’t feel meticulously planned to the letter or thoroughly rehearsed in the mirror.
I’d like to say that Friends and Fam doesn’t need a filter. But since the line between self-chronicling and self-marketing has long evaporated, #nofilter isn’t just hashtag, but a trope that gets made fun of. So maybe I should say that Friends and Fam is a party where I know I’m going to be sweaty, and I’ll want to check if my hair looks the same as when I came in (it probably won’t), but I never mind.
Law knows that the party is kind of like a respite from the attitude that makes one take all those selfies before settling on the umpteenth one. He notes that “with the insecurities we deal with, trying to live our double lives on the Internet and all that stuff, it’s nice to have a room where you can feel totally comfortable.”
Kung Fu Necktie is for sale, confirms Jared Gruber, a broker at JG Real Estate— the building, the business and the liquor license, and we can expect a listing to pop up online later this week. With the recent news of the Barbary going on the market, this news feels like huge hit to Fishtown venues for music aficionados across the board. Kung Fu Necktie owner James Herman did not respond to a request for comment. “For the most part, I don’t know too many details about it,” says Friends and Fam’s creator.
(Law was a year behind me at Central High School. Although we had mutual friends, we didn’t know each other, and this interview was our first real conversation. Matthew Law is not his full government name, but his artistic one. Formerly, he was known as DJ PHSH.) As a DJ, he is diverse and really, really clever about it. He’ll play DeBarge; he’ll play Rihanna; he makes this work.
“To me, there’s soulful and funky James Brown songs, just like at times, there’s soulful and funky Young Thug songs,” he says. “It’s not as much about soul and funk as a genre as the style.”
Bringing together the older and newer, the spic-and-span digital productions with dirtbucket funk isn’t really a risk in his eyes; he instead cites two inspirations. One, he was a b-boy (since maybe the age of 12) before he started deejaying (at around 14), which made him study, made him learn the breaks as a dancer. “My understanding of hip hop had a longer lineage than the song itself, because I was into the samples from the gate,” he says. “It gave me a narrative. I was on the dance floor for a reason. This was pre-social media, cell phone, all that stuff. Even when it was, I remember what it was like to be on the other side and go off when a certain record came on. So it’s like: How do I take that mentality and flip it and be the person who knows what record to play to make somebody else go off.”
Then, there were the DJs he looked up to: Sonny James, King Britt, Rich Medina, and so on. “That’s how I watched, the people that I watched were very intuitive,” he says. “Samples or even the tempos that I play… that all comes from muscle memory at this point.”
At Kung Fu Necktie, “people don’t entirely feel like they’re in a club, they don’t entirely feel like they’re in a bar. They’re just in this space,” Law explains. It’s a concert venue that might not have another night like that, which he appreciates. The party has already been exported to Brooklyn and its DJ-in-residence says more cities are in the works. But as for their Philly spot, “Most of those sales are a long process, so I’m not too worried,” he says.
Normally, Friends and Fam is hosted by rapper The Bul Bey, and features a guest DJ, with Law and the invitee trading off on the turntables throughout the night. But this Friday, the guest was BBC Radio 1 DJ Benji B, so Law led off and Benji B finished it. After the clock struck 2, and after the lights came on, Benji B dropped Slum Village’s “Fall in Love” and Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much,” among other numbers, until the bar made us leave.
The bare, loose feeling that the party maintains has led women to tell Law that the party is a “safe zone,” he says. “That’s a huge, huge compliment for me, because I just know how insecure our generation is, and how those insecurities manifest themselves in the club,” Law says. “One of those insecurities I see all the time is dudes gripping up girls or something crazy where they feel like they have to do that to demand some sort of presence.”
Is he talking about posturing? Showiness? “Well kind of, or just straight-up situations where girls are sexually assaulted,” he says.
“If the DJ’s not good… it’s like [the music] is the background noise to people’s evils. People just feel like they’re out and they’re getting wasted, and nothing else is keeping their interest, so ‘let me holler at this girl, talk smack to this dude.’ It gets to be too much.”
“If you’re in this hive mind that we’re all sharing in the music, it’s unnecessary,” he explains. “You put your ego down.”