The top floor played dance mixes. This was at the Bounce party, a First Friday party at the Barbary, a couple of nights ago. The music on the ground floor was Future, and Future-adjacent hip hop. The ground floor was a lot more lit.
The Bounce party is almost as old as the Barbary is (nine years in existence). But the number of future nights is limited, as the Barbary is for sale.
John Redden, the Barbary’s owner, explains that at the club’s outset, he asked DJs Emynd and Bo Bliz about throwing a night there.
“When the Barbary opened, I approached all my favorite DJs and promoters that were doing real shit in the city.”
Emynd and Bo Bliz, who declined comment for this story, were known for a First Friday party, White Tees & White Belts, where rock and hip hip got played in the same place, where a Diplo and a Peedi Crakk might come through. The Bounce doesn’t have the rock element anymore. Redden says it’s “basically White Tees & White Belts, which thrived in this gritty, underground warehouse environment, which then thrived in a club. Typically things like that just don’t happen very often.”
The Bounce, for a lot of folks, is an old faithful. Each First Friday, it’ll be happening, and you can bet that it will not suck. Put another way, even if you catch a night where you’re not feeling great or the crowd isn’t your speed, Emynd and Bo Bliz will still be themselves.
Redden points out that the crowd is diverse. The stage Friday had been taken over by dudes turning up rapping line for line, at the bar there was a girl chilling in light-up fur jacket. Redden knows his spot is a hub of sorts for music lovers, and that people are dismayed that the club will be sold. He’s heard it from his regulars.
“As soon as the announcement was made, it was difficult. I remember even when it really came down to the decision, I had cold feet. A big part of me would want to just do the Barbary forever. But I firmly believe that the only way to preserve what was created, is to move on.” says Redden. “There’s a long history of dance-oriented bar, nightclub kind of places in Philadelphia, but also everywhere, where areas change, times change. Where they hold on, and everyone else kind of moves on without them. It’s very difficult to have something artistic in an area that’s changing the way that Fishtown is.”
In March, when the news broke, it sounded like the Barbary could be a casualty of gentrification. It still does. Redden admits has a personal clock that pushes him to try something new, as he hates the idea of doing the same thing his whole career. (He worked in marketing before the Barbary.) It seemed like the right timing, not just personally, but for ensuring that key ingredients to the bar’s appeal wouldn’t turn stale.
As Kung Fu Necktie went on the market shortly after the Barbary, regulars regarded the events like a one-two punch. But based on word from KFN owner James Herman, who emailed Billy Penn, KFN is looking to expand: “I’m working on investors to keep this in-house,” he wrote.
Redden says there’s a bunch of little things that say a lot about how things are different. Parking is nuts now, so it’s a pain for a lot of people to pull up. He recalls in the early days how they could light fireworks off the roof, and it wouldn’t be an issue. They can’t do this now.
“When I first moved here, believe it or not, Old City was where a lot of artists and punk rock kids went. Once Old City started to take off everybody started moving to the warehouses of Northern Liberties. It’s just rinse and repeat. It’s almost like a cyclical thing that occurs in between every five and 10 years,” he says. “It’s almost like I’m looking for something that is very unattainable— the area that will be this burgeoning artistic scene that will just stay that way forever. I know it doesn’t exist. But if it did, that would be my ideal.”
At the Bounce, I was happy, mostly. I’m into Future. I’m into Kevin Gates. Passing past fliers pinched though. There will be other parties, and I could argue that this is a loss for Philly, but I’m writing this because it’s a loss for the Philly that I know and love fiercely.
Redden has said that he wants to do pursue another venture, but that he won’t say what it is yet, an it might not be a bar or club. So naturally, with all this artistic environment talk, I ask where he’s thinking, and of course, he won’t say that either. He’ll tell me this much: “There’s a few different goals that I have. One of them would be to continue the spirit of the Barbary.”
As Redden discussed on the fickle nature of neighborhood scenes, the author Colson Whitehead came to mind. His book The Colossus of New York, particularly its first introductory chapter, contends with how much his city changes.
“We move over here, we move other there. Over a lifetime, that adds up to a lot of neighborhoods, the motley construction of your jerry-built metropolis. Your favorite newsstands, restaurants, movie theaters and subway stations and barber shops are replaced by your next neighborhoods favorites. It gets to be quite a sum.”
Later, Whitehead adds:
“Our old buildings still stand because we saw them, moved in and out of their long shadows, were lucky enough to know them for a time. They are a part of the city we carry around. It is hard to imagine that something will take their place, but this very moment the people with the right credentials are considering how to fill the craters.”