Media Bureau—An Artists' Colony Teeming With Talent—Flourishes in NoLibs

By Nicole Finkbiner
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Jul. 27, 2011

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It’s the first day of the recent record-breaking heat wave, and a group of half-naked, sweaty bodies are gathered inside the massive, yet inconspicuous, 12,000-square-foot warehouse at 725 N. Fourth Street for a night of music—part of the Turnpike Collective, a music conglomerate bridging the gap between Philly and New York with its blend of blues, folk, jazz and rock. 

Despite having few walls or windows, the vibe inside is cozy. An eclectic mix of artsy folk roam the building comfortably, barely reacting to the thick, hot air being circulated by a few sketchy box fans. Some plop down on the large Oriental rug in front of the makeshift stage, while others squat on mismatched vintage chairs scattered around the room. A few brave souls even dance as an add-insult-to-injury photo of a Brazilian beach projects onto the screen behind the bands. 

The concert is a benefit to raise money for local filmmaker and Philadelphia Independent Film Fest co-producer Stephen Tucker’s upcoming trip to Brazil to shoot Chega De Saudade , a documentary exploring Bossa Nova, one of the country’s most important music/cultural movements. Tucker, a 27-year-old Bucks County native, quit his “really cool” job at the The New York Times as the master sound engineer to focus on his film career. “I made the choice three years ago to not get a job with a steady paycheck,” he says. “That was a really hard leap, but now that I’ve done it, I’m really excited.” 

Luckily for him, Media Bureau—a hub of innovation and artistry quietly flourishing in this massive Northern Liberties warehouse—is one very big 
support system. 

Though Media Bureau, which produces and markets films and music videos, hosts performances both online and in-studio, and showcases, sells/auctions local and international artwork, has gotten attention over the years for a few of its many arts projects such as the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, the political site and the epic Fringe Festival performances it hosts every year, much of its work goes under the radar. 

“We like to think that the people we’re working with nobody knows,” says Media Bureau co-founder Benjamin Barnett. 

The Media Bureau’s four-story building houses five recording studios/retail spaces, an HD screening room, art gallery, Internet cafe, a few offices and a “dungeon.” 

Most days, the ground floor is used as a performance/storage space. When it’s rented out, it becomes whatever the artist wants it to be. One time, the space was turned into the set of a Haitian voodoo town for a film. 

The second floor is completely wide open. The screening room—a mismatched collection of couches and a projector screen—is in the center. It’s surrounded by a cool, junkyard-esque Internet cafe/bar and two large, nearly empty spaces where performances are held. When the Sankahya Yoga School or Philadelphia Acting Studio has a class in session, the area is simply cordoned off with a large black curtain. 

And the dungeon? It looks “pretty fucked up [down there],” Barnett warns. “It’s a pretty crazy spot … tons of IVs and spiderwebs” were created when the group was shooting a hellfire scene. “We built a throne … we managed to get 15 people down there gyrating.”

Launched in 1997 by Barnett, a Philly native, and his American University college buddies, Alan Rosenblatt and Richard Weissman, Media Bureau was originally conceived as a way “to take music, film and politics and create a channel,” says 44-year-old Barnett. “We proposed to produce, write and direct original content for the web.” 

Within the first year in business, the partnership paid off. The trio teamed up with WKDU to host one of the longest electronic-music marathons, or as Barnett calls it, “four days straight of DJs just kickin’ it in our studio.” 

Their weekly jam sessions usually featured a lineup of undiscovered local musicians. “It’s kind of like an exclusive club of musicians that roll in,” adds Keith Cohen, the operations manager. “They just love jamming.” Several that have come through Media Bureau’s garage door over the years have gone on to find international success, like Jill Scott, Arrested Development, the Dead Kennedys and Galactic. “We were always looking for music that was on the edge that was really, really good,” recalls Rosenblatt. “Had we gotten wrapped up in the more mainstream label thing, that would have really undermined our ability to do that.”

The company also streamed the Mayor’s Interactive Forum, the first political webcast in the city’s history. 

In 2000, they were hired by Mayor Street’s administration to document his first four years in office by filming videos of meetings and press events and posting them on for public view. 

That same year, they covered the presidential conventions, reaching more than 200,000 users. 

By 2001, the group was producing 12 original webisodes, which included “New Media Hour,” a weekly roundtable in which Barnett discussed new media trends with CEOs and developers, and a fantasy football radio show. Rosenblatt estimates that by then, Media Bureau had accumulated about 1,500 hours’ worth of archived video that had been streamed online—about 70 percent of which was music-related. The other 30 percent was groundbreaking local entertainment and politics. 

“We were a part of the original wave in the late ’90s of ‘webcasters’ that saw no difference between network television and the future of broadband,” Barnett says. 

They also took to heart the fact that they were in Philly, a great political news town that also happened to be a little behind the times.

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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:26AM

“saw the Jameson Van Horn Band perform last Friday at The Media Bureau for the Benefit for Brazil! Awesome! check them out on facebook, twitter, or ReverbNation...”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 02:47PM

“The Benefit for Brazil Concert was my first experience at the Media Bureau. This place is incredible! The Rock N' Roll Gods must have been smiling down upon us, because despite the at times overwhelming heat, all the bands rocked harder and played better than ever! There just seems to be something about this place that seems to channel creativity. All in all: great bands, kick-ass venue, and I can't wait to do it again. Hopefully it won't be one of the hottest days on record next time”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 03:15PM

“THis was my 3rd experience at the media bureau. I had been there a few times for the Philly Independent Film Festival, which was great. I have to say this was my best experience there despite the heat. They provided plenty of water which was great! I was blown away by the bands and how organized the show actually was. Even at "real venues" sometimes the sound is horrible or bands are late to play but this was very professional. Very Impressed! Go Harmonica Lewinskies!!”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 03:18PM

“Awesome bands. Awesome spot. do it up media bureau.

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5. Pious Traveler said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 06:32PM

“Wow! Great article on a spot I was at 10 years ago. It's great to see Philadelphia support the arts and politics like this and a place like this can thrive.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 06:48PM

“They had an fantastic play last summer during the Fringe Festival called "The Acting Class" - incredible!!! Great to see how much they inspire people to do what they love! Thanks, MBN - Keith, Ben, Bernard and THANKS to PW for covering this great gem!”

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7. Chester Coperpot said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 08:40PM

“I worked on an upcoming web series which we shot at the Media Bureau earlier this month. Bernard who runs the acting school out of Media Bureau helped us with casting, as well as acting in a supporting character role. There is not limit to the resources or talent that flow through the Media Bureau. It is wonderful to finally see this place get the recognition it deserves, great article. Keep up the good work MB!!”

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8. Richie RIch and The Poor People said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 01:42PM

“Hey this is Richie Rich and the Poor People we played the night of the Benefit For Brazil concert and wanted to say that we had a wonderful time at the Media Bureau. Big thanks to Steve and Ben for putting this together and we hope to play at this spot again sooon!!”

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9. Turnpike Collective said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 04:14PM

“Thank you to everyone involved with the show. The Media Bureau; Kieth Cohen, Ben Barnett, Bernard Glincosky! We could not have done it without your support! The bands; Luke Elliot, featured on the front page of the article, Richie Rich and the Poor People, Harmonica Lewinskis, Lower East Side Blues Collective, Jameson Van Horn Band, you all forced us to push through that heat and dance! Big ups to Harmonic Distortion for providing the lights and amazing audio! We are a force to be reckoned with, see you all at the next show! thank you PW!”

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10. 21st Century Fox said... on Jul 29, 2011 at 05:32PM

“Where is this place? I am not from Philadelphia. Looks like a great place for artists to meet business. Thank you.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jul 29, 2011 at 06:42PM

“so glad to see the MBN ppl getting the recognition they deserve. they are absolutely amazing bunch of guys esp Izzy Atkinson and Ben "for future reference" Barnett. inspiring and creative entrepreneurs!! love love love.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Jul 31, 2011 at 08:22AM

“I had my first experience with MBN just under 4 years ago. The quality of everything that they do is evidence of how much passion they have for art.They consistently put on excellent shows and you always feel like you're part of something special and sort of hidden. Thanks to Keith for bringing me there to begin with.”

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13. Jabba the Hut said... on Jul 31, 2011 at 08:51PM

“Rockers!! Haha! Kenny and Jigsey! Thx for that!”


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