Sad Bear GVNG throws dynamic, music-rich parties with a purpose | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Sad Bear GVNG throws dynamic, music-rich parties with a purpose

click to enlarge Sad Bear GVNG throws dynamic, music-rich parties with a purpose
CP PHOTO: MARS JOHNSON
Wade Anthony Jr. and DJ Femi, founders of Sad Bear GVNG, pose for a portrait at Randyland on the Northside.

Don’t call Sad Bear GVNG’s events “concerts.” Or even just “shows.” The parties thrown by the local organization are an entire experience, from the moment someone purchases a ticket to long after venue doors close, for both guests and performers alike.

“As a community company, not only are we throwing parties, we’re trying to involve everyone to be part of it,” Wade Anthony, who co-founded Sad Bear GVNG (or SBG, for short) with Bria “DJ Femi” Thomas, tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “It’s about the perception. It's not about the door fee. It's about what we’re going to give you.”

And what is Sad Bear going to give you? Exposure to new sounds, art, culture, and forms of entertainment. 

Anthony and Thomas launched Sad Bear GVNG (pronounced “gang”) about two and a half years ago after discussing what makes a “better" artist and performance, and how to present that elevated experience to Pittsburgh’s music community. 

“‘Better’ is highlighting artists that are really grinding out there, not just something that’s good today. You want something that's going to last tomorrow,” says Anthony. “Music is timeless, so we want to get back to the basics and foundation.”

The pair, whose music ventures have taken them across the country, aim to not only provide a safe and lucid party atmosphere (Thomas has been sober for a few years now) but also a platform that delivers more diverse musical genres — like Afrobeat, amapiano, or Washington, D.C. go-go — to the City of Bridges. 

“Surprisingly, there's only like two [go-go] songs that I could play that only some people would recognize,” Anthony says of the funky music subgenre with origins dating back to the 1960s. 

“[Pittsburgh] has been so wrapped up in hip-hop and R&B, part of our role in this scene here is exposing people to new genres,” Thomas tells City Paper. “From traveling so much, we were able to get so much different exposure. That became part of the mission statement, to bring back a lot of our exposures and incorporate some of these new things into our own [local] culture of music and art. That became one of our biggest passions, exposing people to what things could be ... Bringing different worldly sounds to the actual party scene.”

click to enlarge Sad Bear GVNG throws dynamic, music-rich parties with a purpose
CP PHOTO: MARS JOHNSON
Wade Anthony Jr. and DJ Femi, founders of Sad Bear GVNG pose for a portrait at Randyland.

Sad Bear GVNG works to deliver the music authentically; the way the tunes should be experienced. Recently, the pair, which curate DJ-centric events like the monthly UpBeat dance party at Brillobox in Bloomfield, started adding live elements to their shows. Pittsburgh-based musician and composer Roger Rafael Romero, aka Feralcat, joined Sad Bear GVNG’s AFRO HAUS party on March 1, bringing along his saxophone for live accompaniment. 

This summer marks the third annual Summa-Lumma DJ Festival, where Anthony and Thomas will invite performers from outside of Pittsburgh to play in the city, bringing even more of that musical exposure to a local level. 

“That’s where the idea to bring in a violin or a saxophone player came in,” Anthony says. “That's where the ‘better’ portion of that conversation comes into play.”

In that vein, SBG also believes that an artist is better by selling their pain or various backgrounds. 

“The pain comes from all the vulnerability that comes with performing on stage,” Thomas says. “It’s so vulnerable to share, with someone, your art, self-expression. It’s giving a lot of yourself. People expect you to be happy-go-lucky all day and give them your best self at all times, and it is kind of our job to do that, but we are also human beings, so acknowledging that Sad Bear is coming from a place of pain, it resonates with mostly everyone we talk to.”

Anthony expands on this, saying, “Music triggers so many memories, so sometimes my empathy allows me to connect with a crowd at a specific moment. Not all those memories are great, not all those memories are sad, but a majority of my motivation comes from pain. My father passed, and he was a huge music person, so when I’m doing specific events, I think about what he would be listening to and do my best rendition of that.”

Off stage, fans can check out Sad Bear Radio, a streaming channel where Anthony and Thomas build upon previous shows, or entice potential partygoers to experience an upcoming event..

“Most of our parties will have a playlist, so even before you come to a show, you can listen and see if you really want to be there,” Anthony explains. “Because we really want to be there and want people who really want to be there, too ... We focus on local — community is going to make this bigger.”

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By Mars Johnson