Unofficial Orientation Series 2016: Wesleyan’s Music Scene

This is an update of my post from last year. Q wrote about this in 2013 and 2014. Some things have changed, but the scene here is still ‘unique, zealous, and sweaty.’

Delilah Seligman '16, Chris Sailor '16, Daniel Pope '16, and Harim Jung '16 performing at Middle House as Evil Deceiver, 5/4/2016

Delilah Seligman ’16, Chris Sailor ’16, Daniel Pope ’16, and Harim Jung ’16 performing at Middle House as Evil Deceiver, 5/4/2016

This is part of our 2016 Unofficial Orientation Series. A quick reminder that you can check out the welcome post here and past years’ series here.

The more I talk to college kids at other schools, the more I realize how much the music scene at Wesleyan sets itself apart. Though we have them, we are not confined to house parties and bars — there’s music nearly every day, all week. Often, there’s so much music that you can’t possibly go to it all, but you try anyway.

Once things get going, there are 3-5 concerts every weekend, sometimes even multiple shows a night. I’ve seen more bands than I have the energy to count with more variety than I can quantify simply  by wandering around at Wesleyan on a given weekend. The folks who book shows at Wesleyan work very hard to bring in all kinds of groups, well-known or just emerging, from punk to dance, and usually put one or two solid student bands on the list.

Many student bands have gone on to greater things, like Overcoats, Heems (Himanshu Suri ’07) of Das Racist (Suri and Victor Vasquez ’06), Novelty Daughter, Amanda Palmer ’98the Rooks, Henry Hall ’14 of Grand Cousin (RIP), AND MORE.

Seriously. It’s very special. What’s even better is that 95% of this stuff is totally free.

Do you have questions like “How do I find out what’s going on?” or “How do I find people to play music with?” or “Where can I go to concerts?”, this is the post for you.

Where are all the concerts at? Who has this crucial info?

Concert news tends to spread primarily through Facebook nowadays. One friend marks that they’re “interested” in an event, then all your friends say they’re also “interested,” and the cycle continues. This does sometimes happen in person, through real conversations with real other people. And walking between classes, you can usually find a few concert advertisement posters stapled to the many poster kiosks around campus.

Aural Wes is Wesleyan’s student-run music blog, and it’s The Place to find out what’s going on each weekend and the home of several artist interviews, a list of on-campus and alumni bands, and a very helpful weekly concert preview.

When I’m roaming around campus with my frosh horde-pack, where can I go to see shows?

First, here’s my personal rundown of where you can go to catch shows at Wesleyan on the weekends (and the occasional Wednesday) and what you’ll be able to find there:

Music House (MuHo) (200 High St.)
MuHo used to be at 230 Washington St. alongside Art House, and their joint efforts put on some good punk shows and some weird shit, too. But, dear frosh, when you arrive, MuHo will have their own space for the first time since 2014.

200 High Street used to be home to the Eclectic Society, but ResLife announced last year that due to repeated shitty behavior, the society would lose their residence. Because of its dominance in Wesleyan’s concert venue market, you’ll probably still hear upperclassfolks referring to that space as “Eclectic” (a habit that I will likely have trouble breaking). This will also be the home of the yearly Battle of the Bands, whose winner opens at Spring Fling. (More on Spring Fling later.)

This one’s kind of a curveball. As a group, the MuHo folks get to decide who plays in their living room, which is arguably the most spacious on campus and which is perhaps the holy grail of gig places. The Music House Vibe tends to be on the punk/indie side, which means that there will probably be less rap concerts and raves at 200 High Street, but I still expect some excellent shows.

Art House (230 Washington St.)
Art House, over the course of its two-year partnership with Music House, became a great spot for punk groups like Girlpool, the amazing Downtown Boysthe Murdertones (Luke ’17 and Angus Macdonald ’16 do punk covers of Beatles songs), and Wesleyan band Faceplant as well as some pretty out-there experimental rock groups like VAX. Anybody But The Cops and Juan Wauters also performed there in 2014. Art/MuHo has been the home of a lot of good Thursday night shows. Hopefully that trend continues.

Art House tends to be a very student-band-friendly space. Rui Barbosa and friends played a show of Disney covers there once, and the 2015 alumni in Slow Parade came back last year to relive their glory days.

Middle House (MidHo) (356 Washington St.)
MidHo is hard to categorize as a concert venue — it’s been home to concerts from shoegazey rock band Delicate Steve, alt cellist Mel Hsu ’13, queer punk duo PWR BTTM, indie darling Mount Eerie, math/post-rock group Horse Lords, and North Carolina jam band Midnight Snack. Generally, the acts are all pretty out there, all extremely unique, and worth the trek to their far corner of campus. Due to another house name change last year, you might be confused when you hear people talking about a show at “BuHo,” but they really mean “MidHo.”

200 Church
Church is kind of an ‘anything goes’ type of space — it holds musicals, DJ sets, a cappella concerts, student bands, spoken-word acts like Darkmatter, shows by the student-run story collective The Sloth.. seriously anything.

Alpha Delt (185 High St.)
They don’t throw concert parties that often, but the Alpha Delta Phi society really knows how to do so. I’ve seen dark-pop duo Turbo Goth, New Jersey punk trio Screaming Females, alumni band The Rooks, student band MFDP (it stands for ‘Music for Drunk People’), Asian-American rap extraordinaire Awkwafina, and the inimitable Sky Bars. They put on a concert on Halloween last year that I only vaguely remember, but it was fun.

WestCo Café (underneath WestCo 3)
Since the Café has a lot of space, it’s usually the home of weird musicals like Tragikingdom, a musical set in the Middle Ages and written around the songs of No Doubt, as well as a bunch of smaller concerts. Bands like Sun Parade and Cuddle Magic have performed here. Sometimes there are also raves there? I’m not sure. It’s also home to an open mic night, and occasionally people get to play sad acoustic music in a graveyard.

Earth House (159 High St.)
Earth House is generally a pretty chill space. From the mouth of Q: “Almost any band can come through here as long as they’re down for a comfy tight space, warm lights, and dope atmosphere. Earth House always provides fresh concerts that vary widely in genre but stay consistent in quality.” Two years ago, Earth House was home to concerts from badass rocker Mitski, Latin-inspired jazz alumni band Don Froot, one-musician powerhouse Mal Devisa, and “Providence techno weirdos” Container. Last year, alumni artists like Jess Best and Overcoats came back to perform here. 

Last year, most off-campus bands would perform in Art or Music House, Middle House, or The Artist Formerly Known As Eclectic, but I noticed that Earth House tended to be a very student-oriented space. My band Dark Circles played there several times last year, along with other student bands like The Good Lonely, Five Guys, Evil Deceiver, and many many more.

Senior Houses / Junior Village
A lot of student bands end up playing in someone’s living room just for fun. In various places around Senior Village, High Rise, and Lo Rise, I’ve seen a Strokes cover band, a cappella groups, and student DJs. In the words of Q, “No real point in saying much except that there are parties and concerts there, so why not go?”

However, these eight spots aren’t the only places to find music at Wesleyan. The Center for the Arts brings a lot of unique music, dance, and other performing arts groups from across the country and even internationally. They brought the Vijay Iyer Trio a couple years ago and even Heems for an artist talk last year and have held a lot of interesting artist talks, among many, many other things. You can find a lot of jazz and classical stuff in Crowell Concert Hall, theater in the CFA Hall, world music in the World Music Hall. CFA events are usually ticketed and not always free, so it’s best to keep your eyes peeled on this here blog for CFA event posts (submitted by our friend Andy Chatfield) or bookmark the CFA events calendar so you’re always a step ahead.

Wesleyan is home to a dozen or so a cappella groups which perform all around campus — in Olin Library, in the Memorial Chapel, wherever. The Memorial Chapel also hosts a lot of concerts, with acts like Waxahatchee and Henry Hall, and the space is very mellow. But my favorite musical event BY FAR that happened in there was the yearly Organ Romp, the final concert for the organ class, every May. Two years ago, two guys who wore tin foil hats performed “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats in onesies. On the organ. Last year, the same guys played “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the organ, and Justin Green ’16 sang while STANDING ON TOP OF THE ORGAN. There were also a lot of strange costumes and interpretive dancing. (Welcome to Wesleyan.)

The infamous Zonker Harris Day happens every April, usually around 4/20 but ‘officially’ on the weekend after WesFest. Along with the, uh, recreations is a day-long music festival in the WestCo courtyard with around ten campus bands playing their tunes for you.

There’s also Spring Fling every May, for which a committee of students brings in a hip-hop headliner, a supporting indie band, a DJ, and whatever student band wins the Battle of the Bands that year. Then they all play at the foot of Foss Hill and everyone gets drunk. It’s a good time.

The next of many outdoor concerts is The Mash, in which the CFA sets up three or four different stages around campus and at which bands play each day. This year, the Mash will be on Friday, Sept. 9, and maybe you can even watch President Michael Roth’s band, Smokin Lillies, at a stage near you.

What’s the concert atmosphere like?

The concert atmosphere kind of depends on the place, but people at Wes are generally pretty good about looking after each other. Rock shows have mosh pits, all shows have crowds and people dancing. Some crowds are smaller than others, and that largely depends on the venue and band playing, but they’re all fun, regardless of how many people are there.

Another personal interjection: mosh pits are great. They’re terrifying as a smaller person, but I love them. And I’ve found the ubiquitous mosh pits at Wes to be much safer and less annoying than the ones in my hometown’s punk scene. That being said, I’d still like to volunteer ztevenz’s 2014 post “‘______ Fall Back’: On Concert Culture, Moshing and (Un)Safe Spaces” as recommended reading.

How are the student bands here?

Two words: fucking awesome.

Last year, I think I went to more shows headlined by or prominently featuring current Wesleyan musicians than I went to shows by off-campus artists. These are almost all the bands currently operating on campus. A lot of musicians graduated last year but I hope and expect that some of you will start to fill the ranks, dear froshies. Wesleyan is home to punk groups, rock-pop groups, experimental thrash groups, emo/pop-punk groups, and a unique brand of jazz/hip-hop fusion, as showcased by bands like Sky Bars and senior band Chef.

Last year, Rachel Day ’16 started the Live Recording Collective, a group loosely related to Sound Co-op that set out to record as many Wesleyan concerts as possible. Their Soundcloud page has recordings from student bands and pros alike, including Sloopy Coos Canyon, Waxahatchee, Mal Devisa, and more.

Wait. What’s Sound Co-op?

The Wesleyan Sound Cooperative provides gear for all the kiddos angsting to play loud music in front of people. They operate out of the basement of the University Organizing Center and if you join, you can learn how to mix a good live set, use all the equipment, make friends with musicians and have an ~in~ with the scene, and maybe make some money while you’re at it.

Cool! I play some sort of music too. How do I play music with other people who also play music so we can all play music together?

At the beginning of the year, I can guarantee that someone will post something on a WesAdmits page like: “Hey everyone! I play guitar and am looking for some people to play some post-rock shoegaze with. Anyone down to jam? :)” And this will likely be how you find a band. But as a musician, you’ll probably end up making friends with other musicians anyway, and these friendships will be your gateway into the world of music at Wesleyan. If you don’t know how to make friends with other musicians, consider going to the biweekly open mics in the WestCo Café or just going to a lot of shows.

If you want to record things, you can do that here too! Red Feather Studios, located in the basement of the University Organizing Center, is an entirely student-run recording studio. They have the shmancy gear and several album recording credits to prove it.

If you want to book an outside band to play at Wesleyan sometime this year, the process is long and tedious but worth it. You can read how to do that here on Aural Wes.

A lot of student musicians graduated last year and the venue scene is changing, but things change all the time. Wesleyan’s music scene has always thrived despite all these large changes, and I don’t think the scene will suffer. So, expect anything. Expect everything.