Unofficial Orientation Series 2017: Wes Music Scene

This is an update of Maya‘s update of their post from 2015. 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 2017 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.

2017 update: “In the past year, there have been a few new regulations placed on the student-run concert scene by ResLife and others. The process by which these regulations were implemented has led a number of student musicians into action and frustration. There are still a large number of students who are committed to the music scene on campus and its survival, but I think it’s important that we tell some of the stories that have really made an impact on the music scene.”

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 (mostly Maya‘s with some 2k17 updates by wilk) 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:

Movement House (MoHo?) (200 High St.)

Movement House will be joining Ubuntu House, Haven Hall, and South Asian House as one of four brand new program houses/halls this year. Movement House will be located at 200 High St, taking the place of Music House, which took the place of Eclectic. Attempts by MuHo and Eclectic to regain 200 High for this coming year were unsuccessful.

Proposed by Naomi Wright ’17 and Julia Natt ’19, the house’s mission lists as one of its goals: “to throw functions that showcase and support performing artists.” Because of this and the sheer size of 200 High’s ballroom, I think Movement House will be a staple of the music scene.

200 High Street used to be home to the Eclectic Society, but ResLife announced 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.)

As a group, the MoHo 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.

Music House (MuHo) (202 Washington St.)

Music House 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. Last year, MuHo had their own space for the first time since 2014. Now, they’re back to sharing.

MuHo will now share 202 Washington St. with Full House. The house is actually quite large and had no reputation whatsoever for parties until last year, when I attended a “mac & cheese party” at the beginning of last Fall. The party had the full sound co-op PA setup along with 5 or so trays of mac & cheese to eat during the dance party. The space is definitely large enough to host concerts, but both the residents and HMs of MuHo and Full House will have to agree to host them.

The Music House Vibe tends to be on the punk/indie side, which means that there will probably be fewer rap concerts and raves at 202 Wash, but I still expect some excellent shows. Last year, the residents of MuHo brought Frankie Cosmos for an intimate pre-finals show.

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. Overcoats played a very good show there in 2015, where they debuted “The Fog”. Busty and the Bass also changed my life at Art House. 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 two years ago to relive their glory days.

Malcolm X House (X House) (345 High St)

Malcolm X House (or ‘X House’ for short) is a program house attached to the back of the Center for African American Studies (CAAS). The house has a basement that is one of the largest student-run event spaces on campus (along with the WestCo Cafe and the 200 High St. Ballroom), and often hosts concerts, dance parties, ciphers, and numerous other performances.

Last year, two of my favorite shows were hosted in the X House basement. Noname graced a full house in mid-fall 2016 and Kool A.D. came back to Wesleyan at the end of Spring Break for a truly wild show.

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, 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, former 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. I also have a video somewhere of Cuddle Magic performing in an Earth House bedroom last year (shh don’t tell).

Last year, most off-campus bands would perform in Music House, Middle House, or Art House, but I noticed that Earth House tended to be a very student-oriented space. Maya‘s band Dark Circles played there several times, 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 in 2015, 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.)

Beckham Hall (located in that big Hogwarts-y building with the two spires) is also a very large event space that occasionally hosts concerts. This space usually has to be booked months in advance. Last year, Isaiah Rashad performed in Beckham and I wrote about it. Also, before my time, Cam’ron performed in Beckham for 24 minutes.

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. ZHD has a twin festival (Duke Day) in November held in the WestCo Cafe. The four presidents of WestCo, along with some other committed residents and members of Klub Cafe work to plan both festivals. If you’re a frosh living in WestCo, there are a lot of ways to get immediately involved in organizing shows and events.

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. Last year’s Spring Fling headliner was Vic Mensa. In the past we’ve also managed to book Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar.

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 Saturday, Sept. 9, and maybe you can even watch President Michael Roth’s band, Smokin Lillies, at a stage near you. Wesleying will likely be extending its coverage of the Mash this year, so look out for some preview posts going up fairly soon.

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.

An important note from Maya:

“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.

A couple years ago, 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. 2017 update: THIS SHOULD CONTINUE!

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.

The scene is changing? How is it changing?

Before I get too deep into some history and policy, I do want to say that I think Maya‘s closing words from last year’s post still ring true for the most part:

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.

This is perennially true. Another perennial truth is that many seniors will always complain that the music/party scene is so much worse than when they were a freshman. You probably will do this too.

But, while there are many real historical events that people often cite as evidence for this conclusion (the ending of Senior Cocks, the ban of Tour de Franzia, the closure of frats, the lowering of senior house capacities, and more), the rhetoric that is used to connect these events to the tired conclusion always seems as though it comes directly from the mouth of Owen Wilson’s character from Midnight in Paris while he is drunk-crying in a rocking chair on the porch of 52 Home after a night of angst-ridden soul searching on Fountain. In other words, the argument is always real bad.

BUT, there are several things that I want to highlight that happened last year that have had and will have an impact on the music scene at Wesleyan:

ResLife almost-banning all concerts at program houses

If you have ever read a “no-jumping” joke on this blog, you are about to get the backstory. Last August, during ResLife student worker training (right before Orientation), all HMs (House Managers, the RA-pseudo-equivalent of program houses) were called into a meeting with their area coordinators (non-student ResLife employees that you might have to meet with if you get some points) and told that all parties and concerts would be banned from program houses for the upcoming school year. Their initial reasoning was that the floors of program houses and certain new furniture purchased over the summer could not handle the “jumping” and associated rowdiness that concerts bring.

This prompted around 30 or so ResLife student employees (HMs and RAs alike) to meet separately and approve a 7-page letter detailing the negative impacts this decision would have on the Wesleyan community.

Within a day, ResLife had rolled back its new “policy” of a blanket ban on all concerts in program houses. Fran Koerting, director of ResLife, communicated a new policy that would restrict program houses to hosting one concert per mission-based event (a pre-existing requirement for program houses). The stated rationale for this policy was different from the rationale for the initial ban. This policy was to ensure that program houses kept true to their mission statements.

To my knowledge, this was the first regulation on concerts based on their value to the community and not on other factors such as safety and financial contracts. At the time, this policy was stated to be in a trial period, but there has been no update to the greater campus community as to whether this policy will continue.

ResLife bans stages from concerts

Questions over the administration’s perspective on the value of the student-run concert scene at Wesleyan gained new life when, toward the end of the Fall 2016 semester, ResLife banned all stages for concerts, pending stress tests of the floors. This Argus article from February of this year summarizes both the intent and response to this stage ban. President Roth and Fran Koerting both cited safety as the primary motivator of this policy, after instances of several floors collapsing (AAA House a few years ago, along with the floors of two senior houses in the past year alone).

Several students familiar with the policy mentioned that the Malcolm X House basement and the WestCo Cafe were exempt from the ban because their floors couldn’t possibly collapse by virtue of them being basement spaces. However, I didn’t confirm this with ResLife employees.

During Reunion & Commencement, several students remarked that the Eclectic alumni event held in 200 High was permitted to have a stage in the ballroom. It’s still unclear if a stress test was formally done on the floor of 200 High St before that event, but several students didn’t refrain from speculating that there was a double-standard operating which allowed for the alumni to have a stage, while student-organized events were still barred from using stages.

***

The impact of both of these policies on the music scene are fairly difficult to parse for a number of reasons: (1) there is natural drift in the music scene, (2) the policies are a year (or less) old, (3) it’s just hard to measure.

Certainly, they’ve had an impact on student musicians and others who help organize the music scene. More regulations means more work. And, speaking from personal experience, students often max out their work capacity every semester, whether they want to or not. So, while it’s hard for me to imagine a specific person making the decision to forego booking a specific show because of the new concert policy, I recognize that the perception of the work involved is hugely powerful and potentially detrimental to the music scene.

Also, while the safety concerns over stages are extremely valid, there is also a safety issue in the absence of stages. Stages can serve to separate performers and expensive equipment from occasionally-rowdy crowds. This, in addition to a Public Safety and/or Event Staff presence can ensure the safety of the performers. However, it’s hard to know whether this is a common concern among musicians on- and off-campus.

The music scene will continue to thrive if people want it to do so. Go to shows. Book them. Do both of these things frequently, for no other reason than because you want to and because people like music. And, if new regulations come down the line, talk about them, demand to help shape them, and respond to them if you need to.

And have a real good time.