Friday evening, the Susan Stein Shiva Theater was packed with avid music fans rooting for their favorite student bands and cheering on their friends. It’s Josselyn House’s tradition to host a yearly Battle of the Bands, where student musicians gather in a crowded theater to flaunt their talents and let loose.
The event coordinator from Josselyn House, Sophia Yoo ’19 described her role in organizing the event.
She contributed, “We, as Joss House Team, got a lot of help from other groups of people (mainly VICE Student Music) to put on this event. While Student Music was able to provide technical help with providing equipments and setting them up, we worked a lot on organizing the logistics of the event, from reserving the space, renting certain equipment, to facilitating communications between the groups. As far as programming the actual event, we created an application online where student musicians on campus could apply. We were also responsible for creating posters and Facebook events publicizing the audition and the actual event.”
Since it wouldn’t be ethical for those who did auditions to also serve as judges, the crew was divided into two separate committees. The judging panel is comprised of members of the Joss House Team and Student Music.
Yoo stated, “I was a part of auditions committee, and we reviewed the applicants and selected the performers for the show. We were able to accommodate five, due to the limited time we had planned in the space. We then reached out to the bands, confirmed the lineup, and created schedules for the sound checks, etc. … Even though Joss HT members did not have the specific knowledge like technical set-up, we communicated between different aspects of the event like sound, light and space.”
The five featured bands were Lathrop Underground, Townperson B, Nichols Franzen, Spud Cannon and Cole Turkey, performing a mix of styles consisting of indie-pop, alternative rock and acoustic American Heartland.
The final winners were: Spud Cannon (first), Cole Turkey (second) and Lathrop Underground (third).
Member of Cole Turkey Cole Fisher ’18 shared his excitement regarding the event’s outcome, saying, “Battle of the Bands was an absolute blast this year, honestly. Each of the acts was fantastic and we’re lucky enough to be playing during a surge of new, really friendly talent in the Vassar student music scene. I’m glad that people like Paper Dots and Townsperson B are getting some of the attention they deserve for their originality.”
Fisher also expressed concerns that music, as an art form, shouldn’t be evaluated and graded based on one competition. It is especially hard to compare when every band’s style varies.
He argued, “As for the competitive aspect, I gotta say that I (and my band mates) don’t particularly agree with the format. Ranking musicians—who often differ in style a great deal—as better/worse than one another is an unnecessarily toxic practice. I understand the pop appeal of a “battle” as opposed to just a showcase, but frankly this school does a very poor job of providing performance opportunities or creative spaces to student musicians and when the biggest show of the year is a “battle” it can become problematic. Luckily, every performer in attendance was entirely supportive of one another and the whole show had a very nice vibe. It’s just a shame that you gotta pit artists against one another to draw a crowd at Vassar.”
Despite the competitive nature of the event, Battle of the Bands does afford groups the opportunity to showcase their development for an audience of supportive and passionate peers.
Keyboardist of Spud Cannon Ariana Bowe ’20 described the type of sound the band was pursuing at the show and in practice, saying, “We draw our inspiration primarily from The Strokes, but our sound is also influenced by Cage the Elephant, other alternative/indie bands and more recently the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ album.”
The overall atmosphere of the night was exhilarating. Dark silhouettes bobbed against light patches on the wall. Audiences swayed to the rhythm of the songs.
Katherine Niu ’20 commented, “I really enjoyed Battle of the Bands. I mainly came to see Lathrop Underground perform because I’ve seen them perform previously and they never fail to impress. However, I also loved seeing the other bands perform. Spud Cannon brought an especially vibrant energy into the room, [getting everyone] dancing. Overall, good vibes, good times. I hope Stu Mu puts on more events like this one in the future!”
Bowe concluded, “Playing the Battle of the Bands has been our most fun and engaging show yet. The Shiva was filled with supportive, fun, and all around good vibes–it was an honor just to play in the venue alongside such talented bands, and it was thrilling to see so many familiar faces in the audience. It was so low-key and fun that I found myself forgetting the competitive aspect. Overall it was an incredibly positive experience, and I’d play the show ten times over if I could.”