According to drummer Shirley L. Hufstedler ’07, when student musicians from other colleges come to play at Harvard, they are often surprised to find its rock-and-roll scene so “repressed.”
“Maybe not ‘repressed,’” Hufstedler says after a moment’s pause. “Maybe ‘absent’ is the right word.”
The impression that Harvard lacks a strong alternative music scene is something that Hufstedler is working to debunk as the president of the Harvard College Alliance for Rock and Roll (HCARAR). The group, which aims to advance rock music by fostering community among student musicians, launched its first major event last night: an intercollegiate “Battle of the Bands” to showcase rock ensembles.
Spanning three nights at Tommy Doyle’s Pub and Restaurant at 96 Winthrop St., the Battle of the Bands features five Harvard groups (Blanks., Linus, Major Major, Plan B for the Type A’s, and Maya) and four bands from nearby Boston colleges. Four of the nine acts performed last night, while the rest will take the stage on Tuesday. Two bands from each night will advance to face off in a final showdown on March 21.
Hufstedler says that while the event is shaped as a competition, its true purpose is to give visibility to alternative music groups and to encourage networking among student musicians. Accordingly, HCARAR hosted a “musicians’ pre-party” for the battle’s contestants before last night’s show got underway.
“It’s hopefully a first effort to allow musicians to get to know each other better, form a better community, and let people meet other musicians so they can start new bands,” Hufstedler says.
The Battle of the Bands is the product of a partnership between Hufstedler and Veritas Records director James M. Rhodes ’06. As a freshman, Rhodes had attended a similar type of show at the House of Blues, the now-closed establishment whose space Tommy Doyle’s took over.
“A ton of people came, and it was very successful,” Rhodes recalls of the event.
Hufstedler and Rhodes have revived the competition, which had formerly been limited to Harvard bands, and expanded it to include rock groups from other colleges. Drawing both word of mouth and the ever-trusty Google, the pair tapped bands from Northeastern, Boston College, Brandeis, and Berkelee to compete in the battle.
Because of their intimate relationship with Harvard’s musical community (Hufstedler is the drummer in Plan B for the Type A’s, and Rhodes is Linus’ guitarist), recruiting bands from their own campus required a more democratic approach. “We decided there wasn’t a fair way to choose except for setting up some kind of voting system,” Hufstedler says.
After the Undergraduate Council volunteered its website as a forum for student voting, Hufstedler and Rhodes sent out emails over house lists and recruited eight bands for the contest. Over the course of 48 hours, approximately 600 students cast their votes and elected five competitors for the battle.
Contestants have expressed enthusiasm for the battle. Linus’ drummer Matthew W. Smith ’07 says he views the event as a chance to “see what other bands’ sounds are like,” while Maya’s drummer Dhaval Chadha ’08 mentions the opportunity to reach out to new audiences.
“Each band has their friends and their smaller fan followings, so it will be nice to get known across all the kids at Harvard who are into student music,” he says.
The battle is just one in a long list of HCARAR’s goals in its larger mission to support campus rock. HCARAR is currently designing a “massive website” on which musicians can post lists of practice spaces around campus, detail the kinds of equipment in each one, put up band profiles, and advertise their shows.
HCARAR is also working to secure a portable audio system for Harvard’s musicians to access. Hufstedler describes this as the “vital missing piece” of equipment to be found on campus.
“Even though that’s maybe not the crutch of a band’s equipment,” she says, “it’s really difficult to get up on stage and perform and that’s the first time you’ve ever heard your vocals.”
The core of HCARAR’s mission is to bolster Harvard’s alternative music scene so that it doesn’t allow for what Hufstedler now sees as a “self-perpetuating” vicious cycle.
“You arrive here, you realize there isn’t any big music scene going on, you don’t get interested in the limited music scene there is, and kids don’t get excited about going out and seeing their peers perform. We’d like to try and change that.”
Furthermore, Hufstedler says that HCARAR would like to open up the music scene to any interested musicians, without concern for past experience.
“We’re trying to let people see that regardless of who you are, what you do, you can be making music too if you want to,” she says. “We want to be able to provide people with the resources to be able to do that.”