“The Record Hospital” doesn’t fix broken vinyl. It uses music to cure its audience from a chronic malady—a boring music collection. Long into the night, 10 p.m. - 5 a.m., Monday through Friday, and Sunday nights from 12 a.m. - 5 a.m., a crowd of nocturnal Harvard DJs rock the Boston airwaves with underground hardcore, punk, emo, electronica, noise and other equally non-mainstream genres.
I sat in with DJs Jim L. Fingal ’05 and Chris A. Kukstis ’05. In addition to their Eliot house suite, the roommates also share the midnight-2 a.m. timeslot Thursday nights, playing what Jim calls their “dilectic” contrast of emotional post-hardcore/noise (Jim) and pop/indie (Chris). The two switch off sets, changing it up with a peppering of almost-funny banter. They’re fun to listen to and even more fun to hang out with in the studio, as they run in circles “pulling” and “prepping” records, switching dials and doing something that resembles gentle headbanging.
Jim shows up at the WHRB studio in Pennypacker basement to “pull,” or choose the records for his show. Chris has already pulled his earlier in the day and they wait, in order, in a crate on the floor of the Record Hospital (RH) lounge. The lounge overflows with surprisingly well-organized CDs and variously-sized vinyls of mostly obscure bands. Jim pulls out a few and shows me the covers, which have little comment notes all over them; each rock DJ adds his/her own little stick-on critiques for the reference of future rock DJs. “After two years, you get a sense of which DJs you agree with,” he explains.
Jim samples some of the albums he’s chosen as he gives me a 10 minute crash-course on emo, hardcore and noise music, using quirky adjectives like “sludgy,” “fuzzy” and “aesthetically interesting.” He’s known that he wanted to DJ since before he came to Harvard and, with typical pre-frosh eagerness, emailed the folks at WHRB before he even came to Cambridge.
Jim carefully lays out his albums in the studio as the DJ before him finishes up his set. The order of the show, he explains, is carefully chosen, though his particular motivations for it are “difficult to articulate.”
Chris shows up. When he was a freshman, his already-burgeoning interest in underground music led him to the WHRB studio. Tonight he cracks open a bottle of wine, pouring himself, Jim and me each a glass. They’re both getting giddy and excited for the show, and by now I am, too.
Jim takes the first set. After five songs he announces for his audience the names of the bands and tracks he’s played so far, and adds some critical analysis for fun. “I don’t know how I feel about that album art. They’re moving a little too much towards graphics,” he adds into the microphone in his gentle and pleasant, but confident on-air voice.
Chris takes over. “I thought you might need a break from the stuff Jim was playing,” he jokes to his audience as he throws on a catchy indie tune called “Avante Garde Music” by Ballboy.
Chris gets a call-in from a listener, curious about one of the bands he’s played earlier in the night. He talks to him for about five minutes. “Once we got a call from someone in prison,” he tells me.
The show is over, and the DJs are glistening with post-coital-like euphoria. “At the end of my shift I was filled with a sense of well-being that stayed with me for the rest of the night,” Jim reflected later.
When their time ends, Jim and Chris hand over the show to the next DJ who will take over until 3:30 a.m. Everyone agrees that the 3:30 a.m. - 5:00 a.m. shift is the toughest. RH saves that one for the brand new DJs, those freshly graduated from the comp. At 5:00 am, the Classical department will take over the air—but the night belongs to rock and roll.