An Alternative Yardfe$t

Harvard’s spring festival can benefit from Indie groups

News last week that Das Racist and the Cataracs will be the main acts performing at Harvard’s 2012 Yardfest is unlikely to excite die-hard fans of the Top 40. After The Crimson confirmed the line-up from the groups themselves, some online reaction was swift. On Harvard FML—great arbiters of students discourse its commenters no doubt are—the most discussed post on March 21 was the following: “Cataracts and Das Racist? Who are those people? Why do we let disgusting indie hipsters run our lives? FOL.” “Indie hipsters” is, of course, only partly fair to Das Racist and the Cataracs, both of which are hip-hop groups, based in respectively in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. True, these are not the “most mainstream” acts, but equally they hardly qualify as the most indie, alternative choices that Harvard’s event board could possibly select. More to the point, performances that are a little out-of-the-ordinary should always be welcome at an annual “festival” like Yardfest.

Neither group should feel any pressure to prove their credentials to skeptical Harvardians. Das Racist, perhaps most famous for its 2011 single “Pizza Hut Tacco Bell Combination” that has come to epitomize its refreshing blend of rap and humor, achieved broad recognition and plaudits for its first commercial album, “Relax,” released last September. The Cataracs’ work, much of it well known on campus, includes “Top of the World,” viewed over 23 million times on YouTube, and cannot be dismissed as an esoteric indie-alternative group without broad appeal. The group produced and wrote 2010’s “Like a G6,” which was sung by last Yardfest’s headline act Far East Movement. So while one group continues a sharp rise to fame, the other will no doubt continue to produce its own interesting content while working with some of the most talented artists in the industry.

That these groups have not quite, or not yet, reached the same level of superstardom as some of their peers is a good thing. With each season’s newest (or “freshest”) and most listened-to hip-hop, R&B, and occasional electronic singles on perpetual repeat cycle at college events and parties, America’s most popular songs can hold a monotonous grip on daily life. At parties, in the dining hall, in stores, the music is always the same. Some kind of audio stimulation that Harvard students might not have been exposed to three times a day for the past two months is hence very welcome.

While other universities meanwhile spend large sums attracting the most in-demand acts, Harvard can avoid such extravagant expenditure on performances that really aren’t worth it. Note, for example, the extra sums Columbia University shelled out for last year’s Bacchanal, its own equivalent of Yardfest, to pay for Snoop Dogg’s appearance. Without doubt, recruiting T-Pain and Tiësto respectively for Yale and the University of Pennsylvania’s Spring Flings must not come cheap either. Detractors of indie groups should also consider that mainstream rap and electronic dance music often prove the most divisive of all styles in campus communities.

Aside from the main point that constantly played “mainstream” acts are often very expensive to hire, Harvard students should conversely bear in mind that they do not pay for Yardfest, or at least don’t pay for it directly. No one has exactly been forced to buy an expensive concert ticket for something they don’t want to see. Instead, this can be an opportunity to embrace choices that push many toward music they don’t habitually listen to or, in this case, fast food combinations that may initially sound unappetizing.

More importantly, it is not obvious how much the presence of well-known but not universally loved hip-hop groups over a generic Top 40 artist will do to change Yardfest’s core function on campus. Again, Yardfest is not a concert to which individuals have bought tickets in order to see a specific artist. The event is instead about celebrating on a boozy Sunday, while pretending that (likely non-existent) hot spring weather is here to stay and Harvard students are always convivial in each other’s company. So if you like hip-hop with a twist, then celebrate. If not, admit the music is probably not the main factor you consider when choosing whether or not to go to the annual spectacle that is Yardfest.