Regardless of their opinions of his music, it would be pretty cool for most college bands to be able to say that they have opened for Ben Harper.
Those bragging rights are on the line as ten of Yale’s bands compete this weekend in the annual Battle of the Bands contest. To be held this Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Tune Inn on Center Street, the four-hour whirlwind of rock, pop, funk and more will determine the groups that will open for the headlining act at Spring Fling.
The competition serves another purpose as well — it is an important showcase for the Yale live music scene that many say is having one of its best years in a long time.
It also should be a hell of a good time.
“Battle of the Bands reminds me of, like, the Partridge Family or Back to the Future. It’s a ridiculous, fun thing every college is supposed to have,” said Kyle Jarrow ’01, keyboard and vocalist for Brother Ray.
Battle of the Bands is sponsored and organized by the Yale College Council. Five judges from various campus organizations, including student publications and WYBC, Yale’s student-run radio station, will select the four or five best bands.
Andrew Allison ’04, who coordinated the Harvard-Yale Battle of the Bands in Cambridge before The Game this fall, is running this year’s competition. He said the judges will base their decisions on the bands’ “talent, and songs, and if they strike you as a band you would want to listen to at an outside venue.”
Each of the ten bands — General Tso and the Tenderbites, Gooden, NIYM, Cat Stevens Macarena Band, Milo, Skin the Goat, Brother Ray, Full Service, Flying Dutchmen and Hung Jury — will play a 20-minute set.
For the first time this year, the contest will be held at The Tune Inn instead of Toad’s Place. Band members and organizers say the venue is great, with intimate, comfortable seating and good sound equipment. They just hope students will make the effort to find it.
“Not as many Yalies are going to walk down there,” said Simeon Papacostas ’02, lead vocalist of Skin the Goat.
The Tune Inn is located on Center Street, which is off of Church Street past the Chapel Square Mall.
“It’s a great place to see shows,” Allison said.
The Tune Inn also cut YCC a great deal.
“The Tune Inn is basically giving it to us for free. — [They had] the best deal and the best services,” Allison said.
Since bands will only have time to play two or three songs each, they are working on set lists that pack a punch.
Skin the Goat will play “three songs that try to display our range,” Papacostas said. “Not only the music itself but also the emotional range.”
Brother Ray, a band that plays “edgy pop with a bit of a retro feel,” is sticking to a simple formula.
“A short set isn’t the place for a soul-searching torch song,” said Jarrow ’01. “We’ll play up that we are fun and that we have a good time.”
Giving the audience a good time is also the plan for jam band Milo.
“We want to play songs characteristic of our style, [and] we are also playing a really fun cover,” said Andrew Roach, Milo’s bassist.
The bands that will play on Sunday night passed the first cut — their demo tapes were selected from the 19 received by the YCC. Their musical styles run the gamut from hard rock to ska to hip hop.
David Kepner ’03 of Full Service said his band is influenced by Guns and Roses, 311 and Led Zepplin, and that their goal this Sunday is “getting people’s heads nodding.”
Skin the Goat’s sound is harder, influenced by hard-core and punk bands and integrating some Eastern sounds.
“If I had to characterize our sound in my own words, it’s like heavy rock,” Papacostas said.
Cat Stevens Macarena Band, made up of Yale graduate students, may have the most distinctive sound to be heard on Sunday.
“We play death-pop,” said member Jens-Uwe Guettel. “Like Sean Puffy Combs, we take songs from the ’70s and ’80s and play them in weird new ways.”
Milo characterizes its sound as energetic.
“It’s easy to use the label ‘jam band’ or ‘jam rock,'” Roach said. “[But] I think we are a mix of jam rock but also things like blues or funk. — So I think it has more energy than jam rock.”
With the exception of Spring Fling, Sunday’s show will be the biggest gathering of bands and music fans on campus this year. It marks the pinnacle of a year in which Yale’s undergraduate music scene has been getting larger audiences at more events than in years past.
“I am just starting to explore [the scene] now,” Roach said. “There isn’t a major scene like there is at other colleges– but I do think there is a resurgence [underway].”
The roster of bands to play this Sunday testifies to the influx of new talent invigorating the scene. Full Service, Gooden, Cat Stevens Macarena Band, Milo, Brother Ray, Flying Dutchmen and Hung Jury are all newcomers to the Battle. Only General Tso and the Tenderbites, NIYM (Nuts in Your Mouth — the rap group that won last year’s Battle of the Bands) and Skin the Goat have competed previously.
Many give credit for the expanding scene to Turn It Up, an undergraduate student organization whose goal is to foster and centralize music communities of Yale and New Haven. Turn It Up was founded by Mary Bennett ’02 and members of Skin the Goat. There is a Turn It Up show this weekend in the Women’s Center.
“Mary Bennett, she is doing some good s— with Turn It Up,” Kepner said.
Allison agreed that things are looking good for Yale musicians.
“The number of opportunities for student bands to showcase themselves seems to be going up each week,” Allison said.
Not only is there more music out there, but it seems to be reaching different kinds of people, including some that have never paid Yale’s rock scene much attention before this year.
“Around when I was a freshman, two years ago, there were a few big Yale bands, but it was kind of seen as elitist,” Papacostas said. He said a group of the same people showed up for most shows.
“We are trying to get rid of that notion of elitism — and I think we are partially succeeding,” Papacostas said.
For more information about the Battle of the Bands, including directions to The Tune Inn and mp3 samples of the competing bands’ music, see www.yaledailynews.com/bands/.