Seeking a change in venue one Friday night, Eliot Rose ’03 and his band, the Scientifics, packed their instruments and a 50-foot extension cord into a van and drove around New Haven looking for a place to play.
After playing at three different locations — one on the Yale campus and two elsewhere throughout the city — the band’s van broke down, putting an end to its brief tour of the Elm City.
While not all bands have taken such extreme measures to find an audience, the Scientifics’ efforts are typical of the challenges groups face at a school where Yalie-led bands are seldom part of the entertainment scene. Though most bands say an audience for their music exists, the lack of venues — and consequently, a lack of events — has prevented a large rock culture from developing at Yale.
Rose, who describes his music as “stripped down keyboard pop,” said many Yale bands struggle to reach new listeners.
“It’s not hard to find an audience — but you can sort of get into a rut,” Rose said. “It’s hard to constantly get new people into your music.”
For many groups, the only available venues on campus are the Women’s Center and the Yale Caberet, although quieter bands may play at Dwight Chapel.
Residential colleges seldom allow bands to play within their performance spaces, leaving groups to search for alternate venues, including fraternity houses, friends’ basements, or even the streets of New Haven.
“As far as any school has a scene, it has to be something that’s supported by the administration of the school,” Rose said. “At Yale, that’s just not the case.”
Andrew Allison ’04, who is also president of the Yale College Council, said his efforts to start a band began freshman year, when he put up flyers soliciting other interested musicians. Yet Allison’s band, Seneca, broke up earlier this year because its members had too many other commitments.
“It’s hard to find three, four, five people who have the time and similar goals with the music,” said Allison, whose new band recently performed under the name Assume the Position.
Despite the small size of the Yale scene, some events have emerged to provide an opportunity for bands to find a spotlight. Toad’s Place held two shows earlier this week featuring student bands, and the weekend of the Harvard-Yale football game, the Yale College Council will co-sponsor — with its Harvard counterparts — the third annual battle of the bands.
Still, Allison said campus bands do not have the opportunities afforded musicians in larger cities or college towns.
“It’s hard to fit a band into the Women’s Center,” Allison said. “[Yale] lends itself more to solo acts.”
Srikanth Sivashankaran ’04, a drummer who has performed with the bands “Ain’t Skeered” and “Assume the Position,” said rock groups at Yale may suffer from the existence of so many other entertainment options on campus.
“I’ve always heard that bands here suck and it isn’t hard to make a name for yourself,” Sivashankaran said. “The best musicians seem to be into western art music and classical music.”
But Yale’s inability to cultivate a large corps of rock groups may be unique among campuses across the country. Louis Miller, an associate editor of the CMJ New Music Report, said college music is thriving elsewhere.
“I think it’s bigger now than it has been in a long time,” he said.