It is Saturday night, and Yale’s campus is humming with activity. Many Yalies, eager to unwind from the stresses of the past week, have sallied forth to the in-suite celebrations, fraternity parties and even DJed events at Toad’s that make up the majority of Yale’s nightlife. Students participating in these events know more or less exactly what to expect — they are in for a night of traditional college partying surrounded by their fellow students.
Elsewhere, other Yalies have other plans in mind. Adjacent to Yale’s traditional nightlife exists a whole contingent of lesser-known student parties. Just a few blocks from campus, at 216 Dwight St., students frequently organize concerts by local and out-of-town bands. Or, if you are lucky enough to get an invitation to Soggy Cig’s, you are in for a night of dance music, courtesy of student DJs. These parties, among others, constitute Yale’s nontraditional, alternative party scene.
From the outside, 216 Dwight St., doesn’t look like much on any given day. Colloquially called Radio House, the house sits among similar-looking buildings in a popular area for off-campus student housing.
In the eyes of Emma Keyes ’19, 216 is first and foremost a house. “There are speakers and a drum kit — it’s set up in a do-it-yourself concert space, as a do-it-yourself concert space,” she said to me. Keyes is a frequent attendee of 216 and even helped run one of the shows as a first year. “It is the only place to see popular music, or the kind of music that you’d listen to on your iPod … off campus, but pretty connected to campus.”
The concerts at 216 are typically run not by the residents of the house, but by a group of outside people who have an agreement with the students living there. This group typically consists of people associated with Yale Radio. Events typically begin at nine and run until around midnight and consist of performances by three to four groups over the course of the night. The concerts, announced on Facebook, are open to the public — anyone can easily learn about them without needing to be invited.
Though 216 is not centrally located on campus, it is one of the few places in New Haven where people under 21 can listen to live music. In addition, 216 has no cover charge or ticket price — it is free, making the experience very accessible to all college students.
As a result, however, the bands that play at 216 perform for free. This does not seem pose a problem, as 216 sometimes draws bands from as far away as Boston and New York. Most of the time, they don’t even need to reach out in order to get acts to come — the bands will frequently reach out to them.
“Because I knew the venue, and I liked the aesthetic this past fall I came out with an album … and we had an album release party at 216,” Cameron Nelson ’19 said. Nelson, just like Keyes, is a regular to the 216 scene and even occasionally the artwork for the events. As a musician, he knew that it would make sense to release his music on campus at 216, where a thriving environment for Yale musicians already existed.
For frequent attendees like Cameron and Keyes, 216’s appeal stems not only from the presence of free live music, but also the departure from the typical fraternity party scene.
“‘Alright, we’re going to go to the frats, then we’re going to go to Soads’ is a very different evening than ‘I’m going to go to 216, and then I’m going to go to Brick Oven and eat pizza’ — it’s cool that there’s that diversity of possible experiences to have on this campus,” Keyes said.
But not all of the attendees of 216 are like Nelson and Keyes — the participants in this scene vary from week to week. While the bands that play at 216 are primarily indie bands, the house attracts all kinds of musicians eager to show off their music. They have had performances ranging from heavy metal to a cappella, a repertoire that attracts wide variation in the crowds. And, of course, there are new people showing up to concerts all the time.
“The barrier between the band and the crowd was very permeable … I really enjoyed the artsy, grungy, underground vibe,” Brittany Menjivar ’21, who attended a 216 concert last Saturday for the first time, told me. “I would definitely recommend it. Two Sixteen has its hand on the pulse of the hip underground New Haven music scene.”
Soggy Cig’s is a dance party DJed by Yale students as well as New Haven musicians and is also a significant part of the alternative party scene. Jake Faria ’18 started it along with several friends last fall by borrowing equipment from 216. Faria, who transferred from Northwestern University, was inspired to bring his old school’s DJ scene to Yale.
“There’s a really vibrant radio station [at Northwestern] — they have one of the last true college radio stations there … if you want to play in any of the late-night shows, you have to learn to DJ. And they had basement shows, and people playing vinyl … so I came here and I thought where were the dance parties?” Faria said. As a result, he started his own dance party.
Soggy Cig’s and 216 are similar in their appeal — they both offer an alternative to the typical frat party scene. However, in most ways, the two groups are different. Soggy Cig’s, unlike 216, tends to move from location to location, but frequently takes place at Faria’s residence. Soggy Cig’s DJing, and 216 focuses on live music. Two Sixteen puts on public events, but information about Soggy Cig’s parties is shared only through Facebook invitation. And while 216 presents itself as more of a concert venue, Soggy Cig’s is, as Faria describes it, a dance party.
Both groups, however, further differentiate themselves from the traditional Yale party scene through their integration with the New Haven community. Faria frequently has New Haven DJs play music at his parties, and his parties are not restricted to Yale students. Similarly, 216 is eager to have New Haven bands perform and New Haven natives attend.
“We have a database of New Haven bands that have played with us before, New York bands who have played with us before … something I really like about 216 is this connection to the city of New Haven,” Simone Lavin ’19, who was co-director of 216 last semester, tells me.
But, an inherent problem with the off-campus party scene is that these parties are under the jurisdiction of the New Haven police rather than the Yale police, resulting in the possibilities of arrests for simple noise complaints.
Recently, 216 has not had very many issues with policing. However, the parties have faced interference in the past by the police, affecting not only the partygoers, but the residents of the house themselves.
“We work together with the organizers and share the responsibility for keeping the house safe and secure,” Jacob Prince ’19, a resident of the house, explained. “Occasionally police will show up … especially early last year, when we had just moved into the house, more often the police would end up coming because the concerts were too loud, so we took measures to mitigate and seal off the noise.” Indeed, over the past year, since an arrest took place due to a noise complaint and subsequent belligerence, 216 has been especially careful to be respectful to their neighbors.
“The last problem with the police was in December 2016 … we haven’t had any interaction with the police or the neighbors in more than a year,” Lavin said. Lavin even went as far as to personally bake cookies for the neighbors and give them her contact information to ensure the safe continuance of 216.
Soggy Cig’s problems with the police are also minimal. They move around a lot and have worked on their soundproofing in order to avoid. They even have a point person assigned to deal with the police.
“It all falls under the umbrella of responsible party-throwing, and making as safe a space as possible,” Faria said. Both groups do their best to provide an environment where people can have fun and listen to music.
Next time you are debating what to do on a Friday or Saturday night, instead of hitting the frats, check out 216 or score yourself an invitation to Soggy Cig’s. You just might be pleasantly surprised.
Jake Kalodner | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb 10: A previous version of this article listed Jake Faria’s home address. This information was removed at his request.