Mayfest’s annual Battle of the Bands competition is one of the few times a year when the student body gets to experience some of the incredibly impressive musical talent we have brewing here on Northwestern’s campus. Last night from 7 p.m. to midnight, seven acts duked it out on stage at Evanston concert venue 27 Live in hopes of scoring what can only be described as the ultimate prize for any young startup band: a chance to perform live at this year’s Dillo Day.
The victory went to Syndicated Traphouse, a combined 10-person act comprised of jazz-rap band Syndicate 119 and trap hip-hop duo Appomattox Trap House. The band blew the show out of the water, filling the entire pit with screaming fans shouting demanding specific tracks and singing along to nearly every song – an impressive accomplishment for local acts, particularly college-based acts
“Our set was almost flawless! Like I was actually surprised. It was perfect. I was like, wow. The energy was great,” said Medill sophomore and Syndicate 119’s lead vocalist Thaddeus Tukes. “This was such a rewarding experience. I’m so excited.”
Mayfest chose the winner based on a set of criteria including originality, creativity, the way the band sounded on stage, crowd presence and crowd reaction, said Mayfest co-director of promotions and Communication senior Bri Hightower.
But the entire night was a success: All seven bands pulled a fairly large audience and kept the venue comfortably crowded, and even acts that didn’t have many of their own personal fans in attendance succeeded in hyping up the crowd that was present.
“One of the huge things we want on Dillo Day is to have a band that can bring a lot of people to the Lakefill earlier,” Hightower said. “So if a band proves that they can bring a lot of people and make all those people have a good time even if they’re not a fan of the band, that’s really positive for us.”
Moreover the competition showcased just how diverse Northwestern’s musical tastes are, as every single act was completely distinct from all the others – and I’m not just saying that. Here’s a recap of the seven bands and how they jiggied:
Indie rock band The Avenue opened the night at 7:40 p.m., bringing a fairly substantial amount of people for being the first band of the night, easily the toughest set to perform. Their chill, calming rock sound met a lot of cheering and more grooving than dancing. Lead singer and Weinberg freshman Nicholas Dwarte said his favorite song of the night was “Understand,” a passionate acoustic song he wrote as the first of a series about what he described as a “Taylor Swift-esque breakup.”
“It was really cohesive, and they had a variety. I think it was really easy to listen to, and I think everybody was really feeling it,” said Weinberg freshman David Hutchison. “I don’t know if you can rock out to it so much, but I was definitely grooving to it. I was having it a good time.”
The second act was one-man electronic jazz act Tree Haus, the solo project of McCormick senior Josh Jacobson with an accompanying drummer. The set featured ultra-chill house music with heavy jazz influences, big electronic drops and semi-sultry soulful vocals from Jacobson, plus some beautiful runaway piano solos interspersed throughout each song. The crowd vibe was extremely relaxed but very entranced by the music.
Tree Haus closed out the set with the harmoniously incongruous “Afterglow,” the title track off his upcoming album that will drop in June.
“I think of it as kind of the feeling you have after a really great experience,” Jacobson explained. “Like if you’re with someone you love and did something great, and you’re just basking in that moment for a while. That’s the afterglow. That’s what the song’s about.”
The band won third place in the competition.
School of Communications freshman Cameron Smith, lead vocalist of the rap/production duo Freddy Mummix, was the hype machine: Clad in a giant techni-colored jacket, he boogied onto stage to the background of campy sing-song-y music, telling everyone to “scream if you’re excited as fuck!” Smith’s deep, aggressive, quick-lined verses were met with a lot of cheering and dancing. Many audience members knew the words well enough to sing along, particularly for their energy- hoarding hit song “Stop Talking” and closer “Heart of Diamond.”
Medill junior Gideon Resnick, half of Appomatox Trap House, joined Freddy Mummix for a song. The crowd evidently approved.
“It was great to see a really big crowd and a lot of people who weren’t necessarily our close friends who we told to come to the show,” said School of Communications freshman Lorenzo Gonzalez, the other half of Freddy Mummix who worked the beats and backup vocals.
Everybody All the Time
Next up was Everybody All the Time, a three-person eclectic rock band with a summery pop twinge. Their songs featured a lot of stop-and-go sequences, jumping from sleepy, meandering verses to intensely high-energy choruses, strung together by wild, eccentric bass solos from civil engineering graduate student Madison Fitzpatrick. Lead singer and mechanical engineering graduate student Blake Johnson laid down some equally dynamic vocals ranging from full-force powerhouse to dreamy croons and murmurs.
“They were sort of like a comforting feel of like a band that is made up of your family. I feel like they’re a familiar sound but very upbeat and fun,” said School of Communications freshman Emma Horn. “They seemed confident, like they’ve done it a lot of times. They owned it.”
This next act to hit the stage featured a full seven band members, including a troupe of brass instrument players. Self-described as “gumbo” music, their songs featured a blend of hip hop, soul and a lot of jazz all mashed up into one instrumental hodgepodge. The soaring vocals of lead singer Name Name were definitely the highlight of their set, along with the sheer amount of music being projected at full force (six distinct instruments at once – that’s a lot). They brought one of the largest crowds of all the bands, and Mayfest awarded them with second place in the competition.
“We were literally messing around with that chord progression, like whatever, and then this kid [lead singer Kris Hansen] literally just started to sing ‘Gold Digger’ over it,” said Zaramela guitarist Jameson Brenner. “We were like, that’s hot. The first time we played it is pretty much how you heard it now.”
Run and Punch
This ska punk quintet hit the stage next, and they succeeded at drawing excitement and energy from audience members who hadn’t come there specifically for them – perhaps even more impressive than a band happens to be able to bring a lot of friends to their show. Run and Punch’s high-speed chaos punk sound quickly charmed the crowd with its summery, marathon-like tempo, gang vocals and saucy Latin-inspired brass flares. The best part was watching the audience try to dance as fast as that bear – everyone looked like they were going into psychotic frenzies, and it was wonderful. By the fifth song or so, people were moshing hard in the front.
“They had a really cool vibe,” said creative writing graduate student Mercedes Lucero. “We were actually up on top. We saw people dancing, and we had to come down. We had to be a part of it.”
By the time this conglomeration band hit the stage, the venue was completely packed to the point that I could hardly get to the front row to take photos – which is usually pretty easy at these low-key student-run shows. Appomatox Trap House played their signature hits such as “Scotty” without most of the synths – instead, Syndicate 119’s talented musicians played all the tunes live, all of which met with instant crowd approval. The vocal overlays between Syndicate’s two singers paired with Trap House created a perfect chorus of feminine vocals, smooth R&B rasp and aggressive rap verse – it just worked. The whole room was moving in a massive wave – not just the front two or so rows. The whole room.
“They clearly packed the house. I think they clearly deserved it,” Hightower said. “Two of the most popular bands on campus decided to merge, and I think that’s something very unique. I think they should be rewarded for that.”